Why Adam Schiff wants to 'follow the money'

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee talked about his ‘memo,’ Russian meddling, security clearances - and a podcast called 'Slow Burn,' all about Watergate.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Adam Schiff speaks to reporters in Washington at the Monitor Breakfast on Feb. 14, 2018.

The timing of California Rep. Adam Schiff's visit to the Monitor Breakfast table on Feb. 14 couldn't have been better.

As the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Schiff deals with some of the hottest issues of the day: Russian meddling in US elections. Partisan warfare over FBI spying. The White House brouhaha over now-former staff secretary Rob Porter and temporary security clearances.

Because of that, our room at the St. Regis Hotel was packed to capacity, 39 reporters in all, including me as host. Three Monitor subscribers came to observe, including an old colleague of Schiff's, former Rep. Chris Shays (R) of Connecticut. The two men greeted each other warmly.

That's one of the things we love about the Monitor Breakfast: gaining insights on our guests as people, not just public figures familiar only from television. Indeed, as Schiff took his seat, he commented that the event is "a bit risky, because you very soon forget that you're talking to reporters, and it's all on the record." But this was Schiff's fifth Monitor Breakfast, and he's a pro.

The congressman's appearance promised to make news, and he did not disappoint. Topic 1: When will we see his "memo"? That is, the Democratic reply to the GOP memo claiming the FBI spied improperly on a Trump campaign aide. Schiff complained the FBI wants excessive redactions, but hoped the matter would be resolved "very soon."

Schiff is also concerned about top White House officials – like Mr. Porter (who resigned under pressure) and senior adviser Jared Kushner – handling sensitive information without a permanent security clearance. Temporary clearances that keep getting extended "shouldn't be routine," Schiff said. That point became the focus of my colleague Peter Grier's report after the breakfast. 

And what about Russian meddling in the 2018 midterms? What we saw in 2016 was bad, Schiff said. "What we may see in the future could be worse."

I also confirmed that Schiff is running for reelection in November, from his safe Democratic district near Los Angeles. "You're not going anywhere, right?" I asked. "Nope, as far as I know," he smiled.
 
C-Span's video of the Schiff breakfast can be found here. C-Span also posted a short clip from the event, with a Watergate echo: "We have not been able to adequately follow the money," Schiff said. Soon he was plugging the podcast "Slow Burn" – all about Watergate. 
We probably could have filled a second hour, but our breakfasts last one hour, full stop. At least in theory. At 10:03 a.m., I ended the event, but Schiff was quickly accosted by reporters wanting more. And so he stood and kept answering questions – still on the record. Our Sperling Fellow, David Sloan, captured the scene and posted it on Twitter.
 
In person, Schiff is every bit the federal prosecutor he was before his first election to Congress in 2000. He's no-nonsense and articulate, with the stamina that comes from competing in triathlons.
And he's all in, even as many members of Congress flee the partisan rancor of Washington. In fact, there may be no place more partisan than the House Intelligence Committee, where a wall is literally being erected to separate Republican and Democratic staff. It gives new meaning to the mantra, "Build that wall!"
At the Monitor, we're all about breaking down walls, and talking to both sides. So we're working hard to line up a top Republican as our next guest. Stay tuned.

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