April 23, 2018 at 12:04 pm PDT | by Karen Ocamb
Rep. Adam Schiff on Pompeo, Mattis, Pence and the Russian investigation

Rep. Adam Schiff (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Just spotting Rep. Adam Schiff makes fanboys of the crustiest of curmudgeons. But the excitement that greeted the Los Angeles area Democrat when he appeared in West Hollywood Saturday for a California Women’s Law Center event was more gratitude than hero worship. As Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Schiff has diligently worked to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections to elect Donald Trump as president. But how he comports himself, the character that shines through to millions of unsettled television viewers as he explains the perilous stakes has transformed Schiff into the anti-Trump—smart, articulate, gracious and an elected official who grasps his pledge to be a public servant.

Are you worried we’re seeing an erosion of democracy? the Los Angeles Blade asked Schiff before the CWLC event.

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” Schiff said. “In the way this president denigrates the press, the independence of the judiciary, the independence of the Justice Department, trampling on any number of norms of office—we have had more backward moving movement in terms of our own democracy than any point in my lifetime.”

The latest jerk backwards is the expected Senate Foreign Relations confirmation of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Trump’s new Sec. of State. Several Democratic members have already announced their opposition to Pompeo based on numerous anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-reproductive rights. Even if the committee votes not to confirm him, Pompeo is expected to win approval on the Senate floor with the help of two Democrats, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.). Other Democrats in tight races in conservative districts may follow.

Schiff said he didn’t know how the Pompeo vote would end up but noted that many people thought his confirmation would not be so difficult.

Schiff, who has spoken on behalf of LGBT rights during his official trips abroad, as well as with former UN Ambassador Samantha Power, said he is concerned about how LGBT rights will be handled with Pompeo as the chief diplomat.

“I think that given the reactionary way this administration has conducted itself, probably anyone they put in that office—this is going to be a deep concern,” Schiff said. “As we see in the Defense Department, the Sec. of Defense, who is widely viewed as one of the few adults in the room, nonetheless is being forced to carry out these policies, which he doesn’t seem to agree with. There were recent reports that Sec Mattis urged the administration to come to Congress to seek authorization before the strike in Syria but was overruled.”

Told that many LGBT activists believe Mattis threw transgender service members under the bus with his latest report recommending the ban on open trans service, Schiff said he wasn’t sure the Sec. of Defense had a choice.

“Well, I don’t know, in the case of Mattis, whether he’s doing what’s he’s doing because he’s been told this is what you need to do by the administration,” Schiff said. “To the limited extent I’ve been able to see in his comments, it looked like this was policy the president announced on Twitter a year ago without any consultation that took the military by surprise and that the military, in fact, tried to resist it. Ultimately, it looks like the administration insisted they go forward and Sec. Mattis just had to carry out the president’s instructions. But in innumerable ways, this administration is hostile to LGBT rights, hostile to civil rights, hostile to minority voting rights, you could pretty much go down the line.”

Schiff said the House Intelligence Committee is continuing its Russia probe, despite obstruction from his Republican counterpart, Rep. Devan Nunes. Still considered a solid red seat in California’s 22nd congressional district, Nunes’ Democratic challenger Andrew Janz raised $635,931 in February after Nunes released a controversial and misleading memo alleging FBI abuse of a FISA surveillance warrant.

“We were in the midst of our investigations when Republicans decided to walk,” said Schiff. “Now on the Democratic side, we continue to investigate and we have the whistleblower Christopher Wylie of Cambridge Analytica coming before us next week {on Wednesday). We’ll invite the Republicans but we expect them to be a no-show. But there’s a lot more work to do.”

Schiff said the House Intelligence Committee Russia investigation has not looked at possible involvement by Vice President Mike Pence.

“The issue in which the vice president has come up is that the vice president went on national TV to say that [former National Security Advisor] Mike Flynn had never discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador” Sergey Kislyak, said Schiff. “Now we know that’s not true and that was the subject of Mike Flynn’s guilty plea.”

“For that reason, I think the vice president would be a relevant witness, in terms of who within the administration knew that, in fact, there were these clandestine efforts to undermine the bipartisan policy of the United States,” Schiff said. “In the Flynn documents, submitted by the Special Counsel, it reports that senior transition officials were made aware of these conversations in real time. Now we don’t know whether that was K.T. McFarland or it was others and we’ve endeavored to find out—but the Republicans have tried to stymy us.”

