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Kevin McCarthy’s Double Standard in Sidelining Adam Schiff

If Schiff’s statements about Trump disqualify him from serving on the Intelligence Committee, so do Mike Turner’s statements about Biden.
February 3, 2023
Kevin McCarthy’s Double Standard in Sidelining Adam Schiff
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

One of the hallmarks of today’s Republican party is its serial hypocrisy. After accusing Hillary Clinton of mishandling classified material, Donald Trump and his aides violated every rule of information security. After blaming Democrats for runaway spending, Republicans in Congress increased the national debt in Trump’s four years by nearly 40 percent.

Kevin McCarthy has found a new way to repeat this cycle: by abusing the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. A week ago, he barred the committee’s former Democratic chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, from continuing to serve on the panel. McCarthy claimed that Schiff had disqualified himself by making unsubstantiated allegations against Trump. In Schiff’s place, McCarthy appointed a new chairman, Republican Rep. Mike Turner.

How has Turner, an Ohioan now in his eleventh term in the House, begun his chairmanship? By making unsubstantiated allegations against President Joe Biden. If McCarthy were serious about his stated reasons for removing Schiff—that it’s about principle, not party—he would now remove Turner as well. But of course, he won’t.

In March 2019, McCarthy, then the House minority leader, said Schiff should be kicked off the intel committee. He cited Schiff’s statements that there was 1) “more than circumstantial evidence” of Trump colluding with Russia, 2) “plenty of evidence of collusion or conspiracy in plain sight,” and 3) “a growing body of evidence of obstruction of justice” in the Russia probe.

“Does Adam Schiff truly believe that he knows something more than Mueller?” McCarthy asked, referring to special counsel Robert Mueller, whose report on the Russia investigation had just been released to the Justice Department. “All Americans should be concerned with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee taking the position of judge and jury and perpetuating false information to the American people.”

Turner joined McCarthy in condemning Schiff. In a CNN interview, Turner said Schiff should leave the committee because he had said “outrageous and inflammatory things” and had “stood in front of the American people and said things that were not true.”

In reality, Schiff’s statements were true—Mueller’s report delivered extensive evidence of collusion and obstruction—and McCarthy’s and Turner’s statements were false. McCarthy claimed that Schiff had lied and that “it’s not me saying it. It’s the Mueller report saying it.” McCarthy described Mueller’s report as “saying no collusion at all.” Turner claimed that in the report, “Mueller was able to say there’s no evidence” of collusion. “He’s actually said he had no evidence with respect to collusion or collaboration or cooperation.”

All of these affirmative declarations attributed to Mueller—about “no collusion” and “no evidence”—were fabrications. When Democrats pointed out that in fact, Mueller had only concluded that the evidence wasn’t sufficient to prove a criminal conspiracy, Turner responded, falsely: “That’s not what Mueller said. He said there was none.”

Six months later, McCarthy, Trump, and other Republicans again accused Schiff of lying. At a House hearing on September 26, 2019, Schiff delivered a damning paraphrase of the July 2019 phone call in which Trump had tried to extort a political favor from Ukraine’s president. Schiff prefaced his description of the call by making it clear that he wasn’t quoting it—“in not so many words, this is the essence of what the president communicates,” he said—but that didn’t stop McCarthy from demanding a formal censure of Schiff on the grounds that, in McCarthy’s words, Schiff “literally made up a false version of a phone call.”

The idea that Schiff was trying to fool anyone about Trump’s words was ludicrous, because the hearing came a day after the White House had released a “readout”—in this case, a rough transcript—of the call. In fact, responding to Schiff during the hearing, Turner pointed out that everyone had seen the transcript. “The American public are smart, and they have the transcript,” Turner observed. ‘They’ve read the conversation. They know when someone’s just making it up.”

