Feeling vindicated by the release of a summary of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, Republicans on Capitol Hill have launched an aggressive campaign to oust — or at least embarrass — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, one of the Democrats’ leading voices on the Russia probe.
The mounting feud spilled out Thursday in an intelligence hearing intended to discuss Russian President Vladimir Putin’s playbook of using money and intelligence to undermine other countries, including the U.S.
Instead, the hearing was overshadowed by lawmakers’ heated back-and-forth, with Republican committee members taking the unusual step of calling for their chairman to resign, and the Burbank Democrat sharply swatting back their complaints.
“Your willingness to continue to promote a demonstrably false narrative is alarming,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas). “We have no faith in your ability to discharge your duty.”
Schiff has continued to assert that President Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election, a claim that Republicans say Mueller has discredited.
Conaway and the other eight Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee submitted a letter calling for Schiff’s resignation.
But the effort is largely partisan theater since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) appoints the Intelligence Committee chair, and she has strongly backed Schiff.
Democrats meanwhile continued their push for the release of the full Mueller report, which so far has only been described in a four-page summary by Atty. Gen. William Barr.
In a phone call Wednesday evening, Barr would not commit to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to voluntarily turning over a full, unredacted copy of the report to Congress, according to Democratic House aides who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. The House is prepared to subpoena the report if necessary.
At the intelligence hearing, Schiff angrily accused Republicans of failing to fulfill their oversight responsibilities. He described the attacks as an effort to divert attention from the president’s actions, which House Democrats are continuing to investigate.
Schiff said he accepted Mueller’s decision not to file any indictment for collusion but insisted that it didn’t change his position that Trump’s campaign was open to Russian assistance. Schiff repeatedly cited the difference between what he viewed as acts of improper coordination and the higher bar Mueller had to clear for a criminal case.
He went through a litany of evidence that he said suggested collusion, including Trump’s calls for Russians to hack Democrats’ emails; sharing American voter profile data with Russians; the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Russian officials; and the campaign’s decision not to tell the FBI that foreigners had offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
“You might think that’s OK,” Schiff said to his Republican colleagues. “I don’t. … I think it’s immoral. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic. And yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”
Trump has also targeted Schiff, accusing the lawmaker — without providing evidence — of breaking the law.
“Congressman Adam Schiff, who spent two years knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking, should be forced to resign from Congress!” Trump tweeted shortly before the hearing began.
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) accused Schiff of operating the panel in a way that posed a “danger to our national security” and acting in “true McCarthy fashion,” a reference to the questionable tactics of former Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his anti-Communist campaign.
Democrats have rallied around Schiff. Pelosi called the comments by Republicans “shameful, sad, irresponsible.”
“What is the president afraid of? Is he [so] afraid of the truth that he would go after a respected chairman of a committee?” Pelosi said. “I think they are just scaredy cats. They just don’t know what to do so they have to make an attack.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) also defended Schiff, saying earlier this week that he expected him to be “chairing that committee for a long time to come.”
Schiff was also recently named to a key fundraising chairmanship post at the Democratic committee tasked with preserving the party’s majority in the House.
The House Intelligence Committee had traditionally conducted itself with relative bipartisanship, but that changed in recent years as the Russia investigation progressed.
The former Republican chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), was temporarily forced to step aside from leading the Russia investigation on the panel two years ago, shortly before the House Committee on Ethics said he was under investigation because of reports that he might have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information. He denied the charges.
Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.