House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats in a private meeting Wednesday that she wants to focus their impeachment inquiry on President Donald Trump’s conversations with Ukraine, as members debate how broadly to draft articles of impeachment, according to several sources involved in the discussions.
Despite months of focus on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings and allegations of obstruction of justice, Pelosi and top Democrats believe their strongest case for impeachment to the American public is the President’s ask that the Ukrainians investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
That means if Democrats draft articles of impeachment, they are likely to be focused on the Ukraine controversy — not on allegations that Trump tried to thwart the Mueller probe. A broader resolution could make it more complicated to get the votes on the floor, according to multiple Democratic sources. But discussions about the scope of the articles of impeachment are ongoing.
At a private caucus meeting Tuesday where Pelosi explained her decision to embrace impeachment proceedings, the House speaker was asked about Democrats’ other ongoing investigations, which she said would continue. But sources said she stressed the Ukraine controversy, characterizing it as a betrayal of the President’s oath of office.
Publicly, Democrats are debating how far to go in drafting the resolution, as well. Going too broad in articles of impeachment, Democrats fear, could become unwieldy and cost them crucial support, especially among a slew of moderate freshmen who have only embraced impeachment in the aftermath of the Ukraine controversy.
Members say that the Ukraine matter has been the most unifying instance of potentially impeachable conduct, and as such any articles of impeachment should focus on those allegations foremost.
Rep. Dan Kildee, who has supported impeachment for several months, told reporters Wednesday afternoon that there is “a lot of conversation about what form this ought to take” among House Democrats.
“It’s pretty clear that the Ukraine issue is the one that has really unified our caucus,” he observed.
“We need to put the tightest set of facts that we can assemble as quickly as we can and move, leading with the Ukraine issue,” Kildee said. But he added that most members don’t want to look the other way on other “egregious violations” on Trump’s part.
“It may be that if push comes to shove, and we do have multiple articles, that not all of them will get the same level of support. Maybe some will, maybe some won’t pass,” he said.
Asked if the impeachment probe should also focus on the Mueller allegations, Rep. Gil Cisneros, a freshman from a swing district in California, said the focus “needs to be about the national security and really what a sitting US president did to endanger our national security in withholding funds to an ally against a US adversary.”
But some Democrats who backed impeachment earlier on said they want the focus to include findings of potential obstruction of justice, saying Trump shouldn’t be let off the hook for allegedly trying to thwart Mueller’s probe. Others say they should also address the President’s involvement in alleged hush-money payments to prevent stories of his alleged affairs from coming out before the 2016 elections.
“I am someone who called for impeachment before Ukraine. I’m not about to abandon that. To do so would be tantamount to saying I came out for the wrong reasons and I would be wrong,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat. “And I don’t agree with that.”
Connolly believes the Ukraine controversy should become “article 5” of the impeachment resolution, behind other allegations of wrongdoing by Trump.
Freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, meanwhile, took a more pragmatic approach.
“I think it’s all the issues, but if this is the issue that brings us to 218 then we should focus on this issue,” she said Wednesday.
Some of the appeal for keeping the impeachment inquiry narrow hinges on the idea that it would help speed up the process. A number of progressive members have argued that Democrats already have nearly all of the information they need in order to proceed with articles of impeachment, given Trump’s public statements.
Pelosi has also suggested Democrats don’t require an abundance of new information to take action.
Asked what Democrats need to see for their impeachment investigation beyond the whistleblower complaint, Speaker Pelosi said on Wednesday morning, “There’s nothing beyond.”
“The President admits that he made the statement,” Pelosi told reporters. “There are other things, but that is the heart of the matter.”
Several Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee told CNN that they want quick action on an articles of impeachment resolution, hoping a vote could happen as soon as October.
“We gotta move fast,” Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and committee member, told CNN.
The fear, Democrats say, is that the longer the Ukraine controversy hangs out there, the more likely it is to die down - and the public could lose interest. Some say that’s what happened with the Mueller report.
Members of the committee are strategizing with Pelosi about the timeframe. But it’s still unclear how quickly they will move because the Ukraine probe, which is being led by the House Intelligence Committee, could take time to unearth more documents and interview witnesses.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.