WASHINGTON — Leading congressional Democrats were still largely steering clear of impeachment chatter a day after President Donald Trump’s former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, alleged in public testimony that Trump had violated campaign finance laws and lied to the American public.
“I’m not going into that, I’m not going into that,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said at her weekly news conference Thursday, quickly dismissing talk of impeachment.
“We have two investigations, a Mueller report that we’re all anxiously awaiting” and a potential investigation by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, Pelosi added. “But again, impeachment is a divisive issue in our country and let us see what the facts are, what the law is and what the behavior is of the president.”
And so Republicans once again took the lead on impeachment chatter, describing the Cohen testimony as a sort of opening act in a looming drama.
“I think yesterday was all about Michael Cohen sort of laying the predicate for the Democrats and their crazy impeachment plans,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, ranking member of the Oversight Committee, told reporters at the conservative CPAC convention Thursday.
Rep. James Comer, R-Tenn., in an interview Wednesday on "PBS NewsHour," said he believed that the Cohen hearing was "the first step in a process to try to impeach the president."
“As far as an impeachable offense, I do not think the president has done anything wrong," he said. "And I think that the Democrats are wasting a lot of political capital and their newfound majority on this investigation."
But the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., like Pelosi, downplayed the idea that his panel's seven-hour hearing had represented a significant leap forward on that front.
“I need to study the transcripts to see what we have. Keep in mind I want to proceed very cautiously,” Cummings told reporters after the hearing Wednesday, when asked if he had heard any evidence of impeachable offenses.
Asked Thursday whether the crimes alleged by Cohen would lead to impeachment, Cummings was circumspect. "I’m not there," he said. "But I do find it interesting that there was not one Democrat that I remember even mentioning the word 'impeach.'”
The vice chair of the Oversight panel, freshman Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., also said Thursday that an impeachment discussion was a bit premature. “I think we really need to let the process play out because while there are offenses that I think really could lead us down the road toward impeachment, this is something the public has to get on board with because we need to get to the two-thirds majority in the Senate and in the House,” she told CNN.
And Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee that is hearing closed-door testimony from Cohen on Thursday, sounded a similar note on Wednesday. “There’s growing evidence that an impeachment pleading can be made, but I think there’s more that needs to be evaluated,” she said.
Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, chairman of the House Democratic Policy Communications Committee, said that Democrats are proceeding cautiously for good reason — they would only have one chance to take the leap in the current Congress.
“I think everyone wants to be careful that we recognize you have one occasion to proceed with impeachment, and we ought to do it when we have gathered all of the evidence that would support it,” he told CNN Thursday. “If you are asking me if it seems more likely that the president could be removed from office based on what we know, is it more likely today than it was on Tuesday, I think the answer to that is yes.”