An Open Letter to Rep. Adam Schiff and the Trump-Hating Political Establishment

On February 21st, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Adam Schiff (D-CA) published an editorial in the Washington Post titled “An Open Letter to My Republican Colleagues.” The following is a line-by-line open letter response. Rep. Schiff’s language is in italics.

This is a moment of great peril for our democracy. Our country is deeply divided. Our national discourse has become coarse, indeed, poisonous. Disunity and dysfunction have paralyzed Congress.

This is a moment of great peril for our republic. Our country is deeply divided in the shadow of the first presidential election in which the ruling regime refused and continues to refuse a good faith transfer of power. Our national discourse has become coarse, indeed poisonous because of the unwillingness of our elite to tolerate those who call out their failures or dissent from their worldview. Our otherwise disunified and dysfunctional Congress has channeled its energies towards paralyzing the agenda of an administration that threatens its prerogatives, while protecting his attackers from oversight.

And while our attention is focused inward, the world spins on, new authoritarian regimes are born, old rivals spread their pernicious ideologies, and the space for freedom-loving peoples begins violently to contract. At last week’s Munich Security Conference, the prevailing sentiment among our closest allies is that the United States can no longer be counted on to champion liberal democracy or defend the world order we built.

And while our attention is focused inward, the world spins on, relatively new authoritarian regimes die, old rivals face challenges to the spread of their pernicious ideologies, and where the space for freedom-loving peoples contracts, the primary culprits are illiberal actors from within. At last week’s Munich Security Conference, the prevailing sentiment among our closest allies was that the United States could no longer be counted on to champion progressive bureaucracy or defend a world order inconsistent with and unmoored from the values and principles on which we built it.

For the past two years, we have examined Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its attempts to influence the 2018 midterms. Moscow’s effort to undermine our democracy was spectacularly successful in inflaming racial, ethnic and other divides in our society and turning American against American. 

For the past two years, the intelligence community and law enforcement, along with a pliant political and media establishment, purported to examine Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its attempts to influence the 2018 midterms. There was no evidence Moscow’s cartoonish efforts were at all successful in inflaming racial, ethnic and other divides in our society and turning American against American; such efforts could only be cast as spectacularly successful insofar as a collusion-mongering American political elite cynically ran with the narrative and created such malign consequences itself. Congressman Schiff, you have been among the worst offenders on this count.

But the attack on our democracy had its limits. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not lead us to distrust our own intelligence agencies or the FBI. He could not cause us to view our own free press as an enemy of the people. He could not undermine the independence of the Justice Department or denigrate judges. Only we could do that to ourselves. Although many forces have contributed to the decline in public confidence in our institutions, one force stands out as an accelerant, like gas on a fire. And try as some of us might to avoid invoking the arsonist’s name, we must say it.

The attack on our republic in the name of protecting the institutions had no limit. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not lead us to distrust our own intelligence agencies or the FBI. He could not cause us to view our own free press as an enemy of the people. He could not undermine the independence of the Justice Department or denigrate judges. Only we could do that to ourselves. Although many forces have contributed to the decline in public confidence in our institutions, one force stands out as an accelerant, like gas on a fire. And try as some of us might to avoid invoking the arsonist’s name, we must say it.

I speak, of course, of our president, Donald Trump.

I speak, of course, of our Trump-hating political establishment – the denizens, Republican and Democratic, of the institutions themselves.

The president has just declared a national emergency to subvert the will of Congress and appropriate billions of dollars for a border wall that Congress has explicitly refused to fund. Whether you support the border wall or oppose it, you should be deeply troubled by the president’s intent to obtain it through a plainly unconstitutional abuse of power.

The president has just declared a national emergency to supplement the insufficient funds provided by Congress and lawfully reallocate billions of dollars for a border wall that chicanerous congressmen have explicitly refused to fully fund. Though you now oppose the border wall, you should be deeply troubled that by your own cynical dereliction you forced the president to obtain it through a delegated power, having ardently supported it yourselves for many years.

