Schiff's book explains how Trump's first impeachment altered the political landscape
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Congressman Adam Schiff is out with a new book tomorrow. It is called "Midnight In Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could." In it, he offers an inside account of the first impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. That's the one regarding the now-infamous call with Ukraine's president. Congressman Schiff sat down with NPR's Michel Martin.
ADAM SCHIFF: I had people over the last few years telling me repeatedly, I hope you're writing this down. You better be writing this down. You're at the eye of the storm in a pivotal moment in history. And I would always say the same thing - when do I have time to write any of this down? And then the pandemic hit. And I realized spending a lot of time, as all of America was, at home, if I was ever going to write it down, this was the time. But I, more importantly, wanted to do everything I could to sound the alarm of just what fragile ground our democracy is on but why there's reason for hope that we will get through this.
And I think the most fragile ground is not the risk of another insurrection, although all of us on the January 6 committee believe it's entirely possible the Capitol will be attacked again. I think the way our democracy could come to an end is these efforts around the country to disenfranchise people of color, to strip independent elections officials of their responsibilities and give them over to partisan boards and partisan legislatures. They are preparing insurrection by other means. They are preparing to disenfranchise people and if that fails and they still lose, to be successful in overturning an election. And that's how democracies come to an end.
The reason why people should have hope is - I wanted to write not just about the colleagues that I had admired and respected. And I was, you know, very close to Devin Nunes. We had a good working relationship up until Trump.
MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Yeah, you mentioned that in the book several times. I mean, people who have followed this will remember that, as another member of the Intelligence Committee, that you became very concerned about his relationship with the White House, the fact that he was feeding information to the White House. This is something that became sort of public. And I think it might surprise some people to know that you actually were friends before this.
SCHIFF: We were. We were. We had a rare...
M MARTIN: A shared love of the Oakland Raiders.
SCHIFF: Shared love of the Oakland Raiders, which is...
M MARTIN: No judgment (laughter).
SCHIFF: ...Very rare. So when you find anyone else, you gravitate towards them. But apart from those stories of people that came to do things you could have never expected they would do, there were also great stories of heroism, and I wanted to tell those stories. I wanted to bring the reader into the committee room and give them a sense of what it was like when Marie Yovanovitch walked into that room, who stared down the most powerful man in the world, who was told that she had to get out of Ukraine on the next plane because they could not protect her and the president threatening her in the middle of the hearing - to see her courage, to see the kind of hushed respect the audience had for her - I wanted people to feel that.
M MARTIN: You still feel it.
SCHIFF: I do.
M MARTIN: Even now you still feel it.
SCHIFF: Very much.
M MARTIN: What brings this back for you? It's interesting. What - forgive me, but what brings this back for you so many months, years later?
SCHIFF: Well, it's not just me. I remember during the trial, for example, playing the video of Alexander Vindman talking about, here, right matters, and looking around the Senate chamber and seeing Tim Kaine and his eyes glistening and realizing that he was just as moved as I was, watching this on a video. I had seen it live, obviously. But it was still that powerful to him because it resonated with his experience in life. And seeing these witnesses, so many of whom, like my own family - although in my case, more removed generationally - immigrants who understood from their family history, persecution, to seeing the kind of courage they demonstrated. In the case of Marie Yovanovitch, she was the first through the breach. Had she not had that courage, I don't know whether anybody else would've come forward. And - so yeah, that really affects me.
M MARTIN: Before we let you go, you've served for many years, and you have seen quite a lot. You have been personally vilified. You have been viciously attacked - not just ridiculed, but your personal safety has been threatened repeatedly. You now have to have a measure of security that you didn't have to have before when you first started serving in Congress. I can't imagine that when you first started serving in Congress, this is what you thought it would be like. What keeps you going?
SCHIFF: Well, it has been tough. I remember very much, in the thick of it, being in the kitchen with my wife, and there were tears in her eyes, and I was hugging her, and she was trying to grapple with the fact that millions of millions of people just utterly hated her husband. And we were getting death threats, and there were threats against us and our kids and our family. And we had to even contemplate whether she and the kids should stay in the house or they should go to live with one of our relatives until this was over. That was certainly not what we thought we were signing up to when I ran for Congress.
They've been difficult times, but the way I got through them, if it's any help to anyone else, is one day at a time. I would get up in the morning, and I would say to myself, I just need to get through the day; I just need to get through the day. And at the end of the day, I would say to myself, sometimes with some surprise, I'm still standing. But I also felt a real sense of mission, that the democracy was in peril, that I was - by dint of no merit of my own - in a position where I could do something about it. I had an important role to play, and as long as that was the case, I was determined to play it as well as I possibly could. I do my duty until the danger passed. And what keeps me at it is the danger has not passed.
(SOUNDBITE OF TEEBS' "PRAYERS I")
MARTIN: That was Congressman Adam Schiff talking with the host of Weekend All Things Considered Michel Martin. Schiff's new book, "Midnight In Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could," is out tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF TEEBS' "PRAYERS I")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.