Guest Column

Schiff reminds us there's daylight after midnight

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The putsch-pushers and lawbreakers that comprise Trump World despise U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, showering him with fourth-grade, fourth-rate epithets and seeing to it that he will live in perpetual concern for his safety and that of his family. Historians, however, will hold Schiff in high esteem, a bright spot in an unusually dark chapter in American history. 

The veteran California congressman, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, led Congress' 2019 inquiry into Trump's attempt to extort Ukraine into announcing a phony "investigation'' into Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden in order to sully Biden's reputation and thereby help Trump win reelection. The quid pro quo went like this: If Ukraine announced some sort of investigation into Biden, then and only then would Trump unfreeze the military aid Congress appropriated so that a desperate Ukraine could defend itself against Trump ally Vladimir Putin, who is waging war against the Ukrainians. If Ukraine didn't agree to help Trump, well, then, enjoy the Russian army.

The extortion plot or, as then National Security Advisor John Bolton put it, the "drug deal," was loathsome enough. But it was made even more loathsome by Trump's stonewalling of Congress' subpoenas in order to obstruct its inquiry -- the well-nigh unmistakable indicium of guilt --- and by Trump's retaliation against the brave public servants like former Ambassador Marie Yovanovich and National Security Council aide Alexander Vindman, who refused to be Trump's co-extortionists.

Perhaps no one understands the danger to America posed by the witches' brew of demagogues and toadies that comprise the Trump Party better than Adam Schiff. He has spent the past five years sounding the alarm about it, and his recently published book, "Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could," is a gripping, sobering account of how close we are to waving goodbye to the land our forebears sacrificed so much to reach.

When the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for his extortion and obstruction, it was Schiff who led the presentation of the evidence that supported Trump's conviction and removal from office. It was, Schiff told an audience on Saturday, a presentation intended more for the American people and posterity than for the Senate in whose chamber it was delivered, as Republican senators, either loyal to Trump or terrified of him, would not have voted to convict Trump had he, say, murdered someone in the middle of New York's Fifth Avenue in broad daylight. 

Schiff's closing argument at the end of the impeachment trial rang with steely clarity. "You know you can't trust the president to do what's right for this country," he said. "You can trust he will do what's right for Donald Trump. He'll do it now. He's done it before. He'll do it in the election if he's allowed to."

Schiff has earned the right to begin every paragraph he utters for the rest of his career with the words "I told you so." Trump's "big lie" that the election he lost was stolen from him; his felonious phone call to Georgia's secretary of state to "find" fake votes so that he could pretend he won in Georgia; the plotting to block certification of Biden's election; the incitement of the mob that did Trump's bidding and stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to prevent the peaceful, democratic transition of power that is our national hallmark -- Schiff warned the nation that this is precisely the kind of totalitarian conduct Trump would engage in if he were not removed from office. And Schiff was right.

It is not only Trump who is to blame for our national crisis, of course. "There is a dangerous vein of autocratic thought running through one of America's two great parties," Schiff writes, "and it poses an existential danger to the country."

But Schiff refuses to write America off. "Midnight is the darkest moment of the day," he says. "But it is also the most hopeful, because everything that comes after holds the promise of light. America has a genius for reinvention, and we must use it."

Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.

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