“A xenophobic autocrat”: Adam Schiff on Trump’s threat to democracy | Books

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The great crises of American political life often produce a new hero, someone whose courage and charisma capture the imaginations of the decent half of the country.

In the 1950s, when Joe McCarthy terrorized America with savage claims of Communists hiding in every Army barracks and State Department hallway, it was a lawyer, Joseph Walsh, who asked the Senator for the Wisconsin: “Well, sir, don’t you have any sense of decency?

Twenty years later, when the country was mesmerized by the Watergate hearings, it was a folk senator from North Carolina, a World War I veteran named Sam Ervin, who captured hearts with lyrics like: “There is nothing in the constitution that authorizes or makes it the official duty of a president to have anything to do with criminal activity.

Forty years later, after Donald Trump entered the White House to exploit what Adam Schiff calls “a dangerous vein of autocratic thought” in the Republican Party, the then little-known California Democrat has done more than anyone to unravel and denounce the serious crimes of a charlatan destined to be the only president twice dismissed.

During the pandemic, Schiff took advantage of his confinement to write a memoir that offers an alluring mix of personal and politics. The book, Midnight in Washington, is chock-full of new details about the President’s treason investigations and how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic caucus decided impeachment was necessary.

But the human side of the story is the most compelling part: the story of Schiff’s immigrant Jewish ancestors, the sustenance he received from a brilliant wife and a devoted son and daughter, a career path that made him the perfect person to meet his moment. in history.

“I enjoyed writing the first part of the book the most,” Schiff told The Guardian. “In many ways, I feel like the life I had before Trump prepared me for the upcoming national trial.

“The prosecution of an FBI agent for espionage for the benefit of the Russians.” Living in Eastern Europe and seeing the rise of an autocrat in Czechoslovakia literally tear the country apart. And the story of my own family in Eastern Europe. All of these things seemed to unknowingly prepare me for the rise of a xenophobic autocrat in our own country.

In turbulent political waters, a brilliant spouse is a great advantage – especially one who sometimes knows you better than yourself. When the Democratic establishment recruited him to run for Congress, following his election to the California Senate, Schiff believed he was undecided. His wife, Eve, knew otherwise.

“You’re going to do it,” she said, after returning from meetings in Washington.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

“Yes, you do,” said Eve. “You can do it.”

She was right.

Schiff’s love for bipartisanship, which ended with the Trump presidency, was inherited from his father, a “Democratic yellow dog” (a person who would vote for a yellow dog before voting Republican) and his Republican mother. .

His father gave him advice that has served him all his life: “As long as you are good at what you do, there will always be a demand for you.

“It was a very liberating idea,” Schiff writes, “that all I had to do was focus on being good at my chosen profession and the rest would take care of him- same.”

His work as the federal prosecutor who secured the conviction of the first FBI agent accused of spying for Russia was crucial in understanding how Trump was manipulated by the Russians. He understood that Michael Cohen’s efforts during the campaign to strike a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow would leave Trump vulnerable to blackmail if his attorney’s calls were taped. And he was amazed when he realized that this kind of Kompromat wouldn’t even be necessary.

When Trump “became president, the Kremlin wouldn’t need to blackmail him into betraying America’s interests,” Schiff writes. “To a remarkable degree, he would show himself to be more than willing to do it on his own. “

There is much more to the book, from Schiff’s unsuccessful effort to convince New York Times editors to remind readers that the emails they were posting to undermine Hillary Clinton had been Fly by the Russians to that very end, to Schiff’s revelation that if he had known how badly Robert Mueller would behave as a witness after completing his tenure as special advocate, he would not have asked for his testimony.

“I didn’t say that before this book,” he told The Guardian. “It was one of the difficult sections of the book to write because I have such a reverence for Mueller. I wanted to be respectful but precise.

Schiff speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill. Photograph: Susan Walsh / AP

Schiff is still at the center of political events. He sits on the House select committee investigating the deadly attack on Capitol Hill – and dealing with Trump’s obstruction.

On the page, he also remembers a hearing in 2017 where he asked representatives of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube if their “algorithms had the effect of balkanizing the public and deepening divisions in our society.”

Facebook’s general counsel claimed, “The data on this is actually quite mixed.

“Maybe it was,” writes Schiff, “but it didn’t strike me as very mixed.”

When asked if he thought this week’s testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen would create enough pressure to pass new laws regulating social media platforms, Schiff said, “The answer is yes.

“I think we need regulations to protect people’s private data. I think we need to reduce the scope of the Safe Harbor these companies enjoy if they don’t moderate their content and continue to amplify anger and hatred. I think we need to insist on a vehicle for more transparency to better understand the data. “

But he then cautioned, “If you bet against Congress, you win 90% of the time. “

“The Eureka moment”

On the page, Schiff records an exchange at the airport with a Republican stranger, who said, “You can tell me, there’s nothing about this collusion thing, is there?”

It’s a conversation that should put an end to this question for good.

Schiff said: “What if I told you we had black and white evidence that the Russians approached the Clinton campaign and offered dirt on Donald Trump, then secretly met Chelsea Clinton, John Podesta and Robby Mook at the Brooklyn headquarters of the campaign … then Hillary lied about it to cover it up. Do you call that collusion?

“Now, what if I also told you that after the election, former national security adviser Susan Rice secretly spoke with the Russian ambassador in an effort to undermine US sanctions against Russia after their interference to help Hillary to win. Would you call it collusion? “

The Republican was convinced, “You know, I probably would.”

For Schiff, it was a “eureka moment”.

Now, he thought, if I can only speak to a few hundred million people. “

Schiff’s book is expected to convince a few million more that everything he said about Trump was true – and that the country was exceptionally fortunate to have him ready and willing to defend the ragged concept of “truth.” .


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