The House Intelligence Committee devolved into bitter infighting Thursday, as all nine Republicans demanded Chairman Adam Schiff resign his post and the California Democrat responded with a blistering account of “evidence of collusion” between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.
“We have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who led the House’s Russia probe last year. Conaway said Schiff’s insistence that there was ample evidence of collusion is “incompatible with your duties as the chairman of this committee.” And he said the findings in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report — which haven’t yet been viewed by any members of Congress — “conclusively refute” Schiff’s allegations.
Story Continued Below
The typically soft-spoken Schiff responded angrily, accusing Republicans of ignoring voluminous evidence of the Trump campaign’s efforts to accept Russia’s help in the election. He noted that Donald Trump Jr. met secretly with a Russian lawyer who he hoped would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton and told an associate he would “love” the Russian government’s help.
He also noted that Trump helped dictate a false story about his son’s meeting, saying it was about adoption, and during the campaign, openly asked Russia to obtain Clinton’s emails — a comment Trump later construed as a joke.
Schiff said that Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort allegedly provided polling data to a Russian intelligence-linked associate and that his former national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his post-campaign conversations with Russia’s ambassador.
“You might think that’s OK. I don’t,” bellowed Schiff. “I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic. I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”
“I have always said that the question of whether this amounts to conspiracy is another matter,” he continued, adding, “But I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is OK. And the day we do think that’s OK is the day we will look back and say that is the day America lost its way.”
The attack by the Republican committee members on Schiff is a continuation of a similar assault launched by Trump — who called on Schiff to quit Congress in a tweet earlier in the morning — and other Trump allies who accused Schiff of fomenting claims of conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Democrats have rallied around Schiff in recent days. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed the GOP attacks, and Democrats’ House campaign arm elevated Schiff on Wednesday to be its national frontline finance chair.
At her weekly press conference Thursday, Pelosi delivered an unprompted defense of Schiff as she railed against Trump and the Republicans who have called for his ouster.
“What is the president afraid of? Is he afraid of the truth? That he would go after a member, a chairman of a committee, a respected chairman?” Pelosi said. “I think they’re just scaredy cats. They don’t know what to do so they have to make an attack. It’s their own insecurity. Their own fear of the truth.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also offered strong praise for Schiff.
“The American people have seen Mr. Schiff demonstrate on a regular basis responsibility, thoughtfulness, rationality and a commitment to finding the truth,” Hoyer told reporters Thursday. “Apparently, all four of those aspects upset the president.”
Schiff argued that he still believes there is ample evidence of collusion and said he’s long insisted such evidence may or may not rise to the level of a criminal charge. He said he accepts Mueller’s decision not to charge any Americans in Russia’s election interference efforts but said he still finds the Trump campaign’s posture toward Russia and efforts to accept its help as troubling.
The committee’s Republicans include ranking member Devin Nunes of California, who has battled with Schiff over the direction of the panel’s Russia probe when Republicans led it in the last Congress. They also include Conaway, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a former CIA officer, and Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York, John Ratcliffe of Texas, Mike Turner of Ohio, Chris Stewart of Utah, Brad Wenstrup of Ohio and Rick Crawford of Arkansas.
Nunes opened his remarks by assailing the Obama administration’s approach to Russia, suggesting that he and others warned the administration to take a stronger stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.
“Our advice however was not heeded,” Nunes said, accusing the Obama White House of having watched helplessly while Russia marched into Ukraine and annexed Crimea.
Nunes did not mention Trump’s own eagerness to smooth relations with Putin or Trump’s musings that the annexation should be made permanent.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.