House Dems talking more about impeaching Trump
House Democrats are talking more about impeachment following a new round of allegations against President Trump, but they make clear that the time is not right — at least not yet.
While Democratic leaders say they want to wait for special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report, they will likely come under enormous pressure from the left to move forward with impeachment proceedings at some point in 2019.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the likely incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the allegations from New York prosecutors that Trump directed illegal campaign payments to silence two women an “impeachable offense.” The New York Democrat, however, questioned whether it was worth removing a president from office over just that.
Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), who was recently elected to lead the Democratic policy and messaging arm, said, “Friday’s revelations I think give you a sense that we might ultimately head that way,” though he quickly added, “We just don’t know yet.”
And Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), the vocal vice-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said “the mountain [of evidence] is building” against Trump, but cautioned that Democrats need to wait for the report from Mueller before making any final decisions.
The new batch of court documents from Mueller and New York prosecutors underscore how the legal and political stakes have gotten even higher for the president as Democrats itching to investigate Trump are poised to take over the House next year.
“There’s no doubt that when you have a president … associated with the violation of the law, that you have a new ballgame,” Jackson Lee told The Hill.
“But I think impeachment is a political process,” she added. “That means that the American people as well have to feel that the integrity of the White House has been damaged.”
Democratic leaders have repeatedly sought to tamp down impeachment talk in their animated caucus, especially before the midterms, when there was concern that premature discussions about ousting Trump could energize the president’s base and be seen as partisan overreach.
But impeachment chatter moved front and center once again at the end of last week. Federal prosecutors in New York said Trump directed Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney, to pay off two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump to prevent negative information from surfacing that would hurt his chances in the 2016 election.
The same day, Mueller described Cohen’s cooperation in his sprawling Russia investigation as useful and ongoing. In a separate filing, he accused Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, of lying to investigators about his contacts with Trump administration officials that extended into 2018.
Democratic leaders continued to stand firm on their calls to hold off an impeachment as they returned to the Capitol for the first time since the bombshell filings.
“Our position has been, is now, and I think will be: Until the Mueller investigation is over, it’s premature to discuss what action ought to be taken as a result of it. We want to see what he’s found out,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the newly elected House majority leader, told reporters Tuesday.
But other top Democrats appeared to exercise less caution, echoing Nadler’s assessment that the allegations against Trump, if proven true, constitute an “impeachable offense.”
“Clearly, if the president orchestrated and ordered Michael Cohen to break the law, to act in a criminal manner, and did so knowingly … that would be an impeachable offense, potentially,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a former House member, said on CNN.
“However, there is a difference between something being an impeachable offense and something reaching the threshold where the House should decide to take on that issue,” he added.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who is closely aligned with leadership, said Democrats can’t be obsessed with the idea of removing Trump from the White House. He also said they shouldn’t be afraid of using their newfound oversight powers, if warranted.
“Impeachment is the end of a long process, not the beginning of a process. It should be neither a fetish nor a taboo with us. Nobody should be obsessed with it,” said Raskin. “Impeachment is part of the Constitution and nobody should be afraid of it.”
“But it’s a very heavy constitutional remedy,” he added.
House Democrats said the most explosive and potentially damaging revelation from last week is that Trump was, for the first time, directly implicated in a crime by prosecutors, who allege that the president directed the payments in violation of campaign finance laws to boost his presidential campaign.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) called the allegations “shocking” and the most “serious criminal issue facing a president since Watergate.”
“The president is now under enormous pressure, because as he looks at this, he knows that he’s in great potential legal jeopardy and very serious political jeopardy,” said Deutch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will have the power to start impeachment proceedings.
“It’s much more difficult to wave this off and say there is nothing there,” added Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). “There’s something there. We just need to see exactly what it is.”
Even if Congress does not take any punitive action, some Democrats think Trump could still be in legal peril. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the likely chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Trump may face the “real prospect of jail time” when he leaves the White House.
The response from Democrats comes in stark contrast to members of the GOP, who have largely brushed aside the notion that the president could be in any hot water.
“If Schiff is taking this … to say there is an impeachable offense because of a campaign finance problem, there’s a lot of members in Congress who have to leave for that same [reason],” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Fox News.
The calls for removing Trump from office began even before the president was sworn in. They were lonely at first, but grew louder in subsequent months, particularly following Trump’s equivocal response to the deadly August 2017 white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., and again in January after the president debased Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations as “shithole countries.”
Yet, support for the impeachment push was tepid, as rank-and-file Democrats largely heeded the calls of their party leaders.
While some Democrats appear to now be warming up to the idea, they also point out they will have other tools at their disposal to channel their frustrations with the president. When they seize back the House next month, Democrats will be able to hold hearings, launch investigations and subpoena documents from the Trump administration.
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), the sponsor of impeachment articles accusing the president of inciting racial divisions, has already forced two floor votes on the issue over the past year. The first, last December, was supported by 58 Democrats. Sixty-six Democrats backed the effort in January.
Green said he will decide by next week about whether to launch another impeachment effort over the latest allegations.
“I will make an announcement sometime next week, more than likely, as to whether or not we will have additional articles of impeachment brought before the House,” Green said on the House floor Tuesday.
Mike Lillis and Scott Wong contributed.