House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has done almost exactly what he and fellow Democrats accuse President Donald Trump (falsely) of doing: he abused his power to ask an outside entity to investigate political opponents.
Schiff subpoenaed phone records from AT&T that he then used to claim his Republican counterpart, Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes (D-CA), was part of a plot to smear a U.S. ambassador.
What Schiff did is arguably worse than what he claims Trump did in his telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. AT&T is an American company, not a foreign government.
But Schiff didn’t simply ask AT&T for dirt on his opponents. He forced it to hand over the records. And he did so without giving Nunes any warning, or any opportunity to respond to the claims he would later sneak into his 300-page impeachment report.
Schiff’s strategy was not to go for Nunes’s phone number directly, but to subpoena the records of numbers of people who might have called him. So when he showed Nunes his unilateral subpoena — which he is required to do — Nunes had no idea what Schiff was doing. Nor did Schiff explain it to the public: the footnotes in his report simply refer to “AT&T Document Production” with no further explanation.
Schiff’s phone records also targeted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and investigative journalist John Solomon. He risked violating attorney-client privilege, as well as the freedom of the press. And those are just the records that have been identified: other Americans, including journalists, are likely to have been swept up in the search.
Schiff also apparently mis-identified one of the phone numbers as coming from the Office of Management and Budget, basing key accusations on that sloppy mistake.
Kimberly Strassel at the Wall Street Journal notes: “Mr. Schiff claims the ignominious distinction of being the first congressman to use his official powers to spy on a fellow member and publish the details.” She adds, quoting former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, that Schiff’s subpoena may have broken the law. Phone carriers cannot divulge call records without an individual’s consent, except for a legitimate law enforcement purpose: this was not.
Schiff ordered the phone records on Sep. 30, but the House impeachment inquiry was not properly authorized until Oct. 31, so he cannot claim the subpoena was justified. Strassel adds, citing constitutional law expert David Rivkin, that anyone swept up in Schiff’s phone snooping might have the right to sue.
Shockingly, she adds, “The media is treating this [the phone records] as a victory, when it is a disgraceful breach of ethical and legal propriety.”
Instead of protesting Schiff’s abuse of the First and Sixth Amendments, journalists — many of whom are desperate to take Trump down — are pushing Schiff’s conspiracy theory.
CNN’s Chris Cuomo devoted a segment of his Tuesday program to Nunes’s phone records, using former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — fired for dishonesty — to claim Nunes “may have been a player” in the “smear campaign” against Amb. Marie Yovanovitch.
Nunes has since said that he remembers speaking to Giuliani about the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on “Russia collusion,” not about Ukraine or Yovanovitch. He is already suing CNN for defamation for an allegedly false report that he met a former Ukrainian prosecutor in Vienna as part of the “smear campaign” — a claim actually Schiff cited in the impeachment report. (Nunes says he was actually in Benghazi, Libya at the time.)
The irony is rich. CNN and other mainstream media outlets have repeatedly said that Trump’s suspicions about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election are a “conspiracy theory,” even though Ukraine’s efforts — while less aggressive than Russia’s — were widely reported in the mainstream media. Yet they have taken Schiff’s conspiracy theory about Nunes at face value — overlooking how Schiff obtained the records that are fueling their speculations.
Schiff has destroyed the ability of the Intelligence Committee to work in a bipartisan fashion, which is crucial to its oversight function. But what is even worse is that he has private information about the conversations of an unknown number of Americans, including journalists and elected officials. His “inquiry” is no longer just about the president. It has become an Inquisition, encroaching on the rights of ordinary citizens who have nothing to do with Trump.
In his testimony at the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley warned Congress that it was abusing its power by targeting Trump for “obstruction”: “If you impeach a president, if you make a ‘high crime and misdemeanor’ out of going to the courts, it is an abuse of power. It’s your abuse of power. You’re doing precisely what you’re criticizing the president for doing.”
Schiff is already there. He is using a partisan intelligence investigation to dig up dirt on his political opponents — including Republicans; Trump’s lawyer; a journalist; and Kash Patel, a Republican committee staffer who dug up evidence of FISA abuse that led to the forthcoming Inspector General report.
Schiff’s inquisition has reached McCarthyist proportions. It is time for Americans to ask again: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”