TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I am Terry Gross. My guest, Congressman Adam Schiff, has been very busy the past few years investigating Donald Trump. Schiff is the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff was the lead manager of the first impeachment and Senate impeachment trial of then-President Trump. That was the impeachment focusing around the call with President Zelenskyy in which Trump asked for a favor in return for weapons to fight Russia’s military occupation of part of Ukraine. Now Schiff is serving on the House Select Committee investigating January 6 and Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. After FBI agents with a search warrant seized confidential and top-secret documents from Mar-a-Lago last week, Schiff asked the intelligence community for a damage assessment and a briefing for Congress.
Schiff has served as a Democratic congressman from California since 2001. He served on the Judiciary Committee from 2001 to 2011. His memoir has just been published in paperback with a new afterword. The book is titled “Midnight In Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could.” We recorded our interview yesterday morning.
Congressman Schiff, welcome to FRESH AIR. In the afterword, which you wrote in May, you question whether the Justice Department is acting with sufficient determination and vigor to investigate Trump’s efforts to subvert our democracy. Has the search warrant that, last week, enabled the FBI to remove top-secret, classified documents stored in Mar-a-Lago affected your thoughts on Garland and the DOJ’s work moving forward?
ADAM SCHIFF: Well, it has affected it. I am more encouraged that the Justice Department is willing to do what it said it would do, which is follow the evidence where it leads. They certainly appear to be doing that in the case of classified materials, some with the highest classification markings that were found at Mar-a-Lago. I still am concerned a year and a half after the events of January 6 though that certain elements of the plot to overturn the election do not appear to be under investigation as they pertain to the former president.
And sort of Exhibit A would be Georgia, the president on the phone with the secretary of state in Georgia demanding that he find 11,780 votes that don’t exist. And the Justice Department now has evidence, as the result of our investigation, that in a meeting with top Justice Department officials at the time, when he sat down with them in the White House and they told him in no uncertain terms that these claims of election fraud were BS, that his answer was, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republicans. That’s pretty powerful evidence of intent. And we have yet, I think, to see that under the microscope by the Justice Department.
GROSS: Well, the Justice Department also recently seized the cell phone of Scott Perry, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, and he leads the far-right House Freedom Caucus. And that was seized in connection with the Justice Department’s investigation of fake electors to overturn the 2020 election. So is that an optimistic sign to you that the Justice Department is moving forward in investigating the fake elector scheme?
SCHIFF: I think they’re certainly investigating the fake elector scheme from what we can see publicly. And it is very significant that they took the step of seizing a phone of a member of Congress. What strikes me about that – and I spent almost six years with the Department of Justice – is that it means that they believe that there is probable cause a crime was committed in connection with that fake elector plot and that there was evidence of that crime on that phone. And given the sensitivity of seizing a member of Congress’ phone, you have to think that they were doubly careful in terms of their evaluation of the evidence and the facts and the law. So it certainly means that the Justice Department thinks there’s a crime here. It doesn’t mean necessarily that that member of Congress has committed a crime, but they believe that there’s evidence of a crime on that phone. And so, yes, that’s a pretty powerful step by the department, I think an important step. And so it does appear that in certain areas and as respects to certain parties, they are being aggressive. And it’s about time.
GROSS: Do you think the Mar-a-Lago documents put Trump in legal jeopardy?
SCHIFF: I think they do. You know, anyone in the intelligence community or, frankly, outside of it that had top-secret documents in their hotel or their private residence – and, in particular, after federal agents went to investigate – and if the – some of the public reporting is correct that those federal agents were told that they had turned them all over and they didn’t, they would be in serious legal jeopardy. Now, we don’t know the full facts of how they got there, the president’s involvement, the president’s knowledge, willfulness. These are all things that the Justice Department will have to investigate and analyze. But, yes, I think with respect to anyone else, they would be in serious legal jeopardy. And it shouldn’t be different merely because you were the former president of the United States.
