House Democratic leaders began to plot their court fights in the aftermath of Robert Mueller’s testimony but faced growing pressure internally to chart a path on impeaching President Donald Trump.
In a closed door meeting Wednesday evening, one House Democrat after another pressed the leadership about impeachment proceedings and asking for clarity on the process for moving forward with a formal inquiry, according to multiple attendees.
Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued to indicate that it’s still not time to begin that inquiry, she and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler did welcome a more detailed discussion among House Democrats eager to know the game plan over impeachment now that Mueller is done with his testimony.
Nadler indicated that one possibility was to have the six congressional committees that are investigating Trump to formally draft articles of impeachment against the President, according to sources with knowledge of the discussion. One of the sources cautioned, however, that it was an idea he floated but not one that is currently underway.
Nadler was also asked about the process of beginning an impeachment inquiry – and he indicated that impeachment proceedings could begin without a vote of the full House, according to two sources.
One of those sources tells CNN some members read that to mean that once the Democrats’ lawsuits to get more information from the Trump administration are exhausted, the House Judiciary Committee could begin the process without members having to take what – for some – could be a tough vote to start an impeachment process.
At an earlier press conference, Nadler said the next step for his probe would be to go to court this week to enforce a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn, a key figure in Mueller’s report in the section describing multiple potential episodes of obstruction of justice.
“We want to have the strongest possible case to make a decision as to what path we will go down,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, noting that the time they have and information they want before making that choice is not “endless.”
“If it comes to a point where the cone of silence and the obstruction of justice and the cover up in the White House prevents us from getting that information, that will not prevent us from going forward, and that is even more grounds to go forward,” added Pelosi.
For months, Pelosi has opposed opening an impeachment inquiry in the Judiciary Committee and about 60% of the 235-member House Democratic caucus has not called for one. Some members fear that the Republican-led Senate would simply acquit Trump of the House’s charges and the President would claim vindication.
A few months ago, Pelosi said on ABC that she thought the President wanted the House to impeach him.
“He knows it’s not a good idea to be impeached, but the silver lining for him is then, he believes, that he would be exonerated by the United States Senate,” she said.
On Wednesday, she rejected the idea that the House wouldn’t go forward with impeachment just because the Senate is controlled by the opposing party.
“The stronger our case is, the worse the Senate will look for just letting the President off the hook,” Pelosi said.
It’s unclear whether Pelosi, Nadler and other leaders will face more pressure to publicly support an impeachment inquiry, a formal process that would assess the multiple instances where Trump may have obstructed the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and potentially charge the President with crimes.
More than half of the two dozen Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have called for it. But after the panel’s marquee hearing with its long-sought witness, none of their colleagues on the panel joined them.
Rep. Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia, told reporters he wanted to see whether public opinion on impeachment changes before deciding whether to support an inquiry, even though he already believes the President “committed impeachable acts.”
“I myself want to see what the American people take away from this before I’m ready to proceed,” Johnson said. “In a perfect world, yes, we should impeach the President right now because it’s clear that he’s committed impeachable acts.”
Johnson said that the hearing this morning “moves us closer” to the “possibility” of an impeachment inquiry.
Yet Johnson maintained, “we’re not there yet.”
“Impeachment is solemn and important but it’s also political,” said Johnson. “For anybody to forget that, woe be unto them.”
Polls show that a majority of Americans do not favor impeachment. The vast majority of Democrats in tough districts have not come out in favor of an inquiry that could lead to it. Instead, they say they’re more focused on other issues that matter more to Americans.
But even if they never open an impeachment inquiry, House Democrats are not going to let up their investigations of the President.
Nadler said that he was intent to hear from McGahn, who Trump directed to fire Mueller in 2017, according to the special counsel report. McGahn refused and threatened other White House officials that he would quit before backing down. Nadler said enforcing the House’s subpoena against McGahn would not only compel his testimony but that of other key witnesses.
“The excuses that the White House gives for McGahn not testifying—and the nonsense about absolute immunity, etc,—are the same excuses for all the other fact witnesses,” said Nadler. “And if we break that, we’ll break the logjam.”
CNN’s Ashley Killough and Clare Foran contributed to this report.