Fact-checking Trump’s shifting narrative on Adam Schiff

(CNN | Oct. 21, 2019) Over the last two years, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, has been a constant target of President Donald Trump’s ire.

Recently, Trump has focused almost entirely on a statement Schiff made to the committee last month in which he gave his own interpretation of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Schiff’s controversial statement included what he said was “the essence” of what the President communicated to Zelensky, rather than the “exact transcribed version of the call.”

Since then, the President’s characterization of Schiff — while always negative — has shifted dramatically, with Trump referring to Schiff’s comments as illegal, criminal or treasonous at least 8 times. He has even threatened to sue Schiff …

Schiff’s immunity

Recently, Trump has renewed his calls for Schiff to be punished, deploying a new tactic. The day of Schiff’s statement to Congress, he shared a clip of it on Twitter. Although the Constitution includes a specific provision that allows members of Congress to speak freely during official meetings, Trump claims Twitter is not protected under the clause and as such Schiff should be prosecuted for fraud.

On October 18, Trump said: “I understand he has immunity, but he doesn’t have immunity when he puts it on his Twitter, which he did.”

Facts First: The constitutional provision that gives Schiff immunity from prosecution over his comments in Congress also gives him immunity over his tweet of a video of those comments, experts say.

Per a Congressional Research Service report, the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause has also been interpreted “to include all ‘legislative acts’ undertaken by Members or their aides.”
Trump is partially right; Were Schiff to have tweeted his rendition of the call or other inaccurate characterizations of the President outside of the context of his congressional duties, it would not be considered a protected legislative act. However, because the tweet was of Schiff’s speech to Congress, Schiff remains immune from prosecution over it.

“Rep. Schiff is protected by the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution from being questioned ‘in any other place,'” said William Banks, a law professor at Syracuse University. “The protection clearly extends to the offending Tweets.”

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