Democrats lash out at Trump's bombshell remarks

Democrats of all stripes lashed out at President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE on Thursday after the president asserted his willingness to accept opposition research on his political foes from foreign governments.

But there was little sign of new momentum for impeachment, and some dismissed the president's latest bombshell remarks as a calculated distraction to be ignored.

“He specializes in that; he's very good at throwing bombs to divert us away from what we're doing,” said Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassDemocrats zero in on Ukraine call as impeachment support grows CBC marks 400th anniversary of slaves' arrival in US Senate could protect girls from sexual exploitation — but will it? MORE (D-Calif.), head of the Congressional Black Caucus and a member of the Judiciary Committee. “So why would we fixate on a comment like that when we know he feels that way?”

Only one Democrat, Rep. Eric Swalwall (D-Calif.), joined the list of lawmakers pushing to impeach the president.

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Others said the latest remarks didn’t change things dramatically.

“To be 100 percent honest with you, for about an hour after I saw that [news], my attitude was: he needs to go — and he needs to go tonight, let's not wait until tomorrow,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “And then after I thought about it, this is just one more arrow in the quiver for impeachment."

“It's just one more thing that we have to justify impeachment — when and if it comes,” he continued.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says Trump sanctions package on Turkey 'falls very short' Graham throws support behind Trump's Turkey sanctions Feehery: Trump may be down, but he's not out yet MORE (D-Calif.) ripped Trump's comments as a “cavalier ... assault on our democracy,” but emphasized that they wouldn’t alter her preferred approach on impeachment.

“Everybody in the country should be totally appalled by what the president said last night,” she said during a press briefing in the Capitol. 

“However what we want to do is have a methodical approach to the path that we are on, and this will be included in that. But not any one issue is going to trigger how we will go do this because it's about investigating, it's about litigating, it's about getting the truth to hold everyone accountable and no one is above the law.”

Those on the front lines of the Democrats' investigations, while bashing Trump's remarks, also said they won't expedite the party’s timeline for considering impeachment. 

“We’ve got to do the hearings like [New York Rep. Jerrold] Nadler is doing and we’ve got to go to the courts as much as we have to,” said Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCracks emerge in White House strategy as witness testifies Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster On The Money: Trump announces limited trade deal with China | Appeals court rules against Trump over financial records | Trump expands authority to sanction Turkey MORE (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “But I think the course that we’re on and the course that Pelosi has set is the appropriate course for this moment.”

Trump launched the firestorm Wednesday night during his interview with ABC, when he expressed an openness to accept dirt on political opponents to get a leg up in his reelection campaign. He also dismissed the idea of going straight to the FBI if he were offered such information, as FBI Director Christopher Wray has said should be protocol.

“I think you might want to listen. There’s nothing wrong with listening,” Trump said in the interview. “It’s not an interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI.”

The issue of foreign interference in U.S. politics was the central thrust of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE's marathon investigation into influence peddling over the past two years, which focused on Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and questions about whether Trump obstructed justice during the course of the probe. 

While the Mueller report highlighted dozens of contacts between Trump's inner circle and Russian operatives, many with connections to the Kremlin, the investigators found those associations did not constitute a criminal conspiracy on the part of Trump's team.

For those Democrats already supporting impeachment, Trump's statement was just more evidence that Democrats should launch that process immediately.

“He's making his own case for us to do the [impeachment] inquiry,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “Those of us who feel the other way [than Pelosi], those numbers are increasing. At some point, it will hit a tipping point.”

Some lawmakers floated the idea that Democrats could pass legislation laying out in no uncertain terms that existing law — which bars candidates from accepting anything of material value from foreign entities — extends to opposition research. 

“We would only seek to clarify; it's the only thing we can do,” said Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyIn testimony, Dems see an ambassador scorned, while GOP defends Trump Ex-Ukraine ambassador arrives to give testimony Tax-return whistleblower in spotlight amid impeachment fight MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. 

But others argued that the existing law already bars “in kind” contributions from foreign powers, which should cover not only financial contributions, but dirt on opposing candidates. 

“Trump's comments were outrageous, and the actions that he described would violate the Federal Election Campaign Act,” said Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuLieu accuses Trump of asking Ukraine to 'manufacture dirt' on Biden Lieu weighs in on impeachment inquiry Lieu calls for change to House rules, saying administration 'brought a machete to a knife fight' MORE (D-Calif.). “It's not just money, they could provide opposition research, polling, all sorts of in-kind contributions. All of that is illegal. So the president was describing an illegal act.”

Those skeptical of the legislative route also note that any new law would likely be dead on arrival in a Senate controlled by Trump's Republican allies. And many Democrats simply don't expect Trump to follow rules even when they're put in place. 

“He's basically saying, ‘I've learned nothing. And why would expect any different behavior from me?’ ” said Bass. “He has already said that he will not abide by the rule of law.”

At least 57 Democrats are on record endorsing the start of impeachment proceedings, and Trump's recent remarks have only “moved the needle” further in that direction, in the words of Quigley. But for now, Pelosi has prevented the slow trickle of impeachment supporters from becoming a wave, as most of the caucus is backing her more cautious investigative approach.  

“He continues to build the case for his own impeachment, either by the voters or by Congress,” said Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonThe 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Hillary Clinton backs impeachment inquiry into Trump Pelosi announces launch of formal impeachment inquiry into Trump MORE (D-Ga.), a member of the Judiciary panel.

Yet asked if he was supporting impeachment, Johnson was terse.

“No,” he said. 

Scott Wong, Morgan Chalfant and Sylvan Lane contributed.