Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, long has been an irritant for the Trump administration. The congressman President Trump has dubbed “little shifty Schiff” has suggested on several occasions that he had seen evidence of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia — “more than circumstantial evidence,” as Schiff put it in 2017.
But Schiff is coming under fire from prominent Republicans now that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has reported that his investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” That’s a quotation from Mueller’s report, not a paraphrase by Atty. Gen. William P. Barr, and it is a victory for the president.
On Monday White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Schiff should resign because he had been “peddling a lie” about collusion. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said Schiff should apologize and step down as committee chairman. Schiff has scoffed at the calls for his resignation, telling CNN that “I’m more than used to attacks from my GOP colleagues, and I would expect nothing less.”
Schiff also — legitimately – has drawn a distinction between the evidence of collusion he referred to and a conclusion that there was evidence strong enough to justify a finding of criminality. As he put it on Twitter: “Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to establish conspiracy, notwithstanding Russian offers to help Trump’s campaign, their acceptance, and a litany of concealed interactions with Russia. I trust Mueller’s prosecutorial judgment, but the country must see the evidence.”
Republican calls for Schiff to step down ignore the distinction he drew; they can be dismissed as a partisan pile-on. And Schiff is right that it’s important that the actual Mueller report be made public so that we can evaluate whether his statements about collusion receive any support from its findings.
But at that point, Schiff needs to be forthcoming about what led him to assert that there was evidence of collusion and whether Mueller’s investigation has inspired any second thoughts.
We know some of what Schiff has in mind. In an interview with CNN last month, Schiff mentioned contacts between former national security advisor Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador as well as the notorious Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 involving Trump associates (including campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr.) and a Russian lawyer who was expected to provide negative information about Hillary Clinton.
If there is more behind Schiff’s suggestions about collusion, he should say so – not to preserve his position as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, which isn’t in any jeopardy, but to demonstrate that he is willing to explain and, if necessary, modify his conclusions. That would make it at least somewhat more likely that he could win the backing of some Republicans for future investigations of the president and his administration.