Robert Mueller left it to Congress to figure out what to do with his evidence that President Donald Trump may have obstructed justice, but Democratic leaders are putting the brakes on politically charged actions that could lead to an impeachment spectacle.
“Too early,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, whose panel would conduct an impeachment probe.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff agreed. “The evidence would have to be quite overwhelming” to gain bipartisan support for a conviction, he told CNN. “I continue to think that a failed impeachment is not in the national interest.”
Mueller’s report released Thursday identified at least 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice by the president, including discouraging others from cooperating with the Russia probe and dangling possible pardons. Still, top congressional Democrats aren’t taking the bait on an immediate impeachment inquiry. Some dismissed the idea outright. Most depicted months of congressional hearings and fact-finding ahead.
“The report provides a conundrum for Congress by virtually inviting an impeachment probe around the obstruction issue,” tweeted David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have been playing down impeachment talk for months. They believe voters may tire of Trump investigations and that most Senate Republicans wouldn’t vote to convict. Democrats also know an impeachment proceeding could overshadow their proposed legislation on gun control, violence against women, and especially health care, which helped the party take back the House in 2018.
Polls showed that most of the public didn’t support impeaching the president before Mueller’s findings. Now Mueller, in concluding that he was unable to exonerate Trump for obstruction, has thrown the matter into Congress’ hands.
“It must fall to Congress to assess the president’s improper, corrupt and immoral conduct,” the leaders of six House Democratic committees said in a statement. Without mentioning possible impeachment, they said Mueller’s report “outlines efforts to destroy evidence, conceal evidence through encrypted apps, and otherwise interfere with the special counsel’s ability to conduct this investigation.”
The six House panels are conducting a series of investigations into separate allegations of corruption, abuses of presidential power, and possible wrongdoing in Trump’s banking relationships.
Nadler’s panel has called Attorney General William Barr to testify on May 2 about his handling of the Mueller report, and Nadler plans to subpoena the full report and supporting materials. And numerous top Democrats want Mueller to testify to Congress.
Nadler said Friday he plans to issue a subpoena for the complete report within hours.
“We are headed to find out a lot more, to hold proper hearings, to educate ourselves and the American people and we’ll see where the evidence leads,” Nadler said on “CBS This Morning.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, told reporters there: “This report is far from the end of the inquiry this country needs and deserves. It is the beginning of another chapter.” He added, “I’m not suggesting in any way that there should be an impeachment proceeding, but I think there’s a need for oversight to prevent this Russian attack from occurring again.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, gave the strongest statement against impeachment.
“Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point,” Hoyer was quoted by CNN as saying. “There is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment.”
Yet some Democrats want to move against the president now. Representative Al Green of Texas, who forced an unsuccessful House vote on impeachment in the last Congress, said Thursday it’s time for his fellow lawmakers to act.
“I call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America,” Green said in a press conference streamed on Facebook. “This rests solely now on the shoulders of the Congress of the United States of America.”
Many of the Democrats running to replace Trump in 2020 focused their criticism on Barr’s presentation rather than the substance of Mueller’s report. California Senator Kamala Harris, on Twitter, called Barr’s press conference a “stunt, filled with political spin and propaganda.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading many polls although he hasn’t said whether he’s running, dodged a question about the report, saying, “I haven’t had a chance to see it.”
Republicans sought to depict the report as putting a final nail on talk of impeachment.
“They went all-in on a collusion conspiracy that never existed, didn’t get the result they wanted, and now they’re throwing manufactured controversies at the wall to see if anything sticks,” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a top conservative ally of Trump.
Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, contended that Mueller’s report wasn’t asking Congress to conduct an investigation. “The report doesn’t say Congress should investigate obstruction now. It says Congress can make laws about obstruction,” he said in a statement.
The Center for American Progress likened Mueller’s report to Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s “road map” that led to a House impeachment inquiry against President Richard Nixon. In a statement, the group said the new report should be considered “an impeachment referral for obstruction of justice by the president of the United States.”
Judiciary Committee Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland said, “Everybody wants to jump to the end of the story. We’re just at the beginning of it now.”