To my Republican colleagues: When the president attacked the independence of the Justice Department by intervening in a case in which he is implicated, you did not speak out. When he attacked the press as the enemy of the people, you again were silent. When he targeted the judiciary, labeling judges and decisions he didn’t like as illegitimate, we heard not a word. And now he comes for Congress, the first branch of government, seeking to strip it of its greatest power, that of the purse.

To Rep. Schiff and the Trump-hating political establishment: When the unelected leadership of the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation not only attacked the independence of but sought to bring down the president in a bloodless coup, you did not speak out. When the press colluded with the intelligence community and law enforcement officers who had engaged in all manner of police state acts to thwart the will of the American people, you again were silent. When the judiciary abused its power via rubber-stamping of FISA warrants, unjustifiable universal injunctions and unprecedented and meritless rulings, we heard not a word. And now the Congress comes for him, the commander-in-chief and ultimate prosecutor, seeking to strip him of all presidential power.

Many of you have acknowledged your deep misgivings about the president in quiet conversations over the past two years. You have bemoaned his lack of decency, character and integrity. You have deplored his fundamental inability to tell the truth. But for reasons that are all too easy to comprehend, you have chosen to keep your misgivings and your rising alarm private.

Few of you have acknowledged your misgivings about the attempted coup against the president over the past two years. Few of you have bemoaned the plotters’ lack of decency, character and integrity. Few of you have deplored their fundamental inability to tell the truth. For reasons that are all too easy to comprehend, you have chosen to keep any misgivings or modicum of rising alarm private.

That must end. The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.

That must end. The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.

This will require courage. The president is popular among your base, who revel in his vindictive and personal attacks on members of his own party, even giants such as the late Sen. John McCain. Speaking up risks a primary challenge or accusations of disloyalty. But such acts of independence are the most profound demonstrations of loyalty to country.

This will require courage. The Deep State is popular among your base, who revel in its vindictive and personal attacks on the president, even giants such as intelligence chiefs. Speaking up risks all manner of political challenges or accusations of disloyalty to your class. But such acts of independence are the most profound demonstrations of loyalty to country.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may soon conclude his investigation and report. Depending on what is in that report and what we find in our own investigations, our nation may face an even greater challenge. While I am alarmed at what we have already seen and found of the president’s conduct and that of his campaign, I continue to reserve judgment about what consequences should flow from our eventual findings. I ask you to do the same.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may soon conclude his investigation and report. Depending on what is in that report and Congress’s investigations, our nation may face an even greater challenge. On top of the first case of attempted impeachment and removal of a president for which there was no underlying criminal action, there must be a thorough investigation of the investigators. While we are alarmed at what we have already seen and found of the investigators’ conduct and that of their allies in the political class and media, we must continue to reserve judgment about what consequences should flow from our eventual findings. We ask you to do the same.

If we cannot rise to the defense of our democracy now, in the face of a plainly unconstitutional aggrandizement of presidential power, what hope can we have that we will do so with the far greater decisions that could be yet to come?

If we cannot rise to the defense of our republic now, in the face of a plainly unconstitutional aggrandizement of administrative state power, what hope can we have that we will do so with the far greater decisions that could be yet to come?

Although these times pose unprecedented challenges, we have been through worse. The divisions during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were just as grave and far more deadly. The Depression and World War II were far more consequential. And nothing can compare to the searing experience of the Civil War.

Although these times pose unprecedented challenges, we have been through worse. The divisions during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were just as grave and far more deadly. The Depression and World War II were far more consequential. And nothing can compare to the searing experience of the Civil War. Nevertheless, the current crisis is an existential one concerning whether any semblance of constitutional government will remain – whether the separation of powers will have collapsed and the consent of the governed will be forever lost out of hatred towards a president.

If Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, could be hopeful that our bonds of affection would be strained but not broken by a war that pitted brother against brother, surely America can come together once more. But as long as we must endure the present trial, history compels us to speak, and act, our conscience, Republicans and Democrats alike.

If Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, could be hopeful that our bonds of affection would be strained but not broken by a war that pitted brother against brother, surely America can come together once more. But as long as we must endure the present trial, history compels us to speak, and act, our conscience, Republicans and Democrats alike.