Donald Trump was impeached last winter for one technical violation of the law and a host of made-up ones. The technical violation was his move to block $391 million in Ukrainian military aid.
It was a violation because it because it interfered with Congress’s exclusive spending powers. But it was purely technical because presidents traditionally have wide latitude in determining how expenditures are made. Back in 1801, Thomas Jefferson’s treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, argued that the executive branch should be allowed “a reasonable discretion” while, 160 years later, John F. Kennedy had no scruples about unilaterally moving more than $1 million – a lot of money in those days – from one budget account to another to pay for a pet project known as the Peace Corps. No one thought much of it at the time, so Trump’s decision to hold up an appropriation in 2019 doesn’t seem like a big deal.
And it wasn’t, as the December 18 articles of impeachment made clear. Rather than dwelling on the blockage itself, they quickly moved on to the real question at hand, which is why it occurred. The answer, of course, was to pressure newly-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into why a notorious oligarch named Mykola Zlochevsky had given Joe Biden’s son Hunter a lucrative no-show job and why the then-vice president had then pushed for the firing of a prosecutor looking into Zlochevsky’s company, Burisma Holdings.
Since any such investigation would have reflected poorly on Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Democrats charged that Trump was seeking to “obtain an improper personal political benefit” by “enlist[ing] a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.” After welcoming Russian interference in 2016, he was now angling for Ukrainian interference in 2020 – or so they maintained.
But the charge never made sense for one all-important reason: however much Trump might benefit, the public had a legitimate interest in learning why Biden had allowed his son to enter into an obviously corrupt relationship at a time when he was supposedly serving as Obama’s point man in rooting out Ukrainian corruption.
It’s as if 1920s Chicago crime buster Eliot Ness had looked the other way while a close relative took a job with Al Capone. So while Democrats made a big show of moral indignation, Senate Republicans were unmoved with the partial exception of notorious featherbrain Mitt Romney, and Trump was acquitted.
But now let’s take a look at Schiff’s sins and see how they compare. Back in 2017, he was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and therefore the man Democrats counted on to lead the charge that Trump had colluded with the Kremlin in order to steal the election. He did so with gusto.
Quoting from a dossier prepared by ex-British MI6 agent Christopher Steele, he regaled a March 2017 committee hearing with tales of how Russia bribed Trump adviser Carter Page by offering him a hefty slice of a Russian natural-gas company known as Rosneft and of how Russian agents boosted Trump’s political fortunes by hacking Hillary Clinton’s emails and passing them on to WikiLeaks. Conceivably, such acts could have been purely coincidental, Schiff acknowledged.
“But it is also possible,” he went on, “maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected, and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out.”
Hours later, he assured MSNBC that the evidence of collusion was “more than circumstantial.” Nine months after that, he informed CNN’s Jake Tapper that the case was no longer in doubt: “The Russians offered help, the campaign accepted help, the Russians gave help, and the president made full use of that help.” In February 2018, he told reporters: “There is certainly an abundance of non-public information that we’ve gathered in the investigation. And I think some of that non-public evidence is evidence on the issue of collusion and some … on the issue of obstruction.”
The press lapped it up. But now, thanks to the May 7 release of 57 transcripts of secret testimony – transcripts, by the way, that Schiff bottled up for months – we have a better idea of what such “non-public information” amounts to. The answer: nothing. A parade of high-level witnesses told the intelligence committee that either they didn’t know about collusion or lacked evidence even to venture an opinion. Not one offered the contrary view that collusion was true.
“I never saw any direct empirical evidence that the Trump campaign or someone in it was plotting [or] conspiring with the Russians to meddle with the election,” testified ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the committee that no one in the FBI or CIA had informed her that collusion had taken place.
Sally Yates, acting attorney general during the Obama-Trump transition, was similarly noncommittal. So were Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes and former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. David Kramer, a prominent neocon who helped spread word of the Steele dossier in top intelligence circles, was downright apologetic: “I’m not in a position to really say one way or the other, sir. I’m sorry.”
But rather than admit that the investigation had turned up nothing, Schiff lied that it had – not once but repeatedly.
Let that sink in for a moment. Collusion dominated the headlines from the moment Buzzfeed published the Steele dossier on Jan. 10, 2017, to the release of the Muller report on Apr. 18, 2019. That’s more than two years, a period in which newspapers and TV were filled with Russia, Russia, Russia and little else. Thanks to the uproar, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein secretly discussed using the Twenty-fifth Amendment to force Trump out of office, while an endless parade of newscasters and commentators assured viewers that the president’s days were numbered because “the walls are closing in.”
Schiff’s only response was to egg it on to greater and greater heights. Even when Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller issued his no-collusion verdict – “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” his report said – Schiff insisted that there was still “ample evidence of collusion in plain sight.”
“I use that word very carefully,” he said, “because I also distinguish time and time again between collusion, that is acts of corruption that may or may not be criminal, and proof of a criminal conspiracy. And that is a distinction that Bob Mueller made within the first few pages of his report. In fact, every act that I’ve pointed to as evidence of collusion has now been borne out by the report.”
So Trump colluded with the Kremlin, but in a non-criminal way? Even if Mueller got Schiff in a headlock and screamed in his ear, “No collusion, no collusion,” the committee chairman would presumably reply: “See? He said it – collusion.”
The man is an unscrupulous liar, in other words, someone who will say anything to gain attention and fatten his war chest, which is why contributions flowing to his re-election campaign have risen from under $1 million a year to $10.5 million since the Russia furor began. The man talks endlessly about the Constitution, patriotism, his father’s heroic service in the military, and so on. But the only thing Adam Schiff really cares about is himself.
Trump’s sins are manifold. But with unerring accuracy, Schiff managed to zero in on the one sin that didn’t take place. Considering that the $391 million was destined for ultra-right military units whose members sport neo-Nazi regalia and SS symbols as they battle pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukraine, Schiff’s crimes are just as bad, if not worse. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the next candidate for impeachment, the congressman from Hollywood – Adam Schiff!
Daniel Lazare is an American freelance journalist, publicist and blogger.