Seizing on the Mueller report they have not read, Republicans have come up with a long series of villains, whom they now feel justified launching aggressive campaigns against. At the top of the list, evidently, is House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
As Politico reported yesterday, the Democratic congressman is confronting "a withering Republican assault."
Schiff was pummeled repeatedly on Fox News and other right-leaning media outlets during the past two days. Trump himself picked up on the anti-Schiff tirade, retweeting a "Fox and Friends" interview in which the California Democrat was excoriated.[House Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy called on Schiff to step down as Intelligence Committee chairman during an interview on Monday.
At the White House, Kellyanne Conway went so far as to call for Schiff's immediate resignation from Congress.
So, what is it, exactly, that the House Intelligence Committee chairman did to deserve this furious public-relations offensive? As Republicans were quick to note, Schiff made a series of statements, claiming he'd seen evidence of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia.
This, in his attackers' minds, has now been discredited, which means Schiff was wrong, which means he no longer has any credibility, which means he shouldn't be the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, which means he may not even deserve to be in Congress at all.
There's just one small problem with the first in this series of dominos.
This need not be complicated: Schiff's claim about having seen evidence of cooperation between Team Trump and our Russian attackers might very well be true. I realize there have been some reports that Mueller found "no evidence" of coordination between the Republican campaign and Moscow, but that's not what Attorney General Bill Barr said.
On the contrary, according to Trump's attorney general, Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges over the "collusion" question. As we discussed yesterday, there's a canyon between "no evidence" of a crime and "not enough evidence to rise to the level of an indictment."
There's a degree of speculation to this because we haven't seen the Mueller report -- neither, of course, have the people going after Schiff -- but there doesn't have to be a contradiction between Schiff's claims and Mueller's findings. Both may have seen the same evidence of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia, even if the special counsel concluded that he couldn't prove a crime in court beyond a reasonable doubt.
Obviously, if Republicans had proof that Schiff made up fictional and provocative claims as part of a political stunt, that would be the basis for a genuine scandal, but there is literally nothing to support such an assertion.
The GOP's hysteria surrounding Schiff is a house of cards with a fake foundation. I doubt even the Republicans peddling these attacks genuinely believe their own talking points.
Postscript: If the right wants to have a larger conversation about House Intelligence Committee chairs who've embarrassed themselves and become national laughingstocks, perhaps Republicans could comment on Schiff's immediate predecessor? I believe his name was Devin Nunes.