Schiff becomes key Democrat in battle with Trump

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Schiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Trump defenders argue president can't be removed for abuse of power MORE (D-Calif.) has become the public face of the House Democratic impeachment drive, making him a focal point of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE’s attacks on the effort.

Trump has zeroed in on Schiff, calling on him to resign and suggesting he be investigated and potentially jailed for “treason” while defending his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

During the call, Trump pressed for investigations into 2016 election interference and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Trump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina MORE, after asking Zelensky for a “favor.” The call triggered a complaint from a whistleblower within the administration, and now threatens to lead to Trump’s impeachment.

ADVERTISEMENT

Schiff played a central role in forcing information about the whistleblower’s complaint into the public domain, raising his own profile in the drama and putting the 10-term Democrat on a collision course with the White House.

Trump has tweeted about Schiff roughly a dozen times since Thursday, the day the Intelligence panel publicly questioned acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireThe Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Schiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  Democrats request briefing on intel behind Trump's embassy threat claim MORE about the administration’s handling of the whistleblower complaint.

“The president believes that it is his God-given right to shake down foreign leaders for help in his reelection, and he should not be encumbered by the public finding out about it,” Schiff, a former prosecutor and close ally of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Schiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle MORE (D-Calif.), said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“That's what has incensed the president. And I am willing to take the brunt of that,” he added.

A Schiff spokesman declined to comment further for this story.

The president has lashed out at Schiff in particular for exaggerating the details of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky during the televised congressional hearing last week.

“[Schiff] actually took words and made it up,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Monday, saying his phone call was “so good that he couldn’t quote from it.”

“It’s a disgrace. This whole thing is a disgrace,” Trump continued.

Schiff has accused Trump of a mob-like “shakedown” of Ukraine’s president and defended himself amid the president’s criticism, saying he became a target because he first raised alarm about the complaint.

The tensions between Schiff and Trump are not new, but they have been elevated by a remarkable degree in just the last five days.

They are unlikely to ease anytime soon, as the unfolding Ukraine controversy has put Schiff and his panel in the driver’s seat on impeachment among congressional panels jockeying for influence.

On Monday, Schiff, along with the chairmen of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a subpoena for documents from Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGOP senator 'open' to impeachment witnesses 'within the scope' of articles Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Trump Jr.: If 'weaker' Republicans only call for certain witnesses, 'they don't deserve to be in office' MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer.

Schiff’s panel is expected to issue more subpoenas as it spends the two-week recess building a case for impeachment through depositions and closed-door interviews.

Trump has previously mocked the Intelligence chairman as “pencil-neck Adam Schiff,” a moniker his campaign turned into T-shirts. 

Republicans piled on Schiff in March following the conclusion of former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE’s investigation. Schiff had said on cable news that there was evidence of collusion “in plain sight”; the special counsel ultimately said he did not uncover sufficient evidence to charge members or associates of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia.

Those close to the White House and Trump’s campaign see Schiff as an easy target, claiming his past commentary on the Mueller probe has shown him to be a partisan.

“This is an effective hit because one thing that, I think, most people can see whenever they see Adam Schiff go on TV is just how transparently partisan he really is,” said one former White House official.

“This is the logical response for Pelosi deputizing Adam Schiff to be the face of her impeachment inquiry,” the former official continued.

Mieke Eoyang, a former House Intelligence staffer who worked with Schiff, argued that the president’s latest attacks show the White House sees Schiff as a threat.

“I think it is very clear to everyone that Chairman Schiff has been the most effective at building the case against the president through his questioning,” Eoyang said.

Eoyang also said she doesn’t expect Schiff to be “rattled” by the president’s attacks.

It was Schiff who first disclosed the existence of the nebulous whistleblower complaint on Sept. 13, issuing a subpoena to Maguire to turn over its contents to Congress.

Details about the complaint dealing with Ukraine began to leak out through the press the following week, though the administration continued to rebuff requests from Congress about it, arguing that it didn’t meet the legal definition of an “urgent concern” requiring disclosure to Capitol Hill.

Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry last Tuesday, and by Thursday the White House had released a rough transcript of the Zelensky call and allowed for the release of the whistleblower complaint to Congress and the public.

The partial transcript showed that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate unsubstantiated allegations about Biden as well as details about Russia’s 2016 election interference.

During opening remarks at the hearing with Maguire last week, Schiff dramatized his reading of the call, describing Trump as saying on the call that he would tell Zelensky “seven times” to “make up dirt on my political opponent,” which earned him criticism from Republicans. Schiff later termed the reading a “parody” of the call, something he said should have been obvious.

Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.), a freshman representing a competitive district, praised Schiff's overall handling of the hearing but acknowledged it would have been better to read directly from the primary source document, saying, "I think you should just state what it says, in my opinion."

But Van Drew said that the Intelligence Committee's hearing with Maguire was an improvement over the Judiciary Committee's chaotic and combative hearing with former Trump campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiLewandowski decides against Senate bid Georgia ready for unpredictable Senate race Trump on Harris dropping out of race: 'We will miss you Kamala!' MORE a week before.  

“I liked that it wasn't like the Lewandowski [hearing]. That was a very charged meeting, everybody was yelling at each other, demeaning each other. And it was both sides. It was everybody. I would rather see a methodical, careful approach to investigations,” Van Drew said.

Cristina Marcos contributed.