Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems

Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems

The House Intelligence Committee's Russia probe from this past year raised the public profile of several Democrats on the panel, putting them in a strong position to use the panel as a launching pad for higher office — even more so if broader investigations are initiated under Democratic leadership next year.

The yearlong probe, which quickly devolved into partisan fighting, has been a career-builder in many ways for certain committee members, through increased television exposure and a growing social media presence. Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff: Intelligence agencies focused on Russian interference 'even if the president isn't' Schiff: Intelligence agencies focused on Russian interference 'even if the president isn't' Schiff: Bolton, Pompeo undercutting Trump's attempts to stay out of war MORE (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking member, and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellCampaign dads fit fatherhood between presidential speeches Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments MORE (D-Calif.), are seen as two of the biggest beneficiaries.

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“The two prime guys who got most of the benefit from their conduct was Schiff and Swalwell. Who is arguing against that?” said Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayOn The Money: House chairman issues subpoenas for Trump's tax returns | Trump touts trade talks as China, US fail to reach deal | Five things to know about Trump's trade war with China | GOP offers support for Trump on tariffs GOP offers support for Trump on China tariffs On The Money: New tariffs on China pose major risk for Trump | Senators sound alarm over looming budget battles | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders team up against payday lenders MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican leading the investigation after Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Lawmakers grapple with deepfake threat at hearing MORE (R-Calif.) stepped out of that role amid a controversy surrounding his conduct.

He said GOP committee members did not come “close to matching what Schiff and Swalwell did,” saying they were able to parlay official committee business into national exposure.

“It is pretty clear if you look at the cumulative amount of times Adam [Schiff] was on TV, you can argue that neither he nor Swalwell would’ve gotten that kind of time without the Russia investigation,” Conaway continued.

Schiff also acknowledges that the Russia probe gave him a national stage.

“It has certainly given me a platform,” he told The Hill. “Working on the Intelligence Committee has given me a platform to talk about not only the Russia investigation, but more broadly this president’s attacks on the rule of law.”

Schiff’s fierce and frequent criticism drew fire from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE, a move that boosted his name recognition.

“Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington,” Trump tweeted in February.

When asked about possibly seeking higher office, Schiff said it is “flattering,” but he is focused on Democrats taking the House in the November midterm elections.

Democratic aides and outside strategists say they believe Schiff has political ambitions that extend beyond being the top Democrat on the Intel committee, with some saying he is eyeing a House leadership role. He previously indicated interest in running for Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinNew push to regulate self-driving cars faces tough road Trump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community Trump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community MORE’s (D-Calif.) seat if she decided not to seek reelection this year. That thought was quashed in October, when Feinstein announced a bid to seek another term.

Other Democrats on the Intelligence Committee said they’ve heard similar speculation about Schiff’s leadership aspirations.

“Oh, you hear buzz out there, but you can’t always trust the buzz,” Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Lawmakers grapple with deepfake threat at hearing MORE (D-Conn.) told The Hill. “I think the world of Adam Schiff. I think he would be a great candidate for a leadership position. I won’t get into which one — there is a lot of politics there."

“He’s gotten a tremendous national profile,” added Himes, who is head of the centrist New Democrat Coalition.

Schiff frequently used TV appearances and Twitter to speak out against the GOP-controlled probe. He was at the center of messy clashes with the panel’s Republicans, often holding press conferences after witness interviews to criticize his GOP colleagues, saying they allowed the witness to sidestep key questions.

Just before the probe began, Schiff had roughly 68,000 Twitter followers; almost 18 months later, the number has soared to more than 1 million.

The committee probe concluded in March after a party-line vote, in which Republicans said they found no evidence of collusion between Moscow and Trump's campaign in 2016.

Swalwell, a senior Democrat on the panel, said he and Schiff used their media savvy to get the word out about how the investigation was being handled.

“We went to the American people — whether it was through social media, whether it was through the news or press conferences,” Swalwell told The Hill.

Swalwell sparked speculation that he might make a run for president in 2020, after he was photographed at the Iowa State Fair in early August.

Swalwell, who said he will make a decision about a possible presidential bid after the midterms, said Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee felt compelled to speak out against what they viewed as “Republicans trying to bury a lot of the evidence.”

One Democratic lawmaker, who was granted anonymity to discuss the delicate topic of leadership, said Schiff "absolutely" has the experience and gravitas to vie for a spot among the party brass. But the lawmaker cautioned that Schiff also has an "obvious liability":  His close relationship with House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown MORE (D-Calif.).

"And while a lot of people like Nancy and support her personally, it doesn’t extend to her favorite candidates," the lawmaker said, noting that Pelosi's endorsement of figures like Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooPro-trade group targets Democratic leadership in push for new NAFTA House Democrats press leaders to start Trump impeachment Hillicon Valley: Court rejects Chelsea Manning appeal | Facebook hires lawyer who helped write Patriot Act | Senator seeks details on Russian interference in Florida | Amazon hiring alcohol lobbyist | Ex-Obama aide lobbying for Sprint, T-Mobile merger MORE (D-Calif.), who sought the top Democratic spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2014, didn't always translate into victories.

The lawmaker also noted a potential regional hurdle for figures like Schiff and Swalwell. Many Democrats have been critical that most party leaders hail from coastal states, and they're clamoring for more representation from other parts of the country.

Reps. Linda Sánchez and Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Democrats set stage for next shutdown fight with wall-free spending bill MORE, who are seeking to become Democratic Caucus chair, are both from California, and there may be little appetite to put other Golden State lawmakers atop the party in the House.

"The California thing is a consideration," the lawmaker said. "If we win a big majority, or a healthy majority, in November, you’re going to have a lot of new faces, new talent, from other parts of the country."

However, Intel Committee Democrats weren’t the only ones who benefited from the media attention surrounding the Russia probe.

Throughout the tumultuous partisan clashes between committee members, Nunes’s profile grew among Trump supporters who viewed him as someone trying to uncover political bias against the president from top federal officials.

Nunes attracted many small-dollar donors and other Republicans who want to partner with him for fundraising purposes.

“Nunes is a small-dollar dynamo, and his name recognition among the grass roots has skyrocketed,” a Republican operative familiar with his fundraising numbers told The Hill. “He is an in-demand digital surrogate for many members who want to raise money quickly.”

Nunes’s Twitter following also jumped during the committee’s Russia probe, from about 7,000 at the start to his current tally of about 270,000.

Mike Lillis contributed.