Columnist, The Wall Street Journal. William McGurn is a member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board and writes the weekly "Main Street" column for the Journal each Tuesday. Previously he served as Chief Speechwriter for President George W. Bush. - HIDE FULL BIO Mr. McGurn has served as chief editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal in New York. He spent more than a decade overseas -- in Brussels for The Wall Street Journal/Europe and in Hong Kong with both the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review. And in the mid-1990s, he was Washington Bureau Chief for National Review. Bill is author of a book on Hong Kong ("Perfidious Albion") and a monograph on terrorism ("Terrorist or Freedom Fighter"). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, holds a BA in philosophy from Notre Dame and an MS in Communications from Boston University.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) answers questions during an interview at the Associated Press bureau in Washington, Nov. 7, 2017. PHOTO: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Has there ever been a more incurious congressman than Adam Schiff ?
The California Democrat serves as ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, a powerful oversight panel. Recently this committee succeeded in wresting key documents from the Justice Department and FBI after months of being stonewalled, and Republican staffers have summarized the info in a classified four-page memo. Those who have read the memo say it includes evidence of abuses by Justice and FBI officials handling the investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged ties with Russia, most salaciously summed up in the infamous Steele dossier named for the former British spy who compiled it.
But whether it’s material submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a warrant on a Trump campaign official or conveniently missing texts between an FBI agent and his FBI mistress—who both hated Mr. Trump and would each serve on the special counsel’s team—Mr. Schiff exhibits no interest. Saturday on CNN he implied that the only ones who are interested are Russian bots on Twitter .
When CNN’s Ana Cabrera asked him why not let the American people see the info and decide for themselves, Mr. Schiff went full Jack Nicholson : "The American people, unfortunately, don’t have the underlying materials and therefore they can’t see how distorted and misleading this document is,” he answered. Translation: The American people can’t handle the truth.
It makes no sense. If the American people lack context, that’s an argument for more disclosure, not less. But it fits a pattern. Mr. Schiff tells us there is "more than circumstantial evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. But he never produces it.
To put it another way, Mr. Schiff appears to be the only man in America who doesn’t seem to want to know whether the material in the Steele dossier is true or not. All along he has stood against getting relevant information—fighting subpoenas for Justice, fighting subpoenas for the FBI, and fighting the subpoena for the bank records of Fusion GPS (which ultimately prompted the admission that the Clinton campaign had helped fund the Steele dossier).
Last week offered a good example of the Schiff standard in operation. Democrats wanted the House testimony of Fusion co-founder Glenn Simpson made public, and Republicans on the Intel committee joined them to vote in favor of releasing it. But when it came to making the classified memo available to any congressman who wished to read it, Republicans alone stood for transparency. Every Democrat, led by Mr. Schiff, voted to keep the memo secret.
On the Saturday following this vote, the chairmen of three key House oversight committees— Devin Nunes (Intel), Bob Goodlatte (Judiciary) and Trey Gowdy (Oversight)—met to discuss the way forward. They released no statement. But as more of their members see the memo, the rumbling to make the information public will only grow.
Meanwhile, even Democrats not on the Intel Committee have been infected by the same lack of curiosity that afflicts Mr. Schiff. In the few days since the memo became available to every member of the House, roughly 190 Republicans have read it, compared with only a dozen Democrats.
Congress—especially the oversight committees—is supposed to act as the people’s watchdog. Mr. Trump is routinely slammed for his indifference to reading, especially the endless memos and policy papers that find their way onto a president’s desk. But what does it say when the ranking member of a vital oversight committee appears uninterested in what his committee has unearthed about a matter that speaks to the integrity of our highest institutions of law enforcement?
The Beltway standard for comparison for scandal today is Watergate. It’s now been nearly five decades since men affiliated with Richard Nixon’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President were nabbed while breaking into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex. The purpose of the break-in was to plant a bug and gain embarrassing intel on the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, George McGovern.
If Mr. Trump and his team worked with Vladimir Putin to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton, it would indeed be as scandalous as Watergate. But it would be just as scandalous if a Democratic administration’s Justice Department and FBI used unsubstantiated opposition research—parts of which were quite possibly drawn from Russian disinformation—to obtain warrants to spy on members of a Republican presidential campaign.
In 1972, Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler dismissed the break-in as a "third-rate burglary.” Today Mr. Schiff routinely dismisses the House Intel Committee findings about Justice and the FBI’s handling of the Steele dossier as "a profound distraction”—while he too fights an investigation into a presidential election. Could that be why he’s so opposed to letting the American people see what he’s seen?
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