House Democrats on Friday took a major step forward in their legal fight against President Donald Trump — one that looks much like the beginning of impeachment, even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to resist a formal inquiry.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler’s announcement on Friday that the House is formally seeking special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand-jury information complicates the far more cautious message on impeachment coming from Pelosi and her top deputies.
Story Continued Below
Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the action “in effect” is part of an impeachment inquiry — though one has not been formally launched.
“We are continuing an investigation of the president’s malfeasances,” Nadler said. “And we will consider what we have to consider, including whether we should recommend articles of impeachment to the House. That’s the job of our committee.”
But on the same day, Pelosi reiterated that she’s still not ready to endorse a push to launch impeachment proceedings, and dismissed the idea that she was feeling pressure from her caucus.
“We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed. Not one day sooner,” the California Democrat said at her weekly press conference.
House Democrats’ court petition comes two days after former special counsel Robert Mueller’s appearance’s re-energized the campaign to open impeachment proceedings, spurring seven more Democrats — including a member of Pelosi’s inner circle — to announce their support in the last 72 hours. At least 100 House Democrats now favor opening an impeachment inquiry.
The dual appearances by Nadler and Pelosi on Friday — which caused some confusion on Capitol Hill — underscored the challenge for the Democratic Caucus about how, and whether, to move ahead with high-stakes legal proceedings that could be seen as a back-door to the start of impeachment proceedings.
“We’re crossing a threshold, absolutely,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who was among 10 Democrats standing alongside Nadler Friday who publicly support an impeachment inquiry.
“The mode that we were operating under before, it really was an oversight function. We’re now crossing a threshold with this filing, and we are now officially entering into an examination of whether or not to recommend articles of impeachment,” the freshman Democrat said.
In substance, Nadler and Pelosi remain very much in line, and the speaker has approved each move that brings the House closer to impeachment proceedings.
“I don’t know that there are real divisions with the speaker,” Nadler said, adding that he agrees with Pelosi that House Democrats should be able to make the “strongest possible case.”
By petitioning a court for the grand-jury evidence, House Democrats formalized the argument that they need more information in order to determine whether impeachment is warranted.
“[T]he House must have access to all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article I powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity — approval of articles of impeachment,” the filing states.
And Pelosi has stated all along that her committees have been investigating Trump’s conduct in order to determine whether impeachment is warranted, affirming that the dramatic action remains on the table.
Their public message, however, appeared disjointed on Friday. Nadler’s press conference, which was broadcast live on cable television, laid bare the delicate balance many members are seeking to strike between Pelosi’s position and their own desire for a formal inquiry to begin.
Nadler has, on multiple occasions, explained to Pelosi in private the benefits of launching a formal impeachment inquiry — only to be rebuffed.
Pelosi, at times this week, has appeared more open than ever to impeachment, disputing the idea that she has resisted moving ahead because of Senate Republicans, who surely wouldn’t move forward with proceedings to impeach Trump. But Pelosi has held firm against impeachment and reiterated that she won’t be rushed in her judgment and wants to deepen the House’s investigations.
Seven lawmakers have come out in favor since Mueller’s testimony, including House Democratic Caucus vice-chair Katherine Clark (D-Mass.). Reps. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), a senior Democrat, and Mike Levin (D-Calif.), a freshman in a battleground district, both announced their support Friday afternoon.
Pelosi on Friday denied accusations from some on the party’s left that she and other top Democrats have intentionally dragged their feet on impeachment.
“No, I’m not trying to run out the clock. Let’s get sophisticated about this, ok?” Pelosi said.
Several Democrats in the caucus have privately speculated that Pelosi and other top Democrats have sought to drag out investigations and court battles in hopes of stalling the impeachment push through the fall — when it becomes less politically tenable — though none have gone so far to formally criticize her decision.
Some in Democratic leadership believed that Pelosi would be able to maintain her hold on the impeachment debate as long as the caucus could make it to the six-week August recess without a stampede toward ousting the president. That goal was achieved on Thursday night, when members departed the Capitol for their districts with just a handful of new members in favor of the effort.
Pelosi said Friday that House Democratic leaders are seeking further evidence before moving ahead — specifically focusing on Trump’s personal finances and business dealings. She said she has “no complaint” with lawmakers who have called for launching proceedings to oust the president.
“I’m willing to take whatever heat there is, there. The decision will be made in a timely fashion. This isn’t endless,” Pelosi said.
Kyle Cheney and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.