resident Trump said some time ago that he believes his personal finances should be off limits to investigators. In an interview with the Times in July, 2017, he asserted that if Robert Mueller, the special counsel, sought to investigate the Trump family’s business dealings he would be crossing a “red line.” When, later that year, several news reports suggested that Mueller had subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for records relating to Trump’s businesses, the President reportedly told members of his staff that he wanted to fire Mueller in response. It was never confirmed whether Mueller had actually subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, but the President’s aversion to the scrutiny of his business interests caught the attention of Representative Adam Schiff, who will become the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence next year. On a recent weekend, at a busy restaurant in downtown Burbank, in the heart of his congressional district, Schiff talked about his plans for conducting an investigation that will be parallel to Mueller’s, probing Trump’s connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other places around the world. As Schiff described his approach, it became clear that he wasn’t just planning to cross Trump’s red line—he intended to obliterate it.
“Our role is not the same as Bob Mueller’s,” Schiff told me, over a vegan burger. (He changed his eating habits a few years ago, in order to lower his cholesterol.) The job of prosecutors like Mueller is to identify and prosecute crimes, not necessarily to inform and educate the public. Congressional committees, like the one Schiff will soon lead, are supposed to monitor the executive branch and expose wrongdoing. Mueller is supposed to file a report on his findings, but, in keeping with the regulations for the office of the special counsel, it will be up to his supervisor in the Justice Department, who is now Matthew Whitaker, the acting Attorney General, to determine whether Mueller’s report is made public. Schiff has his own agenda for areas to investigate. “The one that has always concerned me is the financial issues, which obviously have come much to the fore this week,” he said. Shortly before Schiff and I spoke, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his role in the negotiations for building a Trump tower in Moscow. Cohen had said earlier that these discussions ended in January, 2016, but he admitted in court that he had been negotiating with Russian officials, and keeping Trump apprised, through the first half of 2016, during the Republican Presidential primaries. Trump has denied that he was doing business with the Russians during this period.
Schiff went on, “At the end of the day, what should concern us most is anything that can have a continuing impact on the foreign policy and national-security policy of the United States, and, if the Russians were laundering money for the Trump Organization, that would be totally compromising.” Schiff hypothesizes that Trump went beyond using his campaign and the Presidency as a vehicle for advancing his business interests, speculating that he may have shaped policy with an eye to expanding his fortune. “There’s a whole constellation of issues where that is essentially the center of gravity,” Schiff said. “Obviously, that issue is implicated in efforts to build Trump Tower in Moscow. It’s implicated in the money that Trump is bragging he was getting from the Saudis. And why shouldn’t he love the Saudis? He said he was making so much money from them.” As the Washington Post has reported, Trump has sold a superyacht and a hotel to a Saudi prince, a $4.5-million apartment near the United Nations to the Saudi government, and many other apartments to Saudi nationals, and, since Trump became President, his hotels in New York and Chicago have seen significant increases in bookings from Saudi visitors. In a break with the Republican congressional leadership, Trump refuses to take action against Saudi Arabia, notwithstanding substantial evidence that Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince and the putative head of state, directed the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who lived in the United States.
Schiff also pointed out that Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, met with the C.E.O. of a state-owned Russian bank in December, 2016, and that, the following month, Erik Prince, an informal adviser to the Trump campaign, met with the leader of a Russian sovereign-wealth fund in the Seychelles, an East African archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean. “The American people have a right to know that their President is working on their behalf, not his family’s financial interests,” Schiff said. “Right now, I don’t think any of us can have the confidence that that’s the case.” All of these subjects, Schiff averred, were fair game for investigation by the committee that he will soon chair.
As the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, Schiff has directed a staff of eleven. As the chairman, he will direct twenty-five, some of whom will be devoted to the Russia investigation. “We’ve been deluged with résumés,” Schiff said. It is now clear that during the campaign, when Trump was advocating the removal of sanctions on Russia, he was privately trying to make money in Moscow in a deal that may have required Putin’s help. Schiff wants to know: “Is that why Trump is so pro-Russian? Is his financial interest guiding his foreign policy?” Schiff thinks the answer to those questions may be found in the records of Deutsche Bank, which has been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for laundering money for Russia, and was reportedly the only bank willing to do business with Trump in the nineteen-nineties, when major Wall Street firms declined to loan him money after a series of failed business ventures. “We are going to be looking at the issue of possible money laundering by the Trump Organization, and Deutsche Bank is one obvious place to start,” Schiff added.
Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, Schiff has been a ubiquitous presence on television, speaking about matters related to the Russia investigation. “The voice that Adam gives to these issues is one that is calming, logical, linear, measured but forceful,” Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader and likely the new Speaker of the House, told me. “I have complete confidence in him to be very strategic in how he returns the Intelligence Committee to a bipartisan arena, without doing what Devin Nunes did as chairman of the committee, which I thought bordered on the criminal.” The government watchdog Campaign for Accountability has filed complaints against Nunes for leaking confidential information from the ongoing Russia investigation. (Nunes’s office denies these accusations as “discredited fake news stories.”)
Schiff repeatedly chastised the Republicans on his committee, led by Nunes, for their refusal to conduct a thorough investigation into Trump’s possible misdeeds, and he defended Mueller’s efforts to impose some accountability for the issues that fall within the special counsel’s purview. With the Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, Schiff’s responsibilities as chair of the committee will present both great opportunities and significant peril. Schiff will no longer be able to blame the Republicans for wasting time. It’s his investigation now, and he’s planning to heed the advice, familiar to viewers of the movie version of “All the President’s Men,” to “follow the money.”
A few years after Schiff was first elected to the House, in 2000, he and his wife, Eve, who had been living in his district in California, enrolled their two children in school in the Washington suburbs, so that Schiff could spend more time with his family. Since then, he has spent every other weekend in his district, which includes Hollywood and parts of the San Fernando Valley. On a recent Sunday, he spoke at a church service commemorating World aids Day, lit a Christmas tree at a street festival, and viewed an exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, where the tour guide told him that a new documentary about the Sobibór concentration camp was “getting Oscar buzz.” Schiff then went to light the candles on an oversized menorah in front of a Mr. Luggage store at a mall in Burbank, where a man named David Nathan Schwartz introduced himself. They discovered that they had been in the same third-grade class, in Framingham, Massachusetts. Later, recalling third grade, Schiff told me, “That was the last time that someone called me Adam Shit. I think the kid’s mother actually washed his mouth out with soap.”
He was referring to an incident last month, when the President tweeted, “So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!” (In fact, there is no requirement for Mueller, who was named to his post by Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, to be confirmed by the Senate.) Schiff has been a frequent target of Trump, who has called him “sleazy,” a “leaker,” and “little.” Schiff is not especially short or slight, but he does appear diminutive. His expression is often neutral, and his countenance is unaffected by his periodic visits to the California sunshine; he could pass for someone in his late thirties or his early sixties. (He’s fifty-eight.) Schiff’s constituents at Disney, DreamWorks, and Paramount would probably cast him as an accountant. He seems to cultivate this blandness of affect to convey that he deals in facts, eschews drama, and tells the truth. As he often mentions, he spent half a dozen years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, a job that trained him in the presentation of evidence. Schiff told me, “Trump has created a constituency for people who are not running around with their hair on fire.”
“The takeout finally came, so you can stop your panic cooking.”
Until March 20, 2017, Schiff’s skills were known to few. Most of the committee’s business is conducted in secret, in a secure suite of offices three floors below the Capitol Visitor Center. But on that day the Intelligence Committee held a rare public hearing, in which James Comey, who, at that point, was still the director of the F.B.I., publicly confirmed for the first time that the Bureau was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Before Comey began to speak, Schiff gave an opening statement in which he clinically—and devastatingly—summarized the existing evidence in the case. “Last summer, at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential Presidential campaign, a foreign, adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy, and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other,” he said. “That foreign adversary was, of course, Russia, and it acted through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the forty-fifth President of the United States.” Schiff laid out a story that became familiar in the next year and a half: how Trump’s campaign adviser, Carter Page, an eccentric oil-industry consultant, travelled to Russia during the 2016 campaign and gave a speech in which he criticized U.S. policy toward Russia for being too harsh; how Trump’s friend Roger Stone, a longtime political consultant, had advance knowledge of the theft, by Russian interests, of the e-mails of prominent Democrats; how Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman and a noted lobbyist for pro-Russian interests, supervised the Republican Convention, where the Party platform became more sympathetic to Russia. Michael Bahar, who was then Schiff’s top staffer on the committee, recalled, “Schiff kept saying at the time that it’s our job in Congress to educate people about what was really going on. That’s the way he approached his opening statement. He was saying, This is what we need to look at. It was so compelling and so detailed. It quickly became clear that it caused panic for those on the other side.”
