Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, addressed the Tufts community in a webinar on Nov. 12 as part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series. The event was moderated by Alan Solomont, dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, and co-sponsored by the political science department, JumboVote, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
Solomont first asked about Schiff’s drive toward public service. While working as an assistant U.S. attorney, Schiff had a close friend who ran and won a seat in the state legislature. He said this showed him the impact changing laws can have, instead of just enforcing them as a prosecutor.
“When you’re a prosecutor, generally the crime has already been committed and your responsibility is to put the perpetrator away, you don’t have as much of an opportunity to try to prevent crime from taking place [or] address some of the issues that lead people into that life,” Schiff said. “I was very attracted to what [my friend] was doing in the legislature.”
Schiff then spoke about how he lost his first few races.
“I’ll say this about losing … I did a lot of it when I was starting out,” Schiff said. “I didn’t come with a family name in politics [or] money … I did try to learn from my failures and try to find in the seeds of defeat.”
On the subject of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Solomont inquired about the value of the investigation despite knowing the Senate would not convict him.
“I also believe that the strongest argument for impeachment was also the strongest argument against it,” Schiff said. “And that is, we didn’t impeach the president when he was committing such abuses of power. What would that say to future presidents about their ability to engage in that conduct without repercussion? On the other hand, if we did impeach him and he was acquitted?”
Solomont then asked Schiff about his recent bill, the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which is intended to prevent future executive actions of the sort that led to the House impeachment of President Trump.
The bill would strengthen the independence of the Justice Department and reinforce the emoluments clause and the penalties for violating the Hatch Act, according to Schiff. The bill also includes standards to curb the abuse of pardon power, the statute of limitations and protections for whistleblowers and inspectors general.
Schiff referred to these reforms as “post-Watergate reforms.”
“[Congress] passed any number of protections to avoid the kind of abuses that were experienced during the Nixon administration,” Schiff said. “And those served us really well, they maintain the independence of the Justice Department, they helped curb abuses. They helped rein in unethical, improper or illegal campaign contributions.”
With regard to foreign policy, Schiff shared that China’s rising power, abuses of power by Russia and nuclear regulations for Iran and North Korea may be concerns for the Biden administration.
“I think that the enduring challenge of the foreseeable future will be China,” Schiff said. “They’re formidable in space, at sea, in science, in cyber and as an economic powerhouse. We’re going to need to be completely on our game to compete with that. And we can do that.”
Schiff left listeners with an overarching lesson that he believes should be taken into the next four years.
“Right now, we are doing everything we can to speak out [and] prepare,” Schiff said. “We are litigating to protect the franchise votes cast by millions of Americans. We need people with good faith in the Republican Party to put the country first, until they do, the republic is not safe.”