To President Donald Trump and his House Republican allies, Rep. Adam B. Schiff is public enemy No. 1. But as the lead House impeachment manager makes his case against Trump in the Senate, the California Democrat has drawn some surprising compliments from a few GOP senators.
That’s not to say that Trump will stop attacking the man he calls “Shifty Schiff,” or that other Republicans won’t use Schiff as the scapegoat for everything they think is wrong with the House Democrats’ impeachment charges.
But knowing that the House is seeking Trump’s removal from office, regardless of what they think, some Republicans acknowledge that Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, is the best person to present the Democrats’ case.
“Adam Schiff, any of my friends or colleagues that think [or] suggest that somehow he’s not up to it are wrong. He is up to it,” North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer said. “I think he presents in a very good fashion. I think that he’s not very factual, he’s not confined to truth. But he’s a very good presenter. He’s got a good mind, obviously.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi “made a good strategic move in moving the impeachment inquiry over to his committee so he could chair it and having him be the head manager,” added Cramer, who previously served three terms in the House.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham complained on Twitter on Tuesday amid debate over the trial rules that “having Adam Schiff lecture the Senate about fairness and due process is like listening to an arsonist talk about fire prevention.”
But as the South Carolina Republican ran into Schiff leaving the Capitol on Wednesday after the House impeachment managers’ first day presenting, he shook his hand and gave him a compliment.
“Good job. You’re very well-spoken,” Graham said.
Again for the cameras
On Thursday before the trial resumed, a reporter told Graham, who was addressing the press before the television pool camera, that he heard he had some nice words for Schiff. Before the reporter got his question out, the senator chimed in to elaborate on his compliment.
“He’s well-spoken, did a good job of creating a tapestry, taking bits and pieces of evidence and emails, and giving a rhetorical flourish, making the email come alive — sometimes effectively, sometimes a little over the top,” Graham said. “But quite frankly, I thought they did a good job of taking bits and pieces of the evidence and creating a quilt out of it.”
Graham’s praise is noteworthy for multiple reasons. He’s one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the Senate, but he was also once responsible for presenting arguments for removing a president, serving as an impeachment manager in former President Bill Clinton’s trial.
Graham has raised factual disputes with some of Schiff’s assertions so far in the trial, but when it comes to the job he’s doing as a presenter, the former lawyer and military prosecutor had nary a bad word to say.
Senate Democrats, of course, had plenty of compliments for Schiff as well. But what stood out to Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is that Republicans were paying attention to the presentation, particularly in the last two hours Wednesday as Schiff summed up the evidence.
“I like to watch my Republican colleagues, and many of them really don’t want to be there. And so for some of it, they are looking the other way, they may be chatting with somebody,” he said. “Schiff had such power in his speech that he almost forced them to look at him and listen and just about every Republican’s eyes were glued on Mr. Schiff. So it was a powerful rendition.”
Too ‘smooth’ for others
Still, many Senate Republicans only had negative things to say about Schiff and his presentation.
“He’s smooth, he’s slick. … He’s a known liar — a public liar,” Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson said.
“Anybody can sit up there and talk, drone on for two and a half hours, not even with a slip of the tongue. Hats off to him,” he added, sarcastically.
Johnson, unlike other senators, has a reason to be personally frustrated with Schiff, as he’s been dragged into the House’s evidence files and reports — and was even named during the House manager’s presentation to the Senate on Wednesday. The senator was in Kyiv and attended Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May as well as meetings with key witnesses in the impeachment case that have come up in testimony.
Other Republicans had similar criticisms. Texas Sen. John Cornyn also derogatorily described Schiff as “smooth.”
But overall, the Senate GOP attacks on Schiff were mild compared to Trump, who has accused the California Democrat of treason, and House Republicans, who unsuccessfully tried to formally censure him on the House floor.
Several senators, like Joni Ernst, complained that Schiff and the House managers were too repetitive.
“It’s on repeat,” the Iowa Republican said. “I keep hearing the same message over and over again coming from the House members. And I’m still waiting to hear their overwhelming evidence.”
Even Cramer, who thinks Schiff is doing a good job presenting, shared in that complaint. But he acknowledged there’s probably some strategy in the House managers repeating the same facts.
“They tend to overstay their welcome and and overplay their hand,” he said. “And I don’t know if that’s the lack of planning, I don’t know if that’s legal [strategy], I don’t know if that’s punitive. I don’t know what it is, or if it’s just excitement and zeal. I think a little bit of it … maybe there’s another audience he’s talking to than the 100 senators.”
A few Republicans declined to weigh in either way on how Schiff and his team were performing.
“I think that I won’t make a judgment about how the House is doing their stuff till I compare it to what the defense does,” Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley said.
Schiff, for his part, was just glad that Senate decorum rules requiring senators to stay silently seated during the trial meant they at least had to hear him out.
Addressing Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in floor remarks, Schiff noted “how rare it is, extraordinary it is, for House members to be able to command the attention of senators sitting silently for hours — or even for minutes for that matter.”
Katherine Tully-McManus and Griffin Connolly contributed to this story.