This post, originally published in March 2017, has been updated.
Honestly, if President Trump hadn't, well, become president, it's very possible we wouldn't be calling Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to your attention right now.
But Schiff is the top Democrat on the powerful House Intelligence Committee at a time when the GOP-led Congress and the FBI are investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election and whether anyone in the president's circle was involved. That has plopped the usually under-the-radar Schiff on the front lines of Democrats' opposition to Trump. And as the Russia investigation only gets more political, Schiff is in the president's crosshairs.
It's a job the mild-mannered lawmaker — the New York Times has described him as “more labradoodle than Doberman” — has decided to embrace on Twitter, with a ubiquitous media presence and, occasionally, in a high-profile proxy showdown with the president. Here's Schiff last year going after the president for accusing Democrats of making up “the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign”:
It took more than a year, but Trump fired back at Schiff early Monday morning. It's possible Trump was watching his favorite cable TV show, “Fox & Friends,” which played a clip of Schiff telling ABC that the GOP memo alleging FBI biased in the Russia investigation “is a political hit job on the FBI in the service of the president.”
So, the battle's on. Here's what you need to know about Schiff and the role he could play in the Russia investigations and Trump's presidency
The basics: The Harvard Law graduate lost three elections to the California State House before finally getting elected to the state Senate. From there, it was a relatively quick jump for Schiff to get elected to Congress in 2000 from the western Los Angeles suburbs. His district now includes Hollywood and, as you can imagine, is one of the most Democratic in the nation.
He's in the “Gang of Eight”: Which means he is privy to some of the nation's deepest spy secrets. By law, the president has to keep the top Republican and Democrat of the House and Senate intelligence committees and the top Republican and Democrat in the Senate and House of Representatives up to date on its intelligence gathering.
His wife's name is Eve: Get it? Adam and Eve?
His breakout moments have come in the Russia investigation: One, specifically. It was March of last year. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), gave Schiff a generous 15 minutes to make an opening statement in the committee's rare public hearing with FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers.
Schiff used that time to launch a bold argument of why Democrats are suspicious that Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia during the election. Among the connections Schiff pointed out:
- One of Trump's national security advisers during the campaign, Carter Page, has ties to Russia and has praised its president, Vladimir Putin.
- Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had been on the payroll for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.
- Trump officials met with the Russian ambassador to Washington during the Republican National Convention. At that convention, Republicans changed their platform to remove a section that supported giving weapons to Ukraine as it battles Russia for territory.
- Former Trump adviser Roger Stone boasted in a speech that he knew of impending WikiLeaks documents related to Hillary Clinton's campaign before they were published.
- Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions would avoid disclosing their conversations with the Russian ambassador during or shortly after the campaign.
After laying that out, Schiff (rhetorically) asked:
“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere? We simply don't know. Not yet. And we owe it to the country to find out.”
Schiff didn't necessarily want to be in this position: But he said he feels he has no choice: Nothing less than American democracy is at stake in understanding the connection between Russia, the U.S. election and the president, Schiff repeatedly says.
“This is the political equivalent of [9/11] in magnitude,” he told The Fix in an interview in March.
He was one of the early alarm raisers about Russian meddling: In September, he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued this eyebrow-raising statement:
“Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election. At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election — we can see no other rationale for the behavior of the Russians.”
The Obama administration would officially accuse Russia of the same thing in October. Schiff told Politico's Susan Glasser that he and Feinstein had tried to get them to publicly acknowledge Russia's meddling much earlier.
He acknowledges Democrats don't naturally gravitate toward national security: Which is why he co-founded a national security study group for Democrats to talk about these issues.
He's got a self-described “somewhat deranged sense of humor”: It's showcased on his increasingly active Twitter feed — and often directed at Trump.
He was considered a potential Senate candidate: If Feinstein, also a Democratic leader in intelligence circles, had decided not to run for reelection in California in 2018. (She is running.) (Also, this might be where Trump is getting the idea Schiff is “desperate to run for higher office.")
He's taken hawkish positions that aren't popular with liberals: Like voting for the USA Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11 or authorizing President George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq. Separately, he's a big advocate of getting Congress to authorize use of force against the Islamic State.
He's cognizant of how his political profile could undermine Congress' Russia investigation: As he speaks out against a president he's described as “a real danger to the country and to our future prosperity, and to our place in the world,” Schiff says he must be careful not to hyper-politicize his role in the GOP-led investigation into Russia.
“I think my role is to try to help the Democratic Party to make this investigation thorough and to make it nonpartisan,” he told The Fix. “Sometimes that's playing the role of diplomat, and other times that's using the public spotlight to push the investigation forward. … If we issue a report where Democrats find one thing and Republicans find another, both sides retreat to their respective corners and nothing get revealed.”
He's also passionate about triathlons and animal rights: I asked his staff what in Schiff's bio goes unnoticed. They pointed me to the fact that he's a triathlete, and to work like this: