The famous philosopher and mathematician Blaise
Pascal once declared that “the only shame is to have none.” The problem
with shame is that it requires a sense of guilt over one’s actions. In
the age of rage, there appear fewer and fewer actions that are beyond
the pale for politics. Take Adam Schiff and the Steele dossier. While even the Washington Post has admitted that it got the Russian collusion story wrong in light of the findings of Special Counsel John Durham,
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is still
insisting that he was absolutely right to promote the discredited Steele
dossier. Schiff’s interview on NBC’s Meet the Press may be the final proof of the death of shame in American politics.
Schiff was one of the greatest promoters of the Steele dossier
despite access to briefings casting doubt about Steele and the
underlying claims. However, Schiff recently has attempted to defend
himself by claiming that Steele was a respected former spy and that he
was lied to by a Russian source.
Schiff told host Chuck Todd:
“I don’t regret saying that we should
investigate claims of someone who, frankly, was a well-respected British
intelligence officer. And we couldn’t have known, of course, years ago
that we would learn years later that someone who is a primary source
lied to him. [Igor] Danchenko lied to Christopher Steele and then lied
to the FBI. He should be prosecuted. He is being prosecuted. And I’ll
tell you this, if he’s convicted, he should not be pardoned the way
Donald Trump pardoned people who lied to FBI agents, like Roger Stone
and Mike Flynn. There ought to be the same standard in terms of
prosecuting the liars. But I don’t think there ought to be any pardon,
no matter which way the lies cut.”
Schiff’s spin is enough to cause permanent vertigo.
Some of us have spent years being pummeled for questioning the
obvious problems with the Steele dossier, including the long-denied
connection to the Clinton campaign. Schiff was the main voice swatting
down such criticism and his endorsements were treated as dispositive for
media from MSNBC to the Washington Post. After all, he was the chair of
the House Intelligence Committee and assured the public that our
criticisms were meritless and the dossier was corroborated.
Schiff’s spin, however, continues to deny the obvious about the Russian collusion scandal.
First, many would guffaw at the claim that Steele was and remains a
“well-respected British intelligence officer.” Soon after the dossier
was shopped to the FBI, British intelligence flagged credibility problems with Steele.
The FBI severed Steele as an asset. Even his own sources told the FBI
that Steele wildly exaggerated information and distorted intelligence.
Most recently, Steele went public with a laughable claim
that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former counsel, was lying to protect Trump
despite spending years trying to get Trump charged criminally.
Second, Schiff ignored repeated contradictions in Steele’s dossier as
well as evidence that the dossier was paid for and promoted by the
Clinton campaign. In 2017, even fired FBI agent Peter Strzok
admitted that “we are unaware of ANY Trump advisors engaging in
conversations with Russian intelligence officials” and “Steele may not
be in a position to judge the reliability of his subsource network.”
Schiff would have had access to some of this intelligence. Indeed, while
the Clinton campaign was denying that it funded the dossier, American intelligence knew that that was a lie. Indeed, until the Durham indictments, Schiff continued to defend the Russian collusion investigation and the Steele dossier.
Third, Schiff attempts to portray the sole problem with the Steele
dossier as Russian analyst Igor Danchenko. That is simply not true.
Schiff was long aware that there were allegations of misleading or false
information given by the FBI to the secret court. Indeed, the first
Durham conviction was of Kevin Clinesmith, the former FBI agent who
pleaded guilty. Schiff was aware that President
Barack Obama was briefed in 2017 that Hillary Clinton was allegedly
planning to manufacture a Russian collusion scandal — just days before the start of the Russian investigation. The dossier was riddled with disproven allegations.
Fourth, Schiff states that he merely sought to investigate
allegations. However, Schiff was one of the most active members fueling
the Russian collusion allegations. Indeed, when the Mueller
investigation found no proof of Russian collusion, Schiff immediately
went public to claim that he had evidence of collusion in his committee
files. It was meant to keep the scandal alive. Schiff has never produced his promised evidence of collusion.
While Schiff insists that he was just doing his due diligence in
pushing for an investigation, the claim is not only undermined by his
refusal to acknowledge obvious flaws in the dossier for years but his
opposition to the investigation by John Durham. Indeed, while Schiff
insists that he is glad to see people like Danchenko prosecuted, he opposed the continuation of this and other investigations.
Schiff told MSNBC
that ongoing investigations would constitute “tearing down our
democracy” and would serve as a way to “delegitimize” a president.
Schiff denounced the Durham investigation as a “politically motivated” effort and resisted demands from Trump to issue a report before the election. Schiff raised the termination of the Durham investigation by Attorney General Garland before
Durham could issue any indictments or reports. He added “The
appointment is not consistent with the language of the statute that he’s
relying on and can be rescinded, I think, by the next attorney general.
I would presume the next attorney general will look to see if there is
any merit to the work that John Durham is doing.”
So Schiff is now heralding indictments by Durham despite the fact
that, if he had gotten his way, there would have been no Durham and no
The Russian collusion scandal was not some harmless political ploy.
Lives were destroyed. Carter Page, who was never charged with a single
crime, was labeled a Russian agent and pilloried
across networks and print media. A fortune was spent on investigations
by Congress, two special counsels, and inspectors general
investigations. Hundreds of people faced questioning and many spent
their savings on legal representation. A presidency was derailed,
agencies like the Justice Department and the FBI were whiplashed by
scandal, and Congress dropped a myriad of other issues to focus on
In the wake of those costs, Schiff offers little more than a shrug.
Many have long marveled at the incapacity for shame in politicians.
That missing emotion was most famously captured by lawyer Joseph Welch
in the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954: “Have you no shame, sir, at long
last? Have you no shame?” The answer is that we now live in a post-shame
era where the only shame is yielding to the impulses of decency or
decorum. The Russian collusion scandal served its purpose and Adam
Schiff would be the first say that there is no shame in that.