Major crises in American political life often create a new hero, one whose courage and charisma capture the imagination of the decent half of the country.
In the 1950s, when Joe McCarthy terrorized America with wild claims about communists lurking in every army barracks and the State Department corridor, it was a lawyer, Joseph Walsh, who demanded of the Wisconsin senator: “Finally, you have no sense of decency? ”
Twenty years later, when the country was circumcised by the Watergate hearings, it was a popular senator from North Carolina, a World War I veteran named Sam Ervin, who won hearts with words like: “There is nothing in the Constitution that authorizes or does it is the official duty of a president to have anything to do with criminal activities. ”
Forty years later, after Donald Trump entered the White House, calling Adam Schiff “a dangerous vein of authoritarian thinking” in the Republican Party, the then-little-known California Democrat did more than anyone else to clear up and excommunicate the high crimes in a charlatan destined to be the only president charged twice.
During the pandemic, Schiff used his confinement to write a memoir offering a seductive mix of the personal and the political. The book, Midnight in Washington, is full of new details about investigations into the president’s betrayal and how the speaker in the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic assembly decided that charges were necessary.
But the human side of the story is the most compelling part: the story of Schiff’s Jewish-immigrant ancestors, the support he received from a brilliant wife and a devoted son and daughter, a career path that made him the perfect person to meet his moment in history.
“I most enjoyed writing the first part of the book,” Schiff told The Guardian. “In so many ways, I feel like the life I had before Trump prepared me for the national trial that was to come.
“Accused of an FBI agent for espionage for the Russians. Lives in Eastern Europe and sees the emergence of an autocrat in Czechoslovakia literally tearing the country to pieces. And my own family’s history in Eastern Europe. All these things seemed to prepare me without knowing it for the emergence of an xenophobic autocrat in our own country. ”
In troubled political waters, a glorious spouse is a great advantage – especially one who sometimes knows you better than you know yourself. When the Democratic establishment recruited him to run for Congress after he was elected to the California Senate, Schiff thought he was insecure. His wife, Eve, knew otherwise.
“You’re going to do it,” she said after returning from meetings in Washington.
“I do not know,” he replied.
“Yes, you do,” said Eva. “You’re going to do it.”
She was right.
Schiff’s love of bipartisanship, which ended with the Trump presidency, was inherited from his father, a “yellow dog Democrat” (a person who would vote for a yellow dog before he would vote Republican) and his Republican mother.
His father offered him advice that has served him all his life: “As long as you are good at what you do, there will always be a requirement for you.”
“This was a very liberating idea,” Schiff writes, “that all I had to do was focus on being good at my chosen profession, and the rest would take care of itself.”
His work as a federal prosecutor, who was convicted of the first FBI agent accused of spying for Russia, was crucial to his understanding of how thoroughly Trump was manipulated by the Russians. He understood that Michael Cohen’s efforts during the campaign to close a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow would make Trump vulnerable to extortion if his lawyer’s call had been recorded. And he was surprised when he realized that kind compromised would not even be necessary.
When Trump “became president, it would not be necessary for the Kremlin to blackmail him into betraying America’s interests,” Schiff writes. “To a remarkable degree, he would prove more than willing to do it on his own.”
There’s much more to the book, from Schiff’s failed efforts to convince New York Times editors to remind readers of the emails they issued to undermine Hillary Clinton. stolen of the Russians precisely for Schiff’s revelation that if he had known how poorly Robert Mueller would perform as a witness after completing his term of office as a special lawyer, he would not have demanded his testimony.
“I have not said this before this book,” he told The Guardian. “It was one of the hard parts of the book to write because I have such great reverence for Mueller. I would be respectful, but accurate. ”
Schiff is still at the center of political events. He sits on the committee of inquiry that investigates the deadly Capitol attack – and handles Trump’s obstruction.
On the page, he also recalls a hearing in 2017 when he asked representatives of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube if their “algorithms had the effect of Balkanizing the public and deepening the divisions in our society”.
Facebook’s lawyer claimed: “The data on this is actually quite mixed.”
“Maybe it was like that,” Schiff writes, “but it didn’t seem very mixed to me.”
Asked if he thought this week’s testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen would create enough pressure to pass new laws governing social media platforms, Schiff said: “The answer is yes.
“I think we need regulation to protect people’s private data. I think we need to narrow down the scope of the safe haven that these companies enjoy if they do not moderate their content and continue to intensify anger and hatred. I think we need to insist on a vehicle for more transparency so that we understand the data better. ”
But then he warned: “If you bet against Congress, you win 90% of the time.”
On the page, Schiff records an airport exchange with a Republican stranger who said, “You can tell me that – there’s nothing about this ‘collusion stuff’, right?”
It is a conversation that must permanently ask this question.
Schiff said: “What if I were to tell you that we had black-and-white evidence that the Russians approached the Clinton campaign and offered dirt on Donald Trump and then secretly met with Chelsea Clinton, John Podesta and Robby Mook in Brooklyn – the headquarters campaign … so Hillary lied about it to hide it. Do you want to call it coordination?
“What if I also told you that former national security adviser Susan Rice spoke in secret with the Russian ambassador in an attempt to undermine US sanctions against Russia after they intervened to help Hillary win. Do you want to call it coordination? ”
The Republican was convinced, “You know, I probably would.”
For Schiff, it was a “eureka moment”.
“Now,” he thought, “if I can only speak to a few hundred million people.”
Schiff’s book should convince a few million more that everything he said about Trump was true – and that the country was exceptionally fortunate to have him ready and willing to defend the falsified notion of “truth”.