Top House Democrat walks back remarks contradicting Judiciary on impeachment inquiry

Top House Democrat walks back remarks contradicting Judiciary on impeachment inquiry
© Greg Nash
House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats headed for a subpoena showdown with White House Election security funds caught in crosshairs of spending debate New storm rises over Kavanaugh MORE (D-Md.) on Wednesday walked back comments contradicting Judiciary Committee Democrats' assertion that they are in the midst of an impeachment inquiry, stating that he supports the panel's investigative efforts.
 
When initially asked during a press conference in the Capitol if he believed an impeachment inquiry is underway, Hoyer replied, "No."
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"Because I think the delineation ought to be whether or not they're considering a resolution of impeachment," Hoyer said.

Hoyer said he characterized the House Judiciary Committee's investigations into President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE as such because they are not actively considering a resolution to impeach.

"I do not think the nature of what is going on has changed. It may accelerate depending on what information they find," Hoyer said.

But shortly after the press conference, Hoyer issued a statement saying that he thought the question was about whether the full House is actively considering articles of impeachment.

"I strongly support Chairman Nadler and the Judiciary Committee Democrats as they proceed with their investigation ‘to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment to the full House,’ as the resolution states. It is critical that Congress have access to all of the relevant facts, and we will follow those facts wherever they lead, including impeachment," Hoyer said.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee, including its chairman, Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerGraham promises Kavanaugh will not be impeached over 'scurrilous' allegations Judiciary Committee chairman Nadler dismisses Kavanaugh impeachment calls Nadler: Trump impeachment needed 'to vindicate the Constitution' MORE (D-N.Y.), have framed their investigations to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment as an impeachment inquiry, the first step in the process.

"We have been involved since June or July in an investigation looking toward the possibility of voting on articles of impeachment," Nadler told reporters on Monday evening. "You can call it an impeachment inquiry. You can call it an investigation. It's the same thing."

Nadler also said in a CNN interview last month that "this is formal impeachment proceedings."

In addition, House Democrats cited the possibility of impeachment in a court filing seeking grand jury material in former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal MORE's investigation into Russian election interference and Trump's efforts to undermine the probe.

"I tried to make the point that in using the word impeachment, we think that probably gives more latitude and discovery based on some of the court cases," Hoyer said.

The inconsistent language among top Democrats has led to confusion over what precisely the caucus is doing on impeachment as leaders try to balance meeting demands from their liberal base while protecting centrists in swing districts.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPence says it's 'vital' for Congress to pass US-Mexico-Canada trade deal The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to California Obama, Bush among those paying tribute to Cokie Roberts: 'A trailblazing figure' MORE (D-Calif.), meanwhile, has framed the Judiciary Committee's activities as part of oversight that has already been underway without making overt references to impeachment.

"We're legislating, we are investigating as we have been, and we are litigating. We are taking our information to court — that's the path we are on and that's the path we will continue to be on," Pelosi told reporters on Monday.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are hoping to help clear things up Thursday when they vote to adopt procedures related to their investigative efforts to decide whether to recommend articles of impeachment.

The changes would allow Nadler to designate any future hearing as part of the investigation, as well as authorize committee counsel to interview witnesses.

Still, other Democratic leaders are taking care not to step into the semantical debate at all.

"I don't want to get caught in semantics. We all agree — from Speaker Pelosi through every single member of the House Democratic Caucus — that we have a constitutional responsibility to hold an out-of-control executive branch accountable," Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Democrats face key moment on impeachment drive Top House Democrat walks back remarks contradicting Judiciary on impeachment inquiry MORE (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol Wednesday.

Mike Lillis contributed.