Schiff becomes key Democrat in battle with Trump

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTop Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence Overnight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: House to vote on military justice bill spurred by Vanessa Guillén death | Biden courts veterans after Trump's military controversies MORE (D-Calif.) has become the public face of the House Democratic impeachment drive, making him a focal point of President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally 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 BidenMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Trump expects to nominate woman to replace Ginsburg next week Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral 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.

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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 MaguireCongressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts Wells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones Hillicon Valley: Pompeo floats TikTok ban | Civil rights groups slam Facebook after call | Election security funding included in proposal 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 PelosiSunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Trump is betting big on the suburbs, but his strategy is failing 'bigly' Trump orders flags at half-staff to honor 'trailblazer' Ginsburg 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 GiulianiGrand jury adds additional counts against Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and and Igor Fruman Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates Giuliani criticizes NYC leadership: 'They're killing this city' 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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. LewandowskiHow Trump can win reelection: Focus on Democrats, not himself Trump Jr. distances from Bannon group, says he attended 'single' event Bannon, three others charged with defrauding donors of 'We Build The Wall' campaign 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.