Kellyanne Conway, Playing Chicken With Adam Schiff?
Kellyanne Conway has promised to represent President Trump at upcoming impeachment hearings, but only if the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is called to testify.
“Is Adam Schiff going to testify? Because he is a fact witness. That would be great,” the senior Trump adviser had told reporters on Monday. And then Conway made an offer: “I’ll tell you what, if Adam Schiff testifies, I’ll show up on behalf of the White House.”
Conway still has time to swerve in this game of political chicken, since the House Judiciary Committee begins hearings on Wednesday. But don’t expect a crash on Capitol Hill as Schiff has already dismissed Republican calls for him to testify as “not serious.”
Regardless of his sentiments, senior administration sources tell RealClearPolitics that the Conway challenge was no stunt.
“I don’t think it is an empty gesture,” one aide said. “I think it is more putting Schiff and other people who have played a role in this dubious process on the spot.” A second source found the prospect tantalizing: “You think he would actually do that? And further admit he’s lied under oath?”
While the White House has declined to send its own lawyers to the hearing, administration officials insist they are the transparent ones in this process. President Trump released a transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in October and hasn’t stopped talking and tweeting in his defense since. Meanwhile, Schiff has been forced to offer an awkward apology. He said in September that his office had “not spoken directly with the whistleblower” in Democrats’ quid pro quo case against the president. Schiff later “expressed regret” for that statement in an October interview with the Daily Beast. Staff for his committee, the New York Times reported, had met with the whistleblower as early as August.
This timeline discrepancy is why the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member wants to put the Intelligence Committee chairman under oath.
“First and foremost, the first person that needs to testify is Adam Schiff. Adam Schiff is the author of this report," Georgia Rep. Doug Collins told Fox News. The report in question was prepared by the Intelligence Committee and will provide the basis for the next round of impeachment hearings in the Judiciary Committee. If Schiff won’t testify about that work product, Collins concluded, “then I really question his veracity.”
Questioning the legitimacy of witnesses and of the entire process has been the GOP’s strategy from day one. And it is working, said Conway, a veteran pollster herself, pointing to poll findings on Monday.
“We see the independents pulling away from the Democratic point of view on impeaching the president,” she said, an assessment reflected by the RealClearPolitics polling average on the issue. While voters support removing Trump from office early by 2.5 percentage points overall, independents narrowly oppose removal 45% to 44.2%.
Those numbers have Republicans hammering freshman House Democrats in swing districts daily. Republican National Committee spokeswoman Liz Harrington called out half a dozen by name in a recent op-ed. These lawmakers won campaigns in Trump-friendly districts by promising centrism and to steer clear of impeachment, she argued, and then they voted to support the inquiry.
This was the Democratic plan from the beginning, Trump allies argue. The president himself says he is the victim of “harassment,” and summarily dismisses impeachment as “a hoax.” The upcoming Judiciary Committee hearings now give Republicans another chance to reprise that message.
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler invited the president to attend or to send along his lawyers to the hearings in a Nov. 26 letter. Trump cited a travel conflict -- he will be in London at a NATO summit on Wednesday, a trip that has been on the books for months -- and the White House passed on the invite, blasting the hearing as unprecedented and unfair.
“What is the process? What will they be discussing? They have constitutional law experts coming in. How is that beneficial?” Conway said. “I don’t even understand what they’re doing.”
This has been the GOP’s gamble: If the electorate concludes that Trump was never given a fair shake during the impeachment inquiry -- or throughout his presidency -- they will vote his way next November. If that argument proves convincing to independents, it would make Conway’s move on Monday part of a winning bet.