What followed, a day later, has passed into Washington lore. Nunes, who represents a district in California’s agricultural San Joaquin Valley, and Schiff had a reasonably productive relationship. As the chair and the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, respectively, before Trump became President, they collaborated on bills to improve cybersecurity and to codify the rules on the collection of metadata by the intelligence agencies. But, after Comey confirmed that there would be an F.B.I. investigation of the 2016 election, Nunes slipped into a highly partisan mode from which he has not yet emerged. (Nunes has declined to comment.) On the night of March 21st, Nunes leaped out of an Uber, in which he had been riding with a staffer, and made his way to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, where he reportedly met with Michael Ellis, a national-security lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office, and Ezra Cohen-Watnick, then the senior director for intelligence for the National Security Council. The next day, Nunes held a news conference, announcing, breathlessly, that he had received secret information corroborating Trump’s recent claim that President Obama had wiretapped his campaign. Nunes’s story quickly fell apart, however, and his late-night visit to the White House complex, known as “the midnight run,” became the source of much mockery. As a result, Nunes recused himself from his committee’s Russia investigation, although he continued to review related intelligence and later resumed leadership. The incident established the lengths to which Republicans on the committee would go to defend Trump’s behavior. Relations between Democrats and Republicans on the committee never recovered. (Nunes declined to comment, but his spokesperson said, in a statement, “It’s amusing to see the Democrat-media complex continue to recall the false ‘midnight run’ story, which was invented by Schiff’s own staffers, fed by them to Schiff’s worshipful media allies, and debunked publicly by Chairman Nunes himself.”)
Still, during the following year the committee did bring in fifty-eight witnesses to testify about the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia in 2016, with Schiff usually leading the questioning for the Democrats. The Republicans on the committee largely devoted their efforts to damage control on Trump’s behalf. One critical issue was the meeting at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, when the senior leadership of the Trump campaign, including Kushner, Manafort, and Donald Trump, Jr., met with a lawyer whom they had been told was a representative of the Russian government who had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. According to telephone records available to the committee, three days before the meeting Trump, Jr., made a series of calls. In the interval between one call from Russia and another to Russia on that day, Trump, Jr., spoke for three or four minutes to someone whose phone number was blocked. This raised the question of whether Trump, Jr., had advised his father of the planned meeting—which both the President and his son have long denied. Under Nunes, the committee declined to issue a subpoena to the telephone company to determine whether Trump, Jr., had been talking with his father. Schiff told me that, when he takes over the committee, one of his first orders of business will be to issue such a subpoena.
Notwithstanding the frustrations that Schiff experienced under Nunes’s committee, he did have a chance to show off his prosecutorial skills when questioning witnesses. In late September of this year, the House Intelligence Committee voted to release around fifty transcripts from the committee’s investigation, but, to date, only two transcripts—those of Erik Prince and Carter Page—have been made available. Schiff has promised to expedite the release of the others. Among the interviews to be disclosed is one with Kushner, as well as others with the Trump associates Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Page, a foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign, who has a Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, at the University of London, later tried to minimize his contacts with Russian government officials during his 2016 visit to Russia. During Schiff’s questioning of Page, the congressman referred to a television interview that Page had given. “You stated that you had no meetings, no serious discussions with anyone high up or in any official capacity; it’s just kind of man-in-the-street, you know,” Schiff said. “Was that an accurate description of your trip to Moscow in July of last year?”
“Absolutely,” Page responded.
Schiff then asked whether Page considered Arkady Dvorkovich, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation at the time, to be a “high-up official or someone in an official capacity.” Page sputtered that he did not “meet with” Dvorkovich: “I greeted him briefly as he was walking off the stage after his speech.”
Schiff, closing the trap he had laid, pointed to a memo that Page had written to Trump campaign officials, which stated, “In a private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump. . . . ”
“Dr. Page,” Schiff said, “did you write that?” Page said that he did, asserting, “That’s all he expressed in that brief hello.” Schiff zeroed in: “Two minutes ago, you said you had no private meeting with Arkady. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” Page said.
“And now you say you did have a private conversation with him on the subject of U.S.-Russia relations. Is that correct?” Page struggled to change the subject.
The partisan donnybrook in the Intelligence Committee continued through April, 2018, when the Republicans and the Democrats released separate final reports. Nunes and the other Republicans concluded that the “committee found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government.” Schiff and the Democrats wrote, “The Majority’s report reflects a lack of seriousness and interest in pursuing the truth. By refusing to call in key witnesses, by refusing to request pertinent documents, and by refusing to compel and enforce witness cooperation and answers to key questions, the Majority hobbled the Committee’s ability to conduct a credible investigation that could inspire public confidence.”
