A television series called Law and Order started during the elder Bush presidency and continued throughout the Clinton administration. In this series, actor Steven Hill is the Ivy League-educated, pro-choice, anti-capital punishment and politically correct district attorney for New York County. Hill’s fictional character named “Adam Schiff” is a liberal Democrat but principled; he stands up to his powerful, corrupt friends who are part of the liberal establishment.
This Law and Order series, that is, the flagship and not the SVU spin-off, ended a few months before the election to Congress in November 2000 of a real person named Adam Schiff, who now represents California’s 28th Congressional District. Schiff had defeated my friend, the admirable and impressive Congressman Jim Rogan who four years later wrote Rough Edges: My Unlikely Road from Welfare to Washington, an engaging autobiography far more inspiriting than anything Schiff has written … or will ever write. Jim is now an Orange County, Calif. superior court judge who President Donald Trump would do well to nominate to the federal judiciary.
Back to the contemporary Adam Schiff, who actually resembles the television character except that the fictional prosecutor was a man of principle. In contrast, Congressman Schiff, you may recall, favors politics over substance. For example, on Aug. 3, 2015, practically before the ink was dry on the Iran treaty (that Obama claimed was not a treaty) and without disclosure of its secret protocols,” Schiff (a supposed “Iran-deal skeptic”) articulated all the defects of the agreement before he then disingenuously came to the punch line, a non-sequitur: he announced he would support the reckless sell-out.
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Chameleon Adam Schiff remains the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He is known mainly as a “come hither” CNN talking head, a favorite because he speaks with gravity, maybe even gravitas, beyond credibility to authority; in short, he is ponderous blowhard. He packages the most partisan talking points as if he is the vessel of divine interpretation. Some would say that Schiff is pompous; he is what Simon Cowell would call “self-indulgent.”
Thus, when Hillary Clinton, flouting national security protocols, arguably violated federal law that had been applied to others, the serious looking Schiff was a dependable stalwart, appearing stern and analytical, he would rationalize each violation.
Last week House intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes erred in immediately advising the White House of findings of possible government snooping into the people around Donald Trump. Nunes apologized for his lapse in judgment, that is, he indeed should have alerted his colleagues, including Schiff first. But to hear Schiff, absorbed in contrived righteous indignation, tell it, Nunes had crossed Schiff’s imaginary red line, into an abyss of rampant corruption.
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Schiff is forever casting aspersions on the people around Trump, who – he implies – were involved in indiscreet conversations and nefarious machinations, to sabotage the Clinton campaign and throw the election to Trump. No matter that the total Clinton effort, enhanced by CNN, the networks and major newspapers, and Facebook and Google, Wall Street, K Street, labor unions, et. al spent perhaps three times what the Trump supporters spent – that with all this, she was an awful candidate who ran a screwed-up campaign. Why acknowledge that, when Schiff can instead say, “The Russians did it!” In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan?
Schiff has publicly tossed around the names of suspects. In reaction, the guilty would retain lawyer, refuse to appear without a subpoena, and then appear privately to take the Fifth Amendment. But when Schiff baited pugilist Roger Stone, Schiff got more than he bargained for: Stone, who has called Schiff a “small town Joe McCarthy,” has publicly and repeatedly volunteered to testify, in public, as soon as possible.
Republican Nunes would do well to take Roger up on his offer, and put Democrat Schiff in the interrogator’s chair, which could actually become the hot seat. Let’s see Schiff and Roger go mano a mano. If Roger can calibrate his nastiness and tone down his conspiracy theories, he can overwhelm the pretentious Schiff and win the sound bites. Roger is colorful and engages in performance art, that is, for the public hearings, he will offer high drama guerrilla theater. He will spin Schiff (before, during and after the public hearings) so fast in circles with a circumference far beyond the reach of Schiff, unable to cope with the spontaneity.
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Someone recently observed that the intelligence community does not always listen to bad people, but interesting people. So it remains to be seen whether operatives in the intelligence community, a portion of which disdains Trump, eavesdropped on his lieutenants. This is not to say that President Barack Obama ordered that Trump be “wiretapped” – thus far an unproven charge beyond rhetorical overkill.
Schiff says Stone was in touch with a Russian hacker. But if Roger were engaged in misdeeds, why did he talk and write about these alleged transgressions contemporaneously? Schiff will portray Roger as a Watergate dirty trickster; but Roger, in turn, will depict Obama’s wrongdoings as “worse than Watergate” – and Schiff as a cover-up artist. In any public hearing, expect Roger to play to the cameras and go on offense.
Roger will ask Schiff why he, as a junior federal prosecutor, had to try former FBI agent Richard Miller three times for passing secret documents to the Soviets before successfully convicting Miller. Roger will reprise that Schiff called the proposed Benghazi hearings a “colossal waste of time” and then joined the committee to “add value” – i.e., to obfuscate the Obama administration’s scheme that election year against Romney, to claim terrorism was under control, and that the embassy attack was a protest against a movie disrespectful of Islam.
Roger will ask Schiff whether he will alibi for FBI Director James Comey, particularly when he was a U.S. Attorney: Why was Clinton national security aide Sandy Berger not prosecuted for being caught on tape stealing classified materials that showed how Clinton would not authorize killing Osama bin Laden when he was in our sights? Or why did President Bill Clinton give con artist Marc Rich a pardon after donating to the Clinton foundation?
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Congressman Adam Schiff and his colleagues who insist they must question former Trump aides should be careful about what they wish for. Take Schiff, for example. He talks like he is reading from a legal brief. Expect Roger Stone to go after Schiff in his opening statement, to interrupt Schiff often, and to answer questions on his own terms, always ending on offense. Roger will not let up until every camera and reporter has left the committee room, and then he will follow them down the hallway.
I can’t wait to watch.
Arnold Steinberg, is the author of WHIPLASH! From JFK to Donald Trump, A Political Odyssey (forthcoming, June 2017). He is a political strategist whose previous books on politics and media were graduate school texts.
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