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The (very) odd couple: California's Schiff, Nunes lead nation's most-watched investigation




House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., right, and ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, take a break from a hearing with FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 20, 2017, on allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., right, and ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, take a break from a hearing with FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 20, 2017, on allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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It was more than five hours on the hot seat Monday for FBI director James Comey and the NSA's Mike Rogers.

The two were called to Capitol Hill to testify before members of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible Russian meddling in last year's election.

Committee chair Devin Nunes took the lead. Nunes is a Republican, representing California's 22nd District centered in the San Joaquin Valley. He and L.A. Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, got a big, national spotlight this week.

At first glance, their pairing is an odd one; they share little in terms of background. Their styles at the microphone differ. So who are the men leading the nation's most-watched investigation?

Take Two put that question to Scott Shafer, senior editor for politics and government at KQED.

Highlights

These two have gotten a lot of attention this week. Let's start with Adam Schiff, the Democrat, who represents a big swath of the L.A. area. The New York Times has a profile of him in today's edition.

Here's the opening line:

"As attack dogs go, Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, is more Labradoodle than Doberman, his partisanship disguised by a thick fur of intense preparation, modulated locution, and gentle accusations."

Scott, do you think that's a fair description of Schiff?

Certainly, he's not a Doberman, at least not in terms of his personality. He kind of has a cherubic face, he's got a non-threatening demeanor, but he's easily underestimated, and that's not a bad thing for somebody who is a former prosecutor, which is what he is.

Democrats have very limited power on this committee because they're in the minority, but Schiff is making the most of it. You can see his skills as a former prosecutor. And in the first few minutes of the hearing, he got director Comey to confirm that the FBI's investigating the Trump campaign and its connection to Russian influences. And he said there was no evidence of wiretapping as Trump claimed, and that was what dominated the news all day long, so very effective opening of that hearing by Adam Schiff.

Is that Schiff's way of working in the legislature, too? Does he have that soft-spoken manner, or is it something that is new to these hearings?

It's very much who he his. He's not a bomb-thrower. This is really his national debut. He may be known somewhat in Southern California, but he's certainly not known nationally. Some people rise to the occasion when that happens; some don't. I think he's earned the respect of his Democratic colleagues and I think even his Republican colleagues on that committee.

Congressman Devin Nunes isn't nearly as media-friendly and accessible as Adam Schiff. How did a man with three degrees in agriculture come to head the intelligence committee?

Timing is always a good thing. He ran for Congress in 2002, and he had some luck in terms of who ran against him, and so he got elected. His district is not far down the road from Kevin McCarthy's district, the majority leader now from Bakersfield. Certainly, McCarthy has helped Nunes rise through the ranks.

He's not someone who's unpredictable. He's loyal. He's a team player. And so, John Boehner made him the chair of that committee because — I think — they could trust him. And that has a lot to do with success in Congress and politics in general.

Talk about the way these two work together: Schiff is in the minority, Nunes is the chair. What is that relationship like?

A committee often meets in private. They handle highly classified materials, so I don't know how they relate to each other in those meetings. One thing that they've done that I've been struck by is whenever they have press conferences, in general, they do it together. And that's what gives a patina of partisanship to both of them and helps both of them in their way.

But these guys are different: It's coast versus central valley, liberal versus conservative, city versus rural. Schiff went to Harvard Law; Devin Nunes went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Very, very different, but as often happens with these committees where a lot is at stake, people figure out ways to work together, and that seems to be happening this time as well.

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(Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)