Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the Democrats’ point-man on impeachment, found himself playing defense Wednesday over his interactions with the whistleblower who triggered what’s become a major constitutional clash.
The California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence committee insisted he has not met the whistleblower, and denounced Republicans who repeatedly demanded Mr. Schiff come clean on his secret dealings with the person.
“Only Chairman Schiff knows who the whistleblower is. We don’t. We will never get the chance to see the whistleblower raise his right hand, swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, during Wednesday’s first public hearing on the impeachment inquiry. “More importantly, the American people won’t get that chance.”
Mr. Schiff says Mr. Jordan is distorting the true version of events. While his staff knew of the whistleblower, including even before the person reported concerns to an inspector general, Mr. Schiff says he doesn’t know the identity of the person and didn’t orchestrate the report.
“It was false the first time they said it,” he said. “It was false the second time through the 40th time they said it. It will be false the last time they say it.”
Mr. Schiff had initially denied any interaction, then later admitted that was not true, as he acknowledged staff contact. He said his staff suggested the whistleblower follow protocol and report concerns to the intelligence community’s inspector general, which under normal circumstances could then trigger a notification to Congress.
That original misrepresentation by Mr. Schiff still rankles Republicans, as do reports that the whistleblower has partisan leanings against Mr. Trump — and that all of the person’s knowledge is second-hand.
GOP lawmakers have said that as the person who launched the impeachment probe, the whistleblower should be called to testify in the public hearings that have now begun.
Mr. Schiff rejected a request made in writing, and when Republicans renewed the request with a parliamentary motion Wednesday to subpoena the witness for closed-door testimony, Democrats shut it down, and Mr. Schiff banged his gavel to cut off discussion and end the hearing.
It was not the first time he rebuffed GOP efforts to steer the hearing.
“We will not permit the outing of the whistleblower, and questions along those lines, counsel will inform their clients not to respond to. If necessary, I will intervene,” he warned as Republicans repeatedly demanded answers.
Though the Judiciary Committee usually leads impeachment efforts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has instead tapped Mr. Schiff and the intelligence panel to conduct this inquiry, then deliver findings to Judiciary.
That has put Mr. Schiff under the microscope.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee, reminded viewers Wednesday that Mr. Schiff had responded favorably to Russian pranksters who’d reached out to Mr. Schiff offering nude photos of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Schiff is also under pressure from left-wing activists to deliver on their desire to impeach Mr. Trump.
Wednesday’s hearing kicked off with Ambassador William B. Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, who relayed second-hand information they said led them to believe the president had created a quid pro quo: Ukraine had to promise to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and in exchange the administration would release security assistance money.
That accusation is the heart of the impeachment question.
Mr. Schiff told reporters after the hearing that he thought the testimony was “very powerful” and his case was being made.
“Today I allowed you to hear from Ukraine, from Ambassador Taylor’s perspective, and from the view from Washington, from Mr. Kent’s perspective,” he said. “Other witnesses will fill in some of the pieces before, after, and during, but we don’t expect the facts are largely going to be contested. There wasn’t much of an effort by the Republicans today to contest these facts.”
He said he hasn’t reached a conclusion on impeachment, but didn’t sound far from making up his mind.
“Are we prepared to say that asking a foreign nation now to intervene in our elections is something that is a perk of the office of the presidency?” he said. “Are we now going to say that other official acts can be conditioned on another country giving something of value to the president of the United States is just now going to be the new normal for the president of the United States?”
But Republicans mocked Mr. Schiff’s initial effort, saying that two hearsay witnesses were a poor way to kick off the public impeachment hearings.
“This was Adam Schiff’s first opportunity in front of the public. These hearings have been conducted in a basement bunker, part of his regime of secrecy, and this was an abject failure for the Democrats and for Adam Schiff,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Republican.