If you have not yet heard of U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, you soon will. While President Trump publicly dismisses him as a “political hack” pursuing “the politics of revenge,” privately Trump may find Schiff his worst nightmare.
On Tuesday evening, Trump — in what was apparently intended as an olive branch of cooperation to the Democrats in the Congress — declared in his State of the Union speech: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”
No softball Democrat
On Wednesday morning, Schiff, in his capacity as chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. House of Representatives, announced sweeping investigations into many aspects of Trump’s finances, his financial partners and even whether he could have been compromised by some of those partners.
As a result of the last Congressional elections, the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in early January 2019. Schiff immediately went to work to prepare for the announcement that he decided to make the morning after Trump’s major political speech of the year.
The investigations will involve the House committee issuing subpoenas for a wide array of financial statements. These investigations coincide with at least three others underway by New York state public prosecutors.
They are into the finances of the recently closed Trump’s charitable foundation, into some of the foreign dealings of the Trump Organization (which is also the subject of investigations by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller) and into just who the donors were to the $110 million presidential inauguration in January 2017.
Trump’s hardball attempt backfires badly
Mr. Schiff has the full support of the leadership of his political party. There is widespread anger over Trump’s threat to block legislation proposed by Congress if investigations are pursued. With that, he wants to paralyze the separation of powers. The U.S. Constitution clearly provides for the Congress to conduct investigations.
Not only will Schiff’s committee hold public hearings on Russian alleged interference in U.S. elections. It will also look at “the counterintelligence threat arising from any links or coordination between U.S. persons and the Russian government and/or other foreign entities, including any financial or other leverage such foreign actors may possess.”
Schiff is a rising star in the Democratic Party and a popular figure on cable TV political discussion programs. He is a graduate of Harvard and Stanford universities.
It is of particular use for his role as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that he spent six years as a public prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles. Later on, he served in the Californian state senate before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 2013.
A tough cross-examiner by profession
Witnesses can thus reckon that they will face tough televised public cross-examination about the Trump Organization’s finances and its relationships. These witnesses may include the president’s sons, Donald Junior and Eric — and there is nothing that they can do to evade and escape such a public hearing.
Schiff stressed that the forthcoming investigations by his committee will seek to answer two pivotal questions:
1. “Whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.”
2. “Whether President Trump, his family, or his associates are or were at any time at heightened risk of, or vulnerable to, foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion, or have sought to influence U.S. government policy in service of foreign interests.”
Widening the net
Until now, the focus of financial investigations by the New York and federal prosecutors on Trump’s cash have largely related to possible ties to Russians. Schiff and his committee staff are widening the net and will explore the full array of foreign dealings by Trump and the Trump Organization as it raised money over the years, be it from wealthy Ukrainians, to sources of Middle East finance.
Some of the questions they will seek to find answers to in that regard are:
1. Has Trump been acting in ways that appear to support some of the goals of Russian president Putin because the Russians have financial leverage over some Trump Organization properties?
2. Have Ukrainian oligarchs, who apparently attended the Trump presidential inauguration, and who had financial ties to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort who faces a long prison term (for money laundering, bank fraud and other crimes), had private financial dealings with the Trump Organization?
3. Have White House policies towards Gulf countries been influenced by allegations that the Trump Organization has complex financial dealings in the region, and/or that major donors to the Trump election campaign and inauguration, represented Gulf business interests?
Such questions are widely being asked and are seen to be influencing the current New York state investigations, as well as the plans for investigations that Adam Schiff has just announced.
In sum, now the president faces potential charges of obstruction of justice and of involvement in a conspiracy to secure Russian support for his election, as well as embarrassment, at an absolute minimum, over his complicated past and current financial dealings.
This article is republished from The Globalist: On a daily basis, we rethink globalization and how the world really hangs together. Thought-provoking cross-country comparisons and insights from contributors from all continents. Exploring what unites and what divides us in politics and culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And sign up for our highlights email here.