House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that former special counsel Robert Mueller’s hours-long testimony to Congress “is a crossing of a threshold in terms of the public awareness,” but she still refuses to call for an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Pelosi joined House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) at a news conference after Mueller spent the better part of Wednesday publicly testifying before the Judiciary and Intelligence committees on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Whatever decision we made in [impeachment] would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts,” the speaker said, referring to Trump’s continued stonewalling of witness interviews.
Nadler said that the next step for Democrats is to go to court to seek Mueller’s grand jury material and to enforce a subpoena against former White House lawyer Don McGahn, whom the report said Trump asked to fire Mueller.
During the two separate hearings, Mueller repeatedly answered questions by referring lawmakers to his 448-page report on Russian campaign meddling as well as possible obstruction of justice by the president. He had also said long before Wednesday that anything he testified about would be information that’s already in the public, redacted report the Justice Department released in April.
The former special counsel avoided testifying about impeachment, an action he said is outside his job description. He cited an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that says a sitting president can’t be indicted, but he did tell lawmakers that a president can be charged with a crime after leaving office.
“We have studiously kept in the center of our investigation our mandate, and our mandate does not go to other ways of addressing conduct,” Mueller testified.
The former special counsel reiterated that his investigation was not a “witch hunt,” as Trump often labels it, and that the probe did not exonerate the president. He also said he’s worried that Trump set a precedent by not notifying authorities during his campaign about Russian attempts to interfere in the election, calling it “the new normal.”
Mueller’s report outlined 10 potential instances when Trump obstructed justice into the investigation and explained that the only constitutional method to deal with the president thinking he’s above the law is through Congress’ impeachment power.
“This is not about liking the president; it’s about loving democracy,” Cummings said. “It’s about making a difference for generations. ... That’s what this is all about. I’m begging. I’m begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on.”
A growing number of House Democrats are in favor of starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump, though Pelosi remains the strongest Democratic voice against it. A record 95 lawmakers, all Democrats, voted earlier this month against tabling a House resolution to impeach Trump. That was an increase from the 66 lawmakers who voted against tabling a similar resolution in January 2018.
On Wednesday, Pelosi wouldn’t give a timeline for potential proceedings against Trump but assured that deliberations “won’t be endless.”
“I do believe that what we saw today was a very strong manifestation ... of this administration’s cone of silence,” she said.
The president said immediately after the hearings that Mueller did a “horrible job” in his testimony and during his special counsel investigation. Trump called the hearing a loss for Democrats.