House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally announced on Tuesday that the House would move formally into an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, but the timing of her decision as well as how the process will unfold has given some Democrats pause, worrying that the speaker may have acted days too soon.
Several Democratic aides told CNN that some in the caucus are quietly expressing reservations that Pelosi’s announcement came before the transcript of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s President was released and before Congress received the whistleblower’s complaint.
In recent days, dozens of members have announced support for impeachment, but for moderate members that backing has come with strings attached. Members running in tough districts or facing reelection in places President won in 2016, were careful to make their newfound calls for impeachment conditional: If it is true Trump withheld military funding to Ukraine in order to elicit dirt on a political opponent, then that would be an impeachable offense.
But, Pelosi’s announcement could make it harder for Democrats to backtrack if allegations against Trump don’t materialize once the whistleblower complaint and official transcript of the call between Trump and Ukraine’s President are released. A senior Democratic aide with insight into moderate Democratic thinking told CNN that many members would have preferred for Pelosi to wait until the end of the week once the contents of those documents were known.
Another Democratic aide said there is grumbling about what happens if the transcript and report are not the “smoking guns that everyone is hyping them to be.”
“Now, our caucus is way out on this impeachment limb,” the person said.
There is also confusion about what Pelosi’s announcement really means. Many members Tuesday struggled to articulate how Pelosi’s description of the process– that six committee chairmen will be moving ahead with their investigations under the umbrella of impeachment– is any different from what has already transpired. After all, the House Judiciary committee was already calling their investigation an impeachment inquiry.
Some argued that Pelosi’s effort to seize on the whistleblower complaint as the impetus for impeachment is strategic in that it gives more power to the House Intelligence Committee to be at the center of this investigation. After the hearing last week of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in the House Judiciary Committee, Democrats on the frontlines were worried. The Lewandowski hearing had devolved into a shouting match with members tangled in a back-and-forth that resulted in more made-for-tv soundbites than actual, new information.
“I think the issues have had to do with execution,” one Democratic member told CNN about the view of Judiciary in recent weeks. The member added that the Lewandowski hearing simply was “a disaster.”
A moderate Democratic member said Tuesday that “I have not met one member of the Democratic caucus who thinks (House Judiciary Chairman) Jerry Nadler has handled this right.”
When it comes to the whistleblower, the issue falls more in the Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction, allowing chairman Adam Schiff – a California Democrat and trusted ally of the speaker – to lead that part of the investigation.
An aide on the House Judiciary Committee pushed back arguing that each committee is playing their role to get information within their jurisdiction and that any formal articles of impeachment would still go through Judiciary. The aide argued that members all have their own areas they are investigating from emoluments to Trump’s financial history and all are important for this investigation.