Democratic calls for Donald Trump impeachment grow after Mueller's first public remarks
Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes his first public statements on the Russia investigation. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – Democratic calls for an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump increased Wednesday after special counsel Robert Mueller weighed in for the first time on his two-year investigation of the president and Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Democrats zeroed in on Mueller's comment that charging Trump with obstruction of justice was "not an option" for the special counsel's office because of a Justice Department policy. Several argued that his words meant it was the task of Congress to hold the president accountable by starting an impeachment inquiry.
But party leaders appeared to be staying firm in their quest to investigate the president without focusing on impeaching him, a move they have said would be divisive and could hurt Democrats in future elections.
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Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reiterated that Democrats would remain focused on oversight efforts of the president and his administration.
"The Special Counsel’s report revealed that the President’s campaign welcomed Russian interference in the election, and laid out eleven instances of the President’s obstruction of the investigation," Pelosi said in a statement. "The Congress holds sacred its constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the President accountable for his abuse of power. The Congress will continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy."
Schumer agreed with Pelosi, saying that Mueller's comments made "clear that Congress has a right – we believe an obligation – to continue our constitutionally mandated oversight without interference or stonewalling and follow the facts wherever they may lead."
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But that didn't stop a flurry of calls from Democratic lawmakers across the country who argued Mueller's comments merited the start of impeachment proceedings, including new calls within House leadership.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., announced Wednesday evening that, "I support impeachment," writing on Twitter that "the President has egregiously obstructed justice."
In an interview with "The Scrum," a Boston-based podcast, House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern also said it was time to start proceedings.
"I believe, quite frankly, that the next step is for the House Judiciary to open an inquiry to formally begin considering whether impeachment is warranted. I think we're at that point," the Massachusetts Democrat said.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., also chimed in, arguing that impeachment was necessary in order to "deliver the truth to the American people." He added that while Mueller's comments didn't differ from what he wrote in his lengthy report, "it serves as an urgent reminder that Congress must uphold its constitutional duty to act as a co-equal branch of government and conduct oversight of the Executive Branch."
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Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Penn., who has been cautious on calling for the drastic step, said Mueller's comments made it clear that it was "time to officially start impeachment hearings."
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., agreed, saying, "endorsing such a course is not easy, and I do not do so lightly, but I believe that the President has left Congress no other option but to pursue it."
Republicans, including the president, said Mueller's comments did not reveal anything new but rather, just reiterated what he chronicled in his report that was released last month.
Trump wrote on Twitter that Mueller's comments changed nothing. "There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent," he wrote. "The case is closed!"
Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, which would be tasked with leading impeachment proceedings, said it was time for people to move on.
"Special Counsel Mueller confirmed today what we knew months ago when his report was released: there was no collusion and no obstruction," Collins, R-Ga., said in a statement.
David Cicilline, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who has been vocal in calling for the start of the proceedings, thanked Mueller for his work and added: "Now it is time for Congress to do its job."
"The next step is for the House Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment inquiry to formally begin consideration of whether or not articles of impeachment should be filed," Cicilline said. "The opening of this inquiry will allow the Committee to collect evidence, compel the attendance of witnesses, and decide how to proceed."
But not all Democrats on the committee, which would be tasked with leading impeachment proceedings, were not as quick to jump to impeachment, including Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
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Nadler, while not mentioning impeachment, vowed to continue oversight investigation, saying it's clear that "President Trump is lying about the Special Counsel’s findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel’s report, and is lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion."
"Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump – and we will do so," Nadler said. "No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law."
Mueller, in his first public statement in the two years he spent investigating the president and Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, admitted he had no desire to testify before Congress about the results of the investigation or the findings outlined in his 448-report. When asked at an afternoon news conference whether Mueller would be subpoenaed to testify, Nadler would not say.
"Mr. Mueller told us a lot of what we need to hear today," Nadler said.
Mueller's statement comes as Pelosi has tried to tap down calls within her party to start impeachment proceedings.
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Those calls have only intensified over the weeks since the release of Mueller's report and Trump's defiant attempts to block the House from investigating him. Tensions reached a new level last week after Trump walked out of an infrastructure meeting at the White House with top Democrats, telling Pelosi and Schumer that he wouldn't work with them on shared priorities such as infrastructure and bringing down the cost of prescription drugs unless they abandoned investigations into his presidency.