It was telling that in the midst of his Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings, Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank rushed back to California to address the Democratic State Convention, and to bask in their cheers. Schiff is now a national figure and there is no doubt his ultimate goal is to run statewide in California, probably for U.S. Senator whenever one of our Senate seats comes open.
But that will depend on how he is perceived as having handled the impeachment of President Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi assigned the main impeachment role to Schiff, but history could well not look that kindly on the job he has done.
The gold standard for impeachments was of President Nixon’s over Watergate, now nearly half a century ago. It was preceded by months of Senate hearings presided over by a grandfatherly North Carolina Democrat named Sam Ervin, ably assisted by his GOP counterpart, Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee, who asked the pertinent question, what did the president know and when did he know it.
When impeachment got to House of Representatives, the thoughtful Judiciary Committee chairman, Democrat Peter Rodino of New Jersey, oversaw a careful inquiry that actually led to some Republican votes to remove Nixon.
But the Schiff show so far has not been in the Ervin, Baker, Rodino mold; but much more akin to the sham impeachment of President Clinton in 1998 and 1999, driven by the clownish GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich, who lost his job over it, and by Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, who chaired the Judiciary Committee. Hyde argued that Clinton should be impeached and removed from office over lying under oath about an extra marital affair with Monica Lewinsky. But then it turned out that Hyde himself had engaged in an extra martial affair. History generally views the Clinton impeachment as an abuse of the process.
The first requirement for an impeachment is that it be viewed as serious, careful and thoughtful, as was the Nixon impeachment. Schiff’s is not. It is being rushed and important witnesses are not being called because this show must be over by February 1 which is the beginning of the Democratic president primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. Important senators must not be left sitting in a Senate trial when they need to be out on the hustings. As a result, crucial witnesses like former National Security Advisor John Bolton will not be called because there is not enough time.
Second, Schiff gave lengthy prosecutorial statements with each hearing, which made the whole process simply look unnecessarily partisan. The job of an impeachment inquiry is to find the facts; Schiff will have plenty of time to act as prosecutor when impeachment gets to the trial stage in the Senate.
But Schiff began his tenure by doing a Mafia impression of Trump’s call with the Ukraine president, which most people saw as inappropriate. He has refused Republican requests for witnesses like Hunter Biden, the supposed subject of the whole Ukrainian imbroglio. Having Biden testify would certainly have given context to the Ukrainian matter, and hopefully he will be called at the Senate trial.
Schiff’s partisan behavior gave Republicans on his committee the opening to argue process and fairness rather than being forced to defend Trump’s behavior. As a consequence, Republican opposition to the Democratic impeachment hardened in the country, and independent voters came to see this as just more example of Washington partisan bickering. This was certainly not the case in the long Nixon investigation and his impeachment.
Thanks to the way Schiff handled the hearings, the testimony of some very impressive fact witnesses failed to move the needle at all on impeachment; the support and oppose numbers are where they were a month ago. Any effort to win over Republicans who might have been seriously bothered by Trump’s quid pro quo conversations with the Ukrainians fizzled due to Schiff’s partisan conduct.
Finally there is Schiff’s two step dance around the identification of the famous whistleblower who started the whole thing. Schiff initially said neither he nor his office had any contact with the whistleblower. “We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower,” Schiff assured the public in September.
But then on October 1, the New York Times reported that indeed a Schiff staff person, later identified as 37 year old Sean Misko, who had worked in the Obama White House, did talk to an old friend of his, identified in the media as 33 year old Eric Ciaramella, a CIA analyst. He had inquired as to how you file a whistleblower complaint. Misko told his friend to get an attorney and meet with the inspector general, which he then did.
Schiff at first demanded that the whistleblower testify, but then reversed course and would not allow his testimony, despite Republican demands, sort of a version of I voted for it before I voted against it.
Despite the fact the name Ciaramella has been bandied around the media for weeks, Schiff still insists he does not know the identity of the whistleblower, but he does now admit that his staff talked to the whistleblower. Mr Schiff, why don’t you ask your staff who it is?
Schiff seems to be modeling himself after Rep. Hyde, who led the Clinton impeachment. During the Iran Contra scandal in the Reagan Administration, Hyde defended lying about government policy by the likes of Oliver North, but then led an impeachment of the president for lying about a personal sexual misbehavior. People quickly saw through Hyde’s hypocrisy.
All this is too bad, because Schiff’s partisan antics are unnecessary. The facts developed in the two weeks of Intelligence Committee hearings show serious presidential misbehavior, and show that it was widespread throughout the Trump Administration. Based on these facts, Democrats will push through an impeachment vote in the House and force a January trial in the Senate. Unfortunately, this will all be on a party line basis.
Democrats would be very wise to be more judicious with less pontificating as the process unfolds. Impeachment is like fermenting wine, it takes a while. The public slowly comes to realize there was something fundamentally wrong that led to this drastic step even if they do not follow all the details.
When the wine is fully fermented, the Democrats want the public to conclude that Trump must be ousted. The Democrats need to appear to be acting judiciously, and showing respect for the Republican positions, if they expect this impeachment to lead the voters to reject Trump next fall.