GROSS: Is there any interaction between the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump and the attempt to overturn the election and the January 6 Select Committee, their investigation, the investigation you’re a part of? Like, your hearings are public, so the DOJ knows what you’ve been up to. It sounds like you don’t really know what the DOJ has been up to. How do you hope that the January 6 investigation will inform the DOJ?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, it’s – a couple things. And this is now, I think, the second or third major investigation that I’ve been involved with where there have been contemporaneous investigations by the Justice Department and by Congress. And there is usually dialogue between the two branches about their investigations to make sure that one doesn’t impede or jeopardize the other. In this case, it’s, you know, been very public that the Justice Department has asked for Congress to turn over its files. It’s not really what Congress does any more than the Justice Department turns over its files to Congress. But we do want to make sure that they get the information that they need to successfully bring people to justice. So we’ve been in a period of discussion and negotiation about how that accommodation should work.
Generally, Congress ends up providing a lot more to the Justice Department than we get back from the Justice Department. In the case of what what’s happening in Mar-a-Lago and what’s happening in our own investigation, I can’t go into the particulars. There have been times where issues of the handling of classified information have come up in the course of our investigation. And when they do, you know, they are obviously of interest and concern to us. But that hasn’t been the focus of our investigation. The focus has been very much on the plot to overturn the election. And that plot obviously is a subject matter that we are grateful the Justice Department is also deeply involved in.
GROSS: There’s been violent rhetoric aimed at Attorney General Garland, the FBI and those who oppose Trump. And it’s escalated to the point where it’s being compared to the rhetoric before January 6. The FBI headquarters or the FBI office was attacked in Cincinnati. What are you hearing about violent rhetoric right now?
SCHIFF: Well, I think this is such a destructive and dangerous turn for our country, that is the degree to which political violence has somehow become acceptable to more and more of the American people. It can never become acceptable. And part of what is responsible is we have the former president really stoking this, calling the FBI corrupt because they searched Mar-a-Lago when it appears they had every reason to do so and more. To – by the former president suggesting they were planting evidence, by the president and his enablers suggesting that people that oppose him, myself very much included, are somehow guilty of treason and – or as the president has said of many people he accuses of treason, that, well, there used to be a way of dealing with people who committed treason. And that was execution.
All of this kind of rhetoric and talk about civil war just turns up the heat on the boiling pot. And we see the results, people going to FBI buildings armed to the teeth to shoot people. And, you know, look; I have been, sadly, the subject of death threats for years now. That’s becoming widespread in Congress. And this is not the way it used to be in America, that people simply going about their public responsibilities had to deal with this all the time. But we do. And I think the public needs to be aware of it. And I think we need to uniformly, Democrats and Republicans, condemn it. We need to understand, particularly in the social media world now, that words have greater consequences than ever because they find their way to people who are unwell. And they also find their way to people who are motivated to use violence and view them as a call to action.
GROSS: You mention talk of civil war. How far does this go? Do you fear that there might actually be a civil war?
SCHIFF: Well, I think that a civil war is extremely unlikely. But I am gravely concerned about certain scenarios and where they would lead. And probably the one that concerns me the most is 2024. In my view, the worst-case scenario is not that Donald Trump runs and wins, as terrible a scenario as that would be. The worst-case scenario is that he runs and loses, and the election is overturned. And then you would just have chaos in the streets. If the Republicans deemed without any basis that there was fraud, just as they did in the last election, but lacked the votes to overturn the result and somehow had the votes to overturn the result, where does that lead the country? And to me, that is the most dangerous scenario. But the way to avoid that scenario is to make sure that Donald Trump never goes near the levers of power again.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Congressman Adam Schiff. His memoir, “Midnight In Washington,” has just been published in paperback. We’ll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF AVISHAI COHEN SONG, “GBEDE TEMIN”)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to my interview with Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He was the lead manager of the first impeachment of President Trump and now serves on the House select committee investigating January 6 and attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. His memoir, “Midnight In Washington,” has just been published in paperback with a new afterword.
What are the things coming out of the January 6 committee investigation so far that you think could lead to criminal charges against Donald Trump?
SCHIFF: To me, some of the most significant evidence has been evidence of the president’s intent, of his involvement and his intent. And, you know, one of those I mentioned earlier, which is that meeting with top Justice Department officials, his own people, in which he’s repeatedly told by – you know, earlier by Bill Barr and then later by other top Justice Department officials that these allegations of fraud are just bogus. So he’s told this. He knows this. And he not only continues to try to change the election result, pressuring elections officials, pressuring legislators to go back into session and declare him the winner, but on January 6, as the crowd is amassing on the Mall and he’s told that there’s a problem – and it’s not the same problem that he’d had at rallies, where there was a long line at the metal detectors because they were just taking too long to get people through.
