Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, rushed Wednesday to criticize his Republican counterpart, committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), for informing the media and President Donald Trump about new evidence that the Trump transition team had been under surveillance before informing the committee. His statement showed absolutely no concern for the possibility that the intelligence services had abused their vast powers.
(Update: Nunes reportedly apologized to the committee on Thursday morning.)
Later on Wednesday, Schiff went further, claiming that he had “more than circumstantial” evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. That claim contradicts statements by former Obama administration officials that there is no evidence of any such collusion. If Schiff is making a false claim, it would not be the first time: at Monday’s committee hearing, Schiff claimed Trump associates watered down the GOP platform on Russia, a lie already debunked.
Schiff and his fellow Democrats are accusing Nunes of abusing his position to protect the president. The inverse is true: Schiff is abusing his position in an attempt to bring down the president.
His opening statement on Monday was a litany of false conspiracy theories that included the discredited Russia “dossier.” His antics earned comparisons to Joe McCarthy, and the task fell to Nunes to point out, in questioning the FBI director, that there was no evidence Russia “hacked” the election.
At times, Schiff has arguably abused his stature on the intelligence committee for partisan purposes. In 2015, he was a key voice in support of President Barack Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, and suggested — bizarrely — that while it was deeply flawed, it could be improved later. Other Democrats, who did not have access to the same intelligence that he could see, studied the Iran deal more carefully and came to the conclusion that it would be a profound strategic mistake.
The purpose of the House Intelligence Committee is not just to allow politicians access to secret information. It is to make sure that the intelligence services obey the law and do not exceed the powers that Congress has — often reluctantly — given them.
As freshman Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) pointed out, in questioning FBI director James Comey, the agency inexplicably neglected to brief congressional leaders for more than half a year about investigations into Russian election interference.
That was disturbing enough, but the information Nunes described on Wednesday, which apparently included surveillance of members of the Trump family, is even worse.
As Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) pointed out Monday, some of the government’s powers of surveillance are due for reauthorization this fall. Those powers are arguably necessary to keep Americans safe. By by ignoring likely abuses of that power, and focusing on politics instead, Rep. Schiff is endangering that reauthorization.
It ought to have been easy for Schiff to say something like: “The new evidence described by Rep. Nunes raises important concerns about the possible abuse of government surveillance powers. Americans need to be reassured that the government will use those powers lawfully, and not for partisan political purposes, and I look forward to seeing the new evidence. At the same time, I am disappointed Rep. Nunes did not share that evidence with me first, and I intend to raise the issue with him.”
That would have been the right and responsible thing to do. It would have reassured Americans that both parties intend to police the behavior of the intelligence community, and prevent invasions of the rights of private citizens. It would also have emphasized the need for bipartisan cooperation.
Instead, Schiff continues to politicize the investigation. There may be real consequences for Schiff’s irresponsible, partisan behavior — not for President Donald Trump, but for national security itself.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.