S1: Back in July just a day before Donald Trump got on the phone with the president of Ukraine and asked for a favor. There’s
S2: a very different conversation going on over on Capitol Hill.
S3: We will come to order a conversation between Robert Mueller and Representative Adam Schiff the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. MUELLER I want to but this conversation was televised for everyone to see from your testimony today.
S4: I gather that you believe that knowingly accepting foreign assistance during a presidential campaign is an unethical thing to do and a crime and a crime.
S5: Circumstances yes and to the crime and given certain circumstances.
S6: Representative Schiff was almost mournful in how he spoke about national security at that hearing.
S7: To me yes he was definitely tone was definitely more in sorrow than in anger that we have to be facing this and that all Americans should be concerned about it.
S1: The Atlantic’s Todd Purdum spoke to Congressman Schiff as he prepared to question Mueller when he was getting ready to have Mr. Mueller testify.
S8: His expectations were realistic. He did not think that in a stroke Mueller would change the local dynamic or change the substantive information dynamic. He was looking forward to getting that. Mr. Mueller in front of his committee to lay out the best narrative fashion he could the story of the Russian interference and why it was such a risk and why. Going forward the United States has to be on guard against future such efforts.
S9: A couple months later watching this testimony it’s striking because Schiff ends his remarks by worrying that our election system isn’t safe even now.
S10: Protecting the sanctity of our elections begins however with the recognition that accepting foreign help is disloyal to our country. Unethical and wrong of course.
S11: What makes the Ukraine case so interesting and so spectacular in a way and then it costs Washington to be set on its ear is that it would appear that President Trump is overtly was overtly asking another sovereign nation to interfere in next year’s election so that that’s exactly. Warning that Mr. Mullen chairman should have been sounding for so long.
S3: In the last few days it’s Adam Schiff has gradually begun to steer the impeachment process forward but with every step he’s become a bigger and bigger target for president convinced he’s done nothing wrong. Trump is described Schiff as a fraud a low life shifty Schiff. And that’s just in the last 24 hours.
S6: Do you think the stakes are especially high for chairmanship.
S8: Yes I do because he’s in the spotlight. He’s in the crosshairs here. He hasn’t been a household name or face. Now in a sense of course the president is elevating him to that by by attacking him on Twitter accusing him of treason suggesting he should be arrested not too many individual congressmen remember their within their 435 of them get that sort of attention.
S12: Yeah he’s like the fifth member of the squad now in some ways.
S9: Yes he is today on the show how this congressman from California became Nancy Pelosi’s right hand when it comes to impeachment. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next.
S13: Stick with us Hey listener.
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S3: A year ago Adam Schiff wrote an editorial urging Democrats not to take the bait on impeachment. But today it is a very different story.
S2: Good morning. Good morning everyone. Thank you.
S3: When Nancy Pelosi showed up for her regular press conference this week. All any of the reporters wanted to talk about was her impeachment inquiry and it was Adam Schiff who stood by her side calling out not just Trump but his own congressional colleagues across the aisle.
S16: It’s hard to imagine a more corrupt course of conduct. So to my Republican colleagues let’s say there’s nothing to see here or yeah it’s bad but is it really something you removed from the president from office for they’re going to have to answer if this conduct doesn’t rise to the level of the concern the founders have.
S3: What conduct does now but even that is most hot blooded shift still seems careful even quiet. It made me wonder how he got there which is why I called up Todd Purdum. So how did you come to cover Adam Schiff.
S7: I was the Los Angeles bureau chief for The New York Times from 1997 to 2001 and he ran for Congress in 2000 against Jim Rogan. He’d been one of the House impeachment managers of Bill Clinton’s impeachment a Republican the Republicans. So both parties poured tons of money into that race trying to influence the outcome. And at that time it was the most expensive congressional race in history. It drew millions of dollars in outside spending from all over the country on both sides.
S3: Yeah I mean it sounds it goes real knockdown drag out like did you think when you saw him running. Do people expect him to win or are they were they like No way. He’s running against incumbent.