No, the problem on January 6 was that people wouldn’t go through the metal detectors because they didn’t want to have to give up their weapons. And his answer is, then take down the magnetometers. They’re not here to hurt me. And what more powerful evidence could you have of the president’s knowledge that these people were armed, knowledge that they were dangerous and dangerous to others, willingness to have the Capitol and everyone in it, including his own vice president, endangered? He goes back to the White House. He sits there for hours while this attack is going on. He doesn’t lift a finger to stop it. People are calling him. They’re texting him. They’re going in to see him. They’re urging him to do something, and he refuses.
You know, this is very powerful evidence. And much of this has come out during the course of our investigation and the hearings that we’ve had. And as you mentioned, the Justice Department certainly watching, listening. We’re glad that they are. But, you know, one of the questions I have when they come and they ask for our files and our interviews is, why haven’t you done your own interviews with all the people that we have? Their subpoena power is very strong. Their ability to enforce it is much greater than ours. In fact, when we need to enforce our subpoenas, when people are in criminal contempt of Congress, we have to go hat in hand to the Justice Department. And so far, they have only a 50-50, you know, record of enforcement with our subpoenas.
I can tell you, if they issued a subpoena to have someone come before the grand jury and they didn’t show up, and they simply said, you know, I don’t have to answer these questions; I don’t have to give a reason, there would be no hesitation by the department to enforce their subpoenas. And they have the power to do it. So you know, I think we produced very important evidence. I think that’s, you know, not our role, as some kind of an adjunct to the Department of Justice – we’re not. We’re doing it as part of our oversight and with an eye to reform, to protect the country going forward. But nonetheless, I think the evidence that has been produced and aired publicly is very important for the Justice Department to follow up on.
GROSS: Every time it looks like the committee is ready to wrap up, the January 6 committee, there’s more witnesses that are coming forward or that you’re calling. And so the investigation keeps continuing, which I imagine keeps pushing back the timeline for actually issuing the report. So what’s your latest deadline now for issuing it?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, we’ll certainly finish our work this session. You’re right. The clock keeps – the timeline keeps slipping, and it keeps slipping because we still have this phenomenon where the more people we bring in, the more hearings that we do, the more other witnesses are encouraged, emboldened to come forward and speak with us. But, you know, having been involved as a prosecutor and a Congress with investigations, large investigations before, there is a natural rhythm to an investigation where you do get to a point where the length of time to get the next increment of evidence becomes too long. And it’s a natural kind of conclusion point.
You seldom get to the point where you think you know everything and that further investigation wouldn’t get you, you know, more insights. But you do have to make a decision, OK, it’s just going to take too long to get to the next insight. We need to make the public aware of what we’ve learned. And I’m confident we will wrap up this session. And – but while there’s still important information and people coming forward and evidence to present to the public, we want to do that and – as well as move with alacrity on reforms like to the Electoral Count Act and other laws to protect us.
GROSS: You write that for three years before impeachment one, that Republicans used to express concerns to you in private about President Trump. What about now? Are Republicans still confessing in private, concerns about Trump that they won’t say publicly?
SCHIFF: They are. And yes, you know, I mentioned in particular in the book how, you know, during the Russia investigation, passing a senior Republican, a committee chair, who in a hushed tone said, keep doing what you’re doing, which, of course, was a heresy. But many felt that the work had to be done. They just didn’t feel they could or would do it themselves, and that the political or election consequences were too great. And, of course, what you see happening to Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney and others demonstrates that there was all too much truth to that fear for them. Now, it doesn’t excuse the fact that they didn’t come forward, that they still haven’t come forward in terms of whether they continued to confide those kind of misgivings to me.
The, you know, the Trump camp and Fox News has made me such a villain. I don’t think they feel comfortable sharing those kind of things with me. But I do hear from my other Democratic colleagues that Republicans continue to confide their horror at what the former president does. But so many of them just want to keep their heads down and just hope we get through this. But this is not the time where we can afford to keep our heads down.
GROSS: Have you ever tried one on one to talk a Republican colleague out of a conspiracy theory or to talk a Republican colleague out of the belief that Trump really won the 2020 election?
