A lot of folks were hoping this impeachment fiasco could be averted, but apparently that Schiff has sailed. Or SCIF, as the case may be. It seems that Adam Schiff was so enamored to discover that the acronym for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) consisted entirely of letters in his name, that he decided to do all the public’s business in those private alcoves. As a big-hearted kind of fellow, he affords his witnesses safe spaces where they can be sheltered from cross-examinations. The stations of the lack-of-cross, if you will.
Actually, doing an impeachment hearing in a SCIF would be a perfect foil for late-night comedians, if there were such a thing anymore. The goofy image hearkens back to Maxwell Smart, the clownish secret agent in the classic TV comedy Get Smart, trying to report secret information to The Chief inside the Cone of Silence, a sound-proof device so effective it prevented the interlocutors from hearing each other, rendering the conversation mute and the matter moot.
But let us not indulge overmuch in SCIF scoffing, especially as it concerns Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, whose every utterance does more to caricaturize him than the sharpest pen a critic might wield. President Trump likes to append to him the adjective of Shifty, while his defenders say he is shiftless. For the purposes of this article, let us conduct a sort of outlandish thought experiment in which we will assign to Schiff good will, good faith, good values, good ethics, even good morals.
Let us posit that his conscience is aquiver with outrage, dat he neva hoida such a ting, and he that he believes he is pursuing the path of justice all the way down to “the bottom of it.” Or let us think badly of him and impute to him a revenge motive, trying to give the Republicans a taste of the medicine with which they dosed former President Clinton. In either case, I think that Clinton and Trump are not comparable, and that Democrats may suffer much more blowback this time than Republicans did two decades ago.
Here is my simple point. In Clinton’s case, he was indisputably guilty, and the verdict had to determine the weight of the guilt. In Trump’s case, there is a plea of Not Guilty, with a strong legal argument to be made for innocence. In such a scenario — irrespective of whether you and I come down on the side of guilt or of innocence — the impact of impeachment is significantly attenuated.
Anyone who was engaged in the process back during the Clinton impeachment can recite, even when half asleep, the Democrat mantra: “He deserves censure but it does not rise to the level of impeachment.” Any ranking Democrat, along with every rank fellow traveler, could be relied upon to stick to that script, leaving the country to wonder how high Clinton’s peccadillo could rise. The result was that Clinton was acquitted on the basis — not of innocence — of lack of sufficient severity. In real terms, he was never declared Not Guilty; he was declared Not Guilty Enough.
The Trump case differs drastically in that he has a strong claim of innocence. The transcript of the telephone call with Ukraine’s comedian/president does not have any smoking guns. Its content is open to interpretation not so much in terms of what was said but more in terms of what was left out. Is this an oblique reference to a shakedown? Is that code for arm-twisting? Is there a wink-wink factor at play here? Is there more between the lines than in them? Is the suggestion of meeting Giuliani equivalent to saying “get together with my bagman”? When he asks for an honest investigation, does that really mean a dishonest investigation? Is he asking them to dig up the dirt or to pile up the dirt? To find out the truth or to manufacture lies?
The Clinton case featured a few of those elements as well: unexplained calls to Bill Richardson, unexplained visits to Vernon Jordan. Were they serving as Clinton’s bagmen, as his fixers? Sure looked like it. But wisely the impeachment was not based on suspicious behaviors like those and instead focused on the undeniable parts. Thus even the grumblers were reduced to admitting guilt, in essence conceding the guilt phase and only contesting the punishment phase.
Impeaching a president over something he may not have done will not go over well. So when the Democrats yell “quid pro quo,” I respond, “Quo vadis?” Or, for the uninitiated, “Where do you think you are going?” I would not be surprised to see Adam Schiff pushed off the ship of state after this, rowing a skiff back to dry land.