Oct 23, 2019

Adam Schiff is Democrats' Ken Starr

Photos: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images; Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is the closest thing to a Ken Starr that exists for President Trump's impeachment inquiry — at least for now — lawmakers and committee staff tell Axios.

The bottom line: In the absence of an independent or special counsel to manage the Ukraine investigation, Schiff has taken on a dual-hat role, as both a key committee chairman and chief investigator.

  • Much like Starr, Schiff is there at the crux of key interviews behind closed doors and efforts to gather evidence that may further the impeachment inquiry.

What they’re saying: Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard and a Trump critic, told me Schiff would have been less likely to play this role — and might have had a harder time justifying it — if not for Attorney General Bill Barr.

  • "If Attorney General Barr had accepted [a CIA lawyer’s attempt to make a] criminal referral and opened a meaningful inquiry, presumably with the appointment of a special counsel, he would’ve been in a position to say that the current congressional inquiry had to be put on hold."
  • Tribe says, in hindsight, Trump may have wished that process had been put in place because it might have pre-empted the congressional inquiry and run out the clock between now and the election.
  • "Now it’s too late. The irony is that, by trying to play the role of Roy Cohn to Donald Trump, William Barr has basically screwed his boss. If Trump had half a brain, he would be, well, pissed."

The backdrop: Starr was named independent counsel during the Clinton administration to investigate a series of scandals involving the First Family. He eventually adapted the investigation to focus on President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky and the president's eventual alleged perjury before a grand jury.

  • He quickly became the face of Republicans' impeachment efforts at the time.
  • Lanny Davis, then one of Clinton's lawyers, described Starr as the villain of Clinton impeachment, and said their team's war room strategy was to attack Starr as such.

What's next: It's unclear exactly how Schiff’s role and modus operandi will change if Democrats move forward with a formal impeachment vote, Democratic leadership aides say.

  • Although Speaker Nancy Pelosi has directed the caucus to keep their investigations narrowly focused on Ukraine, the aides say the findings that other committees have uncovered — such as potential obstruction of justice charges from the House Judiciary Committee's investigation — will likely also be part of the potential articles of impeachment.
  • The aides add that, as of now, there have not been talks as to who would ultimately lead the process of a formal vote, and they have not yet discussed bringing in someone from the outside, though that option remains open.

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to less than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 5,401,701 — Total deaths: 345,060 — Total recoveries — 2,149,407Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 1,643,238 — Total deaths: 97,720 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy