Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Who Is Adam Schiff?

(The widely publicized, contentious and almost Kafkaesque issue of Donald Trump, his campaign and administration's relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin has made instant celebrities out of  the House Select Committee on Intelligence's chair and ranking member.  The two men, who both represent California districts are, respectively, Committee Chair Devin Nunes and ranking member Adam Schiff (not to be confused with the fictional D.A. played by the late Steven Hill on TV's "Law & Order"). Nunes was  a member of the Trump transition team who has achieved public recognition - or notoriety - for reporting intelligence to the White House (which he may well have received from the White House) and then the press, without first notifying either his ranking member or anyone else on the committee; Schiff for being the voice of reason and political professionalism. Without question, Nunes is the alpha to Schiff's omega: San Luis Obispo State versus Stanford and Harvard Law; career politician versus prosecutor turned member of the House of Representatives.
Personally, I have had the honor of knowing Rep. Schiff and his family for many years.  His parents, Ed and the late Sherrie, were students of mine at Florida Atlantic University.  I presided over Sherrie's unveiling, and have written extensively about their son and his older brother Dan in my book
The Jews of Capitol Hill.  I've even read Adam's and Dan's literary works - which are astoundingly good.

What follows - with a bit of updating - is what I wrote about Rep. Schiff back in 2010.  Adam is a man who should be closely watched, for he has, in my humble opinion, the brains, the understanding and the drive to become a future Secretary of State, Director of the C.I.A., or - dare I say - President of the United States . . ) 
When Adam Schiff entered Stanford University in 1978, he was uncertain if his ultimate goal was to become a doctor or a lawyer. As a result, he wound majoring in both pre-med and political science. Upon graduation, he was accepted into both medical school and law school. Although his parents, Ed and Sherri Schiff urged him to become a doctor, their youngest son chose to attend Harvard Law, from which he received his J. D. in 1985. “All of my doctor friends say I made the right decision, and all my lawyer friends say I messed up,” Schiff once noted. “Now that I’m in politics, everyone says I messed up!” Schiff is likely joking, but being one of the Congressional Minyan’s straightest of straight arrows, who can ever know for sure?

Adam Bennett Schiff, the younger of Edward and Sherrill Ann (Glovsky) Schiff’s two sons, was born in Boston on June 22, 1960. His family had been in New England since the turn of the century. On his mother’s side, the earliest folks came from Eastern Europe, originally settling in Laconia, New Hampshire. On his father’s side, Grandpa Schiff, who was born in London (his father being from Vilna), came to America in 1906 and settled in East Boston, where he became a butcher’s assistant. The Glovsky’s, the future congressman’s mother’s family, owned Sherrill’s Music in Boston. Both families had originally been strictly religious. As a result, by the time Ed and Sherrie came into the world, their families were “somewhat rebellious toward Orthodoxy.” Nonetheless, Ed was educated at a Conservative synagogue, and is proud of the fact that as a bar mitzvah, he was able to read tanach – the Hebrew Bible.

Ed Schiff, served in the United States Army just after the conclusion of World War II, then graduated from the University of Alabama. Ed and Sherrie met when a friend of his brought her to a party; they married in 1956 and settled in Framingham, Massachusetts. Two years later, Daniel Mark, the first of their two sons was born. Two years after that, Adam Bennett came along. Ed and Sherri’s was a “mixed marriage” – he was a Democrat and she a Republican. According to the Washington Post, “Schiff credits that background for his own moderate politics.”

While living in Framingham, Ed Schiff provided for his family as a traveling salesman. When Adam was 10 and brother Dan 12, the family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona where they lived long enough for their elder son to become bar mitzvah. In late 1972, the Schiffs picked up and moved once again – this time to Alamo, California, where Ed had purchased a lumber yard. (Alamo, an unincorporated community in Contra Costa County, is located in the “East Bay” region of San Francisco.) Adam became bar mitzvah in nearby La Fayette in 1973.

As mentioned above, Adam Schiff majored in both pre-med and political science during his four years at Stanford. Upon graduating, he decided to opt for law because, “He thought it would provide a better launching pad for a political career.” Upon graduating from Harvard Law in 1985, Schiff moved back to California, where he spent a year clerking for a federal judge. In 1987 he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, where he spent the next six years making a name for himself as a criminal prosecutor. During his tenure, he achieved a perfect conviction record. In his most notable case, Schiff prosecuted the first FBI agent ever to be indicted for espionage. At one point the U.S. Attorney’s Office sent him to Prague where he helped the Czechs reform their criminal justice system. When Tom Umberg, a colleague in the U.S. Attorney’s office was elected to the California Assembly, he became Schiff’s inspiration for getting into politics. “I wanted to deal with the root causes of the problems I was dealing with as a U.S. attorney,” he later said. Schiff’s years and experience as a federal criminal prosecutor came into play when, as a four-term member of the House, he was named to the House Appropriations Committee, a post which traditionally requires the representative to give up all other committee assignments. Uniquely, Schiff was permitted to remain on the House Judiciary Committee, where he served on subcommittee s dealing with Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. During his nine terms in the House, Schiff has also served on several other prestigious, high profile committees: Appropriations, the House Select Committee on Benghazi and, as of 2009,  the committee for which he has become a daily presence on the news: the House Select Committee on Intelligence.  For the past several years, he has been that committee's ranking member.

In 1993, 8-term California Assemblyman Pat Nolan pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering, and was sentenced to 25 months in federal prison. Nolan (1950- ), who had been elected Assembly Minority Leader in 1984, was one of 14 public officials convicted as part of an FBI sting operation called “Shrimp Scam. As a result of his conviction, Nolan resigned his seat, thus necessitating a special election. (After serving his time, Nolan became active in former Watergate figure Charles Colsen’s “Prison Fellowship Ministries.” He went on to become a Commissioner of the federal government’s National Rape Elimination Commission, described as a “bipartisan panel aimed at curbing rape in prison.” In 2008 Nolan’s friends and partisans urged President George W. Bush to issue him a pardon before leaving office. Nolan was not pardoned.)

Adam Schiff decided to enter the special election for Nolan’s Assembly seat despite the fact that the 43rd District (and its various predecessors) was highly conservative and had rarely sent a Democrat to Sacramento. Schiff and six other candidates ran in that election, which was won by James A. Rogan, a local prosecutor who at age 33 had been appointed by Governor George “Duke” Deukmajian to be judge of the Glendale Municipal Court. Schiff finished with 26% of the vote to Rogan’s 54%. The Los Angeles Times noted that “Rogan’s strong showing surprised most political observers who expected him to finish first but not with a majority of the vote.”

Six months later, Schiff ran against the now-incumbent James Rogan in a rematch. This time, Schiff, raising and spending $300,000 to Rogan’s $468,000, though once again losing, bettered his share of the vote: 53.7%-42.9%. Rogan, who was quickly becoming recognized as a rising star in the state party, was elected Majority Leader of the California State Assembly in his freshman term.

Two years later, Schiff was back at it. This time, he ran for the 21st state Senate seat of Newton R. Russell, who was barred by term limits from seeking reelection. The 21st District, which served the Arroyo Seco region of metropolitan Los Angeles, included many of Los Angeles’ most historic neighborhoods, as well as many of the metro area’s businesses, including many movie studios. Its three primary cities were Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena. Winning the Democratic primary with ease, Adam Schiff faced Republican Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland in the November general election. Boland was not that well known to voters in the 21st District.

Raising more than $3.2 million between them, the race hinged largely on Schiff’s assertion that Boland – who was term limited out of her Assembly seat – had merely moved from the San Fernando Valley to Glendale in order to “continue her efforts on behalf of the Valley – the kind of advoca[cy] the incorporated cities don’t need.” For her part, Boland attempted to paint Schiff as a “tax-and-spent liberal.” The Boland campaign began using a phone bank, making calls to voters in the district attacking Schiff for what his record would be if elected to the Senate. One such call backfired: it came in to the Schiff household. At the time, the candidate’s mother was visiting. As Adam tells the story, "My mother was incredulous that someone could really be doing this. She thought it was me. She said, ‘Adam is this you?'” When the nonplussed caller said no, Mrs. Schiff hit back with, "Well, that's my son you're talking about!" Sherrill Schiff would go on to become her son’s “secret campaign weapon,”   For years she walked precincts, ringing bells and knocking on doors for her son’s campaigns. In 2006, Congressman Schiff told The Hill, “To this day, I’ll be riding in a parade, and I’ll get someone hollering, ‘Hey, I haven’t gotten a call from your mom lately!”

Schiff wound up defeating Boland by the not insignificant margin of 51.8%-44.1%. At age 33, Adam Schiff had become the youngest member of the California state Senate. Schiff served one four-year term in the Senate. In his first two years (1996-1998) he authored “dozens of measures that Governor Pete Wilson signed into law.” These included “landmark school textbook legislation.” He went on to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate Select Committee on Juvenile Justice and the Joint Committee on the Arts. He also passed the first significant patients’ “Bill of Rights” in California.

