Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who is leading the Trump impeachment inquiry, blasted the president’s alleged attempt to get a political favor from a foreign leader as “one of the most pernicious threats to our democracy.”
Schiff (D-Calif.) spoke Thursday evening at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium in Evanston and criticized President Donald Trump for allegedly attempting to influence a foreign leader to advance his political aspirations “in a way that damages America’s national security.”
“I think one of the most pernicious threats to our democracy is the one that has been revealed just within the last couple of weeks. And that is that the president of the United States would use the full power of his office in an attempt to coerce a foreign leader … into intervening in our election on his behalf by investigating his political rival,” he said to a packed house.
The impeachment inquiry was sparked by a July 25 phone call the president had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During that call, Trump is alleged to have urged Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, now a Democratic presidential candidate, and his son, Hunter, who previously sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Schiff acknowledged that impeachment is an “extraordinary” process that “should not be entertained lightly,” but he presented the current probe as a necessary check on a leader he claimed has destabilized some of the country’s core democratic institutions. He noted that the conversation came just one day after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller presented his findings on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which ensnared multiple members of Trump’s campaign.
Schiff claimed that brazenness demonstrated that Trump felt “he could do anything and get away with it.”
“That is a very dangerous idea for a president to have,” Schiff said.
The call with Zelensky, which came as the administration delayed $391 million in aid to Ukraine, prompted a whistleblower complaint that accuses Trump of abusing his office to advance his political interests and seeking foreign election help.
Since the investigation was announced, reports have emerged that Trump’s administration has asked other foreign governments to probe the president’s opponents. And on Thursday, Trump publicly asked the Chinese government to investigate Biden.
Despite repeatedly saying the call with Zelensky was “perfect,” Trump has since used his Twitter bully pulpit to attack Schiff. Those attacks were elevated in recent days when Trump accused Schiff of “lying to Congress” and suggested the congressman should be arrested for treason for allegedly mischaracterizing the call during a Congressional hearing last week.
Schiff acknowledged Thursday that he initially found some of the president’s targeted outbursts “hilarious” — until he realized “how low he has brought that office.”
“It just takes your breath away,” Schiff said, noting that Trump’s attacks have more recently targeted the anonymous whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
On Wednesday, Schiff met with supporters at the Chicago home of Democratic activist Alan Solow.
At the same time, Donald Trump Jr. went after Schiff and the Bidens’ during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.
The younger Trump went on to label Schiff as “the Jussie Smollett of Congress on steroids,” referring to the former “Empire” actor who allegedly staged a hoax hate crime against himself earlier this year.
Trump later tweeted a clip of the appearance to his 65 million Twitter followers.