Energized by impeachment report, Democrats ponder how to pry answers from White House

As House Democrats met for the first time Wednesday following the release of a sweeping impeachment report accusing President Trump of widespread abuse of power in the Ukraine scandal, a number of lawmakers want to focus on getting the administration to produce even more information.

Frustration that the White House has broadly stonewalled Congress will likely be the basis of one of the articles of impeachment, based on obstruction. The White House repeatedly attempted to block officials from appearing for testimony or providing documents, though some, including Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, chose to appear anyway.

“I do feel it is absolutely essential we demand accountability of those who have thumbed their nose at the Congress,” said Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat and one of the lead investigators in the impeachment probe. “If you were subpoenaed — and the courts are backing us up on this — you show up. And if you don’t show up there has to be consequences. So all those individuals who have said, ‘I may not,’ or ‘I will not answer a congressional subpoena,’ they need to be made an example of.”

Democrats have generally taken a two-track strategy to impeachment and investigations, declining to wait on courts to rule that White House officials must testify, while also promising more investigations of Trump and associated figures.

Rank-and-file Democrats, led by Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, have occasionally talked about the idea of reinstituting “inherent contempt” — a policy that would allow the House to jail or fine anyone who doesn’t comply with subpoenas. But the idea has never taken off among Democratic leaders, who have taken a more cautious and narrow tack to the impeachment probe.

A television monitor displays a quote as constitutional law experts testify during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
A TV monitor displays a quote as constitutional law experts testify during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

And Republican fire has reinforced some of those concerns. “This is just a fishing expedition where they are hoping to fit the pieces in for the crime they have conjured up; it shouldn’t compel the executive branch in trying to [answer questions],” said Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican. “All they’re trying to do is muck up the gears again.”

The 300-page impeachment report released Tuesday was built largely on previously known public testimony and public statements, like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s stunning admonition that the public “get over it” with regard to Trump asking the newly elected Ukrainian president to investigate the Biden family.

But perhaps the most surprising revelation in the report came not from the hours of testimony, but through subpoenaed cellphone records. The result revealed that Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, ranking member of the committee investigating Trump, may have been “complicit” in the Ukraine scandal, as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Tuesday.

Rep. Al Green, the Texas Democrat who led the call for impeachment stretching back to the start of Trump’s tenure, said that his Democratic colleagues should have moved against Trump at the first sign of obstruction and then gone back for more later.

“I would have said, ‘Listen, we’re not going to have this and we’re going to move forward with the impeachment of the president for what he is doing in obstructing this inquiry,’ and I would have moved forward with that because we can impeach more than once,” Green told Yahoo News Wednesday. “Impeach him for this. And then if the Senate decides they’re not going to take it up, as they probably should, and have a kangaroo court, then impeach him again for some of the other things.”

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, watches the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry of President Trump in Longworth Building on Wednesday Dec. 4, 2019. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Rep. Al Green watches the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

But that fervor is precisely what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have been trying to keep a lid on as they look to keep impeachment tightly focused on the Ukraine scandal and not make it a sweeping condemnation of Trump. They have worried that broadening the impeachment to other issues may play into Trump’s argument that the Democrat-led effort is merely a coup attempt.

House Republicans echoed that argument Wednesday.

“If we are not careful we will see in the future the impeachment vehicle being used just flippantly really without regard for the rule of law or procedure,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican. “I worry about the future of our nation. I would hope the Democrats would realize all this and stop while they still can.”


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