Column: Adam Schiff has finally been vindicated. But it brings him no pleasure
Early last year, Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, made a stirring — and prescient — final argument to the Senate in the impeachment trial of President Trump, who had sought to blackmail the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.
“He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again,” said Schiff, beseeching Republicans to convict and remove Trump from office. “He has compromised our elections and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency not at all.”
Ignoring the truth in those words, the Republican Senate voted to acquit the president, who has gone on to bungle the federal response to a killer pandemic, bully election officials to commit crimes in an effort to overturn the results of a free and fair election, and in what we can only hope is his final monstrous act, unleashed a band of domestic terrorists on Congress last week, resulting in the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer who was attacked by the mob.
On Monday, to their everlasting credit, Democrats in Congress introduced an article of impeachment again. Trump will almost certainly have the distinction of becoming the only president in American history to be impeached twice.
Schiff takes little pleasure in having predicted Trump’s future course so accurately. He is furious at the Republicans who have enabled Trump, especially those who did not stand up to correct the Big Lie that Trump foisted on his supporters after the election — that the contest was rigged, that he beat Biden “in a landslide.”
“I do feel like grabbing people by the lapels and saying, ‘Have you not had your eyes open?’” Schiff told me Sunday by phone from Washington. “’Did you not see this coming? Why weren’t you listening? Did you not have any doubt about this man and what he was capable of?’ All the warnings were there and we were not able to persuade them to act.”
As the mob Trump incited was swarming into the Capitol on Wednesday, Schiff was on the floor of the House debating a challenge to Arizona’s electoral college votes put in motion by a group of Republicans, including GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and House GOP leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise. Not one of those ringleaders has had the self-awareness or humility to apologize for trying to overturn the will of the people.
“I had very little idea what was going on outside,” said Schiff, “in part because I was so focused, along with my colleagues, organizing our opposition to the objections.”
As the insurrectionists began pounding on the House’s barricaded doors, lawmakers were instructed to duck for cover and put on gas masks. Schiff helped members open their masks, which look like plastic hoods. Small fans in each mask began whirring; it sounded like a swarm of wasps in the chamber. “That just added to the surreal nature of what was happening,” said Schiff. One member, a military veteran, instructed his colleagues to breathe slowly under the hood, adding, “because if you hyperventilate, you can pass out.”
Schiff, who was one of the last members in the room, said some of his Republican colleagues told him to keep out of sight, as his high profile as the House manager of Trump’s first impeachment has made him a target among Trump loyalists.
“It was touching they were worried about my safety,” he said. “On the other hand, the lies they’d been telling about the election, they’d been telling about me too. Making me a villain was one reason this was happening.”
Over the last year, I have often thought of Schiff’s memorable line in his closing impeachment argument: “If you find that the House has proved its case and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel, and for all of history.”
That list of names will also include every Republican lawmaker who votes against impeachment this time, after seeing Trump’s mob descend on the Capitol.
It will include all his Cabinet members — including the recently departed Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and disastrous Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “Way too little too late,” said Schiff.
It will include Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who still does not appear to have seen the light.
It will include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who remained silent on Biden’s win for weeks after the election, disingenuously claiming he needed to wait until all of Trump’s legal avenues were exhausted before he could congratulate the president-elect.
It will include Vice President Mike Pence, who never called out Trump’s false claims of victory and has refused to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove this unfit president from office.
“There were so many points along the way where this could have been prevented had people of courage and conviction stood up and spoken out,” Schiff said. “Trump would have been a lonely voice, but he wasn’t. He had hundreds of members of Congress echoing his lies, bringing down the wrath on us.”
May they all be tied with a cord of steel to this shameful chapter in American history.
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