Four months into President Donald Trump’s reign, Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for his head.
The caveat: if the reports are true.
The Democrats’ impeachment talk rose after The New York Times reported this week that President Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the agency’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to a memo Comey wrote.
Before he fired Comey, Trump considered, in his words, “this Russia thing”—the investigations into potential collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.
Some Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee say the president’s actions could be construed as obstruction of justice, an article the panel approved to recommend impeachment during the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. But the Republican-controlled panel has done little to investigate claims of wrongdoing by the president.
“I think if the investigation plays out that all of that is true, I think that is very close to obstruction of justice,” Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond told National Journal. “We all know obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense, so I just think you just have to let the investigation play out, but I think it’s reason for grave concern.”
“There’s reason to believe that the president may have abused his authority and engaged in obstruction of justice if in fact he fired James Comey for the purpose of thwarting the ongoing investigation in the possible collusion of the Trump campaign and Russia,” added Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries in an interview. “There’s also reason to believe that obstruction of justice may have occurred if Donald Trump did ask James Comey to drop the investigation that was ongoing into possible crimes committed by Michael Flynn.
“Either of those instances would be problematic,” Jeffries said. “Obstruction of justice and abuse of presidential power are impeachable offenses, but we’re a long way from determining whether those offenses actually occurred.”
Many other Democrats on the panel have raised the possibility that the president’s actions could be grounds for impeachment, including Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Ted Deutch, Pramila Jayapal, Steve Cohen, David Cicilline, Ted Lieu, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Jamie Raskin, according to a CNN roundup.
The reports did spur some Republicans into oversight action; the House Oversight, Senate Intelligence, and Senate Judiciary committees all invited Comey to testify on the Hill.
But the House Judiciary Committee did not, frustrating Democrats to no end. “At this time, it looks like the House is aiding and abetting a cover-up by failing and refusing to go forward with public hearings,” Rep. Hank Johnson told National Journal.
In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan basis accused Nixon of obstruction of justice. In 1998, that same committee accused Clinton of similar charges on a party-line vote. In 2017, the panel is led by Republicans who don’t want to hold hearings into the firing of the FBI director.
A Republican House Judiciary Committee aide said that newly-appointed special counsel Robert Mueller “will be able to independently and thoroughly unearth all the facts.
“We need to let former FBI Director Mueller do his work, and the House Judiciary Committee will exercise appropriate oversight as necessary,” added the aide.
Republicans on the panel say that talk of impeachment is either premature or ridiculous. Rep. Trent Franks said he agrees with the president that the investigation is a “witch hunt” and that a special counsel is not necessary, even though he said he does respect Mueller, who led the FBI from 2001 to 2013.
“The media has twisted, invented, distorted, harangued, done everything they could possibly do to delegitimize this president, and in this instance, they used a conversation that, really, no one really knows what it was,” Franks said. “Even if what they said was said, it’s still a long way from something that’s an actionable item.”
It is possible that even if Mueller’s investigation finds that Trump committed an impeachable offense and most House Republicans would not want to initiate the process, Democrats could go around them and introduce a resolution calling for impeachment. The House Freedom Caucus tried that tactic in trying to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen last year, but the resolution failed.
With the current makeup of the House, Democrats would need more than 20 Republicans to vote with them to pass such a resolution, but if the scandals reach a crescendo, it could be possible that more than the handful of Republicans considering impeachment would break rank.
Meanwhile, some Democrats are pushing for their colleagues to quiet down on the impeachment talk, fearful that it could undermine the investigations and feed a public perception that they’re wholly partisan. But the hard Left is pressuring Democratic members to be more active in explicitly calling the president’s actions impeachable offenses, even though the independent and congressional investigations are in their early stages.
“It’s odd to say, ‘Slow down, let’s wait and see what the investigations turn up,’ when it’s already clear the president obstructed justice and committed numerous impeachable offenses,” said Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Failing to acknowledge right now that it’s impeachable when a president tells the FBI to stop an investigation and demands loyalty from the FBI director just normalizes those actions.”
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Former FBI Director Jim Comey won't be testifying before Jason Chaffetz's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday as originally planned. Chaffetz, the committee chairman, "announced Monday that Comey wants to speak with Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now serving as a special counsel overseeing the agency's investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign, before testifying publicly."