Elections

Adam Schiff’s Outhouse Politics

The California Democrat has assembled new procedures, a sewer of secrecy and lopsided partisan rules, against which the winds of deliberative government may not prevail.

Representative Adam B. Schiff’s (D-Calif.) impeachment inquiry is a real danger to every Democrat associated with it. Less than two years ago, Schiff’s libertine idea of truth showed itself. Jay Whig called him out then for misrepresenting the nature and purposes of the independence of the FBI.

Schiff went on to claim that, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he had seen evidence that Trump had colluded with the Russians, with the implication that the Mueller report would expose this. Schiff was caught in this lie, spectacularly, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed precisely the opposite of what Schiff had said he knew for a fact. There was never any evidence of coordination between the president or his campaign and Russia.

For a time, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), loyal Democratic partisan—but by the standards of this Congress, an honest man—ran a quasi impeachment inquiry based on whether, despite cooperating with an investigation into a thing that never happened, the president could be guilty of obstruction of justice for, je ne sais pas, rusticity of style. Nadler threw his pitch in the dirt. The vacuity of the underlying charge gave shape to testimony, such as that of former Trump campaign chair Corey Lewandowski, which only served to embarrass Democrats.

Fearing her colleagues would face primary challenges if Democrats did not appear to nail the president on something, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), lisping farcically about the prayerful and solemn occasion of impeachment, appointed Schiff to lead a not so quasi impeachment inquiry. With a new inquiry, primary defeats, like those that brought so much trouble from the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the Squad, might be fended off.

So Pelosi, who is old enough to know better, picked Schiff over Nadler, because Schiff had made himself a reputation as the most unscrupulous. A good liar, Pelosi must have supposed, could get done what Nadler could not.

But in this, Pelosi erred. A good liar doesn’t lie all the time. He tells the truth most of the time and leverages his reputation only when it really counts. Pelosi chose Schiff, paradoxically, because she knew who he is, and Schiff will fail because everyone else knows too.

Winston Churchill is said to have remarked when the Lord Privy Seal called on him while he was on the toilet, “Tell him that I am sealed in the privy and can only deal with one shit at a time.” It’s a fitting memory.

We remember too when our 43rd president, George W. Bush, made a laughingstock of himself claiming that he had looked into Putin’s eyes and measured his soul. In fairness to Bush, of all the elements of physiognomy, the eyes long have been thought a window into character. Schiff has unusual eyes. His face has the semblance of a pair of road apples embedded in a paving stone. Let’s peer into those eyes for a moment, and inhale.

Schiff’s office is alleged to have had a heads up from the “whistleblower,” and then Schiff allegedly lied about it. We don’t know if Schiff’s office coordinated with the inspector general’s office on this point, but the “whistleblower’s” complaint was filed according to rules that had been changed, ex post facto, to accommodate the “whistleblower’s” secondhand account.

This is important. Secondhand accounts are considered unreliable evidence. Hundreds of years of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-American jurisprudence have established that unexamined statements are next to useless in determining what actually transpired. Examination is not possible when the testimony is not that of the witness but of someone else whom the witness overheard. This principle is so important it made it into the Constitution in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and in the right to Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.

Schiff brushed these niceties aside, and using unreliable information began construction of something hitherto unseen in the Capitol. Schiff assembled new procedures, a brick shithouse of secrecy and lopsided partisan rules, against which the winds of deliberative government may not prevail. There would not be another embarrassment like the Lewandowski testimony on Schiff’s watch.

Schiff’s inquiry would be sealed up in this edifice, in the Intelligence Committee’s sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), where access would be limited and testimony could be tightly controlled. This would force the Republicans to try, within the rules of confidentiality, to get the word out as to what was happening behind closed doors. This would give Schiff the chance to impugn their integrity, because there would be no way for them to prove the truth of what happened in the SCIF.

With the process and the examined testimony, in camera obscura, Schiff could release selected portions of the evidence to the public. He could then shape public opinion by lies of omission. Release the opening statement, but conceal examined testimony, and so on.

Schiff has taken the basics of Anglo-American process, long developed from the time of medieval trial by ordeal into the adversary system rooted in time-honored rules framed around the protection of the innocent from malicious prosecution, and given it an upper decker that it will take a long time and at least two plumbers to fix.

Ken Masugi earlier this week wrote an excellent piece, which you should read, in which he quoted Lincoln:

“…when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal except to ballots themselves at succeeding elections.”

At the risk of dragging Masugi’s lofty piece into the filth, just as there can be no appeal to bullets from ballots, there can be no appeal to excretions from elections. Schiff’s inquiry is a dangerous and pungent load, and his better colleagues and friends working with him should take note: they are not escaping the outhouse without some on them.

This is a turd that cannot be polished.