SCHIFF: You know, I haven’t, because for the most part, it’s not necessary. They know the big lie is a big lie. You know, this is the terrible…
GROSS: So you think they know that?
SCHIFF: Oh, without a doubt, without a doubt. I mean, these are smart people. You know, you have some of the destructive performance artists, the Marjorie Taylor Greene’s and others. But for the most part, the vast majority of the Republican conference, they know the big lie is a big lie, and they know their party leader is a big liar. They just lack the courage to do anything about it. And – but they understand exactly the circumstances. You cannot tell me that representatives who are elected in the same election, on the same ballot don’t understand the hypocrisy of claiming that the election was rigged and fraudulent as to one office on the ballot, but their election was somehow perfectly legitimate. You know, they understand this perfectly well. They just aren’t willing to speak out. They don’t want to be in Adam Kinzinger’s shoes or Liz Cheney’s or anyone else who has stepped up and now decided they had to retire or lose in a Republican primary.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Congressman Adam Schiff. His memoir, “Midnight In Washington,” has just been published in paperback with a new afterword. We’ll be right back after we take a short break. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALBERTO IGLESIAS’ “COMANDANTE I”)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. Let’s get back to the interview I recorded yesterday morning with Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He was the lead manager of the first impeachment of President Trump and now serves on the House select committee investigating January 6 and attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. His memoir, “Midnight In Washington,” has just been published in paperback with a new afterword.
What is it like for you to work with colleagues who you believe, you know, who are amplifying falsehoods or conspiracy theories, who you believe know better and that they don’t necessarily believe these falsehoods and conspiracy theories? But you’re working with them on a regular basis. They’re your colleagues. What’s that experience like?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, I have to say it has been a tragic epiphany for me over the last five or six years to see what many of my colleagues are made of. And I had thought more highly of them. And it was a rude awakening to see that at the end of the day, they really didn’t believe in what they were saying. At least they didn’t believe in it enough to stand up for it. Donald Trump, in so many ways, is no conservative. There is no conservative ideology in what he is articulating. It’s just all about him and all about attaining power and keeping power. And so it has been a rude shock that I’ve just had to acclimate to. You know, I think the fever will break. This, too, shall pass. You know, we are a deeply resilient country. We’ve gone through other traumatic times in the past. We will get through this. But I do think that what we do in this moment will determine how quickly we get through it, how much damage we have to suffer along the way. And there is a role for every one of us right now to defend our democracy.
GROSS: It looks like the Christian nationalism movement is growing. You know, Doug Mastriano, who’s the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, is a Christian nationalist. There are other candidates and people in office who are – and I’m – oh, Viktor Orban, who, you know, is anti-Semitic, was invited to speak at CPAC, the conservative conference over the summer. And an earlier CPAC conference was held in Hungary. And I’m wondering – I mean, you’re Jewish. You don’t have to be Jewish to think that Christian nationalism that says that we are a Christian country – you don’t have to be Jewish to think that that is a very narrow interpretation of who we are as a country. We’re supposed to be a diverse country. We are a diverse country. But – so I’m wondering what you think about the growing Christian nationalist movement and if that’s affecting you as somebody who is targeted by extremists. I imagine you’re also targeted for being Jewish.
SCHIFF: You know, there is a lot of anti-Semitic hate, particularly online, that I’m subjected to, but there’s many others, as well. And yes, you know, the rise of the Viktor Orbans, the demonization of people like George Soros – you know, we’ve seen the kind of veneer torn off and, you know, an ugly vein of bigotry that’s always been there. Robert Caro saying that power reveals – it’s also revealed a lot about our country and bigotry that is right below the surface, that can be tapped and can be mined and can be used for political purposes.
And, you know, those appeals to bigotry now are quite overt. The dog whistles are no longer whistles that only dogs can hear. They can be heard by everyone. And, you know, I think of all of the images of January 6. The ones that were the most disturbing were the Confederate flags, the Auschwitz T-shirts because that said to me that the road to recovery is going to be far longer than I would have thought if this were just a kind of Trumpist insurrection, that it was also a white nationalist insurrection. And, you know, we have to have our eyes wide open about this. And it so illustrative of the importance of having people of character in the Oval Office because when you have someone who is willing to appeal to the basest instincts and people and legitimize them, this is what happens.
