Congressman Adam Schiff Says Republicans are Putting American Democracy at Risk During  Pasadena Event About His New Book

By Justin Chapman, 10/17/2021

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) discussed his new book, Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could, during a Vroman’s Bookstore event on Saturday at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. “Seinfeld” actor Jason Alexander interviewed him before a crowd of a couple hundred people.

Alexander asked Schiff why he decided to write this book now.

“Over the last several years, a number of my colleagues in the House would come up to me and say, ‘I hope you're writing this down. You better be writing this down.’ And I would always say, ‘When do I possibly have time to write anything down?’ And then the pandemic hit and I finally found myself, like so many people, sequestered at home,” Schiff said. “I did want at some point to write about this, both because I wanted to preserve a record of what took place and impeachments are so rare, but also because I’ve seen in the space of just a couple short years this incredibly unethical man completely remake a political party, one of America’s two great parties, in his image.”

He added that a lot of books were written about what was going on in the White House but not many were written about what was going on in the Congress.

“When we look back on this with some perspective, we will recognize the terrible role that the enablers of Donald Trump played,” he said. “What he did would not have been possible but for so many people that I serve with, giving themselves up completely to his immorality. And I wanted to write about how that happened to people I’ve worked with and liked and respected because I believed that they believed what they were saying, but they turned out not to believe it at all. And I think that’s a very important story to tell as well.”

As an example of dishonesty, Schiff told the story of how he happened to sit next to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) in 2010. They made small talk and McCarthy said he believed Republicans would take the House in the midterms and Schiff disagreed. After the plane landed, McCarthy held a press conference in which he claimed that Schiff admitted Republicans would win the midterms.

“I was incredulous,” Schiff said. “I rushed up to him on the House floor that morning and I said, ‘Kevin, first of all, if we were having a private conversation, I would have thought it was a private conversation, but if it wasn’t, you know you told the press the exact opposite of what I said.’”

McCarthy looked at Schiff and said, “Yeah, I know, Adam. But you know how it goes.” Schiff replied, “No, Kevin, I don’t know how it goes. You just make—I can’t say this word in a church—up. And that’s how you operate? Because that’s not how I operate.”

Schiff continued, saying, “But that is how he operates. And in that sense, he was really made for a moment like this when his party and his party leader have no compunction about propagating falsehood after falsehood, who believe that they’re all entitled to their own alternative facts, that truth isn’t truth. And from my point of view, there’s nothing more corrosive to a democracy than the idea that there’s no truth. So I wanted to tell this story, both to answer the question, ‘Do they really believe what they say?’ But also to show the danger of allowing someone like that to step into the Speaker’s office.”

Republicans are favored to win the House in the 2022 midterms mostly due to historical precedent of the minority party winning the House in the first midterm election in the term of a new president’s term of the opposite party. McCarthy, as the minority leader of the Republicans, would likely become the next Speaker of the House.

Alexander brought up another House Republican who underwent a similar transformation to dishonesty during Trump’s term, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Fresno). Schiff describes in his book how Nunes was once a colleague with integrity who Schiff respected and worked well with for many years, but then who slowly corrupted himself. Alexander asked what motivated Nunes.

Schiff said he thinks Nunes, who didn’t start out as an ideologue, formed a bond with Trump when he chaired the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump. After then-FBI director James Comey testified in an open session and revealed for the first time that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign, Nunes went to the White House in what is now known as the Midnight Run to purportedly get documents from whistleblowers showing that the Obama administration had surveilled the Trump administration.

“Of course, there was no such thing,” Schiff said. “The whole Midnight Run ended up being a charade. There was no whistleblower. The documents that he got, he got them from the White House, and then he went back to present them to the White House. And when that happened, I think it was such a humiliation that it forged this bond between him and Trump.”

Schiff then asked Nunes to step down from running the Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation, which he soon did.

“How can you have an investigation be credible when the person leading the investigation is engaged in that kind of chicanery? It was, of course, the end of the relationship that we had,” Schiff said. “I took no pleasure whatsoever. In addition to the investigation, we had a committee to run, and it’s not like we could ignore the need to oversee the intelligence agencies. And one thing I will say, which is a bit of a marvel, is through it all we have managed to do the work of the committee. I don’t know how to attribute that, except that both of us have made the decision without ever the need to discuss it that we would compartmentalize our very serious differences and disagreements and we will get the work done.”

Alexander also asked about Schiff’s experience leading the first impeachment trial against Trump. Schiff said that going into the trial, he didn’t expect Democrats would get a conviction.

