Before answering a question, Rep. Adam Schiff pauses as if mentally reviewing what he can say.
On Capitol Hill over the past month, he has become President Donald Trump's public prosecutor and — soft-spoken, deliberate, a little stiff — he is nearly the president's polar opposite.
In seemingly daily appearances on cable television or before the microphones at news conferences, Schiff eschews the usual Washington hyperbole and snarky sound bites. The slow, relentless precision with which he speaks reflects his six years at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. It also reveals the weight of handling national security secrets for the past two years as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Even when Schiff calls out the president, he manages to do it with the somber admonishment of a dad schooling an unruly child, as if to say he's not mad, just disappointed.
"Cherish the trust and hope that was placed in you by virtue of your office," Schiff, 56, advised Trump in a speech, "by never again advancing claims that you know — or should know — are simply not true."
His suddenly high-profile perch on the House committee looking into possible collusion between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign has given Schiff a national platform that few can match — both for opportunity and peril.
As one of the Democratic elected officials with the most access to intelligence about Russia's efforts to influence the election, Schiff has become his party's most visible spokesperson on the investigation.
"Adam Schiff is the adult in the entire Congress right now on foreign policy and intelligence," said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.
Schiff has offered a steadily more dire description of the evidence. In February, he declared that the intelligence showed "circumstantial evidence of collusion" between Russia and Trump associates and "direct evidence of deception." By late March, that assessment had escalated to "more than circumstantial evidence" of collusion — the sort that would prompt a prosecutor to begin working with a grand jury.
He laid out that case in the committee's first, and so far only, public hearing on Russia. Schiff asked for triple the amount of time normally allowed for opening statements, and for 15 minutes he set forth circumstantial evidence of collusion.
"You almost get goose bumps when you listen to it," said fellow committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a former prosecutor.
Schiff's words, delivered in his careful, measured tones, have made him a hero to many Democrats who hope that the Russia investigation will be Trump's downfall. But if the evidence doesn't back him up, "then going out there and being aggressive is definitely risky," said University of California, Berkeley political science professor Eric Schickler.
It takes nothing away from the seriousness of Schiff's approach — or the subject matter — to note that his position also provides an unexpected, priceless opportunity for a middle-aged, moderate, white male congressman with statewide ambitions to win support from California Democrats who in recent years have increasingly favored more liberal, minority and female candidates.
Already the committee's inquiry has turned Schiff, once little known outside his Burbank-area district, into one of the most visible members of Congress.
A Stanford- and Harvard-educated attorney, Schiff won notice as a federal prosecutor in 1990 for convicting a former FBI agent, Richard W. Miller, of spying for Moscow, a fact particularly notable in light of current events. Six years later, he won election to the California Senate, where he chaired the Judiciary Committee. In 2000, he was elected to Congress, winning what had been a Republican-controlled district in what was, at the time, the most expensive House race on record.
Two years ago, he considered a bid for Sen. Barbara Boxer's seat but decided not to run against the favorite, and eventual winner, Kamala Harris. He is widely expected to try to succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein if she decides to step down in 2018. Like nearly all his colleagues in California's huge congressional delegation, however, he has struggled to stand out in a crowd of 53. Now, he may inadvertently have landed on a springboard to higher office.
The opportunity provided by the Russia hearings could not have been planned. Not only was Trump's victory in the election unforeseen, but intelligence committees are rarely good vehicles for gaining attention; they deal with classified material, often in closed-door hearings, and the backlash can be fierce for appearing to politicize such matters.
Schiff need look no further than across the committee dais for an object lesson: Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has struggled to balance his party loyalties with the panel's mandate and has received criticism, mostly from Democrats, but from some fellow Republicans as well.
Even Republican politicians have had few harsh words for Schiff, although some conservative media sites are having a field day.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently lambasted what he called Schiff's "diatribe" and "mistruths" during a recent hearing.
They represent exceptions, however. More typical is the view of Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., an Intelligence Committee member.
"I know that right now there's the dispute with him and Devin, and I support Devin," King said. "Having said that, I've always gotten along with Adam. I'm not trying to duck it, he's just an easy guy to get along with. I don't think you'll find much antagonism toward Adam."
Nunes has said that he and Schiff don't always agree, but he has not been publicly critical. The men have known each other for decades. They share a love of the Oakland Raiders.
As the investigation continues and frustrations rise, it remains to be seen whether that accord can last.
"Like it or not, I find myself thrust in the role of having to be a sort of guardian against the worst abuses, potentially, of the administration, but as well a voice on national security issues," Schiff said, "because the Republicans are still trying to find their voice."