Congress

After Mueller testimony, Pelosi, Democratic chairs crack door on impeachment

‘When we go down this path, we want it to be as unifying for our country … the strongest possible case,’ speaker says

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and, from left, House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler conduct a news conference Wednesday after the Mueller hearings. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and three Democratic chairs of committees investigating Donald Trump’s alleged misconduct on Wednesday cracked the door to eventually launching impeachment proceedings against the president, using rhetoric that sounded like that is where their investigations are headed. 

“When we go down this path, we want it to be unifying for our country, not divided. And that’s why we want it to be the strongest possible case,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday evening after former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III testified before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. 

“President Lincoln said public sentiment is everything,” the California Democrat continued. “Well, in order for the public to have the sentiment, the public has to know. So hopefully, we’ll be messengers of the truth to the public. We think today was really a milestone in making that sentiment.”

Pelosi said the two hearings with Mueller demonstrated that obstruction of justice allegations against Trump would be indictable offenses if committed by anyone but a sitting president. She noted that Trump could still be indicted for the offenses after he leaves office, as Mueller stated in his testimony Wednesday.

House Democrats plan to go a step further than Mueller did in his report by digging into Trump’s finances, Pelosi said.

“The Mueller investigation could not get into the president’s personal and business connections. And one of those connections could be to the Russians, and that’s what we want to find out,” she said.

‘Cone of silence’

Pelosi continued to decline to say if Democrats were headed toward launching impeachment proceedings, but the rhetoric she used Wednesday provided more indications than ever before that the House may eventually launch an impeachment inquiry.

“We want to have the strongest possible case to make a decision as to what path we will go down, and that just is not endless in terms of time, or endless in terms of the information that we want,” the speaker said. “But if it comes to a point where the cone of silence and the obstruction of justice and the cover-up in the White House prevents us from getting that information, that will not prevent us from going forward. In fact, it’s even more grounds to go forward.”

Pelosi, however, feels that despite the Trump administration’s efforts to stonewall the congressional investigations, Democrats have been having success in court as they seek to enforce their subpoenas for information and testimony that could shed further light on Trump’s alleged obstruction and perhaps undisclosed connections to Russia. 

“My position has always been [that] whatever decision we made in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand,” Pelosi said of impeachment. “And we still have some outstanding matters in the courts. It’s about the Congress, the Constitution and the courts. And we are fighting the president in the courts.”

Democrats’ next steps in court, which they plan to take this week, will to be seek access to the grand jury information redacted in Mueller’s report and to enforce their subpoena for testimony and documentation from former White House counsel Don McGahn, a key witness in Volume II of Mueller’s report, outlining potential instances of Trump obstructing justice, according to Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who spoke at the press conference with Pelosi.

“We have several considerations about what information is there,” Pelosi said. “And this isn’t endless. This isn’t endless. Understand that. But we have five cases in the courts. We have some that are going forward that Chairman Nadler just mentioned.”

In another sign that Pelosi is softening her stance on impeachment, she pushed back on a reporter who tried to say she has long questioned the wisdom of the House moving forward with impeachment if the Senate won’t convict.

“I have never long said that,” she said. “If we have a case for impeachment, that’s the place we will have to go. The fact that why I’d like it to be a strong case .... based on the facts, the facts and the law. That’s what matters. No politics, not partisanship, just patriotism.”

In one of her more telling comments regarding impeachment, Pelosi said, “The stronger our case is, the worse the Senate will look for letting the president off the hook.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff backed Pelosi up, saying that while the Senate is technically the jury in terms of removing the president from office after a House impeachment, he is more concerned about another jury.

“I’m most concerned about the jury that is the American people. And before we embark on a course as significant to the country as the impeachment of a president, I want to make sure that we can make that case to the jury of the American people,” Schiff said.

Influencing public sentiment is why Democrats wanted Mueller to testify. They felt many people hadn’t read his report and wanted to shed light on its contents. 

“I’m begging, I’m begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on,” House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings said at the presser. “Because if you want to have a democracy intact for your children and your children’s children and generations yet unborn, we have got to guard this moment. This is our watch.”

Watergate, MLK invoked

Pelosi, while acknowledging the importance of public sentiment, seemed to point to the evidence that Democrats are still gathering as to why they are still investigating and not impeaching.

“In Watergate, it was when they got the information in the tapes that broke the case,” she said “It wasn’t just about changing public opinion. That helps, changing public opinion. But it’s not about me. It’s about our caucus. It’s about our country.”

The three chairmen, like Pelosi, used terms that indicated their investigations are heading toward impeachment.

Cummings quoted Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “There comes a point when silence becomes betrayal.”

“And we refuse to betray generations yet unborn and the American people. We’re not going to betray them. … We’re just accumulating information and doing the best we can,” the Maryland Democrat said. 

Nadler said Trump has engaged in “repeated crimes” to cover up his campaign’s willingness to accept the help of a foreign power to influence the 2016 election. 

“This cannot go on,” the New York Democrat said. “It’s up to Congress to safeguard the Constitution. And we will do it.”

Pelosi, Nadler, Schiff and Cummings spoke to the press after a last-minute Democratic Caucus meeting to discuss the same topics. In the meeting, Pelosi reportedly told her caucus members that they should come out for an impeachment inquiry if they felt they needed to.

Asked to confirm that, Pelosi said her members could do whatever they want. 

“They know that,” she said. “That’s never been an issue. People do whatever they do to represent their districts.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.