Adam Schiff

“The committee for the last several weeks has operated old school, and that’s a credit to leadership — Adam Schiff’s leadership as well as Devin’s.” Rep. Mike Conaway said. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

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House Intel Republicans offer rare praise for Adam Schiff

An uncharacteristic, perhaps fleeting, sense of comity comes amid a bipartisan request for Mueller files.

President Donald Trump and Republicans have harangued House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, accusing him of lying to the country and demanding his resignation.

But the senior Republican who spearheaded the call for Schiff to step down now says those disagreements are “water under the bridge.”

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GOP Rep. Mike Conaway, the mild-mannered Texan who led the committee’s hotly politicized Russia probe last year, is suddenly praising Schiff for creating a newfound sense of comity on the Intelligence Committee — reflected in the committee’s bipartisan request for all of special counsel Robert Mueller’s files.

“Schiff probably deserves the lion’s share of the credit because he sets the tone as chairman,” said Conaway, adding that California Rep. Devin Nunes, the panel’s top Republican, also deserves credit for the detente.

“Let’s keep looking through the front windshield and not reprise a fight that’s behind us,” Conaway added. “The committee for the last several weeks has operated old school, and that’s a credit to leadership — Adam Schiff’s leadership as well as Devin’s.”

Conaway’s comments come as GOP leaders and top committee Republicans rail against Democrat-led investigations targeting Trump.

Conaway led the call among all committee Republicans for Schiff to resign as chairman, taking the extraordinary step of announcing the GOP push to oust Schiff during a March hearing. The resignations calls followed Attorney General William Barr’s four-page letter stating that Mueller didn’t find evidence that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election.

That finding led to a broad Republican attack on Schiff — a frequent cable TV presence who has highlighted the damaging information that emerged throughout Mueller’s investigation — that Trump himself has parroted for weeks, including Thursday.

“When Schiff goes to the microphone, he’s conning this whole country. And he knows it,” Trump said at a freewheeling news conference at the White House.

Conaway’s praise of Schiff comes as he and Nunes have teamed up to demand that the Justice Department turn over Mueller’s findings — including his closely guarded grand jury evidence that other Republicans have argued Congress has no business obtaining.

Schiff and Nunes fired off two letters in the past six weeks making the document request and bristling at what they described as an inadequate response from Barr. Then, on Wednesday, Schiff issued a subpoena for the records, including the full, unredacted Mueller report and all of its underlying evidence, grand jury materials and counterintelligence information.

But the brief detente might not reflect a broader easing of tensions between the Republican and Democratic sides of the House Intelligence Committee.

Despite Nunes’ support for obtaining such information from the Justice Department, GOP sources said he does not support Schiff’s decision to issue a subpoena. Those sources said Nunes endorsed the initial requests for the sake of consistency; Nunes himself issued subpoenas to the Justice Department when he was chairman of the panel, seeking documents related to the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

The GOP sources added that any sense of camaraderie that’s developed in recent weeks is likely to be short-lived, as the committee inches closer to treacherous political issues connected to Mueller’s probe, including the Democrat-led investigation into Trump’s finances and allegations that he is compromised by foreign actors.

But for now, lawmakers on the panel see reason for optimism.

“I guess what’s changed is just that there’s some concerns that we agree on,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), an Intelligence Committee member, said of the bipartisanship. “There’s 90 percent of the work we’ve done that we agree on. In this area, we do agree.”

The rare bipartisanship in seeking the Mueller documents provided an odd counterpoint as Republicans on other committees joined the Justice Department to oppose Democrats’ efforts to obtain the special counsel’s complete report and evidence.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have argued that Congress has no legal right to view those materials, despite Democrats’ insistence that they be turned over as part of the Judiciary panel’s obstruction of justice investigation into the president.

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has said that Barr is “expressly forbidden from providing grand-jury material outside of the department,” adding that despite limited exceptions to that rule, “Congress is not one of those exceptions.”

Collins indicated Thursday that he still holds that position and says there's "no daylight" between him and Nunes on the matter —despite Nunes' public call for his committee to access that material.

Barr — whom the Judiciary Committee held in contempt of Congress on Wednesday for defying its subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report — has also argued that there is no specific provision that permits the disclosure of grand jury material to Congress.

Schiff, for his part, has said the Intelligence Committee has an “independent case to make” for obtaining the grand jury information, citing statutes and grand jury secrecy exemptions that allow the Intelligence panel to obtain such sensitive information.

“We both recognize there’s a statutory obligation of the intelligence community and the department to provide us any significant counterintelligence or foreign intelligence information,” Schiff said in an interview, adding that he supports Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler’s case for seeking the grand-jury information through a court order. “It’s hard to imagine anything more significant than this.”

Schiff stopped short of agreeing with Conaway’s suggestion that calls for his resignation were “water under the bridge” but agreed that the committee had been able to set aside disagreements of late — including on the demand for Mueller documents.

“On this issue, we’ve had a confluence of interest. How long that will persist, I don’t know. I hope it continues,” he said.

Asked about Conaway’s suggestion the committee had been acting with “old-school” comity, Schiff said the calls for his resignation were driven by the White House and that committee Republicans simply “fell in line.”

“It grieves me when they allow themselves to be used by this president, but I recognize the work of the committee is more important and so it hasn’t interfered with my ability to work with them on the range of issues before the committee,” the Intelligence chairman said.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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