House

Democrats debate scope of Trump impeachment

Greg Nash

House Democrats are debating whether to focus their impeachment inquiry almost exclusively on President Trump pressuring Ukraine’s leader to try to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.

But doing so could run the risk of frustrating lawmakers in the 235-member caucus who called for impeachment long before a whistleblower complaint was filed raising concerns about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.

{mosads}Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is discussing the idea with her leadership team because some members have pressed her to narrow the scope to the Ukraine controversy, a Democratic leadership aide told The Hill.

“We all feel strongly that the process going forward has to be different; it has to be strategic, clear and efficient. And I don’t have a dog in the fight on how the specific structure looks. But I know it has to meet those three criteria,” freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a centrist who flipped a GOP-held district last year, told reporters Wednesday.

“We’ve certainly been expressing our concerns [to Pelosi]. I mean, we’ve all been meeting with different caucus groups, we’ve all been meeting together. We have been expressing ourselves. I mean, we’ve told her directly. And she, I think, she understands and she hears us. But she has a really tough job. You know, she has to balance a very energetic caucus,” said Slotkin, who co-wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post this week with other freshmen endorsing the impeachment process in the wake of Trump’s actions with Ukraine.

Some Democrats suggest that limiting the inquiry to Trump pressuring a head of state to investigate a potential 2020 rival is easier in terms of messaging and will allow for a quicker process than to include everything else committees have been investigating, like whether Trump is profiting off the presidency with his businesses in violation of the Emoluments Clause or allegations that he tried to obstruct justice in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

That approach, however, could be seen as de-emphasizing much of the work already undertaken by the six House committees investigating Trump, his administration and his businesses.

And some in the progressive wing of the caucus, which has at times rebelled against Democratic leaders, say Trump has more to answer for than just Ukraine.

“What is going on is that the president has committed several impeachable offenses,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday. “He, himself, what he has admitted to is already impeachable, regardless of future developments.”

Democratic leaders are still discussing their options and did not make any decisions on Wednesday, a day after Pelosi formally announced her support for an impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), another freshman who flipped a GOP-held district, said he would prefer to focus on the issue of Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden while allowing committees to keep looking into other issues.

{mossecondads}“I believe it should be narrow. I think it was egregious. I think it’s cut and dry. I think what we had in our hands today — the summary of the conversation — was as damning as anything I could have imagined. And I think it’s in the best interest of the country to make this clear and concise and also expeditious,” said Phillips, who was one of the freshmen to say this week that Trump’s actions would be impeachable if corroborated.

Fellow swing-district freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) agreed. Malinowski was the first Democrat from a competitive district to endorse an impeachment inquiry back in May.

While he already thought Trump’s actions in office warranted an inquiry before reports of the call with Ukraine’s president emerged, Malinowski supports keeping a focus on the issue given what he described as its “clarity and simplicity.”

“Naturally, I believe there’s more than just this that’s an impeachable act,” Malinowski said, while adding, “We should move forward with charges that are most likely to help bring the country together. And I would be willing to forgo everything else.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a progressive ally of Pelosi, said he would back a more limited impeachment focus if that meant a faster vote.

“I’d like it to be comprehensive. But if the question is, you know, it’s not going to be comprehensive, we’re going to miss a few things, but we’re going to act decisively before Thanksgiving or before the end of the year, I say let’s act decisively,” Khanna said.

“I would take getting something done over being fully comprehensive, if really pushed with a choice, but I think we could probably have at least some of the conclusion of the Mueller report in any action that Judiciary takes,” Khanna added.

After months of debate within the Democratic caucus over whether to proceed with impeachment, Trump’s acknowledgement of raising corruption allegations against Biden during a July 25 call with Ukraine’s president has spurred scores of holdouts from swing districts to back an impeachment inquiry.

The White House released a memo based on notes from national security aides on Wednesday documenting the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During the call, Trump brought up Biden and encouraged Zelensky to look into whether Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who oversaw a probe into the owner of a Ukrainian energy company where Biden’s son, Hunter, was a board member.

Biden has denied any wrongdoing.

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me,” Trump told Zelensky on the call.

“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it,” Trump said later, according to the memo’s summary.

Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), head of the Democrats messaging arm, said the investigations would not narrow.

“The expectation is that all the six committees of jurisdiction will engage in an impeachment inquiry. And to the extent that they uncover a basis for articles of impeachment, they will refer that to the committee of jurisdiction, the Judiciary Committee, for the drafting of those articles,” he added. “Clearly the committees of jurisdiction will continue their work.”

Yet Cicilline also endorsed the notion of focusing impeachment articles solely on the Ukraine episode — if that proves to be the most damning case the Democrats have.

“If this is the scandal and the conduct of the president which unites the Congress in the urgency of taking action, then we ought to proceed with that,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that Democrats will be laser focused on the Ukraine scandal, at least in the near term, but the other investigations will continue as well.

“There’s going to be a great focus — in the short term — on this event which we believe is a seminal event on dealings with Ukraine and the president’s behavior,” Hoyer said. “But the six committee chairs are continuing to pursue their responsibilities and coordinating through the Speaker.”

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez David Cicilline Dean Phillips Donald Trump Elissa Slotkin Impeachment Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Ro Khanna Robert Mueller Steny Hoyer Tom Malinowski

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