S8: Well the district was changing and the demographics were changing and the backlash against impeachment had been so intense and as I say all this outside money was put there on both sides but certainly by the Democrats to try to take out Rogan. So I think one of the reasons it got so much attention was it felt like this was going to be one of the most likely places for a Democratic pickup. But it was a very very contested race and he won and has been safely re-elected more or less ever since.
S1: It’s interesting to think of him coming in off the tails of an impeachment and making that case that you know he needed to replace a Republican.
S17: Yes it’s an interesting twist that he got elected on the heels of an impeachment in which Democrats argued it had been a partisan overreach. He’s now presiding over an impeachment inquiry that Republicans say is a partisan overreach.
S18: Originally Washington insiders suspected it was going to be Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler who would lead investigations into the Trump administration.
S3: So I asked Todd how did Adam Schiff end up in the lead.
S8: Well two reasons. One the substantive subject matter of Ukraine falls in the intelligence committee’s purview so that’s a natural place for him to discuss these matters. But I also do think that Chairman Adler’s handling of that hearing with Corey Lewandowski it’s no secret that Speaker Pelosi said she would have moved to hold Mr. Lerner Dyleski in contempt right then and they are quote unquote in the middle of the hearing when he reacted to members with such disrespect and parried their questions and really refused to answer or cooperate in any way. So I think Schiff is seen as having a stronger hand on the tiller than Chairman Adler did.
S17: And now the Ukraine conversation has provided a pair a pretext jumping off place for the intelligence committee to act. And I suspect that Speaker Pelosi is happy to have that be the center of the action at the moment.
S6: I mean was Schiff. My understanding is that Schiff was was groomed by Pelosi from the beginning of his congressional career.
S8: Is that a yes or no. I think very much. I mean I think she saw him as a comer when he arrived in Washington. He seemed just what the doctor ordered for his district. He was you know a calm voice in the wake of a contentious time. Speaker Pelosi had served on the Intelligence Committee. Then Jane Harman of California was the chairman also of the Intelligence Committee. So there’s a kind of California tradition on that committee of strong leadership. And yes I think Speaker Pelosi definitely did take a personal interest in Congressman Schiff’s career and and helped write them for the job.
S6: What was it about him because when you look at Adam Schiff he seems really even keeled maybe to the point of being a little milquetoast. And so I’m wondering what it was she saw in him and said yes this is the person that I want to groom to be in this position of power.
S8: Yes he’s definitely not flashy and I think it was probably his very lack of flashiest that attracted her to him in that role because she thinks that the intelligence committee should be all about the merits of the matter beyond politics outside politics.
S7: It’s not a place for a show boater.
S3: And I suspect that it’s that very demeanor that that was attractive shifts had one attempt to showboat so far but it did not go over well. I want to go back to that moment from just last week because last week we began to see what it will look like when Representative Schiff is leading hearings in the Intelligence Committee having to do with impeachment. He had the director of national national intelligence in front of him.
S1: McGuire and he was his same calm steady self. If you just listened to his timbre his tone. But he did something that he caught a lot of criticism for which was he characterized the president’s words. He said when he looked at the modified transcript of the call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine he said it sounded like an organized crime shakedown.
S19: We’ve been very good to your country. Very good. No other country has done as much as we have. But you know what. I don’t see much reciprocity here. I hear what you want. I have a favor I want from you though.
S1: And then he said stuff like in the president’s voice I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent. Understand lots of it.
S19: You know what I’m asking and so I’m only going to say this a few more times in a few more ways and by the way don’t call me again. I’ll call you when you’ve done what I asked.
S1: What do you think he was trying to do there.
S8: I think he was trying to give the graphic novel version of the president’s words. If you look at the text carefully virtually everything he said has some basis in fact and in some cases precise words that the president had used but he strung them together in a way that was to sit to say the least took more than a little bit of poetic license. And I think that’s what the president chose to take umbrage at. Whether it’s real umbrage or fake umbrage. You never know. But it was a little bit unusual tactic for chairmanship.
S3: Do you think he’ll try a trick like that again where he characterizes the president’s words.
