There’s a war going on for the soul of American democracy. Since Donald Trump’s election last November, more and more U.S. citizens and foreign leaders have expressed deep concern over what appears to be the deliberate dissolution of governmental institutions and constitutional laws, ethics and values, once a beacon to the world. At the heart of the resistance to the encroaching Trump tyranny is the fight over Russia’s role in disrupting the election and whether breaches and cyber-bots are continuing to do damage.
Leading the fact-finding resistance in Congress is Rep. Adam Schiff, whose 28th District stretches from West Hollywood to Pasadena. A former federal prosecutor, Schiff is the ranking Democratic chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
After the March 20 hearing during which Schiff and his colleagues questioned FBI Director James Comey and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, the New York Times wrote: “As attack dogs go, Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, is more labradoodle than Doberman, his partisanship disguised by a thick fur of intense preparation, modulated locution and gentle accusations.”
To which Schiff replied on Twitter: “Prefer to think of myself as a Churchillian bulldog, but I’ll accept labradoodle from the @nytimes.”
Comey might really consider Schiff more of a well-trained pit bull. Schiff’s lawyerly probing got Comey to admit that the FBI had no evidence to back up Trump’s claim that former President Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower and that Trump’s repeated lies about surveillance were damaging relations with the country’s allies. Additionally, Comey conceded that, in addition to the Russian hacking of the election, the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials is under federal investigation.
“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence?” Schiff asked. “Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet. And we owe it to the country to find out.”
These are not just rhetorical flourishes so Schiff can get a sound bite on MSNBC or CNN. He’s the real deal, checking in with his constituents when no cameras are around. And he knows many of his constituents are terrified of Trump.
“There is an absolute sense of alarm at how this administration is conducting itself and whether the president of the United States, who makes repeated false statements, can be believed in times of national crisis. I think it’s a very deep concern for members of both parties,” Schiff told the Los Angeles Blade in a phone interview March 17.
“Believe me, I understand it and I feel that acutely,” he said. “The day after the election, I went to the LGBT Center in the district….[H]undreds of people were deeply worried about what this new administration would mean. You’ve now seen that Center defaced with hateful graffiti. You’re seeing a rise in anti-Semitism around the country and hate in many forms. You’re seeing members of Congress like Steve King express white nationalist sentiments that would be unthinkable at other times. And I think it’s alarming to millions of Americans.”
Schiff has also discussed LGBT rights when he travels to foreign countries, including the Baltics. He is keenly aware of attempts by the American religious right to create alliances with conservative foreign governments based on anti-LGBT sentiment.
“I think this is really part of a propaganda campaign that has many centers of gravity,” Schiff said. “But one of the most prominent is coming out of Moscow and this is a line that the Kremlin is pushing as part of its nativist agenda—that the West is decadent, that it doesn’t observe family or conservative values. This is something the Russians are trying to use in Eastern Europe and in the Baltics as a way of developing support for pro-Russian parties.
“When I was in the Baltics a year or two ago,” he continued, “this was an issue I raised with some parliamentarians who were pursuing legislation modeled after bills in the Russian Duma to discriminate against the LGBT community. So these efforts are going on. I think the Kremlin considers it a wedge issue they can use to wedge people away from the United States but also cause internal conflict within Eastern European societies in hopes of weakening them.”
While Schiff says there must be a strong pushback, especially among members of Congress with their counterparts in Europe, support from the State Department and the White House is uncertain.
“Two words I have yet to hear in combination from the president are ‘human’ and ‘rights.’ And if he’s not going to talk about human rights at all and make it clear to authoritarian and other governments around the world that that’s not a priority for the United States any more,” Schiff said, “then what hope do we have for the White House to be advocating for a policy that LGBT rights are also human rights?”
Still, there is hope. “I’ve been urging people to pick one or two issues that they really care about and to find out how they can make a difference in those,” Schiff said. “They can be LGBT issues or climate change or concerns over voter disenfranchisement in minority communities. Figure out how you can use your skills as a layperson, as a lawyer, as a teacher, as a writer to contribute to resisting the ill-thought-out and discriminatory policies of the administration. We each can make a difference and the challenge is to figure out where each individual can have the most value. But there are lots of opportunities and the country deeply needs it right now.”