These days, with news surrounding the White House and its relationship to Russia at a fever pitch, and the number of probes adding up by the day, all eyes are on the man leading the congressional investigation: Rep. Adam Schiff.
The California congressman has been in office since 2001, and has never shied away from cameras. But his role as ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has sent his name recognition skyrocketing.
“I was a pretty visible spokesperson on national security issues,” he tells Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric. “But over the last few weeks, it obviously has reached a completely different level. It has its amusing aspects. My kids have found new reasons to mock their father — which they enjoy endlessly.”
The father of two hails from the Boston suburbs and grew up in a bipartisan home — his mother a Republican and his father a democrat. Schiff says that it was another Massachusetts family, however, that ultimately made him lean left.
“You know, it may have had something to do with growing up in Boston — in, sort of, the shadow of the Kennedy administration. The Kennedy ethic of service in the public interest was in the air. I think you can’t help but breathe it in, growing up in that environment,” he says.
After Stanford University and Harvard Law School, Schiff served as a federal prosecutor in California. In the late 1980s, he prosecuted an FBI agent — Richard Miller — who passed secrets to the Soviets after being lured by a Russian spy named Svetlana. (“They’re always named Svetlana,” he jokes to Couric.)
Miller became the first FBI agent to be indicted for espionage. Schiff tells Couric the lessons from the case feel “full circle” in his dealings today. “I learned a lot in the case about Russian tradecraft — how they do what they do, who they target, how they identify people that would be, you know, likely to be turned, what they’re interested in, what kind of classified information.”
Schiff’s knowledge of Russian dealings might make him the right man at the right time. But he acknowledges that his position of power is fraught with controversy (particularly when he successfully called for his committee co-chair, Devin Nunes, to recuse himself from the Russia investigation) and laments the inability of Congress to move the needle these days.
“It’s Groundhog Day here 365 days a year,” he said. “It’s just going over and over and over. And the real challenge to the country right now is we’ve had a dysfunctional Congress for some time. We now also have a dysfunctional presidency. And we haven’t faced that before. At least one body or the other had been functional and could act as a check on the excesses or impulses or dysfunctionality of the other. We now have both dysfunctional bodies.”
“This is as true a test as of our democracy as we’ve had,“ he added. “I think we’re gonna pass the test — notwithstanding ourselves, in a way — because I have that much faith in our democracy. But it is surely straining the foundation right now.”
Schiff tells Couric that he might seek higher statewide office in California at some point, but repeatedly told her he has no intentions of running for president.
“Absolutely no?” she pressed.
But Schiff remains demure about the notion. “Whenever you’re suddenly in the spotlight, there’s a great risk of it going to your head,” he said. “And I’m doing everything I can to make sure that none of this goes to my head.”