The public impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump is shining a spotlight as never before on 22 members of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, a panel that typically operates behind closed doors. Here are some of the notable figures among the 13 Democrats and nine Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
CHAIRMAN ADAM SCHIFF
The 59-year-old Los Angeles-area Democrat has become the public face of the impeachment inquiry, with frequent appearances on television. Long a favourite target for Trump and his most ardent supporters because of his criticism of the president, Schiff is a former federal prosecutor and is a political ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The 10-term Democrat’s profile rose sharply during the first two years of Trump’s presidency as a sharp-spoken but seldom-ruffled defender of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. More recently, Trump has taken to Twitter to label Schiff as “corrupt” and “a low-life,” and nicknamed him “Shifty.”
RANKING MEMBER DEVIN NUNES
While chairman of the intelligence committee in 2017, Devin Nunes — now ranking Republican — faced an ethics investigation and recused himself from the panel’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election after a mysterious visit to the White House and a news conference at which he claimed he had documents proving that Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration had surveilled Trump’s campaign. Nunes, 46, has dismissed the impeachment probe as a sham. Transcripts show that he asked few questions at the closed-door depositions that have already taken place and skipped at least one.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has announced that Jim Jordan, the party’s top member on the House Oversight Committee, would join the intelligence panel, presumably to play a major part in the public hearings.
The newest member of the Intelligence Committee has been the most visible House Republican during the impeachment probe. Jordan, 55, speaks to reporters frequently. A former assistant college wrestling coach and past leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Jordan is known for eschewing a suit jacket as he walks the Capitol hallways or interrogates witnesses during committee hearings. Jordan himself has faced controversy, accused by former wrestlers he coached at Ohio State University who said he was told about sexual abuse by a team doctor but failed to intervene to stop it. The doctor committed suicide in 2005. Jordan denies wrongdoing.
The former chairman of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, the 53-year-old Himes is a moderate who was considered a potential intelligence committee chairman before Schiff was selected to lead the panel after Democrats won the House majority last year. As the committee’s No. 2 Democrat, the former Rhodes scholar has become one of the major Democratic faces of the inquiry, making frequent television appearances discussing impeachment.
Trump faces televised impeachment inquiry hearings … so did Nixon and Clinton
As the House Intelligence Committee holds the first televised hearing in its impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, it becomes just the third time in US history than an impeachment inquiry will be televised. Democrats see the hearings as an opportunity to sway public opinion further toward impeachment. But will that actually happen?
A look at the historical precedents — the televised impeachment investigations of President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton — yields mixed messages.
The Senate Watergate hearings
The thing about Watergate that few remember now is that right after it happened, the public didn’t really care all that much. The break-in occurred in June 1972, and despite newspaper stories from some intrepid young reporters named Woodward and Bernstein at The Post, Nixon was overwhelmingly re-elected five months later. Even that winter, when the Watergate burglars went to trial, Nixon enjoyed a Gallup approval rating above 60 per cent.
“The (burglary) trials received some coverage on the daily news, but it certainly wasn’t riveting the nation,” said historian Rick Perlstein, author of “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” in an interview with The Post.
What changed things forever was the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, which began in May 1973, nearly a year after the break-in. They were televised, gavel-to-gavel, for much of the summer. At first, the three major networks at the time — NBC, ABC and CBS — aired it live every day. The hearings soon became must-see TV anyway, often getting higher ratings than scheduled programming.
Mark Lackritz, who was an assistant to the majority’s lawyer Sam Dash, recalled learning from a witness, White House aide Alexander Butterfield, that Nixon had a taping system on a Friday, and putting Butterfield under oath to reveal this to the world that Monday. That bombshell came in July, and by then Nixon’s approval rating had tumbled into the 30s. It also set up the standoff — Nixon’s refusal to hand over the tapes to Special Counsel Archibald Cox — that led to the “Saturday Night Massacre,” when Nixon’s attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned rather than follow the president’s orders to fire Cox.
The Clinton impeachment
The Clinton scandal was very much a television event. Ask any American who was alive in the late 1990s, and they could likely approximate the exact length of the pause between “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and “Miss Lewinsky.” And there was the footage of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky embracing at a campaign event played in an infinite loop on cable news, and the inevitable “I have sinned” speech.
But none of those televised moments came from congressional hearings. The investigation into Clinton’s affair was all done behind closed doors by Special Counsel Kenneth Starr (and frequently leaked to the press.) By the time the House voted for an impeachment inquiry that fall, the public already knew everything there was to know, including some details they probably didn’t want to know at all (the cigar). Hearings were perfunctory at best. There was no new investigation, no new revelations to behold. Even the trial in the Senate in January and February 1999 didn’t yield memorable moments, though it was televised.
The Trump hearings
So what, if anything, can the Nixon and Clinton scandals tell us about the hearings we are about to encounter? “No question there’s a theatrical aspect to congressional hearings,” Watergate witness John Dean said. “So they have to give a good show tomorrow. And the show they’ve got to put on is why the president has done something that is so serious that we should entertain the impeachment proceedings.”
But Thompson isn’t sure stagecraft will matter. “At this point, it falls more toward the side of Clinton than the side of Nixon in terms of unknown outcome,” he said. “Everything we’ve heard so far, it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen in the House, and then it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen in the Senate.” And even if there were Butterfield-sized revelations, it still might not matter, he said.