Schiff Under Fire for Citing Alleged White House Threat to Punish Dissenting Senators

January 25, 2020

Senate Republicans on Friday slammed Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) after the House's lead prosecutor repeated reporting that the White House had threatened to put senators' "head[s]" on a "pike" if they did not vote to acquit President Donald Trump.

Schiff's use of the anonymously sourced CBS News report of the threat went over like a "lead balloon" with its intended audience, Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) told Fox News.

"It wasn't just me who reacted that way," he said. "I think every member of the Senate Republican conference, all 53 of us, simultaneously, audibly groaned. We were very upset, and many of the same senators who they were trying to communicate to were really upset by this and didn't take kindly to it ... I don't know why Schiff would want to do that, but he lost big time tonight."

Schiff, widely praised in the media for his presentation of the case for removing Trump, appeared uncomfortable after the remark, quickly adding that he was not sure if the report was true and hoped it was not. Politico reported that some in the chamber said Schiff's claim was "not true," including Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), one of the Republicans that Democrats hope to sway into voting to subpoena more witnesses and documents in Trump's trial.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), another moderate target of persuasion for House Democrats, said Schiff's comment was "where he lost me." Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) said no member had been issued such a threat, and Sen. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) called it a "really dumb moment," according to Politico.

"The whole room was visibly upset on our side," Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.) told the New York Times. "And it's sad, it's insulting and demeaning to everyone to say that we somehow live in fear and that the president has threatened all of us to put our head on the pike."

It was not just Republicans who disapproved. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), one of a few Democrats who could potentially vote to acquit Trump, said Schiff's comment "could have been left out, that's for sure."

White House lawyers on Saturday will make their case that Trump should not be convicted of charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. In only the third impeachment trial in American history, Democrats are calling for Trump's removal from office for what they call an illicit scheme to pressure Ukraine into investigating potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden.