House Democratic leaders tell members to investigate Trump, not impeach him

Pelosi told lawmakers in a letter earlier Monday that gathering the facts necessary to hold Trump accountable could be obtained outside impeachment hearings.
Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives at her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill ion April 4, 2019.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives at her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill ion April 4, 2019.Yuri Gripas / Reuters file

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Leigh Ann Caldwell, Rebecca Shabad and Frank Thorp V

WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders on Monday promised to pursue aggressive and extensive investigations into President Donald Trump — but would not commit to beginning impeachment proceedings.

During a conference call with rank-and-file members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., her leadership team and the chairs of major oversight committees outlined how Democrats would proceed in the wake of the public release of the redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, according to four leadership aides on the call.

"We have to save our democracy. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about saving our democracy," Pelosi said, according to a person on the call. “If it is what we need to do to honor our responsibility to the Constitution, if that’s the place the facts take us, that’s the place we have to go."

But Pelosi also said that saving the Democracy doesn't necessarily constitute impeachment.

"We don't have to go to articles of impeachment to obtain the facts, the presentation of facts," Pelosi added.

It was the first time House Democrats have met as a group since the Mueller report was released last week. Congress has been out of session for a two-week break over the Easter and Passover holiday. As Democrats digested Mueller's report late last week, some key members expressed support for impeachment proceedings.

Though leaders wouldn't commit to beginning proceedings, multiple aides and members of Congress on the call say there has been a drastic shift in opinion on the issue since the release of the report.

Most House Democrats were reluctant to entertain the idea of impeachment, worried that it would further divide the country and hurt Democrats' chances at winning the White House in 2020. But most members on the call appeared to be sobered by the detail provided in Mueller's report and worried about long-lasting damage to the rule of law.

Two lawmakers, Reps. Val Demings of Florida and Jared Huffman of California, both spoke up in support of impeachment, according to two sources on the call.

Huffman said he made the argument that Democrats should no longer worry about impeachment further dividing the country. He said it’s not good for the country not to impeach.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

“It’s bad for the country if Congress punts,” he said. “I think the script has flipped on political calculations. It’s far harder to defend inaction in the face of what we know.”

Demings said she believes Congress has enough evidence to begin proceedings.

"As a 27-year law enforcement officer, and while I understand we need to see the full report and all supporting documents, I believe we have enough evidence now," Demings said, according to her spokesman.

Pelosi's message to the Democratic caucus was similar to a letter to her caucus released earlier Monday, in which she wrote that the "facts regarding holding the President accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings."

Committee chairs said they were committed to aggressive oversight, ranging from Trump's finances to his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We cannot allow this president to continue going down this course,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said. “The American people want accountability.”

Just as the call began, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced in a statement that he had issued a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before the committee. The Mueller report details that Trump ordered McGahn to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, a command that McGahn refused to carry through.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chair of the House Intelligence Committee, told his colleagues that it is “factually false” that there was no collusion. He called Trump’s actions “much more significant than Watergate.” He said his committee would call Mueller, FBI Director Christopher Wray and others to testify.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chair of House foreign affairs committee, said the committee needs to look at “this bizarre relationship” between Putin and Trump. He said he’d use “all the tools” to investigate but they “should be cautious” on impeachment.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chair of the Financial Services Committee, laid out her goals for investigating the president's financial dealings by looking into his relationship with Deutsche Bank. She added, however, that she still supports impeachment.

"Everybody knows I'm for impeachment," she said.

On Friday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts became the first Democratic presidential contender to call on the House to start impeachment proceedings against Trump. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she would sign onto an impeachment resolution introduced by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Monday night, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., agreed that Congress should take steps toward impeachment, adding that she was "also a realist.:

"Since I've been in the United States Senate, that the United States Senate and the Republicans hold the majority, I've not seen any evidence to suggest that they will weigh on the facts instead of on partisan adherence to being protective of this president, and that's what concerns me and what will be the eventual outcome," the 2020 presidential hopeful said on a CNN town hall on Monday night. "We have to be realistic about the end result but that doesn't mean the process should not take hold."

When asked whether Democrats might pursue impeachment, Cummings said Friday, "We may very well come to that very soon."

Nadler, whose panel would have the power to begin impeachment proceedings, also has not ruled that out. Asked if holding Trump accountable means impeachment, Nadler said last Thursday, "That's one possibility — there are others."

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, spoke to reporters Monday after reading a less-redacted version of Mueller's report at DOJ, saying that what he read did not change the findings of "no collusion."

He also criticized Democratic leaders for rejecting Attorney General William Barr's offer to view a less-redacted version of the report on a restricted basis, saying the Democrats were more interested in scoring political points than seeing additional information in the report.

“Nothing that I saw here today, at the end of the day, changed Mr. Mueller’s decision," Collins said. "Nothing went any further except we had no collusion after a long and thorough investigation. We had no obstruction, no charge, there’s nothing there. Nothing today changes those results from last week.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after an event in Owensboro, Ky., that the country should "move on."

“Well, look, I think it's time to move on,” he told reporters when asked about possible impeachment proceedings. “This investigation was about collusion, there's no collusion, no charges brought against the president on anything else, and I think the American people have had quite enough of it, and it's time to move on.”

Eileen Street contributed.