Pelosi leans on long­time ally Schiff in im­peach­ment in­quiry

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Tal Kopan

WASH­ING­TON — With an im­peach­ment in­quiry un­der way, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is fond of quot­ing Revo­lu­tion­era writer Thomas Paine as say­ing, “The times have found us.” They’ve also found one of her most trusted al­lies in charge.

As chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, Rep. Adam Schiff is lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Pres­i­dent Trump’s phone­call re­quest that Ukraine’s pres­i­dent dig up dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion on po­ten­tial 2020 ri­val Joe Bi­den. He got the job be­cause a whis­tle­blower com­plaint about the call came from the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity — a for­tu­itous co­in­ci­dence for Pelosi, who played an in­stru­men­tal role in putting Schiff in the job where he might now help de­ter­mine her legacy.

“Speaker Pelosi has tremen­dous re­spect for him and trust in him,” said Fre­mont Rep. Ro Khanna, an­other Demo­crat whose ca­reer Pelosi has nur­tured. “She re­spects his in­tel­lect, she re­spects how he presents him­self on tele­vi­sion, she re­spects his judg­ment . ... They have a very close bond.”

The prom­i­nent role also makes Schiff a tar­get for Pres­i­dent Trump and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans, who are seek­ing any open­ings to dis­credit the Democrats’ im­peach­ment ef­forts. They seized on rev­e­la­tions that Schiff ’s of­fice pro­vided guid­ance to the whistle­blower be­fore the com­plaint was filed, which earned Schiff a rep­ri­mand from fact­check­ers be­cause he’d de­nied com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the source. They also went af­ter Schiff for para­phras­ing Trump’s phone call in a con­gres­sional hear­ing rather than read­ing a White House rough tran­script of it ver­ba­tim, al­though Schiff made it clear at the time what he was do­ing.

How the Bur­bank Demo­crat han­dles the im­peach­ment in­quiry — and whether he’s able to avoid more con­se­quen­tial mis­steps — could af­fect not only Pelosi’s place in his­tory but his own po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.

Schiff told The Chron­i­cle that Pelosi po­si­tioned him to “make a dif­fer­ence at a time when I think our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions are re­ally un­der as­sault.” He also said Pelosi’s “times have found us” quote has stuck with him, as has her ad­vice that ev­ery mem­ber should know how to use the power they hold.

“We do seem to be at such a piv­otal in­ter­sec­tion where the coun­try can head in one of two di­rec­tions,” Schiff said. “It can con­tinue down the dark path that the pres­i­dent has put us in, or it can change ... and once again uplift the val­ues that we have tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with this coun­try as a bea­con of democ­racy and hu­man rights.”

Schiff, 59, was named the top Demo­crat of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee in 2015 af­ter eight years on the panel. He owes that to Pelosi: Seats and lead­er­ship on the com­mit­tee are dis­trib­uted at the pre­rog­a­tive of the party’s leader in the House, which Pelosi has been since 2003.

Pelosi and Schiff have been close since his first elec­tion to Congress in 2000. A for­mer Demo­cratic Party com­mit­tee­woman and top fundraiser, Pelosi saw an op­por­tu­nity to flip seats in Cal­i­for­nia that year and raised cash for Schiff ’s cam­paign. At the time, it was the most ex­pen­sive House race ever.

Schiff grabbed the seat from Repub­li­can Rep. James Ro­gan. In a his­tor­i­cal echo of this mo­ment, Ro­gan’s po­si­tion as a man­ager in the House’s 1998 im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton con­trib­uted to his loss. The dis­trict had been trending away from Repub­li­cans, and Ro­gan’s prom­i­nent role in the process made him a top na­tional tar­get for Democrats.

“I think that’s part of the rea­son that both Speaker Pelosi and Adam Schiff were not run­ning around with their hair on fire scream­ing for im­peach­ment the day af­ter the elec­tion,” said Bill Carrick, a long­time Cal­i­for­nia po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant. “They look at the process through ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence with one of the peo­ple who made a trav­esty of it.”

Schiff, an ex­fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor and for­mer state sen­a­tor, de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as thought­ful and mea­sured. Pelosi put him on a panel she holds in high re­gard — she served on it be­fore be­com­ing speaker and was the top Demo­crat on it for two years. When Trump’s Ukraine phone call be­came an In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee is­sue last month, Pelosi told the pres­i­dent, “You have come into my wheel­house.”

Schiff said Pelosi ap­proached him about serv­ing on the panel in 2007 as the com­mit­tee was open­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the CIA’s de­struc­tion of in­ter­ro­ga­tion tapes of ter­ror­ism sus­pects. She wanted some­one with in­ves­tiga­tive ex­pe­ri­ence — some­thing he says he re­lies on to this day.

Schiff said Pelosi still has an “in­ti­mate role” in the com­mit­tee’s work as the House leader, a po­si­tion in which she has ac­cess to the na­tion’s most sen­si­tive se­crets.

The two have also been closely aligned on pol­i­tics. Schiff has proven to be a pow­er­house fundraiser de­spite not hav­ing com­pet­i­tive races — in the 2018 elec­tion cy­cle, when he had no se­ri­ous op­po­si­tion, he raised more than $6 mil­lion. From his cam­paign fund, he cut checks to dozens of Demo­cratic can­di­dates for Congress and party en­ti­ties, dol­ing out more than $650,000.