GROSS: Your memoir’s just been published in paperback and in the new afterword, which was written in May, you write about having just recently returned from a meeting with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy about how the war was going. And of course, while you were there speaking to him, you thought about the first impeachment, which focused on Trump’s call in which he basically asks for a favor in return for American money and weapons to help Ukraine fight the war against the Russians. Well, obviously, that call took on new meaning after this current war with Russia, after Russia invaded Ukraine, as opposed to just an incursion into part of Ukraine, which had already started back in, I think, 2016. Did you consider talking with President Zelenskyy about that call and about the impeachment? Did you talk to him about it? And did you entertain the idea of talking to him about it?
SCHIFF: You know, I did not talk to him about it. And yes, I would have loved to have talked to him about it. You know, we had, you know, much more pressing matters. We met with him for about 3 hours, and it was all about the war. What do you need? How do you need it? What’s effective? And so it was, as it should have been, completely focused on the war. But, yes, I would have loved to have talked to him about it. And, you know, sitting across the table from him, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like at the time of that call, that infamous call where Donald Trump tried to shake him down. He had only been president for a short period of time. And prior to being president, he was an actor, comedic actor, playing a comedic actor who becomes a president of his country in a case of life imitating art to an extraordinary degree.
And so here he is on the world stage for the first time, having his first interaction with his most – second interaction but first really substantive one other than a congratulatory call – with his most important patron at a time where he’s desperate to get weapons to help fend off the Russians. And he’s shaken down by the president of the United States. And I wondered what he must have thought of the United States and whether he must have imagined, well, this must be just how the world works because if this is the United States, then how must other nations behave?
It also told him, of course, that the United States didn’t care about Ukraine except as a tool to help win an American election. And I did hope, as I sat there with him and given the strong support we have been providing Ukraine, that he has a different impression of our country now. But the fact that Trump is still viable, you know, is not lost on anyone around the world. And, you know, it grieves me to hear President Biden say when he does that in talking to people in Europe and talking about how America is back, that the response is sometimes, yes, but for how long? That’s just – to me, that’s just painful. And it speaks of the long damage that has been done to our standing.
GROSS: You know, I think a lot about how during the first impeachment, Ukraine wasn’t on the minds of a lot of Americans. And a lot of people probably couldn’t even have told you where it was or what its relationship to Russia was. And ever since Russia invaded, you know, Ukraine and started, you know, bombing Ukraine – and so many displaced people and killed people, etc. – Ukraine has been on the minds of Americans. It’s such an interesting contrast. Do you think about that a lot?
SCHIFF: Oh, I do, absolutely, and wish the public had a greater understanding of the importance of Ukraine and the threat from Russia at the time of that impeachment to see how dangerous Donald Trump’s actions really were. And – but now – and I do think this has been an important impact of the war – the American people have seen the horror that is Vladimir Putin. And now when you look back, in retrospect, of Donald Trump’s sycophantic embrace of Putin, standing on the stage with him in Helsinki and saying that he believes Putin over his own intelligence agencies, even at the beginning of the war in Ukraine making excuses for the invasion of Ukraine and talking about how Putin was a genius, it has revealed just how dangerous and destructive Trump’s relationship with Putin has been, his embrace of Putin has been. And that, I think, has been a real consequence.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you again. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Congressman Adam Schiff. His memoir, “Midnight In Washington” has just been published in paperback. We’ll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF CUONG VU AND PAT METHENY’S “SEEDS OF DOUBT”)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to the interview I recorded yesterday morning with Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He was the lead manager of the first impeachment of President Trump and now serves on the House Select Committee investigating January 6 and attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
So one of the things you describe in the book is learning how to gavel so that you really have control because there had been recent instances where the person gaveling the committee had lost control and it was a real food fight. So tell us what you learned about how to gavel with command and authority.
SCHIFF: Well, you know, one of the big contrasts between the Ukraine investigation and our January 6 hearings is that we knew we were going to be facing disruptions by the Republicans during our hearings, an effort to distract from the testimony of these important witnesses like Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman and Bill Taylor and others. And they would use every effort they could to try to needle me or get under my skin or provoke a fight. And so I needed to use the gavel very effectively.
