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In Rowdy Scene, House Censures Rep. Adam Schiff Over Trump-Russia Investigations
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Published 12 months ago on
June 21, 2023

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WASHINGTON — The House voted Wednesday to censure California Rep. Adam Schiff for comments he made several years ago about investigations into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, rebuking the Democrat and frequent critic of the former president along party lines.

Defiant Schiff Calls Censure a “Badge of Honor”

Schiff becomes the 25th House lawmaker to be censured. He was defiant ahead of the vote, saying he will wear the formal disapproval as a “badge of honor” and charging his GOP colleagues of doing the former president’s bidding.

“I will not yield,” Schiff, who is running for the Senate in his home state, said during debate over the measure. “Not one inch.”

Celebratory Atmosphere During Censure Ceremony

When it was time for Schiff to come to the front of the chamber to be formally censured, immediately after the vote, the normally solemn ceremony turned into more of a celebratory atmosphere. Dozens of Democrats crowded to the front, clapping and cheering for Schiff and patting him on the back. They chanted “No!,” “Shame!” and “Adam! Adam!”

When House Speaker Kevin McCarthy started to read the resolution out loud, as is tradition after a censure, Democrats heckled him to the point that he stopped and gave up, leaving the chamber.

“Censure all of us,” one Democrat yelled.

Schiff, the former Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the lead prosecutor in Trump’s first impeachment trial, has long been a top Republican political target. Soon after taking back the majority this year, Republicans blocked him from sitting on the intelligence panel.

Censure Resolution Revised to Remove Fine

More than 20 Republicans voted with Democrats last week to block the censure resolution, but they changed their votes this week after the measure’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, removed a provision that could have fined Schiff $16 million if the House Ethics Committee determined he lied. Several of the Republicans who voted against the resolution last week said they opposed fining a member of Congress in that manner.

The final vote on Wednesday was 213-209 along party lines, with a handful of members voting present.

The revised resolution says Schiff held positions of power during Trump’s presidency and “abused this trust by saying there was evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.” Schiff was one of the most outspoken critics of the former president as both the Justice Department and the Republican-led House launched investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia in 2017. Both investigations concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election but neither found evidence of a criminal conspiracy.

“Representative Schiff purposely deceived his Committee, Congress, and the American people,” the resolution said.

The House has only censured two other lawmakers in the last 20 years. Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona was censured in 2021 for tweeting an animated video that depicted him striking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., with a sword. Former Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York was censured in 2010 for serious financial and campaign misconduct.

Schiff’s Conduct to Face Ethics Investigation

The censure itself carries no practical effect, except to provide a historic footnote that marks a lawmaker’s career. But the GOP resolution would also launch an ethics investigation into Schiff’s conduct.

While Schiff did not initiate the 2017 congressional investigation into Trump’s Russia ties — then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican who later became one of Trump’s most ardent defenders, started it — Republicans arguing in favor of his censure Wednesday blamed him for what they said was the fallout of that probe, and of the separate investigation started that same year by Trump’s own Justice Department.

Luna said that Schiff’s comments that there was evidence against Trump “ripped apart American families across the country” and that he was “permanently destroying family relationships.” Several blamed him for the more than $30 million spent by then-special counsel Robert Mueller, who led the Justice Department probe.

Schiff said the censure resolution “would accuse me of omnipotence, the leader of some a vast Deep State conspiracy, and of course, it is nonsense.”

Democrats Defend Schiff Against Censure

Democrats aggressively defended their colleague. Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who led Trump’s second impeachment, called the effort an “embarrassing revenge tour on behalf of Donald Trump.”

Mueller, who led the two-year Justice Department investigation, determined that Russia intervened on the campaign’s behalf and that Trump’s campaign welcomed the help. But Mueller’s team did not find that the campaign conspired to sway the election, and the Justice Department did not recommend any criminal charges.

The House intelligence committee probe launched by Nunes similarly found that Russia intervened in the election but that there was no evidence of a criminal conspiracy. Schiff was the top Democrat on the panel at the time.

Schiff said last week that the censure resolution was “red meat” that McCarthy was throwing to his conference amid squabbles over government spending. Republicans are trying to show their fealty to Trump, Schiff said.

He said he warned the country during impeachment proceedings three years ago that Trump “would go on to do worse. And of course he did worse in the form of a violent attack on the Capitol.”

After Democrats won the House majority in 2018, the House impeached Trump for abuse of power after he threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine and urged the country’s president to investigate then-candidate Joe Biden. Schiff was the lead House prosecutor making the case for conviction to the Senate, arguing repeatedly that “right matters.” The Republican-led chamber ultimately acquitted him.

Trump was impeached a second time a year later, after he had left office, for his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. The Senate again acquitted Trump.

In the censure resolution against Schiff, Luna also cited a report released in May from special counsel John Durham that found that the FBI rushed into its investigation of Trump’s campaign and relied too much on raw and unconfirmed intelligence.

Durham said investigators repeatedly relied on “confirmation bias,” ignoring or rationalizing away evidence that undercut their premise of a Trump-Russia conspiracy as they pushed the probe forward. But he did not allege that political bias or partisanship were guiding factors for the FBI’s actions.

Trump had claimed that Durham’s report would reveal the “crime of the century” and expose a “deep state conspiracy” by high-ranking government officials to derail his candidacy and later his presidency. But the investigation yielded only one conviction — a guilty plea from a little-known FBI employee — and the only two other cases that were brought both ended in acquittals at trial.

Schiff’s Campaign Fundraises Off Censure Vote

On Wednesday, just before the vote, Schiff’s campaign sent out a fundraising email that said Luna had introduced “yet ANOTHER resolution to censure me.”

“The vote and debate will happen imminently,” the email read, asking recipients to donate to help him fight back. “Once more, I have to be on the House floor to listen as MAGA Republicans push false and defamatory lies about me.”

Democrats also argued that the House censure resolution is an effort to distract from Trump’s recent indictment on federal charges of hoarding classified documents — several of which dealt with sensitive national security matters — and attempting to conceal them. House Republicans, most of whom are loyal to Trump, say the indictment is more evidence that the government is conspiring against the former president.

“This is not a serious resolution,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., but political theater to “distract from Donald Trump’s history of transgressions and now indictments.”

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