Meanwhile, James Rogan was serving in Congress, having been narrowly elected in November 1996 to replace the retiring, 12-term Carlos Moorhead. In his first Congressional race, Rogan defeated Democrat Doug Kahn by the not overwhelming margin of 50.2%-43.2%. As a member of the House, Rogan served on the Judiciary Committee, where he became one of 13 House managers in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Meanwhile, State Senator Schiff was paying keen attention to 27th District voters, and their representative. He came to the conclusion that the third time could be a charm; that he could defeat Jim Rogan. After his narrow victory over Doug Kahn in 1996, Rogan managed only a 51%-46% victory against longtime (1988-1995) Screen Actors Guild president Barry A. Gordon. Schiff correctly surmised that Rogan’s relatively close margin of victory was due in large part to his high-profile role in the Clinton impeachment. (Barry Gordon, the candidate Rogan defeated is best known for playing Jason Robard’s sardonic nephew “Nick” in the 1965 film “A Thousand Clowns” and social worker “Charlie Harrison” on the TV series “Fish.”) Looking at the election results, and not wishing to run for a second four-year term to the state Senate, Schiff decided to make Rogan a target. Schiff’s polling showed that a clear majority of voters in the 27th District were in disagreement with the Clinton impeachment.

Up until 1992, the 27th, a relatively affluent district, had consistently voted for Republicans. But it also voted for Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, and was picking up a lot of new Hispanic residents – residents who tended to vote Democratic. This did not bode well for Rogan who, in 1999 was given a rating of “A+” by the Christian Coalition and was an advocate of the teaching of creationism in public schools. On many occasions Rogan had stated that to his way of thinking, “evolutionary theory lacks empirical evidence.”

The 2000 Schiff-Rogan rematch became the most expensive House race in American history: more than $11 million. Entertainment mogul – and Clinton friend – David Geffen vowed to raise a minimum of $1 million to defeat Rogan, which he did. As much as Schiff was banking on the voters’ negative response to Rogan’s role in the Clinton impeachment, the election did have other issues. The candidates disagreed on a whole host of issues from health care, abortion and gun control to taxes, trade and evolution. Rogan depicted Schiff as a tax-and-spend liberal who would “run through the Treasury, spending everything he can.” The “Traditional Values Coalition” printed up flyers proclaiming that Schiff was a “Champion for the homosexual agenda," and accused him of voting for one bill in the state Senate that “requires California public schools to teach children that homosexuality is a normal and positive lifestyle,” and another that “provides money to send children on ‘tolerance’ field trips to homosexual organizations . . . promot[ing] homosexuality at the public expense.”

For his part, Schiff scored Rogan for calling abortion a “Holocaust” for the African-American community and saying that the KKK “couldn’t do a better job on committing genocide on African Americans.” As noted in The Almanac of American Politics, “They also battled for the support of more than 67,000 local Armenians.”
California’s 27th District was the home of America’s largest Armenian population. Rogan had been the lead sponsor of a House resolution commemorating the Armenian genocide from 1915 to 1923 by Ottoman Turks. Despite being promised a floor vote on his resolution shortly before the election, then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert reneged “after phone calls from Clinton and his foreign policy appointees.” For his part, Schiff had cosponsored a state Senate resolution declaring “a day of remembrance of Armenian genocide,” and secured $400,000 in taxpayer money to produce “a documentary about Armenian issues.” Moreover, Schiff learned enough Armenian to be able to deliver a whole speech in the language – one syllable at a time – and to conclude each speech with Կեցցե Հայաստան (pronounced "Getzyeh Hayasthan!") – “Long Live Armenia!” His continued support for legislation recognizing the fact of Armenian genocide became the focus of a 2006 BBC-produced documentary film entitled “Screamers.”

Despite being outspent by nearly $7 million, Schiff nonetheless emerged victorious by the surprisingly large margin of 53%-44%. Adam Schiff was correct: the third time is a charm.