There was a major uproar at the time about whether Flynn lied to Pence and what that meant regarding Pence’s stance within the administration. “Pence has been a bastion of credibility within the administration, as the president himself has trafficked repeatedly in unfounded allegations about crowd size at his inauguration and voter fraud in November,” Politico reported Feb. 10, 2017.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the administration about Flynn after Pence defended him on national television.

“One of the things she was concerned about was that it could make Mike Flynn subject to compromise if people were out publicly saying something the Russians knew was not true,” Schiff said. “But obviously Mike Pence was one of the senior transition officials and so there is a significant question about what he knew.”

But as the esteemed non-profit Committee to Investigate Russia points out, there are also open questions about when and how much Pence, who also headed the transition team, knew about Flynn’s lobbying for Turkey. Rep. Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pence a letter on Nov. 18, 2016 asking about Flynn’s potential conflicts of interest.

“Pence’s team acknowledged receipt of the letter on November 28th. However, on March 9, 2017, Pence said in an interview on Fox News that he was hearing of Flynn’s ties to Turkey for the first time that very day,” according to the Committee to Investigate Russia.

And what about how Gov. Pence got the job in the first place when he was having reelection problems in Indiana? Trump originally offered the vice presidency to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—but Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort (now suspected of being a “back-channel” to Russians), politically out-maneuvered Trump to secure the job for his pick—Mike Pence, according to CBS News on Oct. 30, 2016.

“I don’t know if we’ll have a chance to look into issues like that,” Schiff said. “It’s been a challenge even to look into things that are front and center in the Russian investigations. So right now, we’re completely dependent on the willingness of people to come in voluntarily because since the Republicans have checked out, we have no subpoena power. Now interestingly, they haven’t checked out of doing an investigation—it’s just that they’re only interested in investigating the FBI and the Department of Justice, they’re not particularly interested in what the Russians did or what the Trump campaign did in combination with them.”

Schiff is keenly aware of the religious-Russian connection. “On the issue of how the Russians sought to inveigle their way into our political process,” Schiff said, “they appear to have tried to use the NRA (National Rifle Association) as one of their vehicles. But they’ve also tried to make outreach through the religious communities and, of course, one of the ways Putin has tried to frame the ideological struggle against the United States is in terms of family values and conservative values. So the Kremlin has been pushing these anti-LGBT legislative initiatives both at home and in their near-abroad as a way of trying to insinuate themselves into other countries, including our own.”

While reporters continue to look at Trump’s odd bromance with evangelicals, thanks in large part to Pence’s “Christian supremacist” beliefs, little attention is being paid to the possible Pence-evangelical-Russian connection.

Last May, Time reported that Pence met privately backstage with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Moscow, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and chair of the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations department, at Trump backer Franklin Graham’s evangelical Washington summit on religious violence against Christians. Hilarion stayed at the Trump International Hotel in D.C.

The summit was a two year effort between Hilarion and Graham, who met with Putin when he was in Moscow. Time reported that Putin “promised he would do all he could to help their cause.” The summit was originally planned for Moscow but after Trump’s election, “Graham moved the event to Washington at the Russian leaders’ suggestion.”

Hilarion addressed the summit and talked about “the curtailment of people’s rights to the public expression of their faith,” among other conservative issues. “He criticized the U.S. for its ‘ideology aimed at supporting sexual minorities and the propaganda of the homosexual life,’” Time reported. “His remarks echoed Graham, who in 2014 praised Putin for protecting ‘his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda’ when Russia passed a controversial anti-gay law ahead of the Sochi Olympics.”

After speaking with Pence, a number of other evangelical leaders and state department officials backstage, Hilarion told Time he felt “very positive” about the future of the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.“We will continue to work closely with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association but also with the larger evangelical community of this country,” he said. “We have many allies.”

A White House spokesperson confirmed Pence’s meeting with Hilarion to Time. But curiously, two months after the summit, on July 12, 2017, Pence’s press secretary Marc Lotter appeared on Fox News and repeatedly refused to answer whether the Vice President ever met with Russians during the campaign.

Schiff said his committee needed sufficient facts to jut down the religious road. “I think there’s probably, honestly, a lot left to be done that is so clearly within the issues of collusion and obstruction of justice that we haven’t done yet that we need to finish those area before we look beyond it,” Schiff said. “What we’ll end up doing, if we’re fortunate and take back the House, is we’ll look at what investigative work was allowed to go forward, what the Special Counsel, by that point, has been able to do, what the Senate has been able to do and we’ll figure out what more remains to be done.”

The Human Rights Campaign has created a campaign about the “real history” of Mike Pence. Hopefully HRC will keep an open page on Pence since history is happening now, behind the scenes.

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