The famous philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once declared that “the only shame is to have none.” The problem with shame is that it requires a sense of guilt over one’s actions. In the age of rage, there appear fewer and fewer actions that are beyond the pale for politics. Take Adam Schiff and the Steele dossier. While even the Washington Post has admitted that it got the Russian collusion story wrong in light of the findings of Special Counsel John Durham, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is still insisting that he was absolutely right to promote the discredited Steele dossier. Schiff’s interview on NBC’s Meet the Press may be the final proof of the death of shame in American politics.
Schiff was one of the greatest promoters of the Steele dossier despite access to briefings casting doubt about Steele and the underlying claims. However, Schiff recently has attempted to defend himself by claiming that Steele was a respected former spy and that he was lied to by a Russian source.
Schiff told host Chuck Todd:
“I don’t regret saying that we should investigate claims of someone who, frankly, was a well-respected British intelligence officer. And we couldn’t have known, of course, years ago that we would learn years later that someone who is a primary source lied to him. [Igor] Danchenko lied to Christopher Steele and then lied to the FBI. He should be prosecuted. He is being prosecuted. And I’ll tell you this, if he’s convicted, he should not be pardoned the way Donald Trump pardoned people who lied to FBI agents, like Roger Stone and Mike Flynn. There ought to be the same standard in terms of prosecuting the liars. But I don’t think there ought to be any pardon, no matter which way the lies cut.”
Schiff’s spin is enough to cause permanent vertigo.
Some of us have spent years being pummeled for questioning the obvious problems with the Steele dossier, including the long-denied connection to the Clinton campaign. Schiff was the main voice swatting down such criticism and his endorsements were treated as dispositive for media from MSNBC to the Washington Post. After all, he was the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and assured the public that our criticisms were meritless and the dossier was corroborated.
Schiff’s spin, however, continues to deny the obvious about the Russian collusion scandal.
First, many would guffaw at the claim that Steele was and remains a “well-respected British intelligence officer.” Soon after the dossier was shopped to the FBI, British intelligence flagged credibility problems with Steele. The FBI severed Steele as an asset. Even his own sources told the FBI that Steele wildly exaggerated information and distorted intelligence. Most recently, Steele went public with a laughable claim that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former counsel, was lying to protect Trump despite spending years trying to get Trump charged criminally.
Second, Schiff ignored repeated contradictions in Steele’s dossier as well as evidence that the dossier was paid for and promoted by the Clinton campaign. In 2017, even fired FBI agent Peter Strzok admitted that “we are unaware of ANY Trump advisors engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials” and “Steele may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his subsource network.” Schiff would have had access to some of this intelligence. Indeed, while the Clinton campaign was denying that it funded the dossier, American intelligence knew that that was a lie. Indeed, until the Durham indictments, Schiff continued to defend the Russian collusion investigation and the Steele dossier.
Third, Schiff attempts to portray the sole problem with the Steele dossier as Russian analyst Igor Danchenko. That is simply not true. Schiff was long aware that there were allegations of misleading or false information given by the FBI to the secret court. Indeed, the first Durham conviction was of Kevin Clinesmith, the former FBI agent who pleaded guilty. Schiff was aware that President Barack Obama was briefed in 2017 that Hillary Clinton was allegedly planning to manufacture a Russian collusion scandal — just days before the start of the Russian investigation. The dossier was riddled with disproven allegations.
Fourth, Schiff states that he merely sought to investigate allegations. However, Schiff was one of the most active members fueling the Russian collusion allegations. Indeed, when the Mueller investigation found no proof of Russian collusion, Schiff immediately went public to claim that he had evidence of collusion in his committee files. It was meant to keep the scandal alive. Schiff has never produced his promised evidence of collusion.
While Schiff insists that he was just doing his due diligence in pushing for an investigation, the claim is not only undermined by his refusal to acknowledge obvious flaws in the dossier for years but his opposition to the investigation by John Durham. Indeed, while Schiff insists that he is glad to see people like Danchenko prosecuted, he opposed the continuation of this and other investigations.
Schiff told MSNBC that ongoing investigations would constitute “tearing down our democracy” and would serve as a way to “delegitimize” a president. Schiff denounced the Durham investigation as a “politically motivated” effort and resisted demands from Trump to issue a report before the election. Schiff raised the termination of the Durham investigation by Attorney General Garland before Durham could issue any indictments or reports. He added “The appointment is not consistent with the language of the statute that he’s relying on and can be rescinded, I think, by the next attorney general. I would presume the next attorney general will look to see if there is any merit to the work that John Durham is doing.”
So Schiff is now heralding indictments by Durham despite the fact that, if he had gotten his way, there would have been no Durham and no indictments.
The Russian collusion scandal was not some harmless political ploy. Lives were destroyed. Carter Page, who was never charged with a single crime, was labeled a Russian agent and pilloried across networks and print media. A fortune was spent on investigations by Congress, two special counsels, and inspectors general investigations. Hundreds of people faced questioning and many spent their savings on legal representation. A presidency was derailed, agencies like the Justice Department and the FBI were whiplashed by scandal, and Congress dropped a myriad of other issues to focus on various investigations.
In the wake of those costs, Schiff offers little more than a shrug.
Many have long marveled at the incapacity for shame in politicians. That missing emotion was most famously captured by lawyer Joseph Welch in the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954: “Have you no shame, sir, at long last? Have you no shame?” The answer is that we now live in a post-shame era where the only shame is yielding to the impulses of decency or decorum. The Russian collusion scandal served its purpose and Adam Schiff would be the first say that there is no shame in that.