Midnight in Washington

How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could



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October 12, 2021 | ISBN 9780593508619

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About the Book

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The vital inside account of American democracy in its darkest hour, from the rise of autocracy unleashed by Trump to the January 6 insurrection, and a warning that those forces remain as potent as ever—from the congressman who led the first impeachment of Donald J. Trump

“Engaging and informative . . . a manual for how to probe and question power, how to hold leaders accountable in a time of diminishing responsibility.”—The Washington Post

With a new afterword by the author

In the years leading up to the election of Donald Trump, Congressman Adam Schiff had already been sounding the alarm over the resurgence of autocracy around the world, and the threat this posed to the United States. But as he led the probe into Donald Trump’s Russia and Ukraine-related abuses of presidential power, Schiff came to the terrible conclusion that the principal threat to American democracy now came from within.
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. The congressman 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.
Deepening our understanding of prominent public moments, Schiff reveals the private struggles, the internal conflicts, and the triumphs of courage that came with defending the republic against a lawless president—but also the slow surrender of people that he had worked with and admired to the dangerous immorality of a president engaged in an historic betrayal of his office. 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 antidemocratic forces Trump unleashed continue to define his party, making the future of democracy in America more uncertain than ever.
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Praise for Midnight in Washington

Midnight in Washington is more than just Schiff’s damning recitation of Trumpian offenses against American institutions. It is, overwhelmingly, a rebuke of Republican lawmakers and administration officials for letting it all happen, for failing to stand up to Trump . . . [A]n engaging and informative read . . . Midnight in Washington is a manual for how to probe and question power, how to hold leaders accountable in a time of diminishing responsibility.”The Washington Post

“[Schiff’s] new book, Midnight in Washington, is a stunning look at what the Trump years have done to us as human beings. And Congressman Schiff’s argument about where we go from here is that it is only human agency—the willingness of individual people to be brave and speak truth to power, and bear the consequences of it—that is the only thing that will get us out of what remains an existential danger to us as a democracy. This was a fascinating read, and an exception to the politicians don’t write good books rule.”—Rachel Maddow

“When American democracy faced a near-death experience, Adam Schiff served as an able guardian, protecting our nation from enemies foreign and domestic. 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.”—Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight Action

“Schiff used his confinement to write a memoir which offers a beguiling mix of the personal and political. Midnight in Washington is full of new details about investigations of the president's treason and how the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic caucus decided impeachment was necessary and should convince a few million more that everything he said about Trump was true--and that the country was exceptionally lucky to have him ready and willing to defend the tattered concept of ‘truth.’”The Guardian

“Schiff is one of the first to try to account for the last five, tumultuous years in American politics. As the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a top lieutenant to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Schiff is well positioned to deliver insights on the time of Trump, at least from the perspective of a Democratic insider. Midnight in Washington delivers on that promise. . . . A blistering indictment of Trump and his Republican enablers set alongside a what-I-saw-at-the-revolution account of Schiff’s role investigating Trump’s misdeeds.”The New York Times
“History and truth demand that we not allow Republicans to whitewash the Trump presidency. Having Schiff's well written record will prove indispensible as they try to. One of the achievements of Schiff's book is the way it weaves together the many disparate threads of a complicated tale that unfolded over several years midway through Trumps term.”Los Angeles Times

“I’ve had the privilege of reading Adam Schiff's magnificent book in the past few days. Nothing else out there captures as vividly and brilliantly how close we came to losing our way of life and the peril we still face, but why we need not despair and have every reason for hope.”—Laurence Tribe

“If there is still an American democracy fifty years from now, historians will be very grateful for this highly personal and deeply informed guide to one of its greatest crises. We should be grateful that we can read it now.”—Timothy Snyder, #1 New York Times bestselling author of On Tyranny

