Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on MSNBC Wednesday afternoon that there is evidence that is “not circumstantial” of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Schiff’s statement escalates the rhetoric on Capitol Hill about allegations of ties between Russia and the president’s circle. It follows two major developments. On Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his bureau is investigating collusion. Then, on Wednesday, Representative Devin Nunes, the chair of the House intelligence committee, made a puzzling announcement about so-called incidental collection of information from Trump team members. Nunes made that announcement without informing Schiff first.
Schiff was furious. During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, he cast doubt on whether the House investigation was still viable.
“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both,” Schiff said. “Unfortunately I think the actions of today throw great doubt in the ability of both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.”
Then Schiff went on Meet the Press Daily, where Chuck Todd asked him about statements by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and Russia. Schiff disagreed with Clapper.
“I don’t think it was deliberate on the director’s part, but all I can tell you is reviewing the evidence that I have, I don’t think you can conclude that at all, far from it,” Schiff said.
A surprised Todd asked Schiff to concede that any suggestion of collusion was circumstantial evidence at best.
“Actually, no, Chuck,” Schiff said. “I can tell you that the case is more than that. And I can’t go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now. … I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial, and is very much worthy of investigation.”
That is a surprising statement. Thus far, inquiries into Trump and Russia by both the press and the intelligence community have created a great deal of smoke but no fires, at least publicly. Some Democrats have implied or stated outright that they believe there was collusion, leading to accusations that they are overplaying their hand and overstating the available evidence.
But Schiff’s comment is different. He is both the ranking member on the intelligence committee, and is also not seen as the type of politician prone to hyperbole. He is also a former federal prosecutor.
As Wednesday draws to a close, the top Republican and Democrat on the committee investigating Russian collusion have erupted into a round of bitter recriminations. One of them is almost certainly overplaying his hand. Which man that is remains to be seen.