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Opinion Adam Schiff wants to ‘Trump-proof’ the White House. Will Biden agree?

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
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Earlier this week, Rep. Adam B. Schiff told MSNBC that he plans to introduce new legislation that will safeguard against the sort of epic corruption that former president Donald Trump brought to, well, just about every area of government he laid his hands upon.

And then, in a moment that deserves more attention, the California Democrat noted that he’s been getting some “pushback from the administration” about this effort. That would be pushback from the current administration, the one now led by President Biden.

Which again raises questions about how far the new administration will prove willing to go to undertake a full fumigation of Trump-era corruption and misdeeds. So far, by some indications, the answer has been disappointing.

Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, has been at the center of this question after the news broke that the Trump-era Justice Department subpoenaed communications records involving him and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), ostensibly to track leaks of classified information to the media related to the Russia scandal.

Those subpoenas suggested the department may have been used to target high-profile Trump critics. Schiff has been asking the department basic questions about this, such as what the legal predicate for the subpoena was, what triggered it, and who else was targeted. As I’ve reported, the department has not answered Schiff’s questions.

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Speaking to MSNBC’s Ari Melber, Schiff reiterated that he has gotten no answers. But during the interview, Schiff also said something else of great interest. He noted that he intended to introduce the new anti-corruption legislation, but suggested the executive branch didn’t appear all that excited about it.

“I have to say, we’re getting some pushback from the administration,” Schiff said, noting that officials are “acting as executives do, in trying to protect executive prerogative.”

Schiff added that he hopes these officials will recognize that “there’s a higher priority here, and that is making sure our system of checks and balances works.” He continued: “I hope we’ll get movement from them.”

The Schiff legislation is the Protect our Democracy Act, which Democrats view as a kind of contemporary post-Trump version of the sort of reforms that passed after Watergate. Democrats first introduced it in 2020, and it will be reintroduced soon — only this time, Biden is president.

The measure would strengthen congressional oversight of the presidential pardon power and presidential emergency declarations, beef up the enforcement of congressional subpoenas on executive branch officials, add transparency requirements making political manipulation of Justice Department officials harder, add protections for whistleblowers and inspectors general, and much more.

Such a package would “Trump-proof” the government, as MSNBC put it, meaning it would protect against future abuses of the sort that Trump trafficked in so heavily.

So what, exactly, is the Biden administration “pushing back” against in this bill? A source familiar with the situation declined to share details, telling me there are “ongoing discussions with the White House” and that Democrats want to “pick up the pace of that engagement.”

The news on this front has not been good lately. Beyond the Justice Department’s refusal to answer questions about the subpoenaing of lawmakers’ communications records, the department is also refusing to release the full memo that supposedly justified not charging Trump with criminal obstruction of justice, and it’s unclear whether the administration will release Trump’s tax returns.

On whether we’ll ever see a full fumigation, we’ve heard from some Democrats that the Biden administration “is looking forward, not back.” Meanwhile, anonymous Justice Department officials have suggested that full transparency about Trumpian misdeeds will create the impression that the department is being just as political as it was under Trump, impairing the restoration of “normalcy.”

Those are terrible excuses. But beyond that, the true contours of the administration’s approach will now inevitably come into sharper relief, as Democrats pursue legislation that would insert active new safeguards into the executive branch.

We will now have a debate not just about transparency into Trump-era corruption, but what specific steps can be taken now to prevent anything like that from happening again. The administration may well end up getting this right, but Schiff’s comments suggest vigilance is advised.