NEW YORK — Rep. Adam Schiff hasn’t had much fun lately.
The leader of the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine has spent recent weeks in a constant struggle with the White House over testimony and documents. He’s squared off with Republican colleagues who have questioned his motives and assailed his missteps. And he is one of several Democrats shown being “killed” by Trump in a fake video screened for the president’s supporters at an event in Florida last week.
“There is nothing enjoyable about this,” said Schiff, a California Democrat and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, during an appearance at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Monday night.
But chuckling along with a crowd that gave him a standing ovation before and after his conversation with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Schiff appeared more relaxed than he has in Washington lately, and resigned to face the political gauntlet that lies before him.
“Any of us would prefer the president conducted himself with honor and decency and respect for the rule of law,” he said. “But that’s not what we have, so we do what we must.”
Schiff said it was not until recently that he became convinced Democrats could consider impeaching Trump. And while he doubted the inquiry would convince Trump’s most fervent supporters of any wrongdoing, Schiff is confident the process will sway undecided Americans.
“There are still people with an open mind, and those are the people I’m trying to speak to,” he said.
He offered up precious few details about his committee’s ongoing investigation, which centers on a whistleblower complaint about a July 25 phone call during which Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential opponent in the 2020 election, and Biden’s son Hunter.
But he did respond to criticism from Republicans who have said testimony given to the committee should be made public — “I’m sure the White House would love nothing more than to get their story straight” — and acknowledged that he misspoke in a Sept. 17 interview on MSNBC when he said his committee had not spoken to the whistleblower. (It had.)
Ultimately, Schiff said, he would release transcripts of testimony given to the committee. He did not say when, however, and was equally cagey when pressed to predict a timetable under which articles of impeachment might be brought to the House floor for a vote.
“There’s been no decision made whether we bring articles or what the articles would look like,” he said.
Because of new evidence, Schiff said, including recent testimony from Fiona Hill, a National Security Council staffer, and Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Democrats are “learning new and important information as part of the impeachment inquiry.”
Investigators are also continuing to probe the White House’s transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Schiff is confident that the transcript is “accurate,” he said, but questions remain as to “whether it’s complete,” noting the inclusion of several ellipses. He also said it’s unclear whether a recording of the call exists, and who would have it.
Schiff said the timing of the inquiry also depends on the White House’s level of cooperation. He accused the administration of “stonewalling” the investigation, activity which he said “will be considered an obstruction of Congress,” a possible addition to eventual impeachment charges.
And he chided Trump’s attempts to delay the inquiry in court, provoking more laughter from the crowd when he characterized recent legal rulings against the president as “the jurisprudential equivalent of ‘don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.’”
But Schiff was not joking when he described his realization that Trump’s call with Zelenskiy had taken place the day after Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who spent two years investigating whether Trump had colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, testified before Congress.
“That says to me that the president walked away from those two years thinking he can do anything he wants, he can abuse his power, he can be as corrupt as he likes, and there will be no accounting,” Schiff said. “And that is a dangerous thing for the United States of America.”
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