Trump Says Schiff “Has Not Paid the Price, Yet.” That’s Even More Terrifying Than You Thought.

Donald Trump

Alex Brandon/AP

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President Donald Trump took his war on Rep. Adam Schiff to new heights Sunday morning, tweeting that the Democrats’ lead impeachment manager had not “paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”

Trump’s tweet drew immediate outrage, with many suggesting it might incite violence against Schiff. “What do you say to somebody who says, ‘President Trump is saying that Adam Schiff needs to pay a price—this is in the midst of Adam Schiff getting death threats,'” asked CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview with GOP Sen. James Lankford (Okla.).

“I just don’t think it’s a death threat,” Lankford responded. “I don’t think he’s encouraging a death threat.”

“People who are supporters of the president have heard his rhetoric and then actually tried to bomb and kill politicians and the media,” Tapper shot back—a reference to Cesar Sayoc, a Trump supporter who last year pleaded guilty to mailing pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN in 2018.

There’s little question that Trump’s past rhetoric has inspired death threats against his enemies. But Lankford is probably correct that the president’s purpose in sending Sunday’s tweet wasn’t to provoke violence. Rather, Trump’s intention was likely to do something that is horrifying in a different way—he was trying to build the case that Schiff should be prosecuted for daring to oppose him.

Look again at that tweet. Trump called Schiff a “CORRUPT POLITICIAN.” He didn’t mean this in a broad, figurative sense—my enemies are part of a corrupt Washington culture. No, he meant this literally. (And seriously.)

For months, Trump has been arguing that Schiff somehow broke the law when, during a congressional hearing, Schiff loosely paraphrased “the essence” of Trump’s words from the infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president. (Republicans claimed that Schiff had intentionally misled viewers by deviating from Trump’s precise wording. Schiff countered that “everyone understood” that he was merely “mocking the president’s conduct.”) At the time, Trump claimed that Schiff “fraudulently and illegally inserted his made up & twisted words into my call.”

In October, Trump tweeted that his attorneys “should sue the Democrats and Shifty Adam Schiff for fraud.” The following month, Trump took the matter further, making clear that he had more than just a civil lawsuit in mind. He tweeted that Schiff—along with the Ukraine whistleblower and the whistleblower’s lawyer—”should be investigared [sic] for fraud!” Investigated by whom? He didn’t say. But as I wrote at the time, Trump has a long history of demanding that the FBI, the DOJ, and even foreign governments open investigations into his political foes—everyone from Hillary Clinton, to Joe Biden, to James Comey.

Which brings us back to today. Trump didn’t just call Schiff “corrupt.” He called him a “conman” who made a “fraudulent statement to Congress.” And Trump once again accused Schiff of “illegally making up my phone call.”

Trump’s accusations are entirely meritless. Even if they weren’t, it’s incredibly unlikely that he’d succeed in suing, let along criminally prosecuting, Schiff—members of Congress enjoy broad legal immunity for what they say in committee hearings. But that doesn’t mean Trump won’t try. And that’s terrifying.

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