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 SchiffPelosi: Whistleblower complaint 'must be addressed immediately' White House officials, Giuliani come to Trump's defense on Ukraine allegations Sunday shows - Trump's Ukraine call, Iran dominate MORE (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking member, and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMarkey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge The Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC Swalwell to DNI: 'You do not have to be a part of a lawless administration' 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 ConawayHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican leading the investigation after Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesWe've lost sight of the real scandal Twitter won't disclose who's running parody accounts being sued by Devin Nunes Nunes campaign drops lawsuit against constituents who accused him of being a 'fake farmer' 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's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' 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 FeinsteinFeinstein calls on Justice to push for release of Trump whistleblower report Senate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick 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 HimesRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress 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 PelosiRomney: Trump asking Ukraine to investigate political rival 'would be troubling in the extreme' Pelosi: Whistleblower complaint 'must be addressed immediately' Democrats must embrace Israel and denounce anti-Semitism in the party 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 EshooOvernight Health Care: Public's view of drug companies sinks to record low in poll | NYC declares end to measles outbreak | Health advocates fear Planned Parenthood funding loss could worsen STD crisis Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Planned Parenthood ousts its president | Harris releases drug pricing plan | House Dem drug plan delayed until after recess Democratic chair: Medicare negotiating drug prices not moving before August 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 LeeMarijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis Lawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator Overnight Health Care: Planned Parenthood to leave federal family planning program absent court action | Democrats demand Trump withdraw rule on transgender health | Cummings, Sanders investigate three drug companies for 'obstructing' probe 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.