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 rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference Schiff: Mueller report 'far worse' than Watergate Schiff: Democrats 'may' take up impeachment proceedings MORE (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking member, and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellCory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris 2020 Democrats commemorate 20-year anniversary of Columbine shooting Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars 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 ConawayDems ramp up subpoena threats GOP zeroes in on Schiff Pelosi rushes to Schiff's defense MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican leading the investigation after Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesTen post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators Schiff, Nunes pressed DOJ for Mueller briefing The Hill's Morning Report - Mueller report will dominate this week 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 TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference 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 FeinsteinDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions Five takeaways from Mueller's report Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates 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 Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Dem lawmaker: There isn't a crime Trump could commit that would cause GOP to turn on him Pro-business Dem group sees boost in fundraising 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller End of Mueller shifts focus to existing probes Democrats renew attacks on Trump attorney general 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 EshooHouse Democrats probe Trump administration's funding of anti-abortion group Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid will cause overall health-care costs to rise Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — FDA issues proposal to limit sales of flavored e-cigs | Trump health chief gets grilling | Divisions emerge over House drug pricing bills | Dems launch investigation into short-term health plans 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 LeeProgressives threaten to derail major Dem spending proposal Speaker in waiting? Rapid rise of Hakeem Jeffries fuels talk Congress should look into its own taxes and travel, not just Trump's 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.