He also has a rep­u­ta­tion as a lik­able col­league with a strong work ethic. For­mer Cal­i­for­nia schools chief Jack O’Con­nell, who roomed with Schiff when they were both state se­na­tors in the 1990s, de­scribed him fondly as “a worka­holic.”

Dur­ing his first con­gres­sional race, Schiff “would get up be­fore 5 in the morn­ing at our house and he’d be on the phone call­ing back to the East Coast,” O’Con­nell said. “He would get on a plane and fly all night to have a fundrais­ing break­fast there, and be back in Sacramento by the af­ter­noon for his com­mit­tee as­sign­ments.”

Demo­cratic Rep. Jared Huff­man called Schiff “the adult in the room, at all times,” and said he has the re­spect of the whole Demo­cratic cau­cus.

When Pelosi was try­ing to hold back Democrats who wanted to im­peach Trump as early as last year, say­ing it was pre­ma­ture and di­vi­sive, Schiff was aligned with her. As re­cently as July, he said he would be “de­lighted if we had a prospect of re­mov­ing (Trump) through im­peach­ment, but we don’t.”

Then came Ukraine. The whis­tle­blower’s com­plaint led to the re­lease of the White House rough tran­script of a phone call in which Trump pressed Ukraine’s pres­i­dent to re­open a dor­mant in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a gas com­pany on which Bi­den’s son, Hunter Bi­den, was a mem­ber of the board of di­rec­tors.

The episode changed Pelosi’s mind on im­peach­ment, and Schiff ’s. The fact that the com­plaint came from the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity meant the in­quiry went to Schiff ’s panel and not to the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee headed by New York Demo­crat Jerry Nadler, who was push­ing for im­peach­ment be­fore Pelosi was ready to go there.

Schiff said he sees his role through the lens of his ex­pe­ri­ence as a pros­e­cu­tor, and aims to be “me­thod­i­cal” in iden­ti­fy­ing tar­gets of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, get­ting the facts and then pre­sent­ing the case to the “jury” of the Se­nate and Amer­i­can peo­ple.

The promi­nence of the im­peach­ment in­quiry has brought an out­sized glare from Repub­li­cans. Trump has at­tacked Schiff with dis­parag­ing nick­names and pointed to the Wash­ing­ton Post’s “four Pinoc­chio” rat­ing for the con­gress­man’s claim that his com­mit­tee had no con­tact with the whis­tle­blower be­fore the com­plaint was filed.

House GOP Leader Kevin Mc­Carthy of Bak­ers­field ac­cused Schiff of “ly­ing to the Amer­i­can peo­ple.” Repub­li­cans are plan­ning to force a vote on a cen­sure res­o­lu­tion against Schiff when law­mak­ers return from a re­cess next week, though Democrats have the votes to de­feat it.

Schiff brushes off the at­tacks, say­ing Mc­Carthy has “no in­de­pen­dent judg­ment” out­side of the pres­i­dent and that Trump is sim­ply goad­ing him out of des­per­a­tion.

“I do my best to tune them out,” Schiff said. “The pres­i­dent needs an ad­ver­sary, and he would like noth­ing bet­ter than for me to en­gage him.”

Fel­low In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee mem­ber Rep Eric Swal­well, D­Dublin, said Schiff “doesn’t waste time on day­to­day break­ing news drama.” When com­mit­tee Repub­li­cans chal­lenge Schiff be­hind closed doors, Swal­well said, “he doesn’t flinch.”

How Schiff han­dles the spot­light could af­fect his fu­ture tra­jec­tory. His po­lit­i­cal skill, cam­paign bankroll and al­lies in high places have led to spec­u­la­tion that he could one day run for U.S. Se­nate from Cal­i­for­nia or try to move into the House’s lead­er­ship when the 79­year­old Pelosi re­tires.

Schiff ac­knowl­edged he con­sid­ered run­ning for Se­nate when for­mer Sen. Bar­bara Boxer re­tired in 2016 — Ka­mala Harris even­tu­ally won the seat — but said that right now, he “can­not think be­yond next week.”

Carrick, the po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant, noted that few Cal­i­for­nia mem­bers of Congress ad­vance to statewide of­fice, in part be­cause it’s hard for them to get no­ticed out­side their dis­tricts. But Schiff “doesn’t have any prob­lem with it be­ing hard to get well­known,” Carrick said. “He is some­body that’s go­ing to very, very well­known.”

Mark Kadesh, a for­mer chief of staff and cam­paign man­ager for Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, re­calls telling his wife upon first meet­ing Schiff that he was “in­cred­i­bly smart” but “so mod­er­ate” in tem­per­a­ment that he might have trou­ble at­tract­ing enough at­ten­tion to move up. While Kadesh no longer has those doubts, he says, he also doesn’t be­lieve Schiff is look­ing too far ahead.

“My guess is he’ll have lots of op­tions go­ing for­ward, but I think what’s on his mind right now is do­ing the job,” Kadesh said. “And frankly, this is the stuff that makes it in your obit­u­ary, what he’s do­ing here . ... He’s do­ing the right thing by fo­cus­ing on what’s in front of him.”

Anna Money­maker / New York Times

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Schiff are long­time al­lies.

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