It’s not that Democrats would never try to impeach President Donald Trump. It’s that they just don’t want to talk about it — yet.
Under oath in a New York courtroom last Tuesday, the president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, implicated his old boss in a crime, saying Trump directed him to violate campaign finance laws by paying off two of his mistresses, including adult film actress and director Stormy Daniels, with thousands of dollars in hush money.
But Democratic leaders are leery of the political consequences of playing up the impeachment angle before the November 6 midterm elections, where they need to flip 24 seats to reclaim a majority.
Let special counsel Robert S. Mueller III finish his investigation and issue a report — we’ll decide where to go from there, Democrats are saying.
That doesn’t mean the party is pulling any punches on Trump as news breaks about charges of corruption and guilty verdicts against people in his inner circle on the 2016 campaign.
“These were no inconsequential bookkeeping campaign finance errors,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said of Cohen’s allegations against Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “This was a planned-out solicitation ... well in excess — hundreds of thousands of dollars — of the limit.”
Some former Federal Elections Commission officials have said it is unclear whether Trump’s alleged directives to Cohen actually crossed a legal boundary. Still, they’re a topic of interest for lawmakers.
“It’s serious business,” Schiff added. “I think we’re going to have to look at that evidence in its totality as we learn and we get a report ultimately from Bob Mueller about what the consequences of all that are.”
Democrats have infused their press releases and TV appearances with a new term to describe how they view the environment in which Trump’s camp operates: a “culture of corruption.”
House Judiciary Democrats used the phrase in a letter to Chairman Bob Goodlatte on Friday urging him to hold meetings with Justice Department officials and the committee’s top Democrat, Jerrold Nadler of New York, on the investigation into Cohen.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi deployed it in a statement denouncing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ plan to allow states to use federal grant funds to arm public school teachers.
The House Democrats’ campaign committee has charged that the “culture of corruption” has seeped into the Republican rank-and-file in a press release about ratings shifts toward Democrats last week.
But Democrats are wary of prematurely brandishing the “I” word, even if they’re acting as megaphones for reports that Trump may be tied to criminal activity.
“I don’t think we should be talking about it and embracing it before we’ve seen the full body of evidence,” Schiff, a former prosecutor, said of impeaching the president. “I like to know all the facts before I make a judgment.”
Schiff and Pelosi have indicated that there would need to be a robust case against Trump for Democrats to consider impeachment because they’ll likely need more than a dozen Senate Republicans to vote with Democrats to remove him.
“Given the dearth of people in the GOP who aren’t willing to say anything about this president’s conduct, I think you’re going to need a really powerful case to entertain that kind of a sanction.”
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which would introduce articles of impeachment against the president and his appointments, agrees that Democrats will need “bipartisan” support to take any such action.
As it stands now, the Democrats don’t have enough evidence — just allegations.
“We don’t want to be as reckless with the facts as he is,” Swalwell said on ABC’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “I think having thorough investigations, putting forth an impenetrable case, doing it in a bipartisan way is the proper way to do this.”
“But,” he added, “we’re not there yet.”