OP-ED: Forget what William Barr wrote about collusion. Listen to Adam Schiff instead

Virginia Heffernan
Los Angeles Times

Twelve years ago, Rep. Adam Schiff called on President George W. Bush to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide. He asked that the history of the Ottoman government’s extermination of 1.5 million Armenians be written into the record so future administrations making foreign policy would take the genocide into account.

Schiff’s resolution passed in committee. But after powerful American politicians of both parties enabled a lobbying blitz by the Turkish government, Schiff’s resolution never made it to the House floor.

“When you think about what we have against us — the president, a foreign policy establishment that has condoned this campaign of denial, against that you have the truth, which is a powerful thing but doesn’t always win out,” Schiff said at the time.

Schiff, D-Calif., now chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is faced with another campaign of denial.

This time, what’s being denied is not the past but the present. President Donald Trump and his huffy apparatchiks in Congress and the media insist on trying to skirt what’s self-evident: the facts of Trumpworld’s commitments to the Kremlin.

These have emerged in public testimony (Michael Cohen), in emails in the public record (Donald Trump Jr.’s), and the many indictments and court documents produced by the office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, which delivered its Trump-Russia report to the attorney general March 22.

Because persisting in denial means censoring anyone who tells the truth, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have been calling on Schiff to resign.

All week they waved Attorney General William Barr’s meager and fuzzy four-page letter, claiming that it faithfully represents Mueller’s findings, which Barr says runs about 400 pages.

House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) holds a hearing concerning 2016 Russian interference tactics in the U.S. elections, in the Rayburn House Office Building, in Washington, D.C., on March 28, 2019. **FOR USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY** (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

More:Barr weighs how much of Trump-Russia report to release

More:Special counsel Robert Mueller closes Russia investigation, delivers report to AG

Of course, we need to see the actual Mueller findings to see how faithful Barr’s letter is. But legal analysts including Jed Shugerman (Fordham Law), Ken White (former federal prosecutor) and Neal Katyal (Georgetown Law) have questioned Barr’s use of weasel words and his delay in turning over the whole report to Congress.

Against that you have the truth.

So Thursday, Schiff, as he has done many times before, patiently spelled out the state of play between Trumpworld and the Russians to the members of the Intelligence committee and anyone watching on C-SPAN.

There was none of Barr’s fuzziness or torque in what Schiff said. He didn’t hypothesize. He didn’t speculate. He just laid it all out.

“The Russians offered dirt on a Democratic candidate for president as part of what was described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign,” he said.

“When that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, the president’s son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help. Instead that son said that he would love the help of the Russians.

“Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience in running campaigns, also took that meeting. … The president’s son-in-law also took that meeting. … They concealed it from the public. … Their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better.”

And Schiff kept going. Through Manafort’s offer of campaign information in exchange for debt forgiveness; through his offer of campaign polling data to someone linked to Russian intelligence; through Jared Kushner’s attempt to open a Russian back channel; through Trumpworld contacts with the GRU (“a hostile intelligence agency”); through denied-but-true Moscow Trump Tower negotiations and the promulgation of a “new and more favorable policy toward the Russians” as Trump sought “the Russians’ help –— the Kremlin’s help” to make himself a fortune.

Call me crazy, Schiff said, but it all strikes me as immoral, unethical, corrupt — and, yes, as collusion, even if it isn’t part of a criminal conspiracy.

Throughout his incantation, Schiff repeated the phrase: “You might think it’s OK that …” as he walked through the facts. Since he delivered the litany, no one has called him on a single error. And yet, Republicans on the committee seemed to find all the evidence of Trump’s treachery OK.

So that’s it. We can all agree on what happened. The president encouraged computer crimes. Trumpworld has a pattern of back-channeling with, digging dirt with, murky real-estate dealing with and swapping favors with Kremlin types. And Trumpworld lies about it.

Whatever the legal niceties, for most sane observers, the Barr letter is the latest entry in the administration’s effort to, shall we say, avoid a reckoning. Barr has suppressed Mueller’s findings, and he may have spun them hard, letting Trump spin that spin and claim, laughably, that he’d been, “Totally EXONERATED.” (Barr letter: The report “does not exonerate” Trump.)

The American people aren’t buying the president’s tweet, at least not yet. For any conclusion that big, we need the real report. And, according to a CNN poll this week, 87 percent of Americans want all of the Mueller findings released to the public, including 80 percent of Republicans.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in understanding the Trump-Russia findings, ignore what Barr wrote. Watch the Schiff speech instead.