Oddly, the first turning point in Schiff’s career also involved an investigation that initially ended in frustration, and that also concerned an employee of the federal government who betrayed his country to Russia (then the Soviet Union). Richard Miller, the first F.B.I. agent to be prosecuted for espionage against the United States, was arrested in Los Angeles on October 3, 1984, along with a Russian émigré couple named Svetlana and Nikolai Ogorodnikov, who were, it emerged, sleeper K.G.B. agents assigned to the United States. Miller, who had eight children and was burdened with financial problems, was involved in an extramarital affair with Svetlana and, it was alleged, passed her an F.B.I. counterintelligence manual and other classified documents in return for a promise of fifty thousand dollars in cash and fifteen thousand dollars in gold.
Robert Bonner, then the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, tried the case himself. Miller’s first trial ended in a hung jury. Bonner won a conviction in the retrial, but that verdict was overturned by an appeals court, on the ground that evidence relating to a polygraph test had been improperly admitted against Miller. Bonner, who had been nominated for a federal judgeship, assigned the case to Schiff, who had just turned thirty, to try it for a third time. “I had total faith and trust in him, or I wouldn’t have assigned such a high-profile case to him,” Bonner told me.
At the time, Schiff’s ambitions were beginning to take shape. Born in 1960, Schiff spent his early childhood in suburban Boston, where his father was in the garment business, working for the company that sold slacks made by the American menswear designer Farah. (He is not related to the Schiff family that used to own the New York Post.) When Schiff was eleven, the family moved to Northern California, where his father started a construction business, focussed on making gunite, which is used in the building of swimming pools. After college, at Stanford, Schiff went to Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1985. “Nothing like spending your summers shovelling gunite to convince you to go to law school,” he told me. After a brief stint at a law firm, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1987.
Schiff won the Miller case, the judge having rejected Miller’s defense that he was actually recruiting the Ogorodnikovs as American spies. Schiff recalled, “I must have dealt with a hundred F.B.I. agents over the course of that case—between witnesses and investigators—and it gave me an incredible respect for the work that they do.” That experience led him to respond with an extra measure of disbelief when, later, Nunes and Trump posited that the President was the victim of an F.B.I. conspiracy to frame him for misdeeds connected to Russia.
Soon afterward, Schiff decided to run for an open seat in the California State Assembly. He was, by his own admission, a pretty awful candidate—awkward, pompous, long-winded, and lacking a gift for the sound bite, which has since leavened his geeky public persona. “I thought it was demeaning to have to answer questions on serious issues in thirty seconds,” he told me, and added, “Now I know you have to do it in a tweet.” His friend Brian Hennigan, a colleague at the U.S. Attorney’s office, recalled Schiff’s early fund-raisers. “You could see that the longer he talked the more people put their checkbooks away,” he said. In that race, Schiff finished tenth in a fourteen-person field. Determined, he resolved to improve as a candidate so that his next run for elective office might turn out better. Parke Skelton, a California political consultant whom Schiff hired after his initial defeat, said, “Adam really, really wanted a career in politics, and he wanted to know what to do, and we saw that there were too many rising Democrats in Venice, where he was living at the time. So we looked for a place that was Republican but trending Democratic, so there wouldn’t be too many people ahead of him. We settled on Burbank.”
“Please direct your attention to the monitors for a very important contribution to airline-safety cinema.”
There, in 1994, a young Republican named James Rogan had just been elected to the State Assembly, and Schiff ran against him. In November, Schiff lost that race, too, but he showed more promise, and two years later he was recruited to run for a seat in the California State Senate, which he won. By then, Rogan had been elected to Congress, and in 1998 he became a leader in the fight to impeach Bill Clinton. When Clinton went on trial in the Senate, Rogan was one of the House managers leading the charge—a role that earned him some powerful enemies back home in California, including David Geffen, the media mogul. Geffen resolved to help raise money for a Democrat who was willing to challenge Rogan, and he and others decided on Schiff as the best option. The contest became the marquee congressional race of 2000, and, with more than eleven million dollars spent between the two campaigns, it was, at the time, the most expensive House race ever conducted.
