Nadler: You can't impeach president if voters won't support it

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.) said Friday there is justification to begin impeachment proceedings against President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE but added that public support must be behind the move before hearings begin.

“Impeachment is a political act, and you cannot impeach a president if the American people will not support it,” Nadler told WNYC. “The American people right now do not support it because they do not know the story. They don’t know the facts. We have to get the facts out. We have to hold a series of hearings, we have to hold the investigations.”

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Nadler said that he hopes to bring special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE’s report “to life” by having him testify and provide some of his underlying evidence in front of a televised audience. He said such a hearing could help clarify questions about the president’s conduct that were featured in the special counsel’s final report.

“Part of the function of Congress, just the same as the Watergate hearings 40 years ago, [is] to have a dialogue with the American people so people can make informed decisions and know what’s going on,” he said.

“It’s very important that he, to a television audience and to the American people, state it and answer questions about it, even if there is no new information.”

The comments come amid a debate within the Democratic Party over how to deal with the fallout of Mueller’s report, which cleared the president of any conspiracy with Russian election interference in 2016 but declined to make a prosecutorial decision over whether he obstructed subsequent probes. 

Mueller noted 10 “episodes” of possible obstruction but said existing Justice Department guidelines would have prevented him from filing an indictment. His comments during a Wednesday press briefing that he could not exonerate the president only heightened speculation that he had uncovered potential wrongdoing.

“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” he said.

The White House has been battling subpoenas from a slew of House committees in their oversight probes, heightening calls among rank-and-file Democrats for impeachment proceedings to begin.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate Siren song of impeachment lures Democrats toward election doom MORE and her top lieutenants in House leadership have thus far beaten back the calls from reaching a fever pitch, worrying such a move could jeopardize vulnerable House Democrats and consolidate Trump’s base, opting instead to double down on the existing investigations. 

Nadler, who has been exasperated by White House efforts to block his panel from obtaining documents and testimony from current and former officials, did not completely close the door on impeachment, saying proceedings could possibly begin next year if necessary, even as the presidential election is underway.

“There might still be a point to it. That point is to say to future presidents you cannot do this, to vindicate the Constitution and say there’s certain things that can’t be done,” he said. “Even in those circumstances, it might be well worth carrying on impeachment.”

The New York Democrat also expressed frustration with Mueller, saying he could have made a determination if Trump obstructed justice despite the Justice Department regulations.

“I think that he could’ve accused him anyway,” Nadler said, adding, “That is his interpretation of his ethical duty under the Justice Department guidelines.”