Rep. Adam Schiff Holds the Spotlight, But Should He be the GOP’s Main Worry?

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Los Angeles) may be both greatly admired by his fellow Democrats and equally reviled by unwavering Republicans who see no reason to bow to his demands.

Schiff stands at the center of an unenviable place in history where very few members of Congress have ever needed to go —-leading the charge to impeach a U.S president.

It is not a job which any legislator can welcome and it is not the reason the voters send their representatives to Washington.

Yet as chair of the House Intelligence Committee which is empowered to conduct the first round of the impeachment proceedings that appear fast-tracked for ultimate trial in the U.S. Senate, Schiff has little choice.

Republicans have wasted little time doing whatever possible to discredit him. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) was blunt.

“Schiff has fallen short in his duty and demonstrated a pattern of lying to the American people on matters of intelligence,” says McCarthy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has a somewhat different point of view calling Schiff  “a great patriot” adding “what Republicans fear most is the truth.”

A resolution to postpone a vote to censure Schiff was defeated along straight party lines 218-185.

This occurred as the parade of high-ranking state department officials continue to come before the committee including the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine whose testimony erased any lingering doubts about Trump’s pressuring the Ukrainian president to find dirt on a formidable opponent.

Apparently rattled by the latest revelations and calling on his backers to “get tougher and fight”, Trump may have gained some momentary satisfaction when two-dozen GOP House members agreed to storm the committee hearing room where damaging testimony is accumulating demanding, “let us in.”

It is unclear if any members of the California delegation joined them though none have yet to break ranks as the inquiry into presidential wrongdoing proceeds.

This prompted a rare appearance by the sergeant-at-arms—the chamber’s top law enforcement officer—to break up what was becoming an unruly confrontation.

The Capitol where I worked for 10 years on the Senate side including during the contentious impeachment proceedings in the 1970s involving Pres. Richard Nixon is generally a quiet place.

While this bastion of free speech is not immune to headline-grabbing stunts by those in high office (the iconic photo of California Rep. Barbara Boxer leading six of her colleagues up the Capitol steps in 1991 during the Anita Hill/Justice Clarence Thomas nomination hearings is still memorable), the physical display of defiance cannot be taken lightly.

The ostensible reason for the lawmakers’ wrath was the decision by Schiff’s committee to hold the hearings behind closed doors even though access was accorded to any of 40 GOP House members that choose to attend.

Had Attorney General William Barr agreed to appoint a bi-partisan prosecutorial team to conduct the proceedings as was the case during the Nixon scandal Schiff’s committee would have been deprived of its role.

Barr, however, apparently with the tacit consent of his boss, washed his hands of any participation effectively putting Chairman Schiff in charge.

It is likely this is a mere prelude to even greater turmoil when Schiff’s panel begins taking public testimony as promised with some of the key witnesses already announcing they will defy subpoenas to appear.

This also differs from the Nixon hearings where key White House operatives were fully compliant and eventually served jail terms.

As highly damaging evidence continues to mount showing a president who has committed an egregious abuse of power, Republicans have to determine how far they are prepared to go in backing their leader.

This will be especially true for members facing reelection in states where public sentiment is turning increasingly against Trump.

Whether there will be enough defections to thwart reelection remains to be seen.

National attitudes may matter less in some California zip codes where incumbents consider themselves secure.  Someone to watch is Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove in Sacramento County the lone CA GOP member of the House Judiciary Committee that would have the duty of drawing up articles of impeachment.

Another is Rep. Devin Nunes. (R-Tulare), the ranking minority member of the Intelligence Committee, who has been one of Trump’s staunchest defenders and Schiff’s bitter foe.

A longtime Nunes staffer, Kashyap Patel, joined the White House earlier this year and is believed to have played a major role in reinforcing Trump’s belief that a “corrupt” Ukraine government interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of the Democrats.

This could have much to do with the about-face by Trump who originally pledged generous financial assistance to Ukraine in exchange for the political attack on Joe Biden (the so-called “quid pro quo”) only to reverse himself leaving the nation exposed to Russian conquest.

Trump’s puzzling treatment of Ukraine, an ally which has been a reliable buttress against further expansion of Russian domination into Eastern Europe, has top military brass and Administration aides shaking their heads.

Only one conclusion is possible: Trump’s fumbling statecraft is for personal political purposes which can endanger national security.

It is this train of events which largely triggered the impeachment proceedings.

Even McClintock, who has voted with Trump 96% of the time, was compelled to declare, “I realize that the president is certainly ham-handed in a lot of the things he does. He is not a skilled diplomat.”

Would it be fair to say that is a gross understatement for a president who has nurtured a curious partnership with a Russian dictator while taking measures that have alienated our closest allies?

Can we afford to be dismissive of alarming testimony by high-ranking members of the State Department of secretive “shadow diplomacy” directly traceable to presidential orders that are subverting the same policies they felt obligated to promote and defend?

Can millions of voters who are entitled to vote for anyone they choose to lead them accept the idea that the killing of another citizen by a sitting president may not constitute a crime for which he can be prosecuted ?

In a case now before a Manhattan Appellate Court, where the limits of presidential immunity is a central question, that very issue has come up referencing the president’s now famous admonition while campaigning, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose a vote.”

The president’s attorneys offered a remarkable theory unsubstantiated by any court ruling not merely saying that presidents can commit murder with impunity but that they are not even subject to investigation while in office!

As one wag suggested, theories can be tested, but let’s not go there.

The courtroom exchange  https://nbcnews.to/33X3Bo4 may be a first in the history of jurisprudence. If the voters buy it, they will be putting the highest figure in our government above the law.

Schiff is the current target of GOP unhappiness but they are aiming their fire at the wrong person.  There are more pressing matters to worry about.

The Republic will survive the age of Trump however long it lasts with whatever damage it will have sustained, and a healthier system may yet emerge after the political carnage.

But can the GOP survive in its present iteration if it continues to give full-throated support to the monarchical rule its current standard bearer intends to and will (barring a total constitutional breakdown)  undoubtedly fail to impose?

The die is cast and even if impeachment is rapidly becoming a distinct possibility, conviction by the Senate which would require at least 20 GOP Senators to bolt their party is unrealistic unless the leadership decides we have had enough.

Whether Schiff and the impeachment forces succeed or not, the Democrats must still prove to the voters they can field a candidate worthy and capable of assuming the presidential mantle.

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