On June 7, as part of The Washington Post’s recurring series Securing Tomorrow, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, sat down with David Ignatius of The Washington Post to discuss the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion or ties to the Trump campaign. I was in the room for this interview, so I’m going to try to answer the most important question: What important things did we learn from this interview?
Rep. Schiff commented on former FBI Director James Comey’s description of President Trump’s behavior in a written statement submitted by Comey on June 7, which included the President describing the Russia investigation as “’a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country,” and asking what the FBI “could do to ‘lift the cloud.’” Schiff called this behavior “certainly evidence of interference or obstruction.” This is important. As we know from Watergate, obstruction of justice is a potentially impeachable offense, so this question of if Trump obstructed justice is important to the big picture question of how much longer he’ll be in office. Continuing, however, Schiff brings up a good point that the practical question of if Trump could be impeached for obstruction of justice is a more complicated matter: even if there is a legal case to be made that Trump obstructed justice, you may not be able to persuade enough GOP members in the Republican Congress that they can justify a vote for impeachment to their constituents. This is a sticky situation, especially when one considers that prominent legal minds such as Jeffrey Toobin and Alan Dershowitz can’t even agree on whether Trump’s behavior is obstruction of justice. None of this is new or shocking information, we’ve been hearing about obstruction of justice since around the time of the Comey firing, but this question of if there is a legal case that Trump obstructed justice and, if so, if there’s a chance he may be impeached for it is extremely significant and it’s important to see where Schiff’s thinking is on this.
Schiff also commented on President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, calling it “one of the single most destructive acts of a President” that he “can remember” because “we have just given up the leadership globally on one of the most important issues globally,” (that important issue being climate change). This is important because climate change is a huge issue and U.S. global leadership is important, but this isn’t shocking news: there are very few Democrats in Congress that agree with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. In bringing up Paris though, Schiff brought light to one very important issue: the Democrats play too nice. Democrats need to be more assertive in “calling out the President when he violates the norms of office, the letter of the law, or anything like it,” or they aren’t going to win elections. He also noted that Democrats need to reach out to “shrinking communities, where people literally felt left behind,” and more effectively demonstrate to those communities how and why Democratic policies would improve their lives. In my opinion, these two points about calling out Trump and reaching out to communities where people feel left behind are very important. (I should note here that I consider myself a Democrat and I want the Dems to have a majority in the House and Senate, and to have control of the White House.) Obviously something the Democrats are doing isn’t working or the Republicans wouldn’t have control of Congress and the White House, and some major changes need to be made if Dems are going to be win back control of either chamber of Congress in 2018 or the White House in 2020. I don’t have the answers for what these changes should be, but it’s important for prominent Democrats like Adam Schiff to talk about these issues and really start a conversation within the Democratic Party (and the DNC under it’s new chair Tom Perez) about what should be happening differently.
Schiff also said that he agreed with Senator Angus King’s (I-ME) assertion that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers had no acceptable justification to refuse to answer questions regarding their conversations with President Trump and whether or not Trump attempted to get Coats and Rogers to intervene in the FBI’s Russia investigation. Pay attention to this. There is some talk that these two men should be charged with Contempt of Congress, and I’m not a lawyer so I won’t comment on that; but as more hearings occur, this suggests that Democrats will be united in putting a lot of pressure on Trump personnel to fully answer all questions they legally can. We have yet to see if this increase in pressure will stop anyone during future hearings from refusing to answer a question just so they don’t embarrass Trump, but it will definitely be interesting to see if someone does and, if so, how Dems will push back.
Schiff also brought up the timing of events leading up to the firing of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn:
· Jan. 26: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warns White House that the then- National Security Advisor Michael Flynn may be compromised
· Jan. 27: Trump invites then- FBI Director Comey to a private meal and asks for a pledge of loyalty
· Feb. 13: Flynn fired
· Feb. 14: Trump asks Comey to drop investigation into Flynn
Did Trump’s decision to invite Comey to dine with him and request Comey’s loyalty have to do with Yates’s warning? These events, as well as their timing, paint “an alarming picture” of the POTUS, according to Schiff. Schiff brings up an important point, one that I believe John Oliver expressed best when he told viewers to keep reminding themselves “this is not normal” during the Trump presidency; we cannot become desensitized to the dangerous antics of this administration.
Lastly, Schiff noted that the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia is just getting started. This tells all of us following the investigations into Trump and Russia that we’re probably not going to learn the whole story any time soon, if ever. So if you’re like me and you’ve been watching cable news every night to learn the latest about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, keep watching and waiting but pace yourself, this is going to be a long and weird journey.
I’ve discussed the main points from David Ignatius’s interview with Rep. Adam Schiff here, but I really recommend that anyone who is interested in politics watch it in it’s entirety (https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/postlive/securing-tomorrow-with-david-ignatius-and-rep-adam-schiff/2017/06/07/2bc20bca-4be9-11e7-987c-42ab5745db2e_video.html). It’s a rare treat to see a politician be as straightforward in an interview as Schiff was, and Ignatius asked interesting and important questions, so it’s worth it to give up 1 hour, 2 minutes, and 2 seconds of your life to watch the full interview.