And we brought in the expert help of what we call the two Phils – two former staff of Henry Waxman, brilliant guys, very schooled in the use of parliamentary procedure. And we did all these rehearsals, you know, just the Democratic members. And they would play – you know, they would play Jim Jordan. Jim Jordan was brought onto the Intel Committee for the purpose of the Ukraine hearings – to disrupt. Now, if you don’t remember the fact that Jim Jordan actually was participating in those hearings, it was – because he was, you know, just categorically unsuccessful. And a big part of that was the two Phils taught us how to deal with those efforts at distraction.
And so I used to – I learned to use the gavel hard by slamming it down, but also more often by tapping it and by, you know, using it like a conductor would use his baton. And I think it was really important in being able to keep the hearings on track, keep the focus on the witnesses. And as you look back on those hearings now, I think most people don’t remember what the Republicans were doing. And they were trying to do a lot. It just didn’t work. And one of the things that I would…
GROSS: So give us a tip of how to gavel effectively and prevent out-of-order outbursts.
SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think how you use the gavel in the beginning of the hearing is the most important because if you can shut down efforts to obstruct in the beginning, then you’ll shut them down indefinitely for the rest of the hearing. If you can’t, then you’re just going to have chaos the rest of the hearing. So, you know, I remember early in one hearing, both, I think, Jordan and Stefanik tried to interrupt. And I gaveled them down, and then, they essentially gave up and, you know, were quite docile in their objections for the rest of the hearing.
And so I think, you know, the early use of the gavel and parliamentary procedure, knowing the rulings that you can make when questions are not in order, when things are not debatable and when they are, is really important. So it’s not just how you bang the gavel, but also how you rule on objections and working as a team so that other members can also interject when necessary, make motions when necessary, to bring an end to dilatory debate.
GROSS: So you were the lead manager in impeachment one, impeaching President Trump. And he was impeached in the House for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. And then you were the lead manager in the Senate trial, which did not convict him. In your book, you describe trying to come up with a strategy that would help convince Republican senators to convict Trump and remove him from office. And – because you felt that they knew that he’d done something wrong, but they weren’t willing to actually convict and remove him from office. So I want to play an excerpt of your concluding speech to the Senate. And after we hear this, we’ll talk about what you intended to do when you were saying this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SCHIFF: He has compromised our elections. And he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less. And decency matters not at all. I do not ask you to convict him because truth or right or decency matters nothing to him, but because we have proven our case and it matters to you. Truth matters to you. Right matters to you. You are decent. He is not who you are.
GROSS: So Adam Schiff, when you said that he’d compromise his elections and will do so again, were you expecting an insurrection?
SCHIFF: I was not expecting an insurrection. I didn’t have that kind of clairvoyance. But saying what I did really didn’t require much clairvoyance at all. It was very apparent who Donald Trump was at that point and the risk that he posed to the country. And I did realize during the trial – I had a bit of an epiphany that I write about, when one of my staff grabbed my arm before I went to do the closing for that day and said that they believe he’s guilty. They want to know why he should be removed. And up until that point, I don’t think I fully appreciated the fact that the senators who would go out during the trial and say there was no quid pro quo didn’t believe what they were saying. In fact, it was reported at one point that Ted Cruz told Trump’s defense team to stop making that argument because nobody believes it.
They understood exactly what Trump had done. And what they needed to be persuaded was why he needed to be removed from office. Normally, during a trial and as a prosecutor, all you had to do was prove the facts. Well, we had proven the facts. And that wasn’t enough for these senators. And I remember thinking to myself, God, if they realize he withheld 400 million in military aid to get help cheating in the election and that’s not enough, what will it take? And I realized that they needed to be persuaded that he was a continuing danger to the country. And to me, what made him so dangerous then, what makes him so dangerous now is that he is fundamentally untruthful. He doesn’t know right from wrong. And he is, basically, indecent. And I wanted to appeal to the decency of the senators.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you again. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Congressman Adam Schiff. His memoir, “Midnight In Washington,” has just been published in paperback. We’ll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEBO VALDES TRIO’S “PARE COCHERO”)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to the interview I recorded yesterday morning with Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. His memoir, “Midnight In Washington,” has just been published in paperback.
Do you watch Fox News and see how people are vilifying you? Or do you leave that for others to report to you?
