House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff insists the Ukraine scandal is far more serious than the “third-rate burglary” that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon more than 45 years ago.
The reason President Donald Trump has been treated differently, he said, boils down to the reaction of Republicans.
“Where is Howard Baker?” he said. “Where are the people that are willing to go beyond their party to look to their duty?”
It was Baker, a Republican senator from Tennessee, who asked the famous question when White House Counsel John Dean appeared before a Senate committee investigating a break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building.
“What did the president know,” Baker asked, “and when did he know it?”
Republicans so far have not followed Baker’s lead. They’ve been more in the mold of Earl Landgrebe, then a Republican congressman from Indiana.
“I will not vote for impeachment,” Landgrebe said at the height of the Watergate scandal. “I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.”
Right up to the last, Landgrebe remained steadfast in his support.
“Don’t confuse me with facts,” he said. “I’ve got a closed mind.”
Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, seems to be taking a similar approach.
“Throughout these bizarre hearings, the Democrats have struggled to make the case that President Trump committed some impeachable offense on his phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky,” Nunes said. “The offense itself changes depending on the day, ranging from a quid pro quo, to extortion, to bribery, to obstruction of justice, then back to quid pro quo.”
In the end, Nunes insisted, it wasn’t the president who got caught. It was the Democrats.
“They got caught breaking their promise that impeachment would only go forward with bipartisan support because of how damaging it is to the American people,” he said. “They got caught running a sham impeachment process featuring secret depositions, hidden transcripts and an unending flood of Democrat leaks .… That is the Democrats' pitiful legacy in recent years: They. Got. Caught.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected his claims.
“If Republicans are in denial about the facts, if the Republicans do not want to honor their oath of office, then I don't think we should be characterized in any way because we are patriotic,” she said.
In wrapping up the latest hearing, Schiff noted the president’s repeated claims that there was no quid pro quo.
"This is the ‘I’m not a crook’ defense,” Schiff said, referring to Nixon’s famous remark in the midst of the Watergate scandal. “You say it, and I guess that’s the end of it.”
Schiff, of course, doesn’t buy that.
“The president believes he is above the law, beyond accountability,” he said. “And in my view, there is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who believes they are above the law.”
In the midst of it all came a warning from Fiona Hill, an American immigrant who was the top Russia expert on the National Security Council before resigning last summer. In her testimony before the committee, Hill criticized folks like Nunes for advancing theories that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
“When we are consumed by partisan rancor,” she said, “we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.”
Will anyone heed her warning? I wouldn’t hold my breath.