History has a funny way of holding up a mirror to the present.
Case in point: Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff’s key role in the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
It was 20 years ago last January that a then-Republican-controlled US Senate began deliberations on the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Chief Justice William Rehnquist — dressed for the momentous occasion in specially made robes with gold stripes on the sleeves — presiding.
Schiff’s GOP predecessor in congress, current LA County Superior Court Judge James Rogan of Glendale, became one of 13 managers of the impeachment trial for the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, which voted to impeach Clinton based on the findings of a special counsel, in this case Kenneth Starr.
Clinton faced one count of perjury in relation to a sexual dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinski, and an obstruction of justice charge in a sexual harassment case related to his extramarital relationship with Paula Jones. The president was ultimately acquitted when the Senate failed to come up with a majority of votes to convict on either count, let alone a required two-thirds majority.
Rogan and his predecessor in the former 27th District, Carlos Moorhead, who served 24 years before retiring in 1997, were both Republicans, but the district had long been trending Democrat by then. In 2000, Schiff, a Harvard-educated former federal prosecutor who was serving in the state Senate, beat Rogan in the most expensive House race in history at the time.
For Schiff, who still represents what has become the 28th Congressional District, much has happened over the past two decades, not the least of which has been the War on Terror following the air strikes on New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11 2001. Those events plunged the United States into war, first with Afghanistan and then Iraq. They also prompted Schiff, who considers himself a conservative, or “Blue Dog,” Democrat, to co-author the USA PATRIOT Act, the effects of which, good and bad, still reverberate throughout the world.
And today it is Schiff, who chairs the Intelligence Committee in the Democrat-controlled House, who has been charged with prosecuting a president, this time Trump, for the constitutionally required “bribery,” “treason,” and/or “high crimes and misdemeanors” committed by allegedly threatening to withhold military aid from Ukraine if that country’s president, Volodomyr Zelensky, did not provide political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, a candidate currently vying to unseat Trump.
PW caught up with a very busy Schiff by phone last weekend and talked about the Trump impeachment proceedings and other issues facing the district.
PASADENA WEEKLY: It took some time for you to move toward impeachment. What changed your mind?
CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF: The allegations involving the president attempting to force Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent by withholding aid and White House meetings pose a grave threat to our election and security, and also the day after Mueller testified about Russian collusion, the very next day, President Trump is with a different foreign power trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. It is dangerous to have a president with no moral compass and who feels he is above the law.
Benjamin Franklin once proclaimed, “We have a Republic if we can keep it.” What do we have to do to keep it?
We have to set party aside and answer the question, ‘Are we prepared to accept a president that is willing to use hundreds of millions in military aid to stop Russian expansionism to bribe a foreign leader?’ What he did is what the founders feared a corrupt president might do. We have to look objectively and ask, ‘Is this the kind of president we want to have?’
The president tweeted a personal attack against former US Ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch, a witness, during the hearings. Were you surprised that he acted in that manner, with the world watching?
It was mixture of shock and resignation. This is what we have come to expect of this president. It is part of a pattern of character assassination. He has been doing it his entire presidency, praising people who don’t cooperate, calling those who do, like Michael Cohen, rats, and dangling pardons in front of others. It is a very broad pattern and withholding witnesses and documents is part of that same pattern.
Do you have a dream witness you wish would come forward?
The career professionals are coming forward. The political appointees, (White House Chief of Staff Mick) Mulvaney and others are giving into the president’s campaign of obstructing and not participating. They have refused to turn over documents they hold. Hundreds of documents are being withheld.
Although the world is watching, and you lead the impeachment inquiry, you still have local constituents. What’s going on in the district?
The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act would double the size of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Homelessness is a major problem and I’m working to make it easier for vets to find housing, and increase affordable housing by creating tax incentives for property owners who sell to public housing agencies, to increase the stock of affordable housing options. Of course, we want to provide more resources to communities affected by wildfires.
You took some heat for the parody you did of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky. Was that a mistake or did you get the message across?
I think I got the message across. I portrayed him for what he is: an organized crime-like figure. The reality is he conducts his office like organized crime figures. He was a corrupt businessman and this is how he is running the country.
If the president colluded with Russia and attempted to collude with Ukraine, is it possible he attempted to collude with another nation?
It is certainly possible, and he thinks he has the absolute right to do it. As we saw come to light, he was trying to bribe a country with hundreds of millions in military aid. The fact he got caught and the whistleblower complaint doesn’t make it any less insidious. We know the call records are on the classified server. We don’t know what other calls or evidence of improper calls are on there.
How can we secure our elections?
There is a lot we can do to replace old voting technology. We passed hundreds of millions of dollars for states to improve voter technology. Mitch McConnell finally got tired of being called “Moscow Mitch” and it went through. There are still jurisdictions using software so old it can’t be updated. Sadly, the president is encouraging interference.
How important was it for the Armenian Genocide to finally be recognized?
I cannot tell you how thrilled I was. I know how much it means to my constituents. After 19 years it passed with overwhelming bipartisanship. I always hoped it would, but there were times when we all wondered. Now it will be recognized every year with an annual commemoration, and that’s the way it should be. There is no dispute over the facts.