Since entering the House in January 2001, Adam Schiff has been busier than just about anyone in his freshmen class. First, he was elected by his colleagues to be their freshman class president. He joined the moderate Blue Dog Democrats, and co-founded several House groups: “Freshmen for Reform,” meant to build support for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation; and “The Democratic Study Group on National Security.” Schiff co-founded this group in 2003, along with classmate Steve Israel and Georgia Representative David Scott. Its purpose is to explore “. . . the necessary components of a smart national security strategy against evolving threats.” The group holds “regular meetings for the Democratic Caucus” and brings in “renowned speakers on a wide range of national security issues such as terrorism, military transformation, Iraq, homeland security, non-proliferation, Iran, Korea, the United Nations, and missile defense.” In 2006, Schiff co-founded the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press. This “bipartisan, bicameral group” has as its aim “To advance press freedom around the world by creating a forum to combat and condemn media censorship and the persecution of journalists around the world.”

Originally given seats on International Relations (where he was assigned to its subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia) and Judiciary, Schiff, as mentioned above, was moved on to House Appropriations at the beginning of the 110th Congress. Adam Schiff has been regularly and easily reelected 8 times. He is one of those incumbents who can likely keep his seat virtually as long as he chooses. Just how long he will choose to remain in the House is anyone's guess.  With his newfound national visibility as ranking member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, he may find new doors opening to him in the future.

During his years on Capitol Hill, Adam Schiff has been one of the main Democrats trying to “remake the party’s image on national security issues.” At the same time, he has moved steadily from the political center toward the more moderate-to-liberal wing of the Democratic Party. As an example, upon taking his seat in the House in 2001, Schiff was one of but 28 Democrats who voted in favor of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.  Two years later, he voted against the next round of cuts, saying it was “fiscally irresponsible” to enact additional cuts at a time when the nation was at war and “racking up large annual deficits.” He then went on to oppose both the 2004 corporate tax package and the 2005 tax cut extensions. In 2001 he sided with the Bush Administration nearly 40 percent of the time; by 2003 his support for Bush had fallen to 16 percent. He initially voted in favor of the Patriot Act and for the use of force in Iraq, though, as noted in The Almanac of American Politics (2008), “He later criticized intelligence gathering,” and, along with then-Representative (now Senator) Jeff Flake (R-AZ), “filed a bill to revise domestic surveillance procedures.”   In a June 2005 article entitled “Congressman is Gaining a Name in Foreign Affairs,” Los Angeles Times staff writer Johanna Neuman noted that Schiff was “carving out a position as a leader of a centrist Democratic national security bloc.”

Among Schiff’s signature successes have been passage of a bill making “identity theft” a crime; fostering the use of “DNA analysis in criminal investigations and . . . expand[ing] the national DNA database”; and promoting early childhood education. In both 2003 and 2004 he successfully organized opposition to proposed cutbacks in Head Start, saying that the GOP-backed legislation would “close the door of the Head Start program to tens of thousands of deserving children and their families.”

Adam Schiff is married to San Diegan Eve Sanderson. Their first child, Alexa Marion, was born in 1998. When “Adam and Eve” were about to become parents to a son in July 2002, they had what writers for The Almanac of American Politics called their “biblical moment;” namely, what to name him. Helpful well wishers suggested either “Cain” or “Abel.” Instead, they named him Elijah Harris.

In 1986, then-attorney Adam Schiff joined “Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles.” When asked how he would feel about having an African American “little brother,” he said he would be fine. He was then given three applications to look over. He chose 7-year old David McMillan because of an answer he gave to the question asking for “three wishes.” The youngster’s first wish was for a big brother. The second was for a puppy. The third answer – the one that cinched it for Adam Schiff – was for “a beautiful world.” “It was pretty amazing,” Schiff recalled years later; “for a [seven year old] to use one of his wishes for something so intangible.” Adam and David have been together ever since as big brother/little brother. David wound up graduating from both Yale and from film school at University of Southern California. Adam attended his graduation from Yale, and David was one of Adam’s groomsmen when he and Eve married. David went on to become a writer for the television show “Judging Amy.” Schiff, who is on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America sponsored and passed a Congressional resolution recognizing the second century of the organization that brought the two together.   Adam Schiff is a triathlete who also runs marathons.  In 2010, he was the only member of Congress to participate in the inaugural Washington, D.C. Triathlon.  In 2014 became the first Member of Congress to participate in the AIDS/Life Cycle, a seven-day charity bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise awareness and funding to fight HIV and AIDS.
Adam Schiff is a man with a future; he'd better stay in good shape, for he is likely going to continue standing at the epicenter of what is already turning out to be the most chilling and sordid scandal in all American political history.

I bet that by now, President Trump and those closest to him wish that Adam Schiff had chosen to go to medical school . . .

71 days down, 1,389 to go . . .

Copyright© 2010, 2017, Kurt F. Stone