ROCKVILLE — The House of Representatives is inching ever closer to impeachment.
On July 26, the House Judiciary Committee applied for the release of grand jury information, in another escalation toward the possible impeachment of President Donald J. Trump.
As of now, the Judiciary Committee is only conducting an impeachment investigation of the president. While members of Congress have filed impeachment articles, the committee will wait to finish its investigation before it concludes whether to pursue impeachment, its members said in a press conference last week.
The Judiciary Committee’s move toward impeachment came days after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified about his report before Congress. For the past two years, Mueller’s special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Election has consumed American politics. Democrats said that Mueller’s testimony underlined the need to move forward with an impeachment investigation, and the special counsel’s report revealed the president attempted to obstruct or end an investigation into his own campaign.
While many Democrats have already concluded that the impeachment route is the way to go, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), is not backing it yet. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said that he and Pelosi both agree a Congressional investigation is needed before an impeachment vote can begin.
“If our committee is going to recommend articles of impeachment to the House, we must make the strongest possible case both to our colleagues and to the American public,” Nadler said. “In that we’re in total agreement.”
When Mueller testified last week, he admittedly delivered no new information. The former FBI director, and special prosecutor appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 Election, was pithy in his responses, often referring questions from members of Congress about his investigation to his written report, rather than answering them himself.
Released in full in April, Mueller’s nearly two-year long investigation found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. While Mueller’s investigation led to the indictments and convictions of former Trump campaign and administration officials such former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, no American citizens were indicted in chargers related to collusion or conspiracy with the Russian government.
“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller told Congress during his testimony.
While many Democrats repeated claims of collusion, even suggesting that the president was working as an agent of the Russian government, they have shifted their focus to another charge — obstruction of justice. Mueller’s investigation found that Trump had attempted to end or interfere with his investigation, including asking White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, something that McGahn refused to do.
Trump ultimately yielded, opting to not fire Mueller. Mueller for his part, testified that he was able to complete his investigation successfully without being blocked by the White House.
Mueller did not take a position as to whether Trump obscured justice. While Department of Justice guidelines said that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mueller said that was not the reason his report was agnostic on the question of whether Trump should be indicted or not.
While Mueller did not take a position as to whether Trump obstructed justice, House Democrats have.
During the Mueller’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8), citing the Mueller report, said that Trump committed witness tampering — a federal crime — by trying to unduly influence his former personal attorney Michael Cohen. At the time, Cohen was being investigated for campaign finance violations related to Trump’s presidential bid, charges that Cohen eventually pled guilty to.
“In my view, if anyone else in America engaged in these actions, they would have been charged with witness tampering,” Raskin said.
Raskin has long supported an impeachment inquiry by the Judiciary Committee. While he backs impeachment of Trump in theory, however, he has insisted that it is best to wait for the committee to investigate him before it votes on impeachment.
After Mueller’s testimony ended, President Trump greeted reporters outside the White House, repeating claims that he believed the special counsel investigation is a “witch hunt.”
“There was no defense to this ridiculous hoax — this witch hunt — that’s been going on for a long time,” Trump said.
Whether Trump will be impeached or not is unclear. So far, about 100 House Democrats have come out in support of impeachment.
The Constitution gives vague guidelines for impeachment, saying a president can be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” with a majority vote by the House. If the president is impeached, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority vote to remove Trump from office, an unlikely outcome in the Republican-controlled chamber.
For Democrats, the shift has moved from suspicion of collusion to obstruction of justice, something that is the main crux of the current Judiciary Committee probe. So far, it’s unclear if the investigation will lead to the impeachment route.
“We may decide to recommend articles of impeachment at some point, (and) we may not,” Nadler said. “It remains to be seen, and there’s no point in speculating whether the Speaker or anybody else will agree with our decision at that point.”