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A first: Schiff flies above the radar

Rep. Adam Schiff, right, vice chair of the House Intelligence Committee, ponders testimony. (Photo: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

In an overheated political environment where it’s dangerous to stand between some politicians and a television camera, the national spotlight has suddenly fallen on a low-key Californian who implores Donald Trump to be truthful.

He is Adam Bennett Schiff, 56, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is looking into possible Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election, as well as unsubstantiated claims by President Donald Trump that the Obama administration “wire tapped” Trump Tower. It has put the committee — and Schiff — on the national stage.

Now in his ninth term, Schiff has operated for the most part under the radar, representing a sprawling Southern California district that includes Hollywood, La Crescenta, Burbank, Pasadena and Glendale, along with a chunk of central Los Angeles.

During the past several weeks Democrat Schiff has been on PBS, Meet the Press, CNN, NPR and the New York Times, among others. It is a marked departure for Schiff, a former, below-the-radar state lawmaker who is barely remembered in Sacramento.

He comes across as calm, rational, and earnest — an articulate straight arrow who is positioning himself as Washington’s emerging Un-Trump as he serves on the committee investigating potential links between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

In an unusual, 17-minute-long opening statement before the Intelligence Committee on March 20, Schiff methodically ticked off a series of those possible connections. His comments received wide attention in Washington and on social media, as has his hardening stance against the Republican chair of the committee, Devin Nunes, a fellow Californian.

“We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election,’’ he said. “What does matter is this: The Russians successfully meddled in our democracy, and our intelligence agencies have concluded that they will do so again.’’

Not everyone was delighted with Schiff’s remarks.

Schiff’s opening statement was “a litany of false conspiracy theories that included the discredited Russia “dossier.” His antics earned comparisons to Joe McCarthy … ” wrote Joel B. Pollak in Breitbart News. “At times, Schiff has arguably abused his stature on the intelligence committee for partisan purposes.”

Three days later, Schiff said he had seen new information on collusion between Trump and the Russians.

The new attention has made him a valuable fund-raising asset. For example, he recently went to Florida — in Trump’s backyard in fact — for a well-attended event to raise money for Palm Beach County Democrats.

“I do think that it’s appropriate to say that it’s the kind of evidence that you would submit to a grand jury at the beginning of an investigation,” he told CNN. “It’s not the kind of evidence that you take to a trial jury when you’re trying to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt. But we’re at the beginning of an investigation, and given the gravity of the subject matter, I think that the evidence certainly warrants us doing a thorough investigation.”

Two days after that, in the weekly Democratic broadcast address on March 25, Schiff urged Trump to tell the truth, declaring that the world needs to believe Trump if he says there is an international crisis. “Presidential credibility, once squandered, may never be fully regained,” Schiff warned.

The new attention has made him a valuable fund-raising asset. For example, he recently went to Florida — in Trump’s backyard in fact — for a well-attended event to raise money for Palm Beach County Democrats.

Now in his ninth term, Schiff, has operated for the most part with modest visibility, representing a sprawling Southern California district that includes Hollywood, La Crescenta, Burbank, Pasadena and Glendale, along with a chunk of central Los Angeles.

Schiff’s congressional record pleases liberals. Among other things, he has introduced a constitutional amendment that — in his words — “would allow Congress to set reasonable limits on campaign contributions and independent expenditures and would allow – but not require – states to enact their own public financing laws.” He has also introduced legislation that would phase out the display of captive Orca killer whales.

Schiff is also the leading congressional advocate for recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915. He is the lead author of the Armenian Genocide resolution in the House.

Schiff has tangled with Nunes, who was on Trump’s transition team and who hastened to brief Trump on the latest in the “wire tapping” matter before informing Schiff — the vice chair of the committee — or the rest of the panel. He later apologized.

Through a spokesman, Schiff declined to comment on his sudden rise to national prominence.

Before going to Washington, Schiff spent four years in Sacramento, although his state Capitol career is little remembered here. He got his undergraduate degree from Stanford, and his law degree from Harvard.

He was elected to the state Senate in 1996 on his third try for a legislative seat. In an unusual move for a rookie, Schiff was made chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during his single, four-year term.

Schiff’s principal policy accomplishment was authoring legislation that created the Pasadena Blue Line Authority, extending light rail to Pasadena.

But his most significant political accomplishment — for which he received national attention, briefly — was winning his race for a congressional seat in 2000, defeating Republican James Rogan, a tough, canny former prosecutor and one of the House managers of the Bill Clinton impeachment. Rogan is now a Superior Court judge.

If he decides to capitalize on his newfound fame, and it turns out to be for more than 15 minutes, Schiff has at least four possible career paths ahead.

First, he could decide to remain in Congress, representing a safe district and perhaps rising to a House leadership role.

Second, he could run for the U.S. Senate if 83-year-old, pacemaker-equipped but healthy Dianne Feinstein decides not to run again; that is the most likely option if Schiff wants to climb Disraeli’s greasy pole.

Third, he could enter the crowded field for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Finally, and some Democrats, pondering their thin presidential bench, are wistfully talking about it already — he could start laying the groundwork to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

That, of course, would be the most far-fetched scenario, but we live in a tumultuous time in politics, and conventional wisdom is out the window.


  • Martha Bartha

    Schiff, Schiff he’s our man………………

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