Inside Adam Schiff’s Impeachment Game Plan

Among Democrats on the committee, this plan was well received. “Nobody was putting their ego ahead of the importance of conducting an orderly, fact-finding process,” Schiff says. But how Republicans will act is largely out of Schiff’s control. “If the minority wants to do what they can to nonetheless turn it into a circus, they can use whatever tactics they want,” he says. “But certainly I hope that they will choose to conduct themselves in a serious manner that the seriousness of the allegations warrants.”

Although Democrats are now largely united behind the idea that Trump should be impeached, they remain significantly divided about what, exactly, Trump should be impeached for. Pelosi has instructed the Intelligence, Oversight, Foreign Affairs, Financial Services and Ways and Means Committees to send the results of their investigations to the Judiciary Committee, which will then decide if any of them should be included in articles of impeachment.

There are some Democrats, a number of whom sit on the Judiciary Committee, who favor an expansive approach, with articles of impeachment for everything from Trump’s violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause to obstruction of the Mueller investigation to the Ukraine matter. “We want to make this as airtight and as focused as possible, but we’re dealing with a president who’s a one-man crime wave,” Jamie Raskin, the Maryland congressman, told me when I visited him in his congressional office in mid-October. A constitutional-law professor and member of the Judiciary Committee, Raskin started calling for an impeachment inquiry in May; one bookshelf in his office was devoted exclusively to books with titles like “Impeached” and “The End of a Presidency.”

But other Democrats, especially those who represent swing districts, want to keep the impeachment focus on the Ukraine matter. “Keeping it narrow and defined to this particular instance, where the American public can understand what was done and what the implications were, I think, is enough,” says Representative Elaine Luria, a freshman from Virginia and one of the “badasses.” Houlahan told me: “We need to be as surgical and as deliberate as we can be. I feel as though that there’s a little bit of, ‘Oh, well, we did all this work, and now we need to pile it on.’ And you know, that’s in the past. It’s in some ways sunk costs in my opinion.”

At a certain point, Pelosi will have to decide how broad or how narrow the Democrats’ impeachment shot should be. When I asked her about this, she said, “Don’t you worry about who drafts those articles!” It is a good bet that whatever she decides, Schiff will continue to play a prominent role. “I would expect and want him to be an impeachment manager,” says Sheldon Whitehouse, who would be a juror in a Senate impeachment trial.

On one of the rare mornings in October that the Intelligence Committee wasn’t holding a deposition, Schiff sat in a dingy cafeteria in the Capitol basement, filled with Capitol police officers eating their breakfasts, and sipped an unsweetened iced tea. The “dam was breaking,” he said: More and more witnesses were coming forward to testify against Trump. “The portrait of a president who continues to put his personal interests above the national interests is coming into sharper and sharper view.” His phone rang; Pelosi wanted to see him right away in her office. In a few hours, he would leave with the speaker as part of a small congressional delegation on an unannounced trip to Jordan and Afghanistan.

As he headed to the elevator, Schiff told me a story about a sailboat ride he shared with Pelosi earlier this year, in the waters off Hyannis Port, on Cape Cod, during a Democratic fund-raising weekend. When they left the harbor, the skies were clear. But then “the clouds rolled in, and the wind picked up, and the skies darkened, and the rain started coming down,” Schiff said. “Soon we were ‘burying the rail’ ” — heeling so far to one side that the rail of the boat was underwater. The captain was worried about the stomachs and nerves of his V.I.P. passengers. “He said, ‘We can lower the sail and motor back,’ ” Schiff recalled. “And the speaker’s reaction was: ‘Yes, you could, but that would be the cowardly thing to do.’ And so the captain said, ‘Keep the sail up.’ ”

I asked Schiff if he would have preferred the safer choice of motoring back. “No,” he said. “I was loving it.”

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