Pelosi praises Mueller, but still rejects Trump impeachment

Pelosi praises Mueller, but still rejects Trump impeachment
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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats seek leverage for trial The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left MORE (D-Calif.) claimed victory Wednesday following Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE's appearance before a pair of House committees, saying the former special counsel provided damning testimony implicating President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE in likely criminal activity.

Yet Pelosi rejected calls to launch impeachment proceedings against the president, as a growing number of Democrats are urging, saying the process is premature while Democrats continue to conduct investigations of their own.

"My position has always been [that] whatever decision we make in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday evening.

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"This isn't endless, understand that," she continued. "But we're strengthening our hand to get that information."

Pelosi noted that the Watergate investigation of the 1970s did not compel President Nixon's resignation until those pushing impeachment had built their case — and swung public sentiment in their favor — largely by securing tapes of the president's private conversations.

"It wasn't just about changing public opinion," she said. "If we go down that path, we should go in the strongest possible way."

Pelosi's comments came near the end of a long and historic day on Capitol Hill, during which Mueller testified for more than six hours before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Mueller's report on Russia's election interference, released in April, had detailed clear evidence that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election for the explicit purpose of helping Trump win; that members of Trump's inner circle accepted that foreign help during the campaign; and that the president may have obstructed the investigation in a criminal manner on at least 10 occasions.

Appearing before Congress on Wednesday, Mueller largely refused to stray beyond the contours of those findings. But the themes central to his report were on full display, and Pelosi and Democratic leaders were trumpeting those conclusions long after Mueller had exited the building.

"Today the director outlined in powerful words how Russia intervened massively in our election; how during the course of that intervention they made multiple approaches to the Trump campaign, and far from shunning that foreign involvement in our election, the Trump campaign welcomed it, made full use of it, put it into its communications and messaging strategy, and then lied about it," said Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats seek leverage for trial Pence's office denies Schiff request to declassify call with Ukrainian leader Comey, Schiff to be interviewed by Fox's Chris Wallace MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers Collins accusing Democrats of 'tearing down a world leader' GOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, piled on.

"Anyone else who acted in this way — if they were not the sitting president — would face criminal prosecution, would face indictments," Nadler said. "Only the Office of Legal Counsel's opinion that you cannot indict a sitting president has saved, or is saving, the president from indictment. Because all the elements of these crimes were found with substantial evidence."

Nadler said the Democrats' next step in their oversight strategy will come this week, when they'll go to court seeking requested grand jury material related to Mueller's report, which the administration has refused to provide. Democrats will also ask the court to enforce a subpoena seeking the testimony of Don McGahn, the former White House counsel. Those requests will come Thursday or Friday, Nadler said.

"That's particularly important because the excuses, I won't call them reasons, the excuses that the White House gives for McGahn on testifying — the nonsense about 'absolute immunity,' etc. — are the same excuses for all the other fact witnesses," Nadler said.

"And if we break that, we'll break the logjam."

Going into Wednesday's hearings, many Democrats had high hopes that Mueller's testimony might provide the type of smoking gun to lend new force behind the impeachment effort. Yet even some of the loudest impeachment proponents acknowledged afterwards that no such moment arrived.

"Based on what I saw, my suspicion is that there won't be a significant change," said Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenDemocrats reach cusp of impeachment Feehery: Losing faith in the people and the Constitution Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race MORE (D-Texas), who had forced a floor vote on articles of impeachment just last week.

Trump and his Republican allies, meanwhile, took a victory lap of their own, with the president hammering both Mueller and his investigation, which he blasted as a "hoax."

“This was a very big day for our country. This was a very big day for the Republican Party. And you could say it was a great day for me, but I don’t even like to say that," he said at the White House.

Democrats have a different view. Although frustrated with Mueller's refusal to address topics outside of the report, they see his public appearance — aired live on a number of cable and broadcast networks — as a step forward in their effort to enlighten voters about the substance of his findings.

"It is the crossing of a threshold in terms of the public awareness of what happened and how it conforms to the law — or not," Pelosi said.

Minutes later, she added: "If we have a case for impeachment, that's the place we will have to go."

Jordan Fabian contributed to this report.