Nadler hits gas on impeachment

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.) is hitting the rhetorical gas on Democratic efforts to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE

The Judiciary Committee chairman this week boosted his case that the panel has already launched impeachment proceedings into potential presidential wrongdoing, applying the "formal" label to the process for the first time while amplifying vows to draft impeachment articles if his ongoing probes reveal the type of misconduct to merit them.

The escalation is one of tone, rather than process. In court filings over the past several weeks, Judiciary Committee Democrats have cited the potential for impeachment as the basis for seeking disputed documents and witness testimony from an uncooperative administration, with members variably characterizing the operation as an “impeachment inquiry” or “impeachment investigation.” 

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Nadler's recent comments marked an amped up extension of that strategy — one that required no votes to set it in motion. But his forceful choice of words sent a clear signal that the emboldened chairman and his committee are charging ahead with a process that could lead to impeachment votes later in the year, while beating back liberal criticisms that the panel has been too timid in its investigative approach.

“This is formal impeachment proceedings,” Nadler said Thursday night in an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett. “We are investigating all the evidence, we're gathering the evidence. And we will at the conclusion of this — hopefully by the end of the year — vote to vote articles of impeachment to the House floor. Or we won’t. That’s a decision that we’ll have to make. But that’s exactly the process we’re in right now.”

Democratic lawmakers and aides say Nadler’s comments are no indication that the party’s investigative strategy has somehow changed. 

“We're conducting an impeachment investigation, and we want to hear from all of the witnesses to President Trump's lawlessness,” Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellHickenlooper ends presidential bid Scenes from Iowa State Fair: Surging Warren, Harris draw big crowds Nadler hits gas on impeachment MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Thursday.

But Nadler’s headline-churning remarks have clashed with the carefully constructed message from Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhy President Trump needs to speak out on Hong Kong Anti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders, who have rejected a formal impeachment inquiry as premature. And impeachment advocates have been heartened by Nadler’s heightened rhetoric, which they see as a significant step in the march toward official votes to oust the president. 

“Chairman Nadler and his committee’s recent actions reflect the fact that Democrats are ready to take on this critical battle,” Nathaly Arriola, executive director of Need to Impeach, said Friday. “It is time for Democratic leadership to move forward with a formal impeachment inquiry.”

Thaís Marques, campaign manager of CREDO Action, a liberal activist group, voiced a similar message, characterizing Nadler’s remarks as “a victory for the grass roots.”

“The rest of leadership needs to catch up with Rep. Nadler and over half of the Democratic caucus and publicly support a full impeachment inquiry with a broad scope,” she said Friday in a statement. “With every day that passes, Trump abuses the presidency to enrich himself, obstruct justice and enact hateful policies that target millions of Americans — we can’t wait any longer.” 

Behind closed doors, Nadler has reportedly pressed Pelosi to launch official impeachment proceedings on the Judiciary Committee. But he hasn’t endorsed the idea publicly, sticking with Pelosi’s argument for building a stronger case of presidential wrongdoing — and bringing more of the public on board — before taking such a divisive step. 

Pelosi is fighting to preserve vulnerable seats in battleground districts where the issue could alienate voters at the polls next year. As the House investigations have evolved, however, Judiciary Democrats — with Pelosi’s endorsement — have increasingly invoked impeachment as an underlying justification for securing information. 

Late last month, Judiciary Democrats asked a court to release the grand jury documents underlying former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: 'I'd like to know' if Mueller read his own report MORE’s report on Russia's election interference, citing the committee's aim “to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment.” And in a separate filing this week seeking testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn, the Democrats’ intentions became sharper still. 

“McGahn is the Judiciary Committee’s most important fact witness in its consideration of whether to recommend articles of impeachment and its related investigation of misconduct by the President,” the filing reads.

The strategy reflects the delicate balance being sought by Democrats heading into 2020, at once facing pressure from their progressive base to launch impeachment articles immediately while taking pains not to overstep and put vulnerable incumbents at risk. It also highlights the different roles of Pelosi, the party leader working to protect 235 Democratic seats, and Nadler, who holds the Judiciary gavel in the age of Trump and faces a rare primary challenge from a liberal candidate accusing him of slow-walking efforts to oust the president.

Nadler, in his CNN interview, said Pelosi has been “very cooperative” throughout the investigative process. And a spokesperson for the Judiciary Committee said Nadler’s recent remarks sought only to clarify the chairman’s aim to conduct hearings, issue subpoenas and go to the courts — all for the purpose of determining whether impeachment is warranted.

“As our litigation states, ‘the Judiciary Committee is now determining whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the President.’ That’s also what the Chairman has said publicly, including Thursday night,” the spokesperson said in an email. “He and the Speaker stand together in full support of the litigation and every word in the papers.”

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A Pelosi spokeswoman also said there’s no daylight between the Speaker and the committee leaders when it comes to executive oversight.

“She fully supports what’s included in the recent court complaint that the House needs access to all the relevant facts to consider whether to exercise its full Article I powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity — approval of articles of impeachment,” Ashley Etienne said in an email. 

Still, despite her carefully crafted message, Pelosi also appears to be leaning into the stronger word choice chosen by the committee, which could be part of their court strategy.

By tacking on the word impeachment to their investigation, Democrats hope to convince the courts to expedite their decisions on McGahn and the grand jury material by emphasizing that impeachment is under serious consideration. And if the McGahn lawsuit goes their way, it will open the door for the committee to compel other Trump campaign aides to testify, even if the White House is seeking to block them.

These court battles also dictate the timeline in which Democrats decide whether to move to introduce articles of impeachment against the president, with Nadler suggesting Monday that such a decision could be made by year’s end.

“If we decide to report articles of impeachment, we could get to that in the late fall perhaps — in the latter part of the year,” Nadler said in an appearance on MSNBC. “I think that we will probably get the court decisions by the end of October. We will have hearings in September and October who are witnesses not dependent on the court proceedings and we will do it through the fall."

Still, legal experts say Democrats would have a stronger argument if they formally opened an impeachment inquiry, which would require the full vote of the House. But taking that formal step has been a red line for Pelosi, who has carefully tracked public support of the matter.

Polls indicate a majority of people do not favor such a move.

But Nadler thinks that the committee’s investigative work may be able to change their minds.

“We will hold these hearings. We will get the support of the American people or we won't. I suspect we will,” Nadler said Monday.