Adam Schiff didn’t see any unsteadiness in U.S. Rep. Jason Crow as he watched the Aurora Democrat and Army combat veteran maneuver through the most high-profile period of his political life.
To Schiff, Crow appeared almost comfortable in his role as an impeachment manager in the Senate trial of President Donald Trump, trying to make the case to the Senate — and the American people — that the leader of the free world should be removed from office.
“I think that people who have seen combat have a comfort in their own skin doing anything, in taking anything on,” said Schiff, a California Democrat, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the lead impeachment manager. “You wouldn’t know that he hadn’t been doing this all his life. He didn’t really seem to show any of the strain of it or any of the nervousness you might expect.”
In reality, Crow said, he was definitely feeling the pressure. “It was pretty intense,” he said.
It’s just that stressful situations almost make him feel more comfortable. When he was on his second tour in Afghanistan, for instance, serving as an Army Ranger on the Pakistan border, he would study for his law-school admissions tests in a bunker with mortars and rockets raining down around him.
Crow gave The Colorado Sun a behind-the-scenes look at his experience during the historic impeachment trial, which ended Wednesday in Trump’s acquittal mostly along party lines. Democrats alleged that the president abused his power by withholding military aid to Ukraine until that nation’s president announced an investigation into Trump’s political rivals, namely former Vice President Joe Biden.
The trial wasn’t quite like combat, he says, but the lessons he learned during war — stay calm, stay focused, finish the mission — definitely applied.
For the three weeks Crow served as one of House Democrats’ seven impeachment managers, he used routine to stay on task. “Whenever I’m in a situation where there’s a lot that I can’t control and there’s a lot of uncertainty, I make sure I kind of keep certain things constant as much as I can,” he said.
That meant daily workouts, a morning breakfast burrito and chicken Caesar salad for lunch, and, perhaps most importantly, “Jason’s chillin’ playlist” to help him get through hours of trial prep.
Crow readied himself for the trial to a soundtrack that included the Doobie Brothers, Journey, Foreigner and Billy Joel. “‘Keeping the Faith’ is one of my favorite songs,” he said of the Joel classic.
The seven Democratic managers
Crow; Schiff; House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler, New York; House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, New York; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California; Rep. Val Demings, Florida; and Rep. Sylvia Garcia, Texas.
“I honestly had to give it thought”
Crow says becoming an impeachment manager wasn’t always a sure thing. He wasn’t among the first House Democrats to back an impeachment inquiry into Trump and, until now, hasn’t been among the most prominent or vocal members of his caucus.
He was surprised when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked him to take on the role. Crow hadn’t lobbied to be a manager and wasn’t a member of the House Intelligence or Judiciary committees, which handled the start of Trump’s impeachment.
He was also the youngest member of the manager team at 40 years old.
“I honestly had to give it thought and had to make sure that this was the right thing to do for my family,” Crow said, explaining that he was worried about the spotlight being a manager would put on his two young children and what being away from them for several weeks would mean.
Crow, for instance, was required by Capitol Police to have security while at the nation’s Capitol.
Though Crow says politics weren’t part of his calculation in taking the role, he has taken heat from his prime Republican opponent in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, Steve House, for being an impeachment manager. The Colorado GOP also organized rallies outside of Crow’s district office.
Schiff said Crow was a fairly easy choice. “Jason’s name came up early,” he said. “… The speaker was looking to create a team of managers that was reflective of the country, that reflected the diversity of the country geographically and ethnically and politically, in terms of experience in the Congress.”
Crow’s legal experience also made him an attractive pick.
Within an hour of accepting the offer, Crow was in the “bunker,” a House Intelligence Committee room filled with impeachment briefing books and reports, trying to get up to speed with the case. He was asking staff for as much material as he could carry.
“He had a job to do that none of the rest of us did,” Schiff said. “He had to completely come up to speed on the facts, without the benefit of hearing them and studying them in committee. And so from the moment he was informed by the speaker that he was going to be part of the team, he started doing his homework.”
Crow is a Bronze Star recipient who served three tours. During the trial, he helped Democrats from a military angle, using his experience to talk about what it means to be a soldier in need and to envision how withholding aid from Ukraine might have been felt by people on the ground.
At one point in the trial, Crow talked about collecting scrap metal to help protect himself and other comrades in Iraq when they didn’t have enough armor for their vehicles.
“It resonated in a way that nobody else could make that argument,” Schiff said.
A college study hall feel
Crow likened the prep sessions to a college study hall, with all of the managers sitting around a table in a small room going over the case.
There were flashcards and breaks to FaceTime with the family. There wasn’t much sleep.
He also found some similarities between the impeachment trial preparation and getting ready for a big case as an attorney. “There are some ways it was like getting back on the bike,” he said.
Things like going over witness testimony and depositions, timelines and important personalities.
But there were also significant differences, like the new information that surfaced during the impeachment trial from Freedom of Information Act requests. “The jurors, in this case, are also the judges,” he said.
The Unaffiliated is our twice-weekly newsletter on Colorado politics and policy.
Each edition is filled with exclusive news, analysis and other behind-the-scenes information you won’t find anywhere else. Subscribe today to see what all the buzz is about.
Heading into the impeachment trial, it had been several years since Crow had actually argued a case before a judge. “It’s probably been at least three years, if not four, since I’ve argued a motion.”
But one little-known experience gave him a boost: He participated in more than a dozen criminal jury trials as a special prosecutor for the city of Denver while he was working at the private law firm Holland & Hart.
While he normally handled white-collar cases, the special-prosecutor’s assignments allowed him to work on cases like theft and assault, broadening his legal base.
Would he change anything?
During the impeachment trial, Crow was mostly confined to the Senate chambers and Washington, D.C. But last weekend he was able to travel home for a 24-hour visit with his wife and kids.
Since he’d been gone for a few weeks, his son’s fish tank, which Crow normally cleans, was filled with algae. As he was cleaning it out and thinking about his closing speech, Crow noticed a poster on his son’s bedroom wall with a quote on it from the “Harry Potter” book series.
“It is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities,” the quote from Professor Albus Dumbledore read.
He used that line to urge Republicans on Monday to convict Trump. While a handful of GOP senators said that Democrats were successful in proving their case, the managers only persuaded one Republican — Utah U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney — to break ranks.
Crow says he wouldn’t change how he or the other Democratic impeachment managers handled the case. “I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” he said. “I thought we brought a great case, even by the Republican senators’ own admission. We proved the facts, and I think that’s important.”
(Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner on Wednesday voted to acquit the president in part, he says, because he felt Democratic impeachment managers did not prove the case.)
And despite the outcome, he said, “I did think it moved the needle.”
Crow said someone called his office recently after seeing him on TV and said he was looking thin after the drain of the trial. “Lucky me, I guess,” he joked. But he’s not planning on taking any breaks now that the trial is done.
He went right back to casting House votes on Wednesday evening not long after the trial came to an end.
Updated on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020: This story has been updated to correct that Adam Schiff if chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.