“Although he failed to secure the conviction of Donald Trump in the first impeachment trial, Adam Schiff has now vanquished him forever in these pages. This book will stand as the touchstone of truth against any attempts to distort or rewrite this crucial piece of history. Congressman Schiff has restored our faith in the nobility of public service and has shown what one dedicated patriot—courageous, intelligent, and fearless—can still accomplish even in a divided country.”—Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Washington: A Life and Alexander Hamilton

“Adam Schiff has performed a great public service with this engrossing and illuminating new book. By taking us inside the impeachments of the forty-fifth president, Schiff has written an important first draft of history—history that is not remote or retrospective but all too immediate, for the threats to the republic he so deftly describes remain with us. If you care about American democracy, the rule of law, and the future of our imperiled nation, this is essential reading.”—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

“In this thoughtful, absorbing, and revelatory memoir, an important champion and defender of American democracy shows us how he became a national leader and, from his experiences on the inside, how close the Trump regime brought us to losing our system. Please read Adam Schiff’s book carefully and pay close heed to his warnings about the dangers that remain.”—Michael Beschloss, New York Times bestselling author of Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Times
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Midnight in Washington


Why Should I?

The Senate chamber was so much smaller than I remembered. I had tried an impeachment case against a federal judge ten years earlier and hadn’t been on the Senate floor since. In the House, I could see members on the other side of the chamber, but only dimly, their faces indistinct in the distance. Some of the Republican members of the House have been there for years, but sit in the far corner and are not on any of my committees, and if I passed them at the airport, I wouldn’t know them from a stranger. Indeed, I have passed them at the airport and not known who they were until they stopped and introduced themselves. But as I walked onto the Senate floor again after so long, I couldn’t get over how intimate it was—how closely I could observe each of the senators and their expressions, faces so familiar to me even if I had never worked with them, or spoken with them, before.

During the trial, with one glance I could tell how closely they were paying attention, or not paying attention—frowning, thoughtful, drifting off, engaged, moved, angered, or, worse, indifferent. You could see when their eyelids got heavy after lunch or long argumentation, or when their eyes glistened with emotion. We had twenty-four hours, spread out over three days, to make our case for the impeachment of a president, which didn’t seem like much, which wasn’t much, to sum up all of the reasons why Donald J. Trump posed a continuing danger to the Republic. We had spent two of those days making what I thought was a powerful case, my talented colleagues and incredible staff having put together a series of compelling presentations, integrating the testimony of the witnesses, documentary records, constitutional sources, and all of the powerful argumentation we could muster—but before the last argument of the day, one of my staff put his hand on my arm and stopped me.

“They think we’ve proven him guilty. They need to know why he should be removed.”

I didn’t have time to ask my staff who “they” were. We had been getting feedback during the course of the trial, sometimes directly from senators who would walk past us in the small lobby behind the Senate floor, going to and from lunch, or on a break, or who would wander up to our small table on the Senate floor when the day’s presentations were done. But the best sources of information came from Senator Schumer’s staff, passed on to my staff in whispers and handwritten notes. Were these questions coming from Democratic senators, like Joe Manchin from West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, or Doug Jones of Alabama? If so, we were in trouble.

Or was this feedback coming from Republican senators, several of whom had kept their cards close to the vest? If the Republican senators were asking, that meant their minds were still open to conviction, and that was good, even though at this point in the trial they had yet to hear the defense case.

And still, what were “they” really asking? If senators believed that we had proven Trump guilty of withholding hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid from an ally at war in order to coerce
that nation into helping him cheat in the upcoming election, wasn’t that enough? Had the bar become so high with this president that that wasn’t enough? It was like a juror in an extortion case involving the president asking the judge, “Okay, he’s guilty, but do we really need to convict? Can’t he just go on running the country?”

But as I walked to the lectern, I suddenly understood, in a way I hadn’t fully appreciated until that moment, that this was the central question: Why should he be removed? He was the president of their party. He was putting conservative judges on the court. He was lowering their taxes. Why remove him? I had watched during breaks in the trial as the president’s Senate defenders took to the airwaves to proclaim his innocence, and I had believed them—not their claims about the president’s conduct, but that they believed what they were saying, that they believed there had been, to quote the president’s mantra of defense, no quid pro quo. But I could see now that that wasn’t it at all.