During that campaign, Schiff became a favorite of Pelosi, also a Californian, who was working her way up the Democratic leadership in the House. “When we started, our delegation in the House was split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, and that’s when we told the national Democrats in Washington to leave us alone and let us do our transformation, and Adam was a big part of that,” Pelosi told me. She said that, in the past year, as she advised Democratic candidates, she often cited Schiff’s first race. “Adam ran that whole campaign against a person who was a prosecutor against Clinton without ever mentioning impeachment,” Pelosi said. “So today, when we had this election, Adam’s is my poster story. I told them, ‘Don’t talk about Trump, don’t talk about impeachment, talk about kitchen-table issues.’ ” Schiff won by nine points in 2000, and in his nine subsequent races he hasn’t faced a competitive challenge. Rogan is now a state-court judge in California. In 2019, the California delegation in the House will consist of forty-six Democrats and seven Republicans.
In 1992, toward the end of Schiff’s days as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, he took a six-month assignment in what was then Czechoslovakia, as part of a Justice Department program to assist in the transition to democracy after the Cold War. It was a sobering experience. “The economic dislocation from the arrival of capitalism created a real sense of aggrievement on the part of people whose skills were not valued in the new economy,” he told me. “It created a wave of xenophobic populism not unlike what we’re seeing around the world and here today.” While Schiff was on the assignment, the Czech Republic and Slovakia split into two countries.
His time there informed his congressional career. “Adam and I were both first elected in 2000, and we went to orientation together,” Steve Israel, who represented a district on Long Island and parts of Queens until 2017, when he retired to write novels, said. “They told us there were three kinds of members of Congress—the ‘pothole member,’ who concentrates on district issues, the ‘political member,’ who works on moving up the ladder, and the ‘policy member,’ who digs down in specific policy areas and becomes the expert on the floor of the House on those particular policies. Adam was always regarded as a policy guy. We started a ‘nerd caucus,’ because we wanted more detailed information on foreign policy, and started bringing in outside speakers. But the thing about Adam is that, while he is a policy guy, he has also grown into being the other two kinds of member as well. He’s become a political force, and they love him in his district, too.” Schiff’s district includes the city of Glendale, which has a large Armenian-American population, and he’s become outspoken in support of recognition and commemoration of the Armenian genocide that took place in the early twentieth century.
Schiff’s roots in the “nerd caucus,” and his days in Slovakia, figure in his plans for the Intelligence Committee. “One of the first open hearings that we’re going to have is on the rise of authoritarianism around the world,” he told me. Russia, he said, “has been interfering in elections for a long time in Europe and elsewhere, and it’s not just what Russia is doing. There is a global rise of autocracy that ought to concern every American. This is the new ideological struggle that we’re in.” Schiff cited Martin Luther King, Jr., who, paraphrasing the abolitionist cleric Theodore Parker, said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Schiff said, “There’s nothing inexorable about this. We are at an inflection point where we cannot say that next year more people are going to live in a free society.”
As Schiff sees it, Trump is pushing the country in precisely the wrong direction, at a pivotal moment. “Normally, America would rise to this challenge,” he said. “We would be championing democracy and human rights. But we have a President who’s very fond of ties with the autocrats, who disdains our fellow-democracies, and he is just adding kindling to this global trend. There is a constituency with the same kind of xenophobic populism that you see in Europe, in South America, and elsewhere, and Trump tapped into that, but he has certainly made that trend so much worse and more pronounced.” He went on, “It’s not just that autocrats are winning in places like Brazil. The far-right parties in places like Germany and Austria are growing. He is undermining people like Merkel and Macron and others who are resisting that.”
A few years ago, Schiff became a friend of the late John McCain, whom he accompanied to a couple of international conferences. Once, in Munich, McCain invited Schiff to tag along to a dinner with the singer Bono and Bill Gates—“Not my usual crowd,” Schiff said, with a laugh. “At the dinner, we’re telling jokes, and Bono tells a joke about being Irish. And then he gets very serious and he says, ‘You know, I love Ireland, I’m a proud Irishman. Ireland is a great country, but it’s not an idea. America is not just a country; it’s an idea.’ And I realized, when he said it, that what’s really at risk right now is the whole idea of America. People around the world are questioning what we stand for. Maybe we’re not the country that they thought we were. And, as long as they don’t recognize what they see in the Oval Office, there’s a big responsibility on the members of Congress to speak those values, the way John McCain did.”
