On Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-California), fresh off the biggest week of his tenure in Congress, sat for an extended interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Schiff talked about the week that was — three days of public impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump’s conduct in and around the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy — in personal and telling terms.
I went through the transcript and pulled out the most important moments. They’re here.
Schiff named the 3 moments in the 5 total days of public impeachment hearing that he believed were the most important
1) US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s admission that there was a quid pro quo — Zelensky would get his White House meeting when he publicly announced an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden.
2) Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill’s testimony that she had come to believe that American foreign policy and national security interests had been co-opted by Trump’s personal and political interests.
3) David Holmes, a diplomatic staffer in Ukraine, testifying to a conversation he had with Sondland on July 26 in which the ambassador made clear that Trump was only interested in “big” things in Ukraine — like investigating the Bidens.
Schiff cited Mick Mulvaney as providing the smoking gun
Asked by Tapper whether any witness had directly linked Trump to the holdup in nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine in exchange for an investigation announcement, Schiff named acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. (Mulvaney has resisted a subpoena to appear in the impeachment proceedings.)
“The President’s own chief of staff, the person who meets with the President every day, on live camera admitted exactly that vis-a-vis the most serious, and that is the military aid,” said Schiff.
Mulvaney, in a hugely problematic news conference last month, said “that’s why we held up the money,” when asked about Trump’s desire of Ukraine to investigate corruption. “Get over it,” he told the assembled reporters. “We do that all the time with foreign policy.”
Schiff isn’t going to wait around for the big fish
Schiff’s committee has heard from lots of witnesses in the course of its closed-door and public impeachment proceedings. But with the exception of Sondland, the people who sit at the center of the controversy — Trump’s personal layer Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton — have fought attempts to bring them in. Some observers believe Schiff should wait until he can get some (or all) of these witnesses — in order to make the impeachment case airtight.
Schiff won’t be doing that. “Yes, we’d love to have these witnesses come in, but we’re not willing to simply allow them to wait us out to stall this proceeding, when the facts are already overwhelming,” he told Tapper. “We’re going to continue our investigation. We are going to continue to pursue the documents.”
Schiff’s message on timing
Republicans — and even some Democrats — are raising questions as to why (and whether) the impeachment investigation needs to be finished and articles of impeachment voted on before the end of the year. The reasoning for that rush is widely attributed to Democratic worries about the impeachment debate leeching into an election year — and possibly helping Trump by allowing him to make the case that Democrats are so fixated on impeachment that they aren’t getting anything done for the American people.
Schiff on Sunday tried out a new message on timing. “There is a sense of urgency, when you have a President who’s threatening the integrity of our elections, that we need to act now, if we’re going to act, and we can’t allow this obstruction to succeed,” he said.
The argument against executive privilege
Schiff laid down a marker when it comes to the pending (and likely) legal fight over whether conversations between Trump and Pompeo or Trump and Mulvaney or Trump and Giuliani are protected by executive privilege. “Because we have adduced so much evidence of guilt of this President, so much evidence of serious misconduct, any privilege the President would have would be vitiated by this crime-fraud exception,” he said.
In simpler terms: If there is clear evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct already proven, the President will not be able to hide behind privilege claims.
Why Schiff doesn’t think he should testify in a Senate impeachment trial
Trump has already made clear that in a Senate trial, where his side can call witnesses, he would aim to force Schiff to testify — noting that David Kendall, Bill Clinton’s lawyer during the last Senate impeachment trial, was able to cross-examine independent counsel Ken Starr.
Apples and oranges, according to Schiff. “I’m not a special counsel,” he said. “I don’t work for a separate branch of government. I’m not in the Justice Department. I am more in a position that Henry Hyde was during the Clinton impeachment, or Peter Rodino during the Nixon impeachment, or Sam Ervin. They were not fact witnesses.”
Schiff makes the how-will-history-judge-you argument to Republicans
Asked about what it would mean if Republicans uniformly opposed any articles of impeachment against Trump, Schiff cast the vote as a matter of conscience — and history.
“It will have very long-term consequences, if that’s where we end up,” he said. “And if not today, I think Republican members in the future, to their children and their grandchildren, will have to explain why they did nothing in the face of this deeply unethical man who did such damage to the country.”