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 blasts Trump's 'dangerous' pick for intelligence chief Sanders says he was briefed on Russian effort to help campaign Trump: Democrats 'trying to start a rumor' about 2020 Russian interference MORE (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking member, and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill California lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment Chris Wallace: 'Just insane' Swalwell is talking impeaching Trump again MORE (D-Calif.), are seen as two of the biggest beneficiaries.

ADVERTISEMENT
“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 ConawayLive coverage: Democrats, Republicans seek to win PR battle in final House impeachment hearing Laughter erupts at hearing after Democrat fires back: Trump 'has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis' Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican leading the investigation after Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesJudge dismisses Nunes' lawsuit against Fusion GPS Trump's new intel chief makes immediate changes, ousts top official Overnight Energy: EPA moves to limit financial pressure on 'forever chemical' manufacturers | California sues Trump over water order| Buttigieg expands on climate plan 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 TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration 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 FeinsteinCalifornia lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe House passes bipartisan bill to create women's history museum 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 HimesHouse Republicans boycott public Intelligence panel hearing Democrats criticize Medal of Freedom for Limbaugh as 'slap in the face' Twitter users invoke Merrick Garland after McConnell, Graham comments on impeachment trial 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 PelosiRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight Pelosi blasts Trump's 'dangerous' pick for intelligence chief 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 EshooHillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency Democrats criticize FCC for not taking action against DC station broadcasting Russian disinformation Gillibrand proposes creating new digital privacy agency 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 LeeCalifornia lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment Senior black Democrats urge party chairman to take responsibility for Iowa Lawmakers with first-hand experience using food stamps call on Trump not to cut program 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.