It’s an easy slam dunk, but Glenn Kessler deserves credit for taking it, and Amber Phillips for a surprising follow-up as well. After ripping Mike Pompeo for misleading reporters over his participation in the Donald Trump-Volodymyr Zelensky call, Kessler turns his fact-check guns on Adam Schiff and his repeated representations that he and his staff had no contact with the whistleblower who exposed it. This wasn’t just misleading, Kessler concludes, but at least one flat-out lie by Schiff.
On September 17th in a Morning Joe segment, Schiff asserted that his committee had never directly been in contact with the whistleblower:
Sam Stein: “Have you heard from the whistleblower? Do you want to hear from the whistleblower? What protections could you provide to the whistleblower?” …
Schiff: “We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower. We would like to. But I am sure the whistleblower has concerns that he has not been advised, as the law requires, by the inspector general or the director of national Intelligence just how he is supposed to communicate with Congress, and so the risk to the whistleblower is retaliation.”
This is flat-out false. Unlike the quick two-step dance he performed with Anderson Cooper, Schiff simply says the committee had not spoken to the whistleblower. Now we know that’s not true.
Schiff also lied two days later in a presser, Kessler continues, when Schiff declared that his committee might never have heard about the whistleblower if it hadn’t been for the IG. Kessler calls that “dissembling,” as the New York Times explained that Schiff “knew to press for the complaint when the Trump administration initially blocked lawmakers from seeing it.” Schiff’s spokesperson tries to sell the idea that Schiff didn’t realize that this was the same whistleblower, which Kessler concludes “strains credulity.”
There are right ways and wrong ways to answer reporters’ questions if a politician wants to maintain his or her credibility. There’s nothing wrong with dodging a question, as long as you don’t try to mislead (as Pompeo did).
But Schiff on “Morning Joe” clearly made a statement that was false. He now says he’s was answering the wrong question, but if that was the case, he should have quickly corrected the record. He compounded his falsehood by telling reporters a few days later that if not for the IG’s office, the committee would not have known about the complaint. That again suggested there had been no prior communication.
The explanation that Schiff was not sure it was the same whistleblower especially strains credulity.
Kessler gives Schiff the maximum four Pinocchios for his lies about the origins of the whistleblower complaint. That leaves the man in charge of impeachment looking pretty bad, Phillips writes, although she chides him as gently as possible:
when asked by reporters about his dealings with the whistleblower pre-complaint numerous times, Schiff either didn’t answer the question or, as The Washington Post’s Fact Checker reported, “clearly made a statement that was false. He now says he’s was answering the wrong question, but if that was the case he should have quickly corrected the record.” They gave him Four Pinnochios [sic], which is reserved for “a whopper” of a false statement.
Republicans on the committee can frame this as Schiff keeping damaging information about Trump to himself.
Oh, they can frame it as a lot more than that, and accurately. According to the committee’s rules, that approach from a whistleblower involving classified material should have been shared with the ranking member on the committee, which Schiff did not do. The Trump-Zelensky call was classified in its entirety, as are all presidential conversations with other heads of governments, a fact that Schiff certainly knew. That’s at least one good reason for Schiff to have lied about that contact when asked about it, and to mislead reporters on the nature of that contact as well.
The result is that this looks cooked, and Schiff looks like the chef. If Nancy Pelosi wants to pursue impeachment with any kind of credibility attached to it, she needs to push Schiff to the sidelines and start establishing and enforcing rules governing the collection and use of evidence and testimony.