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Stop piling on Adam Schiff

Stop piling on Adam Schiff
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff speaks at a hearing in Washington on March 28. (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, March 30, 2019. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

A normal president would appreciate the weight of his words in the aftermath of something as politically charged as Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, and express either the magnanimity or the contrition that the occasion demands, always with an eye on what’s best for the country. But we do not have a normal president, and after Atty. Gen. William Barr declared on Sunday that Mueller’s report lets the president off the hook legally, Trump and his supporters have been out for blood — especially Adam Schiff’s.

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The soft-spoken Schiff may seem an unlikely annoyance to a president as pugnacious as Trump. But over the last two-plus years as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and now as chairman, the representative from Burbank has like a persistent prosecutor poked holes in the Republicans’ defenses of Trump, even declaring that the evidence points to likely Trump campaign collusion with Russia. Now, with Barr saying the Mueller report doesn’t support that, Schiff has been called everything from a liar to “pencil neck.”

My first thought hearing Kellyanne Conway calling on Schiff to “resign today” for (get this) dishonesty, and reading Trump’s tweet demanding that Schiff step down, not as Intelligence Committee chairman, but from Congress altogether, was that the residents of his district who have overwhelmingly reelected him since 2000 might have something to say about that. Senior editorial writer Michael McGough says the Republicans calling on Schiff to resign are being disingenuous, but the chairman nonetheless has some explaining to do:

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.

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Trump calls the Mueller report a “total exoneration.” It isn’t, and McGough warns the president against pardoning Paul Manafort or any other aides: “Clemency for Manafort, [Michael] Flynn et al would give rise to suspicions, fair or not, that they were being rewarded for their loyalty to the president or perhaps even for their silence. Would Trump be foolish enough to stoke such suspicions by issuing pardons?” L.A. Times

Also on the Mueller report: Harold Meyerson says a favorable conclusion by the special counsel still doesn’t change the fact that Trump is the most dangerous president in history. Republican advisor Scott Jennings warns that further investigating Trump risks imperiling any future Democratic administration. Investigative reporter Seth Hettena reminds us that whether Trump committed a crime isn’t the only thing that matters. The editorial board welcomes Mueller’s findings (at least the ones we know about) as good for the president and good for the country, but says that the question of whether Trump obstructed justice remains unresolved.

In a world without President Trump, this would be regarded as a major disaster: The largest lake in California is drying up, yet lawmakers act as if they’ve never even heard of the Salton Sea. The editorial board includes this reminder of how grim the future looks for the Salton Sea and the nearby residents who face toxic dust storms: “The dimensions of the failure were for many years merely theoretical, but they became real in the winter just past. As the rain and snow washed away drought and at least temporarily diminished environmental problems in the rest of the state, the contraction of the Salton Sea accelerated. Increasing salinity kept the lake from sustaining even the salt-hardy tilapia. The birds failed to appear.” L.A. Times

What’s with the all the dystopia, Democrats? The election of 1864 occurred during America’s darkest hour, but listening to the Democratic presidential candidates, you’d think we were living through another civil war instead of 4% unemployment. “The moral of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ is not that there is no wolf, but rather that warnings should be saved for when the beast actually arrives,” writes Matt Welch. “The president’s apocalyptic fantasia is disreputable on its face, and leads to bad policies. Democrats should resist the temptation to emulate what they despise.” L.A. Times

Do this so horse racing isn’t banned in the United States: Stop overmedicating from birth, train on tracks that aren’t just dirt, and run horses on courses that aren’t only counterclockwise ovals. Other countries maintain thriving horse racing scenes, and the United States can too if it makes badly needed reforms after the recent spate of deaths at Santa Anita Park. New York Times

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