Still, Schiff knows that his legacy, to say nothing of his political future, will be defined by his handling of the Russia investigation. The challenge he faces has made him a national figure, and his harsh view of Trump has set the tone for many other Democrats to follow. At times, he may already have gone too far. After Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York to facilitating unlawful contributions to Trump’s campaign, specifically the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, Trump’s alleged former paramours, Schiff said, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” that the President “faces the real prospect of jail time” for his role in the case. Schiff told me, “The prosecutors said that Cohen deserved jail time because he helped conceal payments to women that, if they had been disclosed as they should have been, might have changed the outcome of the election. But that argument applies with even more force to Trump himself, because he was the guy directing the scheme, and the beneficiary of it. No jail time for him would be a terrible double standard.” (Last week, Cohen was sentenced to thirty-six months for his crimes.)
Calling for the President to be incarcerated when he hasn’t yet even been charged, or the evidence against him fully revealed, is, at the very least, premature, and perhaps irresponsible. Henry Waxman, a longtime congressman from a Los Angeles district before his recent retirement, conducted several successful investigations and has been a mentor of Schiff’s. “Adam has done a superb job this last year,” he said. “He achieved just the right tone in his public statements.” But, Waxman added, Schiff now has a very different task ahead of him, and cautioned, “Don’t make wild accusations and then try to substantiate them. You start with the facts and stay with the facts, and lead them to drawing a conclusion. In terms of congressional investigations, don’t get ahead of the facts. Make them public and let people examine those facts and make their own conclusions.”
Turf fights, too, may be in Schiff’s future. Other House committees, including Judiciary (chaired by Jerrold Nadler, of New York) and Oversight (chaired by Elijah Cummings, of Maryland), have overlapping jurisdiction when it comes to investigations of the White House, and they will want to mount their own hearings. The prospect of too many investigations runs the risk of a backlash against the Democrats, as Pelosi herself acknowledges. “There is joint jurisdiction among the committees, and we will have to collaborate,” she told me. “We have to be careful in how we proceed. It’s all about priorities. What I have always said is you have to make your best case. You can’t make every case.” The coveted testimony of Michael Cohen is an example of this complexity. Schiff’s office has already been in touch with Cohen’s attorneys about possible testimony concerning his dealings with Russia on Trump’s behalf. Schiff told me that he recognized that the subject of Cohen’s unlawful campaign contributions might fall under the ambit of another committee. Pelosi will bear the ultimate responsibility for sorting out the range and order of Cohen’s testimony amid the contending congressional priorities and egos.
Schiff spent the run-up to the midterms travelling around the country campaigning to elect other Democrats to Congress. He went to twenty-five states and raised or contributed six and a half million dollars for other candidates—one of the highest totals for any Democrat outside the congressional leadership. Notably, his travels took him to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, which are early Presidential primary states. (In 2020, Schiff’s home state of California will be, too.) California’s two Senate seats are occupied by Democrats, and he faces a crowded field if he wants to move up in the ranks of the Democratic leadership in the House. A Cabinet post in a Democratic Administration would be another possibility. Schiff’s travels led some to speculate that he may be considering a long-shot bid for President in 2020. “It’s flattering to be asked the question,” he told me. “It’s hard for me to look beyond the big job I have on my plate right now, which is to oversee the intelligence agencies and do a thorough investigation and see if the President was compromised. I would never say never. I can’t see past the job I have to do right now.”
For the moment, the election results in the midterms gave Democrats in the House a sense of relief that borders, for some, on giddiness. Even Schiff seems jolly these days. With the move into the majority, his staff has more work, but also more room to breathe. Schiff’s elevated seniority has allowed his team to relocate to more commodious offices, which Schiff inherited from Darrell Issa, one of the many California Republicans whose congressional careers ended in 2018. Schiff mostly sticks to business with his staffers, but they all know that he was a movie buff long before he became the congressman from Hollywood. (Several years ago, his holiday gift to each staffer was a DVD of “The Big Lebowski,” which Schiff often quotes.) It’s less known that, like many lawyers in Los Angeles, Schiff has been writing screenplays on the side for years, which together amount to a kind of autobiography. “The first was a post-Holocaust story called ‘Remnant.’ ” As Schiff recalled, “I had an agent at William Morris tell me it was good but no one would want to see it—too depressing. Then ‘Schindler’s List’ came out, and I was, like, ‘Come on!’ ” His next, written when he was a prosecutor, was a murder mystery called “Minotaur.” “I had a friend who was a producer, and he said there were two answers in Hollywood—‘Yes,’ and ‘Here’s a check.’ I was getting lots of yeses.” But perhaps there is hope for his third. “It’s a spy drama,” he said. “That one is a work in progress.” ♦