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Adam Schiff, The Surprising Face Of The Impeachment Inquiry Into President Trump

House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff of California speaks to the media last month. Schiff is leading the charge in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff of California speaks to the media last month. Schiff is leading the charge in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Adam Schiff has been a ubiquitous media presence criticizing President Trump. Trump, an omnivorous television news consumer, has returned the favor, tweeting disparaging comments about (Liddle') Schiff. (and worse.)

But, beyond that, the California Democrat and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has had something of an unlikely path to becoming the face of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry and, in turn, the Democratic Resistance.

So here are some things to know:

1. A political career spurred on by ... impeachment

His congressional district, California's 28th, includes Hollywood. It's heavily liberal — Hillary Clinton won 72% here in 2016. But it wasn't always so pro-Democratic. In fact, Schiff got into Congress, ironically, by defeating a Republican, Jim Rogan, who was a staunch critic of Bill Clinton and spoke out against Clinton during his impeachment.

Schiff was able to leverage Clinton's impeachment for his gain, as Clinton friend and entertainment mogul David Geffen promised to help raise millionsto unseat Rogan. He got help from movie director Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, former chairman of Disney Studios. At the same time, Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner took Rogan's side. The result? The 2000 race became the most expensive in history, at that time, with more than $10 million raised between the two. Schiff won 53%-44%, and has since not gotten less than 63% of the vote.

2. He voted for the Iraq war authorization and the Patriot Act

Schiff had just ousted an incumbent Republican, so what did he do when he went to Congress? He joined the Blue Dog Democrats, a group for moderate and conservative Democratic members on Capitol Hill. So he didn't always have this liberal reputation.

In fact, he supported the 2002 authorization for use of force in Iraq and voted for the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act expanded law enforcement's ability to surveil Americans with the goal of preventing more terrorist attacks. But the privacy infringements outraged civil libertarians. Schiff grew more traditionally liberal, as his district did.

3. He prosecuted an FBI agent for taking bribes from Russians

Before running for elected office, Schiff worked in the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His most famous case was the first-ever conviction of an FBI agent for espionage. The agent had been taking bribes from Russians. It took three trials over six years to secure the conviction.

"I do feel like in some ways my life has come full circle," Schiff told the Los Angeles Daily News with a laugh last week, thinking about his work today on the Intelligence Committee.

Schiff then ran for office, but lost three times for state Assembly before eventually winning a state Senate seat and then Congress.

4. He's an amateur screenwriter

Schiff was born in Massachusetts but represents Hollywood, so why not, right? His first screenplay was called, Remnant, which Schiff told The New Yorker "was a post-Holocaust story." He then wrote a murder-mystery called Minotaur, and is now working on a "spy drama."

None of his screenplays have sold.

"I had a friend who was a producer," Schiff told The New Yorker, "and he said there were two answers in Hollywood — 'Yes' and 'Here's a check.' I was getting lots of yeses."

5. Schiff, who is almost 60, started doing triathlons in his 50s and is a vegan

Schiff will be 60 in eight months, and, given the workout culture in Southern California, he took up triathlons in his 50s. He said his wife, who plays tennis almost every day, has been an inspiration.

His wife, by the way, is named Eve. A friend set them up in 1990, playing doubles tennis. "I think he was just looking for the right audience for some Adam and Eve jokes," he told Good.

Schiff is also a vegan – described by Rolling Stone as a "mild-mannered-judicious, vegan. He thanked fellow congressional vegan, Cory Booker of New Jersey for sharing vegan cupcakes.

6. He has higher political ambitions, but that path isn't clear

Schiff has fanned the flames of running for higher office. During a speech in New Hampshire (you know, that early voting primary state), Schiff said, per the Los Angeles Times, "I'm only running for the House, but I'm honored to be asked the question."

And: "It's fun coming up here, and I enjoy the idea that I might cause certain heads at Fox News to explode [if I ran.]"

But his options are limited. He's not running for president, despite the flirtation, so maybe he can hope for a Cabinet position if a Democrat wins the White House. California has a new governor in Gavin Newsom. And Schiff considered a run for the seat vacated by Barbara Boxer, but backed down when Kamala Harris got in the race.

He could run for (or be appointed to) Sen. Dianne Feinstein's seat, when she eventually leaves office. Feinstein, who is 86, was just reelected in 2018 and has five years left in her term.

Whatever his future, a lot of it is going to ride on how Schiff handles the next few weeks and months and the impeachment inquiry into Trump.

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Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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