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New Trump impeachment book details Schiff's role rallying moderates and Pelosi

LA Times logo LA Times 9/29/2022 Sarah D. Wire
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) looks on as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses reporters about Trump's impeachment on Oct. 2, 2019. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times) © (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times) Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) looks on as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses reporters about Trump's impeachment on Oct. 2, 2019. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

As momentum shifted toward impeaching then-President Trump for withholding aid to Ukraine in 2019, California Rep. Adam B. Schiff counseled Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and the seven moderate freshman Democrats whose Washington Post op-ed supporting impeachment in essence forced the hand of House leaders, according to a new book.

Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump,” by Rachael Bade of Politico and Karoun Demirjian of the Post, which will be published Oct. 18, provides an inside look at the political machinations behind both of Trump’s impeachments.

Trump was impeached by the House in 2019 for withholding aid to Ukraine while demanding that country’s president announce an investigation into Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter and was impeached again in 2021 for his actions around the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. The Senate acquitted him both times.

Schiff’s role as a longtime ally to Pelosi was well known. But that his advice also led a group of moderate freshmen with military and intelligence community backgrounds to write an op-ed that changed public sentiment about impeaching Trump has not been previously reported. The Times was provided excerpts related to Schiff’s role in the impeachment process in advance of the book’s release.

“Schiff, by that point, was the well-established boogeyman of the right, and any publicized link to him could have jeopardized their reelections. But the national security freshmen trusted Schiff (D-Burbank). And more importantly, they believed he would know what Pelosi was planning,” according to the book.

The influential freshmen first sought Schiff’s advice on July 26, 2019, two days after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III testified before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) had caught Pelosi off guard the day before when he pushed to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats after the hearings.

For two hours, the freshmen laid out their concerns to Schiff that the Democrats’ message about the party’s successes in Congress heading into the 2020 presidential election was falling flat with voters because of speculation about impeaching Trump.

The freshman Democrats, all of whom represented districts that either had a majority of Republican voters or had backed Trump in 2016, recognized that voting on articles of impeachment would be unpopular at home.

By the meeting’s end, the freshmen “pressed Schiff on one final, critical question: Was Pelosi planning to impeach? Is that where this was all going? If anyone knew, it was him. ‘If so, just tell us,’ one member said. ‘We don’t want any surprises,’ another agreed. Nothing was afoot, Schiff assured them,” according to the book.

Schiff didn’t say it then, but he had already been preparing to impeach Trump, according to the book. He had hired outside investigative staff, including former U.S. attorney from New York Dan Goldman, to head his panel’s investigations. Committee staffers were preparing by reading “How the Good Guys Finally Won” by Jimmy Breslin, a book about the effort to oust President Nixon.

Goldman went on to be the lead Democratic counsel during Trump’s first impeachment trial. He is currently the Democratic nominee for New York’s 10th Congressional District.

After watching Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani say on CNN on Sept. 19 that he had tried to persuade Ukrainian leaders to investigate Biden, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) got a conversation about impeachment started again.

“‘Does anyone feel like this is impeachable?’ she asked her fellow national security freshmen over Signal, an encrypted messaging app they regularly used to chat as a group,” the book states.

The group decided to meet again with Schiff. The book states that the members wanted to make sure that if they came out in support of impeachment, it wouldn’t look as they were following Pelosi’s lead.

“If impeachment was coming, they wanted a chance to get out ahead of it — and specifically, ahead of Pelosi,” the book states.

Schiff predicted to the freshmen the next day in the House cloakroom that Trump’s withholding of aid to Ukraine would be a game changer for Pelosi, who for months had refused to consider increasing calls for impeachment from the left wing of the party. He also told them he agreed that Trump had crossed a line that merited his removal.

“As they headed to the airport to fly back to their districts, the national security freshmen began discussing whether it was time to take a public stand. After all, if Schiff was embracing impeachment, it was only a matter of time before Pelosi would too,” Bade and Demirjian state in their book.

The group settled on publishing an opinion piece in the Post outlining the national security reasons they believed an inquiry into impeaching Trump was justified, knowing that their background in intelligence and the military would “lend an air of extra credibility to the movement, especially since they had spent so long opposing it — and would likely push the House headfirst into proceedings,” according to the book.

While the national security freshmen have publicly maintained that they did not consult Pelosi or other Democratic leaders in advance of the op-ed’s publication, the book cites multiple people with firsthand knowledge who say the group informed House Democratic leaders Sept. 21, 2019, and even received feedback from Pelosi’s staff on how to frame their argument in the opinion piece.

In a private phone call that same day, Schiff and Pelosi discussed the impact the freshmen’s planned opinion piece would have on the impeachment debate.

They could no longer avoid the inevitable, Schiff told Pelosi, according to the book.

“I think it’s time to move forward on impeachment,” Schiff told Pelosi, asking for her blessing to say so on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning.

His statement on the program that “we may very well have crossed the Rubicon here” became an oft-quoted clarion call for Democrats as the proceedings began.

On Sunday night, Pelosi informed Nadler that her position on impeachment was changing.

“The national security freshmen are writing a letter backing impeachment, she told Nadler. It’s time to move,” the book states.

The freshmen spent Monday finalizing the language in their opinion piece and officially notified Pelosi at 5:30 p.m., an hour and a half after sending the op-ed to the Post. It was published at 9 p.m.

“If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense,” the opinion piece stated. “We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country.... Now, we join as a unified group to uphold that oath as we enter uncharted waters and face unprecedented allegations against President Trump.”

At the time, Pelosi was attending the opening of the 2019 United Nations General Assembly in New York. One of her aides handed her a print copy as she boarded a plane back to Washington.

As the plane took off, the book states, Pelosi began scribbling notes in the margins for a speech she would give the next day, Sept. 24, 2019, announcing a House impeachment inquiry into Trump holding up aid to Ukraine, to be led by Schiff and Nadler.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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