S7: I haven’t talked to him. I haven’t talked to his staff but I’d have to kind of suspect that he would not do that because he hasn’t gotten criticism he’s gotten criticism from the president but by large the media the commentary out the chattering classes and watching I think have given him high marks for his performance. And that’s the one thing that people sort of deny him for so I suspect he might not try that again.
S3: Is he a careful follower of what people say about him.
S7: Oh don’t you think every modern politician is a careful follower of what people say about him I suspect he is just like everyone else. And certainly he has benefited from the president’s attacks on him. He in the early parts of this year he was able to raise a lot of money for his own re-election and for other congressional campaigns off of the president’s vituperation off of the RNC a attacks on him. So yes I’m sure he’s keeping close track of what the critics say and is responding strategically as he sees fit.
S1: I’m glad you run at the politics there because we started off by talking about Adam Swift’s first campaign for Congress. How is very expensive and how it was also set up for him to take down a Republican who had tried to impeach Bill Clinton.
S6: And I wonder do you think he thinks about that about the political consequences of what he’s doing right now.
S7: I’m sure he does. But he’s in the district has changed enough since he won that. I think he has almost overwhelmingly safe seat and I don’t think he’d be at any risk of defeat next year at the hands of a Republican. All of Southern California and even in the Central Valley in the last midterm elections the Republicans lost every close seat that they were contesting the Democrats won seven new seats the Republican delegation in California is at its all time low since the eighteen eighties. So I think he has the advantage of being himself in a politically safe seat so he can take on this fight but I’m sure it isn’t lost on him that he arrived in Congress in the wake of an impeachment and he’s now come to the greatest degree of prominence in the middle of another impeachment.
S3: And I’m sure you must think every day about the strange twist of that if there’s anything shift learned from his first taste of impeachment it might be that optics matter. In 2000 he came to Washington because Democrats from around the country thought the investigation into Bill Clinton had been bogus. Then they donated to candidates like Schiff. Now he knows the evidence he uncovers it’s still a convincing not just to him but to his political rivals.
S7: One of the things chairmanship told me this summer was he has privately wondered what would have happened if everything that was in the Muller report had come out on a single day instead of over many months in dribs and drabs in the media so that by the time the actual Muller report came out pretty much everything he had concluded was more or less in broad terms already known. So I think the thing about the Ukraine call and the whistleblowers report is that was in a single you know 36 48 hour period a very dramatic revelation about something that had happened that seemed seemed to register on the Washington shock meter. That has become almost be numbed in recent months by Donald Trump’s behavior like what would it take to make people sit up and be pay attention and I think he and Speaker Pelosi felt that this is one of those things when you watch Representatives hearings moving forward what will you be looking for from him. I guess I’ll be looking for the same dogged attempt to get to the bottom of the situation to get to the facts to find as many people who can corroborate the whistleblowers report. Clearly there are many people cited in the whistleblowers report we know now the secretary of state Pompeo was on the call in question himself listening in so that when he told Martha Raddatz of ABC a couple weeks ago he hadn’t seen the report yet he was just hearing about it for the first time. He was at a minimum being disingenuous because he knew very well the subject to the call you’d heard it in real time. So I think he will want to get those kinds of witnesses. He will want to lay out the case that this complaint has credibility is proven by the facts is proven by multiple witnesses and people corroborating it. And I suspect that he will. You know they’re they’re staying there during the recess. They’re they’re subpoenaing witnesses already. The administration seems to be resisting just as they have to date in other spheres. But I think he’s determined to take this to the courts if necessary to produce these witnesses to produce these documents in question and get to the bottom of it in the most clear cut professional kind of way.
S20: We’re not fool around here though. We don’t want this to drag on months and months and months which appears to be the administration’s strategy. So they just need to know that even as they try to undermine. Our ability to find the facts around the president’s effort to coerce. A foreign leader leader to create dirt that he can use against a political opponent that they will be strengthening the case on obstruction if they behave that way.
S21: TODD PURDUM Thank you so much for joining me. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. Todd Purdum is a staff writer at The Atlantic.
S14: And that’s the show. What next is produced by Mary Wilson Jason de Leone Daniel Hewett and Maura silvers. If you want to catch up with me during the day track me down on Twitter I’m at Mary’s desk. I’m Mary Harris. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.