The reaction to Robert Mueller’s surprise statement on Wednesday highlights a growing schism between 2020 presidential candidates and Democratic leadership on whether to impeach President Donald Trump.
Mueller spoke publicly for the first time on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential obstruction of justice by Trump.
In his statement, Mueller reiterated that his office’s decision not to charge Trump with any crimes did not amount to an exoneration. He cited the Department of Justice’s standing policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted on a federal charges as the reason his office did not consider that option.
But Mueller did allude to impeachment, noting that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
In response to Mueller’s statement, Democrats emphasized that the power to hold the president accountable resides in Congress.
“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump,” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement shared on Twitter, adding: “and we will do so.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that Congress would continue to investigate the president and hold him accountable for “his abuse of power,” but did not mention impeachment proceedings.
“The Congress will continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy,” she said. “The American people must have the truth.”
But other Democrats, including several candidates for president, have begun to advocate for beginning the impeachment process.
“Mueller leaves no doubt,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Twitter.
“The Constitution leaves it up to Congress to act—and that’s impeachment,” she concluded.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), two other presidential hopefuls, agreed.
“Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately,” Booker said.
“We need to start impeachment proceedings,” Harris said. “It’s our constitutional obligation.”
While Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stopped short of calling for impeachment proceedings to begin, he said that Congress “must continue its investigations.”
“If the House Judiciary Committee deems it necessary, I will support their decision to open an impeachment inquiry,” he added.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) released a statement calling on the committee to formally open an inquiry to determine whether articles of impeachment should be filed.
“As the Special Counsel reminded us today, the Constitution gives Congress the sole power to hold a President accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors,” he said. “If any other American committed these acts, they would be indicted and prosecuted.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, Nadler, who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said it would consider impeachment, but did not say it would begin proceedings.
“At this time, all options are on the table and nothing should be ruled out,” he said.
While he refused to give a definite answer, Nadler hinted that the committee would not issue a congressional subpoena for Mueller to testify.
“Mr. Mueller told us a lot of what we need to hear today,” he said.
But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who did not call for impeachment proceedings to begin, indicated otherwise.
“We look forward to Mueller’s testimony before Congress,” he said in a statement.
Mueller resigned from the Department of Justice following his statement, saying he intends to return to private life. He does not expect to speak further on the investigation.
“The report is my testimony,” he said. He declined to comment when asked if he would comply with a congressional subpoena, repeating only that he would not take questions from the press.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the only Republican lawmaker so far to call for impeachment proceedings, also responded to Mueller’s remarks.
“The ball is in our court, Congress,” he tweeted.
This story has been updated with new comments from Nadler and statements from Bernie Sanders and Adam Schiff.