Rep. Adam B. Schiff promoted himself as a fighter against lies and corruption that can bring down democracy when he announced his bid to become the next U.S. senator from California.
“I’ve always believed that right matters, that the truth matters,” Mr. Schiff said in a video launching his campaign.
Yet Mr. Schiff brings into the race his own trail of distortion and outright lies that critics say undercut the democratic process. He has refused to acknowledge most of the mistruths, even when faced with overwhelming evidence.
Mr. Schiff announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination for Senate, pitting him against six-term incumbent and fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Afterward, critics didn’t attack just his liberal House voting record. They also tore into Mr. Schiff’s claims over the past seven years that were central to his effort to bring down President Trump and other Republicans who tried to defend him.
Russia, Russia, Russia
Mr. Schiff’s top lie centered on the debunked claim that Mr. Trump and his campaign team colluded with Russians to win the 2016 presidential election.
“If you’re looking for who has the most responsibility for putting out into the public domain the falsehood that Trump and conservatives colluded with Russia to try to steal an election, it’s Schiff,” said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative Judicial Watch.
Throughout Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Schiff was a frequent guest on television talk shows. He was valued for his position as the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which has access to classified information.
He told CBS News that there was “plenty of evidence of collusion or conspiracy in plain sight” and suggested that evidence not shown to the public proved “conspiracy and collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russians.
The collusion claim has been disproved, but Mr. Schiff is not backing down. He said the evidence that Robert Mueller’s independent investigation found did not prove conspiracy but showed that Mr. Trump’s campaign manager was sharing internal campaign polling data “with an agent” of Russians who were working to hurt Democrats.
“To most Americans, that is collusion,” Schiff said on CNN. “Now, whether it’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime of conspiracy — that’s what Bob Mueller was talking about — I have always distinguished between the two.”
As part of Mr. Schiff’s effort to tie Mr. Trump to Russia, he hyped the Steele Dossier, a 35-page, unverified political opposition research report commissioned by the Hillary Clinton campaign and published by BuzzFeed News shortly after Mr. Trump took office. The salacious claims included accusations that Russia had “Kompromat,” or information that could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump. Among the many claims in the report is that Mr. Trump, during a visit to Moscow, hired prostitutes to urinate on a bed used by the Obamas on a prior stay at his hotel.
Mr. Schiff publicly promoted the Steele dossier in 2017 and even read parts of it out loud at a House intelligence committee hearing to amplify his claim that Mr. Trump was closely tied to Russia.
When government officials declared the dossier essentially garbage, Mr. Schiff blamed Igor Danchenko, the Russian operative who provided the information to dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British spy.
“I don’t regret saying that we should investigate claims of someone who, frankly, was a well-respected British intelligence officer,” Mr. Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And we couldn’t have known years ago that we would learn years later that someone who is a primary source lied to him.”
Mr. Schiff’s role as top Trump antagonizer in the House included downplaying the proven accusation that Mr. Trump was the subject of improper surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Mr. Schiff wrote a lengthy response to a memo from Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican serving as chairman of the intelligence committee. Mr. Nunes said the FBI relied on “politically motivated or questionable sources,” namely the Steele dossier, to obtain the surveillance warrant that launched the government’s Trump-Russia probe.
Mr. Nunes’ memo turned out to be factually correct, according to a report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
At the time, Mr. Schiff quickly sought to disprove the information in the Nunes memo by making discredited claims to justify the FISA warrant, including one that the Steele dossier was more thoroughly corroborated by federal law enforcement than Mr. Nunes was claiming, and that the dossier was only a narrow part of the evidence used to obtain the warrant and prosecute Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Mr. Schiff’s mistruths played a central role in the 2019 impeachment of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Schiff’s office served as the conduit for the government whistleblower whose complaint about a call between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy launched the first impeachment investigation of Mr. Trump. Mr. Schiff claimed his staff “had not spoken directly with the whistleblower,” when his staff had interviewed the man.
Mr. Schiff later claimed that he meant his committee staff had not spoken to the whistleblower again after he filed his formal complaint about Mr. Trump’s call.
“I should have been much more clear about that,” Mr. Schiff said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Among Mr. Schiff’s trail of mistruths, a prominent one was made during one of the critical hearings in the impeachment inquiry.
The investigation centered on Mr. Trump’s request to Mr. Zelenskyy to investigate corruption accusations related to President Biden, his political opponent, and Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden, who had business dealings with a Ukrainian energy company.
Mr. Schiff opened the hearing by reading a fictionalized version of the transcript of the Trump-Zelenskyy call.
“I have a favor I want from you,” Mr. Schiff said as he read from a piece of paper that appeared to be the call transcript. “And I’m going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand? Lots of it, on this and on that.”
Mr. Schiff’s phony depiction of the call drew immediate outrage from Mr. Trump and Republican lawmakers. They called on Mr. Schiff to resign.
Mr. Schiff brushed off blame.
“My summary of the president’s call was meant to be at least, part, in parody,” Mr. Schiff said. “The fact that that’s not clear is a separate problem in and of itself. Of course, the president never said, ‘If you don’t understand me, I’m going to say it seven more times.’ My point is, that’s the message that the Ukraine president was receiving in not so many words.”
Mr. Fitton said Mr. Schiff should be held accountable for his many lies and for misusing the impeachment process to punish Mr. Trump. Hunter Biden has increasingly drawn scrutiny for what appears to be influence peddling in foreign countries using his father’s powerful positions, and he is currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation.
“I think Schiff needs to be held accountable for misusing the impeachment process,” Mr. Fitton said. “Not only to target Trump initially, you know, to target Trump, but to protect Biden in an election year. Trump was impeached for blowing the whistle on Biden’s corruption.”