“Well, you know, my expectations, I think, are realistic,” he told me in a recent interview. “The special counsel’s going to try to confine his comments to the report. There are questions that we have that go beyond the report, and there is no legal prohibition on his answering them, so there may be areas that go beyond the report. But it is our hope that we can inform the American people of the full facts, that they can appreciate the degree to which the Russians interfered in a presidential election to help Donald Trump, the degree to which the president welcomed that help, knew it was going on, welcomed it, and then lied about it and covered it up. And the degree to which those actions and his actions since continue to put us at risk, because it encourages the Russians to get involved again.”
Trump has derided Schiff as a “little pencil neck.” The Republicans’ congressional-campaign arm has circulated doctored photographs on Twitter with Schiff’s face covered in white clown makeup and a bulbous red nose. All nine of his GOP colleagues on the Intelligence Committee signed a letter asking him to step down, charging that he got out over his skis by insisting that there was “ample evidence of collusion in plain sight” between the Russians and the Trump campaign.
But Schiff, a soft-spoken, pragmatic former federal prosecutor, remains unrattled, insisting that the Mueller report more than vindicated his claims. “We now know that the Russians offered to help the Trump campaign; the president’s son accepted that help and said he would love to receive it,” he told me. “They set up secret meetings to obtain that help and they made use of the help, which the Russians in fact provided. All of that, I think, most Americans view as quintessential collusion with a foreign adversary. And that it didn’t meet the requirements of the criminal law doesn’t make it any less corrupt.”
Schiff, whose district stretches the four points of the compass around the Hollywood sign, is no stranger to partisan tumult—his congressional career was born in it. In 2000, he unseated the Republican incumbent, James Rogan, one of the House managers in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. They spent a combined $10 million in what was the single most expensive congressional race in history to that point.
“He was just what the doctor ordered,” Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic consultant who has worked for candidates from Ted Kennedy to Dianne Feinstein, told me. “Voters were sick of impeachment. They were sick of hyper-partisanship. They were just worn out.”
Schiff, a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School,* quickly won a reputation as a serious, sober lawmaker. His national standing got a big boost in 2015 when his fellow Californian, Nancy Pelosi, made him the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. That same year, as a member of the House select committee investigating the terrorist raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, he became a prominent interlocutor in hearings into Hillary Clinton’s role in the raid, and a steady foil to Republican Chairman Trey Gowdy’s superheated questioning. Schiff’s prominence only expanded when the Democrats retook the House last fall and he became the Intelligence Committee’s chairman.