On Monday, March 20th, the House intelligence committee will hold its first open hearing on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 Presidential campaign. Because Republican leaders in the House and Senate have blocked any attempt at forming an independent committee modelled on the bipartisan 9/11 Commission to dig into the Russian cyber attack, the intelligence committee’s investigation may be the only chance Americans have at receiving a comprehensive report on the breadth of the Russian hacking.
The top Democrat on the committee is Adam Schiff, a congressman from Los Angeles who was first elected in 2000. Before the election of Donald Trump, Schiff was known in Washington as a milquetoast moderate. But, appalled by Trump’s muted response to the Russian attack, Schiff has emerged as an unlikely face of Democratic resistance to the new President, using his position on the intelligence committee to pursue an investigation of the Russian influence campaign, its potential links to Trump and his associates, and how America should respond. He’s convinced that the Democrats won’t be the last American victims of the Russians. “One of the things that the intelligence community concluded was that there will be a next time,” he told me on Monday. “They will do this again.”
Despite his understated reputation, Schiff has gained a quiet respect among foreign-policy liberals and reporters for his nuanced views on surveillance, war powers, and press freedoms. He championed reform of the Patriot Act after the revelations by Edward Snowden about the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of metadata. He pushed for a new, more tailored war authorization against Al Qaeda to replace the overly expansive one put in place after 9/11. And he has been outspoken on free-press issues, both in the United States and abroad.
In response to the Russian hacks, Schiff’s preference was to have an outside investigation. The 9/11 Commission, run by Tom Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Lee Hamilton, the former top House Democrat on both the intelligence and foreign-affairs committees, was governed by consensus and a strict goal of producing a report that its members, divided between the two parties, could endorse unanimously.
It remains to be seen whether any committee in the hyper-partisan House of Representatives can follow that model. “There’s still a significant question of ultimately whether we’ll be able to complete this investigation the way you should,” Schiff told me. “Certainly people have their skepticism, and the only thing I can say is that I fully believe it’s in the national interest to try. Because the best thing for the country would be for us to reach a common conclusion at the end of the investigation about what took place. And if it ends up being the Democrats issue one report and the Republicans issue another, we won’t have added a lot of value.”
You can read the rest at The New Yorker.