Long-time Trump foil Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is out with a new book October 12 called “Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could.” The book is a “vital inside account of American democracy in its darkest hour, and a warning that the forces of autocracy unleashed by Trump remain as potent as ever,” according to the book’s publisher, Penguin Random House.
Vroman’s Bookstore will host Schiff at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, for a discussion on the book at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd. He will be joined in conversation by actor Jason Alexander, known best for his role as George Costanza in the TV show “Seinfeld.”
On Tuesday, House Democrats introduced the Protecting Our Democracy Act, a sweeping package of reforms co-sponsored by Schiff and designed to “strengthen America’s democratic institutions against future presidents, regardless of political party, who seek to abuse the power of their office for corrupt purposes,” according to a press release released by Schiff’s office. The bill, the release states, will “restore the government’s system of checks and balances, strengthen accountability and transparency and protect America’s elections from foreign interference.”
“While Donald Trump is no longer president, the fault lines he exposed in the foundation of our democracy remain — ready for a future unethical president to exploit,” Schiff said. “These weaknesses continue to erode the American people’s trust in our democratic institutions and the norms that are essential to a functioning democracy. As Congress pursues its mission to strengthen and protect our democracy for future generations, these reforms will help ensure that we can keep our cherished republic.”
Schiff led the first impeachment trial against Trump in early 2020 after the House voted to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Dec. 18, 2019, for his political pressure on Ukraine. Trump threatened to withhold congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine—as that country fought a hot war with Russia — until Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced a criminal investigation into the son of Trump’s likely opponent in the upcoming 2020 election, Joe Biden, a classic quid pro quo.
“[Trump] has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again,” Schiff, who served as a federal prosecutor and a California state senator before his election to Congress, told the Senate during the impeachment trial. “He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You can’t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. What are the odds if left in office that he will continue trying to cheat? I will tell you: 100 percent.”
The Republican-led Senate voted to acquit Trump, but Schiff’s words were prescient. Trump went on to lose the 2020 election to Biden but launched a relentless campaign baselessly alleging voter fraud and a rigged election, which continues to this day. Trump exerted enormous pressure on then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification of Biden’s Electoral College votes on Jan. 6 in Congress and send the slates of electors back to several swing states.
At a rally in front of the Ellipse near the White House on the morning of Jan. 6, Trump told his supporters that he hoped Pence was “going to do the right thing. Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”
Constitutional scholars agree that Pence did not have that power. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa wrote in their new book “Peril,” published Sept. 21, that former Republican Vice President and fellow Hoosier Dan Quayle told Pence, “You have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away. I… know what the law is. You listen to the parliamentarian. That’s all you do. You have no power [to change the election].”
At the end of his Jan. 6 speech, Trump said, “Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country. After this, we’re going to walk down — and I’ll be there with you — we’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
His supporters did just that, and when they reached the Capitol Building they overran police with weapons such as bear mace and flag poles, killed one officer, broke into the building carrying Confederate and Trump flags, caused $1.5 million in damage, wandered onto the Senate floor, rifled through senators’ desks, tried to break into the House chamber, erected a noose, and chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”
As Secret Service agents whisked Pence away to safety in the building, rioters came within seconds of intercepting the vice president. Trump never called Pence or asked about his safety during the riot, according to several accounts.
The insurrectionists had interrupted Congress as it was in the process of certifying Biden’s win. It took hours for the National Guard and other reinforcements to get approval to take back the Capitol Building, but once they did, Congress reconvened the same night and certified Biden as the next president of the United States. One week later, the House voted to impeach Trump a second time for incitement of insurrection, making him the only president in history to be impeached twice. The Republican-led Senate again voted to acquit him, though seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to convict him, compared to one Republican during the first impeachment trial.
In “Midnight in Washington,” Schiff argues that the “Trump presidency has so weakened our institutions and compromised the Republican Party that the peril will last for years, requiring unprecedented vigilance against the growing and dangerous appeal of authoritarianism,” according to the publisher. Schiff “chronicles step by step just how our democracy was put at such risk, and traces his own path to meeting the crisis — from serious prosecutor, to congressman with an expertise in national security and a reputation for bipartisanship, to liberal lightning rod, scourge of the right, and archenemy of a president. Schiff takes us inside his team of impeachment managers and their desperate defense of the constitution amid the rise of a distinctly American brand of autocracy.”
Advocates of democracy have praised the book.
“If there is still an American democracy 50 years from now, historians will be very grateful for this highly personal and deeply informed guide to one of its greatest crises,” said Timothy Snyder, the author of “On Tyranny” and a scholar who studies the rise of authoritarianism around the world.
“When American democracy faced a near-death experience, Adam Schiff served as an able guardian, protecting our nation from enemies foreign and domestic,” said Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight Action, which combats voter suppression in Georgia. “Schiff not only provides riveting details in this compelling account, he delivers a much-needed warning about the threats facing America from within and an urgent how-to guide for preserving our nation.”
According to the publisher, “Schiff’s fight for democracy is one of the great dramas of our time, told by the man who became the president’s principal antagonist. It is a story that began with Trump but does not end with him, taking us through the disastrous culmination of the presidency and Schiff’s account of January 6, 2021, and how the anti-democratic forces Trump unleashed continue to define his party, making the future of democracy in America more uncertain than ever.”
Schiff has represented portions of Pasadena in the House of Representatives since 2000, when he unseated Republican incumbent James Rogan in what was then the most expensive House race in history. In a foreshadowing of the politics to come, Rogan did not concede on election night, even after it became clear that Schiff had won and declared victory at the Pasadena Hilton. Rogan served as a House impeachment manager during former President Bill Clinton’s trial.
Tickets for the Vroman’s event on Oct. 16 are $36 and come with a copy of “Midnight in Washington.” Vaccinations and masks are required for all attendees.