Some photographs were taken of Adam Schiff with Glenn Simpson at a security conference in Aspen last July:
THE HILL – They show Schiff meeting at the event with Fusion GPS Founder Glenn Simpson, one of the key and most controversial figures in the Russia collusion scandal. Both men insisted to me through spokesmen that they met only briefly last July.
At the time of the encounter, Simpson was an important witness in the House Intelligence Committee probe who had given sworn testimony about alleged, but still unproven, collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
By the time of the meeting, the House Intelligence Committee had already received evidence from a senior Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr, that called into question Simpson’s testimony to lawmakers.
Specifically, Simpson claimed he had not begun meeting with Ohr until after Thanksgiving 2016, well after the FBI had begun investigating Trump-Russia collusion and after the presidential election in which Simpson’s client, Clinton, lost to Trump.
But Ohr provided compelling evidence, including calendar notations, testimony and handwritten notes, showing that Simpson met with him in August 2016, well before the election and during a time when Steele was helping the FBI start an investigation into Trump.
Both Schiff and Simpson were asked about this:
When confronted with the Aspen conference photos of Schiff, in sport coat and open-neck dress shirt, and Simpson, wearing casual attire, representatives for both men tried to minimize their discussion, insisting nothing substantive about the Russia case was discussed.
“In the summer of 2018, Mr. Simpson attended a media-sponsored social event where he exchanged small talk with Rep. Schiff and many other people who were in attendance,” Fusion GPS said in a statement to me. “The conversation between the two was brief and did not cover anything substantive. There has been no subsequent contact between Mr. Simpson and Rep. Schiff.”
The congressman’s response was even more vague: “The chairman did not have any pre-planned meeting with Glenn Simpson, and any conversation with him at the Aspen conference would have been brief and social in nature,” Schiff spokesman Patrick Boland said.
Here’s the problem:
There is nothing illegal or technically improper about a congressman meeting, intentionally or unintentionally, with a witness in an investigation. At least not under the law or the House Intelligence Committee’s rules.
But Schiff created a far higher standard two years ago when he demanded that his Republican counterpart on the committee, then-Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), be investigated for having meetings with national security council officials at the Trump White House without telling the committee. Schiff’s attacks led Nunes to temporarily recuse himself from the Russia probe.
Schiff assailed Nunes’s contacts with a source outside the committee confines as “a dead-of-night excursion” and said it called into question the impartiality of the inquiry because the committee wasn’t informed.
“I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the president’s campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the chairman,” Schiff said at the time.
Schiff apparently didn’t disclose his meeting with Simpson to the committee:
So how did Schiff meet his own standards? Boland declined to say if his boss told the committee about his Simpson contact.
But both GOP and Democratic officials on the committee, including some lawmakers, said there is no evidence that Schiff disclosed his contact with Simpson to committee members.
“I don’t know if they’re under any obligation to disclose it but, certainly if we were conspiracy theorists the way that my Democrat colleagues appear to be, we could weave an awful tale into that and weave all kinds of nonsense about it,” Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican who took over the Russia probe when Nunes recused himself, told Hill.TV.
“Had the tables been turned and I had been seen at a circumstance like that, my guess is [Schiff] would have demanded I had a full conversation as to what I did,” he added.
The big takeaway here isn’t whether or not Schiff did anything wrong, but that he isn’t living up to the same rules that he has forced on Nunes, which led to Nunes recusing himself.
Did Schiff do anything wrong or unethical meeting with a very shady character like Glenn Simpson? Probably, because he’s a nasty politician and a liar and he’ll do anything he can to see Trump impeached or defeated in 2020. But we won’t really know that until it’s disclosed and, perhaps, investigated.
But should the GOP call on Schiff to recuse himself from what’s left of their Russia investigation? Oh absolutely.