The House Judiciary Committee will begin a fact-finding investigation into the revelations in the redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that President Donald Trump obstructed justice to end or hamper investigations into his campaign. But they are not going to call it an impeachment inquiry ― yet.
“The special counsel made clear that he did not exonerate the president, and the responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the president accountable for his actions,” House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference Thursday after the redacted report’s release.
The president’s impeachment for obstruction of justice is “one possibility,” Nadler added. But “It’s too early to reach those conclusions.”
“The idea is not to debate articles of impeachment,” the powerful judiciary committee chairman said Friday in an interview with WNYC. Instead, Nadler plans to further investigate the president’s actions, determine “who did what” and “then decide what to do about it.”
As the beginning of its effort to investigate the president’s actions, the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for the full, unredacted Mueller report and the underlying grand jury information.
The committee has also called Attorney General William Barr and Mueller to testify. Committee members have not yet met to decide on other witnesses, but key figures in the Mueller report, such as former White House Counsel Don McGahn, could also be called to testify about Trump’s specific acts of potential obstruction.
House Democrats will discuss how to move forward in the wake of the release of the special counsel’s redacted report on a conference call Monday organized by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The need to discuss caucus-wide strategy may be in response to criticism Democratic leaders received for waving off talk about impeachment in the 24 hours since the redacted Mueller report hit the internet.
Discussion of impeachment is “not worthwhile,” according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), because “there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment.” Congress shouldn’t consider impeachment “barring a bipartisan consensus,” according to House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Pelosi, notably, previously said that Democrats would not impeach Trump.
Hoyer walked back his comments hours later in a tweet to come more in line with the House Judiciary Committee’s plans to obtain the full report, “in order to determine what actions may be necessary to ensure that the Congress & the American people have all the info they need to know the truth.”
“[A]ll options ought to remain on the table to achieve that objective,” Hoyer added.
Outside activists plan to increase pressure on Democrats on the question of impeachment in the coming days. Need to Impeach, an organization run by billionaire activist Tom Steyer that has 8 million members who support Trump’s impeachment, will run a new advertisement on cable TV stations next week to push the issue.
“It is time for Congress to step up and use its constitutional power to hold the president accountable,” Steyer said in a statement after the release of the redacted Mueller report. “Starting impeachment hearings is the only way to ensure that the full truth is laid before the American people.”
Congressional advocates for impeachment have also restated their calls for the House Judiciary Committee to begin impeachment hearings.
For now, advocates will have to wait on the declaration of official impeachment hearings ― which could come through a resolution providing the Judiciary committee with added subpoena power ― and should forget about fast-tracking articles of impeachment.
“I suppose Congress could just decide what to do without doing any factual investigation of our own,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a Judiciary Committee member. “But that’s not the approach we’re going to take.”
The Congress that did that, according to Raskin, was the 1998 Republican-controlled House, which voted to impeach President Bill Clinton on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and abuse of power three months after the release of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigative report without holding a single hearing.
“I don’t think that does justice to the seriousness of the charges that are in here,” Raskin said. “And it doesn’t do justice to the process. We really should hear from these witnesses themselves.”