I should have known better. For the past three years, Republicans had confided, to me and to many of my Democratic colleagues, their serious misgivings about the president. Some would go on Fox News and bash me, only to urge me privately to keep on with the investigation. And it became clear that many Republicans felt someone needed to do it, someone needed to put a stop to it all, even if they couldn’t, or wouldn’t. And the question wasn’t so much “Why should he be removed?” as “Why should I be the one to remove him? Why should I risk my seat, my position of power and influence, my career and future? Why should I? Why should I?”

There was only half an hour left of our case that day when I pulled my thoughts free of my staff to make those seven short paces from the House managers’ table to the lectern, and I had no idea how I was going to answer that question. I had prepared to go through the record of the president’s call again, the one in which he says “I want you to do us a favor, though”—because I had discovered there was so much more to that transcript, so much more now that we understood the whole scheme, and I had planned to go through it, line by line. It had become a practice of mine, during the hearings in the House, to do a kind of impromptu summary at the end of each proceeding, to try to distill the importance of what we had heard or learned, to try to express simply the significance of something that had struck me as particularly powerful or telling. It didn’t even have to be all that important in its own right, as long as it spoke to something larger, something that shed light on the bigger issue, on what was at stake. But the call record now seemed insignificant, compared to the question: Why should I?

I needed time to think, and so I did go through the call record with the senators, pulling out a line here or there to explain its new significance. Most of the senators were listening politely after a long day, but not all, and their concentration was wandering, and so was mine. I was doing a kind of extreme multitasking, reading and speaking about the call but thinking about the question I needed to answer, and all the other questions that it presumed: What made this man so dangerous? What had he done to the country? How, in three short years, had he been able to so completely remake his own party, get it to abandon its own ideology, get my friends and colleagues to surrender themselves to his obvious immorality? How had he caused us to question ourselves, our values, our commitment to democracy, what the country even stood for? How had he been able to convince so many of our fellow citizens that his views were the truth, and that they should believe him no matter how obvious the lies?

When I was finished going through the call record, when I could delay no longer, I told the senators, “This brings me to the last point I want to make tonight.” At the end of the trial, I said, I believed that we would have proven the president guilty—that is, he had done what he was charged with doing. But it was a slightly different question, I acknowledged, whether he really needed to be removed. Still, I was wondering, even as I was saying the words, how do I answer the question? In the few minutes I have left, what do I say? And all of a sudden, every senator seemed to be watching, alert and keenly interested in the answer. The moment stretched on in silence. “This is why he needs to be removed,” I said at last, and did my best to tell them. . . .

In the year and a half since that day, I have thought a lot about what I might have said differently, or done differently, to persuade the senators of what a danger the now former president posed then, and poses still. Whether there was any course we might have taken, not just in the trial but in the years that preceded it, to prevent what was coming: a violent insurrection against the Capitol, a wave of antidemocratic efforts aimed at the heart of our democracy, and a full-out assault on the truth.

There is now a dangerous vein of autocratic thought running through one of America’s two great parties, and it poses an existential danger to the country. In this we are not alone. All around the world, there is a new competition between autocracy and democracy, and for more than a decade, the autocrats have been on the rise. This trend toward authoritarianism began before Donald Trump and will not have spent its force when he steps off the political stage for good. The experience of the last four years will require constant vigilance on our part so that it does not gain another foothold in the highest office in our land.

About the Author

Adam Schiff
Adam Schiff is the United States Representative for California’s 28th Congressional District. In his role as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Schiff led the first impeachment of Donald J. Trump. Before he served in Congress, he worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles and as a California State Senator. He and his wife, Eve, have two children, Alexa and Elijah. More by Adam Schiff
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