We’re certainly living in strange times when the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee is among the most media-friendly lawmakers in Washington. The times would be less strange if the media were a little less friendly in return.
Since they are charged with overseeing America’s spy agencies, the members of the House and Senate intelligence committees are usually as tight-lipped a group of politicians as you’ll find. Each one takes an oath to protect the country’s secrets and is expected to take special care in protecting the classified information entrusted to them.
That’s the hope anyway. In practice Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) rarely misses an opportunity to publicly characterize the non-public information that he claims to have seen. This raises the question of whether he’s violating the rules of the committee by discussing classified intelligence, or perhaps misleading the public about what he’s seen. Before giving him yet another platform to hurl allegations of treasonous behavior, journalists should first demand that he show up with some facts.
For the better part of a year, Mr. Schiff has been teasing the public with claims of wrongdoing by his political adversaries, but refusing to back them up. Back in March, NBC News reported:
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee claimed Wednesday evening that he has seen “more than circumstantial evidence” that associates of President
colluded with Russia while the Kremlin attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the Ranking Member on the committee, was asked by Chuck Todd on “Meet The Press Daily” whether or not he only has a circumstantial case.
“Actually no, Chuck,” he 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.”
That sure sounded ominous. But nearly nine months later, he’s still going on talk shows and making accusations. He’s still declining to back them up. And he’s still finding friendly news organizations to broadcast his claims, even though by this time a fact-free Schiff accusation of collusion with Russians can hardly be considered news. On Sunday Jake Tapper interviewed Mr. Schiff and the CNN host did make an effort to finally get Mr. Schiff to show his cards.
Mr. Tapper noted that “we haven’t seen the actual connection. We haven’t seen an actual proof of cooperation and collusion. So, what am I missing here?”
Mr. Schiff responded, “Well, you know, I think you have to look at the pattern and the chronology.” Mr. Schiff then proceeded to make a case for collusion that was no more than circumstantial, and perhaps less. Mr. Schiff referred to contacts between Trump associates and Russians and then shared his theory that the WikiLeaks publication of hacked Democratic emails in 2016 amounted to help promised by the Russians to the Trump campaign. Concluded Mr. Schiff: “And that’s pretty damning, whether it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy or not.”
But when Mr. Tapper responded by asking for evidence on some of the particulars, he received the stock Schiff answer, according to CNN’s transcript:
TAPPER: Do you know of any instance where the Russians said, we’re going to do it this way, we’re going to do it through WikiLeaks, we’re going to do it through DCLeaks, this is how we’re going to get this information out there?
SCHIFF: I can’t comment. That’s an issue that we have been investigating. And I don’t want to comment at this point or not what the state of that evidence is.
But Mr. Schiff has spent months commenting on the state of the evidence about Russia and the Trump campaign, and he’s claimed over and over that it points to collusion. What he has refused to do is disclose the evidence for his claims.
At that point in the interview Mr. Tapper moved on to other questions, instead of telling Mr. Schiff that it’s well past time to back up his claims.
Of course Mr. Schiff doesn’t just answer to the media; he also has pledged to keep America’s secrets. He could correctly argue that according to the rules of the House Intelligence Committee he is prohibited from disclosing classified information.
But the rules go further than that. As a member of the committee, Mr. Schiff is not only barred from disclosing classified material; he’s also prohibited from discussing such information, or even causing it to be discussed.
Is it possible that he’s managed to avoid running afoul of House rules because the information doesn’t exist?
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(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web.)