The ostensible predicate for the censure of Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) that passed the House along partisan lines Wednesday evening is that Schiff, in the words of the censure resolution introduced by Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), “misled the American people and brought disrepute upon the House of Representatives.”

Luna herself has repeatedly failed that first component, as does the censure resolution. But it’s the second component that really drove the censure, that Schiff’s comments and actions were at the forefront of the House’s challenges to Donald Trump’s presidency. Those challenges drove Fox News outrage for years — with Republicans only now attaining some retribution.

Instantaneously, any effort to contextualize Schiff’s censure will meet with huffing about how he made false claims about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. And we’ll get to that. But let’s first recognize that Schiff is by no means the only legislator to engage in falsehoods, even ones offered in bad faith.

Consider Luna. Just this month, she alleged that the FBI redacted information about an informant because they were “afraid their informant will be killed if unmasked, based on the info he has brought forward about the Biden family.” The reality is that the FBI is always wary of providing information that could be used to identify informants, for reasons that are obvious to anyone who’s ever seen a mob movie. Luna’s suggestion that it was because the information pertained to President Biden and his family earned an enormous amount of attention on the right, as she later boasted to Stephen K. Bannon.

She also told Bannon that the FBI had information that “proves that Biden was receiving money from a foreign national,” a claim for which she has no evidence. This, she said, constituted “public corruption.” No caveats. Just flat, unproven — and unlikely — statements, albeit ones very much in keeping with others in her caucus. And that’s just one interaction.

The censure resolution itself immediately enters similar terrain. It begins:

“Whereas the allegation that President Donald Trump colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election has been revealed as false by numerous in-depth investigations, including the recent report by special counsel John Durham, which documents how the conspiracy theory was invented, funded, and spread by President’s Trump’s political rivals”;

The claim that the “conspiracy theory” of collusion was “invented” by Trump’s political rivals is not true.

It’s not clear what the reference here is. It’s probably centered on the dossier of reports compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, engaged by a research company that had been hired by a law firm working for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and the Democratic Party. It may, given the mention of the special counsel, refer to the idea promoted by Durham that Clinton’s campaign originated the idea of tying Trump to Russia.

While Clinton and other Democrats, including Schiff, did help spread this idea, her campaign was not the genesis for it either in the sense Durham failed to prove or by way of Steele. The FBI investigation into Russia’s interference efforts began in late July 2016, after the bureau received information from the Australian government about a Trump campaign adviser. The probe was opened, according to the electronic communication that initiated it, “to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.” The team that launched the investigation was not yet privy to Steele’s research at the time the probe began.

That the resolution makes this claim affirmatively, though, is telling. There’s an alternate understanding of the Russia probe that’s universal on the political right and, particularly, on Fox News. There, the idea that Clinton is responsible for the idea that Trump and Russia worked together is taken as obvious. On Wednesday, House Republicans released a weird video suggesting that the idea Russia even interfered was simply a lie from Clinton and people such as Schiff. It’s an entirely different universe intersecting only occasionally with reality. But here it is in this censure resolution.

Part of what Schiff stands accused of is rooted in the always-nebulous meaning of “collusion.” There is no legal definition for it, as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III noted in his final report on Russia’s efforts. Schiff has long been pilloried by the right for repeatedly insisting that there was evidence of collusion, claims that are themselves mentioned in the censure resolution.

“Schiff abused [his position] by alleging he had evidence of collusion,” it reads at another point, “that, as is clear from reports by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, and special counsel Durham, never existed.”

The idea that Mueller found no collusion is, again, a mantra on the right, stemming in part from then-Attorney General William P. Barr’s initial summation of Mueller’s findings. As part of its mandate to identify criminality, Mueller’s probe attempted to identify coordination by seeking out “an agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference,” as the final report indicated.

“While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign,” the report read, “the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”

This is very different than “evidence of collusion … never existed.”

Schiff defended his position during the Durham hearing Wednesday. He first pointed to the offer of “dirt” on Clinton embraced by Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016. A Republican colleague later objected to his using the term “collusion.”

“Apparently giving private polling data to the Russians while the Russians are helping your campaign, they don’t want to call it ‘collusion,’” Schiff said later. “Maybe there’s a better name for it. Maybe they would prefer we just call it ‘good old-fashioned GOP cheating with the enemy.’”

This is not a blanket defense against the invocation of Schiff’s earlier claims about collusion. Schiff outlined a much more detailed allegation of Trump’s campaign working with Russia during a March 2017 hearing rooted primarily in Steele’s unverified reports — and on allegations in those reports that would not be proved correct. (It was during this hearing, incidentally, that FBI director James B. Comey first confirmed the existence of the Russia probe.) That Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort shared internal campaign polling with an individual linked to Russian intelligence emerged only later, as did Trump Jr.’s contact with Russian actors.

The March 2017 claims made it into the censure resolution.

Over the course of Trump’s term in office, Schiff’s reputation as a Trump opponent grew. He served as a foil to the efforts of House Oversight Chairman Devin Nunes — now an employee of Donald Trump’s social media site — as Nunes worked feverishly to undermine the Russia probe. When Democrats regained control of the House in 2019, Schiff had a new platform to go after the president, culminating in his leading Trump’s first impeachment.

That, too, made it into the censure resolution. His false claim that his committee hadn’t met with the whistleblower who initially elevated the allegations against Trump consumed an enormous amount of attention during the early stages of the impeachment inquiry. It proved inconsequential to the findings, but it served the useful role of giving the right a way to dismiss his claims out of hand.

It was during this period that Schiff became a star in the right-wing media world — and a target for retribution. From October 2019 through January 2020, CNN and MSNBC mentioned Schiff about 8,800 times as he lead the impeachment. Fox News mentioned him more than 11,000 times, with no one mentioning him more often than Sean Hannity. Over and over and over, Schiff starred on Fox News’s most heavily watched program as the Democrat centrally responsible for attacking the president.

Schiff leaned into this role, certainly, and at times misrepresented his actions and what was looming for Trump. Cynics would note that this is certainly not unprecedented for a politician.

The unacceptable behavior for which Schiff was punished Wednesday, though, was only tangentially about that. The throughline to the censure resolution isn’t really Schiff’s claims but instead Trump; his offenses are ones that made Trump’s life harder.

And that, more than anything else, is why Schiff was censured. Luna — joined by other conservative media stars such as Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) — was finally able to exact the revenge that Hannity and the like had long suggested was deserved.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

Comments are closed.