“But the question was, how do you win by losing?” Schiff said. “My thought was that there were really going to be two juries: the jury of the senators that would be so heavily predisposed against us, and then the jury of the American people. And between the two juries, the American people were really the more important jury.”

He explained that the impeachment managers received a note from some senators that said they knew Trump was guilty, but they wanted to know why they should vote to remove him.

“For the past three years, Republicans had confided, to me and to many of my Democratic colleagues, their serious misgivings about the president,” Schiff wrote in his book. “Some would go on Fox News and bash me, only to urge me privately to keep on with the investigation. And it became clear that many Republicans felt someone needed to do it, someone needed to put a stop to it all, even if they couldn’t, or wouldn’t. And the question wasn’t so much “Why should he be removed?” as “Why should I be the one to remove him? Why should I risk my seat, my position of power and influence, my career and future? Why should I?”

Schiff said Trump learned from his first impeachment that he could get away with anything, that Republicans in Congress would never hold him to account.

“You can draw a straight line between the unwillingness of senators to honor their oath and the bloody insurrection that would follow,” Schiff said. 

Alexander pointed out that Trump put Schiff in the crosshairs and did everything he could to destroy Schiff’s reputation. Among Trump’s nicknames for Schiff were “Shifty Schiff,” “Watermelon Head” and “Pencil Neck.” Alexander said that Trump also targeted Schiff’s wife and children and asked him how he maintained his composure in the face of a deluge of death threats.

“You all in Pasadena have known me for a long time, well before Trump,” Schiff said, to which the audience applauded. “And I would wager that before Trump, you never viewed me as a particularly partisan person. And I still don’t view myself as a particularly partisan person. But I view myself as very strongly pro-democracy and anti-Trump.”

He said he has been able to get through this tumultuous period because of his wife, staff and constituents who have “had my back throughout all of this.” But he added that more than the death threats, it was the hate directed at him that was unsettling.

“Up until Trump, I wasn’t the object of that kind of hate,” Schiff said. “Most of the feedback I got was actually pretty good. But now I would go into airports and people would come up to me and say, ‘You lie all the time. Why do you lie all the time? You should be ashamed of yourself. Your family should be ashamed of you.’ People would call the district office and say, ‘I’m going to put three bullets in the back of his head, and this is the gun I’m going to use.’ For me, it was a little bit of a thing where it starts happening gradually, then it’s more and more, and you kind of don’t notice because it’s now become, unfortunately, all too common.”

Schiff also described what it was like to be in the Capitol Building during the Jan. 6 insurrection, when representatives who were certifying Joe Biden’s electoral votes had to flee the House and Senate as rioters broke into the building.

“If [Republicans] hadn’t been pushing these lies about the election, I wouldn’t need to be worried about my safety, none of us would have,” Schiff said about his thought process that day. “And in the days that followed that feeling grew, because I watched the footage of these people beating police officers and climbing up the building and I realized these people really believe the Big Lie [that the election was stolen from Trump].

“But the people inside the building that I worked with, on the other side of the aisle, knew it was a lie and they were content to push that lie. To me, that was unforgivable. For a lot of us in the Democratic caucus, that was a real breaking point in terms of how we looked at our colleagues across the aisle. It was a relationship-altering event. And it still is.”

Republicans who voted not to certify Biden’s electoral votes are “insurrectionists in suits and ties,” Schiff wrote in his book.

“Where does that leave the country if you can’t trust elections to decide who should govern? Then it just leads to violence,” he said.

Outside Pasadena Presbyterian, there were a few Trump supporters who waved Trump flags and tried to drown Schiff out with a megaphone and music, including Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“I appreciate the musical accompaniment,” Schiff joked.

After the event, the Trump supporters yelled at attendees as they left the church about wearing masks and their lack of patriotism.

“None of you in there believe in America First!” one man yelled.

“The Republican Party has also not always been like this,” Schiff wrote in his book. “The four years of the Trump presidency destroyed many friendships, and not a few marriages. But it also destroyed the Republican Party—once devoted to robust alliances, a healthy mistrust of executive power, and the expansion of democracy around the world—and turned it into something else: a party willing to tear down the institutions of its own government, a party willing to give aid and comfort to a malign foreign power that wishes to destroy us, a party hostile to the truth. This was only possible because many of the Republican members of Congress, people I served with for years, liked, and respected—turned out to prize power and position, even if it meant imperiling the country.”