WASHINGTON — “Damning evidence” of collusion with Russia. “More than circumstantial.” A scandal of a size “beyond Watergate.”
For two years, Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, seemed to be on every talk and late-night show sounding ominous warnings about what special counsel Robert Mueller might find on President Donald Trump. The California Democrat got the president’s attention — a fact confirmed when Trump turned the congressman’s name into a foul schoolyard taunt. “Wow, Mr. President, that’s a good one,” Schiff tweeted back.
But Mueller found no coordination or conspiracy involving Trump, his campaign and the Russian government, the Justice Department said Sunday. That sparked furious GOP calls for Schiff to resign from the committee or Congress as the Trump administration went on the offensive, recriminations in mind, with the 2020 elections nearing.
“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country,” Trump said Monday in the Oval Office, without elaborating. “Those people will certainly be looked at.”
Whatever kind of examination the president has in mind for “those people,” Schiff appears to be the top of the list.
Schiff, a lawyer who has served in Congress since 2001, ranged far and frequently across the media landscape in interviews about the Mueller investigation. In his sober, mild-mannered style, Schiff at times came close to sounding like he believed Trump had broken the law, Republicans said.
More than any other example, Republicans on Monday pointed to a March, 2017 appearance on MSNBC in which Schiff said “there is more than circumstantial evidence now” of a relationship between Russia and Trump’s associates. In December of that year, Schiff said on CNN: “The Russians offered help, the campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help and the president made full use of that help. That is pretty damning, whether it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy or not.”
And in May of last year, Schiff said on ABC that the Russian trolling of Democratic National Committee emails is “like Watergate in the sense that you had a break in at the Democratic headquarters, in this case a virtual one, not a physical break in, and you had a president as part of a cover up,” he said. Schiff said later that the Russia investigation is “a size and scope probably beyond Watergate.”
Schiff was defiant on Monday, repeating his assertion that evidence of collusion is in “plain sight.” He said he accepts Mueller’s conclusion that he could not prove a criminal conspiracy with Russia, but said his committee’s investigative work will go on.
“For whatever reason over the last year and a half, the president has viewed me as a threat,” he told The Associated Press. “His allies in Congress have likewise come to his assistance in attacking me. It comes with the job, and I take it as a sign of effectiveness that they feel the need to go after me.”
Schiff is far from the only Democrat to use provocative rhetoric about Trump and his campaign. But it was his words that were getting the most attention from Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee, which featured Schiff prominently on lists of Democrats who had publicly suggested a link between Trump and his 2016 campaign, and Russia.
“Now we find out that none of that is true,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California told The Associated Press. “He should first apologize to the American public and he should step back from the chairmanship.”
Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway went further.
“This man leads the Intelligence Committee in the House,” Conway said on Fox News Channel. “He ought to resign today.”
There was no sign of that happening.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said the calls to remove Schiff were “absolutely ridiculous.” She consulted with Schiff and other committee leaders over the weekend as Attorney General William Barr notified Congress of Mueller’s report and summarized the details.
Barr wrote that Mueller did not find collusion. On obstruction, the Mueller report laid out evidence but did not make a finding implicating Trump or exonerating him. That move effectively punted the obstruction question to Congress, where Democrats control the House and Republicans run the Senate.
A Pelosi aide said Schiff was being attacked because he’s done “an outstanding job.”
“Democrats aren’t going to be intimidated by the White House or congressional Republicans,” spokeswoman Ashley Etienne said. “We’re not going to be distracted from securing the release of the full Mueller report and the underlying evidence, and we will continue to pursue legitimate oversight because that’s what the Constitution requires.”
Others, including the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, had harsh words for Schiff, but he appeared ready to forge ahead with an investigation into the Trump Organization. Schiff, for example, wants to lead a public hearing featuring Felix Sater, a Soviet emigre who befriended Trump in the 2000s and helped push the Trump Tower Moscow project during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“It’s over,” McCarthy said. “When are they going to take an answer for an answer? There’s no more rocks to be overturned.”
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.