Three years later, McCarthy has won the House speakership, and he’s using his power to sideline Schiff. In a press conference on Jan. 12, McCarthy didn’t just accuse Schiff of lying about Russia. He also falsely alleged—apparently with regard to the Ukraine episode—that Schiff had subjected Trump to “an impeachment that he knew was a lie.” On Jan. 24, McCarthy formally expelled Schiff and another Democrat, Eric Swalwell, from the intel committee. To replace Schiff, McCarthy appointed Turner the panel’s new chairman.

“Let me be very clear: This is not anything political,” McCarthy declared, explaining the purge. He accused Schiff of “using a position of the intel chair, lying to the American public, again and again.” McCarthy concluded: “I will put the national security ahead of partisan politics any day. I don’t care if they’re in my party or not. Integrity matters.”

On Sunday, five days after McCarthy made that promise, Turner went on ABC’s This Week and smeared Biden. He asserted that with regard to classified documents, Biden “clearly was taking them repeatedly on the train and back home and, you know, putting them in boxes in his garage.”

The interviewer, Martha Raddatz, asked Turner whether he had evidence to back up that allegation. Turner replied that some classified documents recently found at Biden’s home were from his Senate years, that others were from his time as vice president, and that Biden “famously tells us he was on the train going from Washington, D.C. to his house.”

In short, Turner had no evidence as to how the documents had ended up in Biden’s garage. He was just speculating—with imaginative details such as “clearly,” “repeatedly,” and “putting them in boxes in his garage”—based on the fact that Biden had previously commuted by train. But Turner didn’t draw similar inferences about former Vice President Mike Pence, a frequent flyer who also had classified documents improperly stored at his home.

“Do you think that Mike Pence brought those documents to his home just the same way you’re saying that Biden did?” asked Raddatz. Turner said no, because Pence “has said that he was not involved in the packing of these, that they were transported to his house after he was vice president.”

It’s entirely possible that Biden’s documents ended up in his home the same way Pence’s did: packed up and shipped by aides. According to the New York Times, Biden’s lawyers “suggested that boxes were inadvertently moved from his White House office when it was packed up at the end of his vice presidency.” Another Times report says that while Biden was busy with a “hectic schedule” in January 2017, “papers back in Washington were being sorted and packed.” On Jan. 20, 2017, Biden “headed to Union Station for a train trip back to Delaware. And boxes of documents were shipped to their destinations.” Biden went on the train. The documents didn’t.

It’s also possible that the investigation of Biden’s documents will confirm some of Turner’s allegations. Maybe, in between shirtless car-washing sessions, Biden routinely lugged stacks of top secret files out to his garage and tossed them in bins. I wouldn’t put money on it, but I can’t rule it out.

What’s certain, however, is that Schiff had much better evidence for his statements about Trump, Russia, and Ukraine than Turner does for his statements about Biden’s classified documents. Mueller’s report and the Ukraine investigation largely vindicated Schiff’s allegations.

I wouldn’t expel Turner from the intel committee for his speculative claims about Biden. What Turner said was reckless, but it doesn’t mean he can’t do his job. If we start kicking people off committees for public speculation, no one will be allowed to serve.

But McCarthy has already crossed that line. On Thursday, he repeated that Schiff wouldn’t be allowed to return to the committee, because as its chairman, Schiff had “conveyed to the American public something that was not true.”

McCarthy now has three options. He can restore Schiff to the committee because what Schiff did is no worse than what Turner did. Or he can expel Turner because what Turner did was as bad as what Schiff did. Or McCarthy can stay right where he is, expelling Democrats for speculation but defending Republicans who do the same thing.

We know what McCarthy will do. He’ll rationalize the double standard.

On Wednesday, McCarthy promised that thanks to Schiff’s expulsion from the committee, “Members will be able to work together in intel, instead of being so partisan like it was before.”

Don’t insult our intelligence, Mr. Speaker. You haven’t cleaned out the partisanship. You’ve institutionalized it.

William Saletan

William Saletan is a writer at The Bulwark.