Pelosi praises Mueller, but still rejects Trump impeachment

Pelosi praises Mueller, but still rejects Trump impeachment
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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiJohnson eyes Irish border in Brexit negotiations Mueller report fades from political conversation Five key players in Trump's trade battles MORE (D-Calif.) claimed victory Wednesday following Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE's appearance before a pair of House committees, saying the former special counsel provided damning testimony implicating President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems 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 SchiffAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerGOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' House Democrats urge Trump to end deportations of Iraqis after diabetic man's death French officials call for investigation of Epstein 'links with France' 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. GreenDanish prime minister: Trump's idea to buy Greenland 'absurd'  Juan Williams: Democrats finally hit Trump where it hurts We need a climate plan for agriculture 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.