WASHINGTON — Now that it is clear special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation won't result in charges against President Trump, some Democrats are pushing for the House to begin impeachment proceedings. The issue is exposing divisions within the Democratic Party with House leadership and some of the 2020 presidential candidates opposed to beginning an effort to oust the president.
On Friday, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the first major Democratic presidential candidate to call for the House to begin impeachment proceedings based on the results of Mueller's probe.
“The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty. That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States,” Warren said via Twitter.
Mueller's report, which was released on Thursday, presented "facts showing that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump welcomed that help,” Warren wrote. “Once elected, Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack.”
“Mueller put the next step in the hands of Congress. ... To ignore a President’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country, and it would suggest that both the current and future Presidents would be free to abuse their power in similar ways,” Warren wrote.
So far, Warren's campaign has focused on releasing over 20 detailed policies to address systemic inequities. A Warren aide said this will remain her priority, though the senator felt it was her “duty” to share her thoughts on impeachment after she completed reading the more than 400-page Mueller report. According to the aide, Warren was on a plane on Thursday following campaign appearances and read the report during her flight and through the evening.
While Warren is the first top Democratic White House hopeful to explicitly call for impeachment proceedings, other 2020 candidates have expressed some openness to the idea. In an appearance on CNN Friday afternoon, Anderson Cooper asked Julián Castro, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, if he thought impeachment proceedings should begin. Castro indicated he believed impeachment could be justified, but stopped short of advocating for it.
"I think it would be perfectly reasonable for Congress to open up those proceedings," Castro said, adding, "They're going to decide whether they're going to go down that route. For me, I'm running for president."
Other 2020 candidates have shied away from calling for Trump's impeachment and suggested it's either premature or overly divisive. A staffer for one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls told Yahoo News they thought Warren's push for impeachment was an effort to grab attention in a crowded field.
"She might think this looks bold, but it just looks desperate. Throw the policy white papers out the window, she's now just appealing to the lowest common denominator," the staffer said.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment about impeachment. Many of Trump’s allies have suggested Mueller's report was a complete vindication of the president.
Mueller's report detailed a "sweeping and systematic" Russian government campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election as well as numerous contacts between members of Trump's inner circle and people linked to the Kremlin. According to the report, “the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally” from Moscow’s efforts.
But Mueller’s report ultimately said the “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government," while also noting the fact there was no proof of cooperation did not mean it had not occurred. Along with outlining Russian interference in the election, Mueller also described instances where Trump engaged in behavior that could have constituted obstruction of justice. The special counsel did not rule on whether Trump obstructed the investigation and instead left that decision to Attorney General William Barr, who declined to charge the president.
Momentum was growing for impeachment prior to the release of Mueller's report. Late last month, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., submitted a resolution asking Congress to investigate whether Trump has committed any impeachable offenses. On April 14, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told Yahoo News she supports impeachment and indicated she plans to sign on to Tlaib's resolution. Tlaib's office did not respond to a request for comment.
However, Democratic House leadership has not backed the impeachment push. In an interview last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she believed impeachment should not be pursued without clear evidence.
"I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it," Pelosi said.
Other top-ranked Democrats have largely echoed Pelosi's line.
After Mueller's report was released on Thursday, Pelosi sent a letter to the Democratic caucus announcing a conference call on Monday to "discuss this grave matter."
Pelosi's office did not respond to a request for comment. She declined to comment about the possibility of impeachment when reporters asked her about it on Friday.
The lack of support for impeachment from House Democratic leadership has led to frustrations within the party.
On Thursday, shortly after Mueller's report was released, a Democratic Hill staffer who supports impeaching Trump told Yahoo News they were pessimistic the report would have an impact.
"I'll be shocked if it changes anything," the staffer said.
The staffer cited House leadership's lack of "willingness" to start the process as well as the fact the Republican Senate majority means any impeachment effort would likely be defeated.
But on Friday evening, the staffer said Warren's comments was a clear sign of growing momentum among Democrats, though they acknowledged that Pelosi is not likely to get behind impeachment on the Monday call.
"She's going to take the wet blanket approach like she always has with this," the staffer said.
A Pelosi ally also suggested the speaker would not be calling for impeachment and would instead maintain her position that Democrats should prioritize policy issues.
"She's focused on the agenda," the ally said.
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