Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, attacked Republicans’ moral character on Thursday while continuing to temper Democrats’ calls for impeaching President Donald Trump until such proceedings were clearly “the right thing for the country.”
The California Democrat told Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer in a question-and-answer session that GOP lawmakers had come up to him privately to “express their deep concerns and worries” about the Trump administration and offer bits of encouragement as Schiff’s committee forges ahead with its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
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“But I’m, frankly, exhausted by the private misgivings,” Schiff said. “People need to speak out.”
The lawmaker said he respected Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who became the first Republican lawmaker to accuse Trump of committing impeachable offenses with a series of tweets earlier this month.
Schiff also reminisced on the late Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) frequent clashes with the president, stands that Schiff lauded as acts of courage.
“I think what we knew, implicitly, was that courage is contagious,” he said. “But what we didn’t realize is that cowardice is also contagious. I think there’s been an epidemic of cowardice in the GOP. This president doesn’t stand for anything that the Republican Party said it stood for.”
He refused, however, to make an outright call to oust Trump.
Schiff’s comments came the day after special counsel Robert Mueller sparked a new round of cries to launch impeachments proceedings during his first public remarks since the conclusion of his two-year counterintelligence probe. Mueller on Wednesday seemed to hand off to Congress the issue of whether Trump should be held accountable if he obstructed the Russia investigation — one of the two major plots the special counsel’s team dug into and detailed in its 448-page report.
A number of Democrats on Wednesday used Mueller’s words as a rallying cry to ramp up pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to open an impeachment inquiry into the president. Pelosi has pushed back against such efforts, repeatedly arguing that it is not worthwhile to impeach Trump — and that it could even help his reelection chances in 2020.
Schiff on Thursday said the decision to launch efforts to eject the president shouldn’t be made based on any political consequences they might have. Rather, he argued, House Democrats should take action when it is clear impeachment is necessary for the country.
“I think the most powerful argument to be made is regardless of what the Senate will do, regardless of whether an acquittal is inevitable, when the president’s conduct is at such a deleterious level, the House should act nonetheless,” Schiff said. “And damn the consequences.”
The lawmaker warned, however, about what an “absorbing and wrenching experience” impeachment proceedings would be.
“I’m not there yet,” Schiff said. “Although the president seems to be doing everything in his power to get me there.”
He added that a tipping point for him would be if Trump were to ignore a court order. House committees have legally challenged the White House for refusing to allow witnesses to testify or turn over documents in multiple instances.
Schiff was the subject of GOP attacks earlier this year, after Mueller’s investigation wrapped up, for claiming “more than circumstantial evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The special counsel wrote there was no evidence of a criminal conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, though his report detailed sweeping efforts by Russian actors to meddle to Trump’s benefit.
Amid Republican calls for his resignation, Schiff argued that the conduct of the president and his aides, “criminal or not,” was unacceptable. He continued to push forward the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation after a redacted version of Mueller’s report was made public.
While Schiff has said the case for impeachment is getting “stronger,” he said Thursday that he didn’t think “people should be under the impression that impeachment is a cure-all.”
Instead, he looped back to what he characterized as a deeper problem — Republicans, who Schiff accused of bending their values to adhere to the president’s agenda.
“To me, that’s what has our republic trembling — that one party will not do its duty,” he said.