SCHIFF: That is the unfortunate task of my staff. So they will get clips of the attacks on me. And they will send them to me – and not all of them because they’d be sending them to me all the time. I used to watch Fox so that I could see what they were saying and what – you know, what people were listening to and watching and believing. But it just became so disturbing. I couldn’t stomach it anymore. But I do need to know about the attacks because, you know, they’re effective in trying to discredit their opposition, you know? This is one of the things that Trump does is, anyone who stands up to him, at his rallies, his, you know, sycophants and enablers on “Fox Primetime,” they do everything they can to tear down, to smear their opponents. And I see the effect of it.
I’ll be, you know, at a train station and step off the platform. And someone will come up to me and say, are you Adam Schiff? I just want to shake your hand. You’re my hero. And the next person standing right next to them will say, well, you’re not my hero. You lie all the time. Why do you lie all the time? And I will look at the two of them. And I’ll say, I know what you’re watching. And I know what you’re watching. And it’s not the same thing because I’m the same person. And I can’t be both, right? And this, to me, is one of the most crosscutting challenges that we have is simply how we get our information from different places.
And I’m convinced, you know, among the most significant differences between Watergate and today is the fact that Richard Nixon did not have Fox News. Had Richard Nixon had Fox News, he would have never been forced to leave office. It is not a media outlet as much as it is a state-run TV for Trump and the Republican Party. And it is astounding to me that Rupert Murdoch is willing to have someone like Tucker Carlson on, who is a Putin enabler, who describes Ukraine as something less than a real country, defends Russia in this. It’s utterly shameful and unpatriotic. And I guess it’s just all about the money because I can’t understand any other reason why that kind of destructive propaganda would be aired to millions of Americans.
GROSS: It seems like now if you’re entering politics or if you’re involved with overseeing elections, that you have to make a calculation not only about your own safety but the safety of your family. In your case, like, your children are grown. You live with your wife. You’re not home all the time. You were worried about your wife. She was worried about her safety. Can you talk about making that calculation that knowing if you stick your neck out and become, you know, lead manager of impeachment and then serve on the January 6 committee, that there are going to be really serious threats against you and that that might affect your family, too, that they might be in jeopardy, too?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, it’s certainly nothing I contemplated before I ran for office. None of this is anything I would have contemplated years ago. And, you know, over the years, we would – and, you know, early on in the Trump administration, when my son was still at home – and I would be threatened. My kids would be threatened. My wife would be threatened. And and it wasn’t the threats alone. I remember – and I describe this in the book – one night being in the kitchen with my wife, Eve, and she was very upset. And she’s a very strong person, wasn’t – it’s not common for me to see her that upset. And I assumed it was the threats, but in this case, it wasn’t a particular threat. She said, I just can’t stand how millions of people – they just hate you.
And, you know, it was kind of a boiling frog phenomenon for me. I had had to acclimate myself to the fact that, you know, Trump with his bully pulpit and Fox News with their, you know, primetime lineup – there was no way I could compete with that. Every time they would lie about me, there was no way I could get the truth to their viewers and get the truth to the millions of people that follow Donald Trump on social media. I just had to live with the fact that millions and millions of people were going to have the worst views of me, and there was nothing I could do about it. But I didn’t realize how difficult that was for Eve until she said that.
You know, up until the Trump years, I had a very different reputation publicly and among my colleagues. You know, I think I was viewed as one of the least partisan members of the House. And I don’t think I’ve changed. I don’t think that Donald Trump is is really a Republican. I think he’s a Trumpist. And, you know, what my job required me to do made me a lightning rod. And I was fine with that. I am fine with that. But it’s another thing for your family. And so that – you know, that, you know, from time to time has really been hard.
GROSS: Congressman Schiff, thank you so much for talking with us. I really appreciate it.
SCHIFF: My pleasure. Thank you.
GROSS: My interview with Congressman Adam Schiff was recorded yesterday morning. His memoir, “Midnight In Washington,” has just been published in paperback. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be Beth Macy, author of the book “Dopesick.” She’ll talk about citizen volunteers working to save lives and heal spirits in rural communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic. And we’ll meet Michelle Mathis, co-founder of an organization doing that work. Macy has written a new book called “Raising Lazarus.” I hope you’ll join us.
(SOUNDBITE OF TONY WILLIAMS’ “CITY OF LIGHTS”)
GROSS: Fresh Air’s executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I’m Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF TONY WILLIAMS’ “CITY OF LIGHTS”)
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