House Democrats have begun impeachment proceedings against President Trump. A key Democrat admitted as much Thursday.
“This is formal impeachment proceedings,” the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), told CNN on Thursday, after weeks of dancing around whether his committee would formally consider impeaching Trump.
“We are investigating all the evidence, gathering the evidence,” Nadler added. “And we will [at the] conclusion of this — hopefully by the end of the year — vote to vote articles of impeachment to the House floor. Or we won’t. That’s a decision that we’ll have to make. But that’s exactly the process we’re in right now.”
His statement makes clear what a lawsuit filed Wednesday by his committee states: that the “Judiciary Committee is now determining whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the President based on the obstructive conduct described by the Special Counsel.”
In fact, Democrats may have already begun an impeachment inquiry without most people noticing and without the fanfare (and potential political backlash) of a big announcement that it’s happening. In a court filing in late July to get the full, unredacted Mueller report, the Judiciary Committee argued that it needed the information because it “is conducting an investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment.” Since then, Democrats’ language has only become stronger in court filings, culminating with Nadler’s statement that impeachment proceedings have begun.
What that means: Democrats are taking the first step in this process. They have launched an impeachment inquiry to investigate what, if any, “high crimes and misdemeanors” Trump may have committed. If the investigation concludes that he has, the committee will draw up articles of impeachment and the Judiciary Committee and then the full House vote on it.
This is happening at the start of Congress’s August Recess (which is going to stretch until Sept. 9). So between now and then, any action will happen only in the courts. Once Congress is back, they can hold hearings highlighting the Mueller report, but their key witness and key documents could still be tied up in a legal battle.
If they get to the step of voting on articles of impeachment, we don’t know how that would fare. There are 30 Democrats who represent districts Trump won in 2016; only one of those backs an impeachment inquiry. More than 100 Democrats don’t even publicly support an impeachment inquiry; many of them represent swing or Republican-leaning districts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has resisted informal impeachment proceedings because she fears it could cost Democrats the House next year.
Still, getting to this early stage in the process is the last thing Trump wanted. Not that he is in any real risk of getting kicked out of office. For that to happen, the Senate would have to hold a trial and two-thirds of the 100 members would have to vote to convict him. The Senate is controlled by Republicans largely loyal to Trump.
But when Democrats took back the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, his team feared getting tied up in time-consuming investigations launched by House Democrats; investigations that have the potential to air some of Trump’s dirty laundry.
Impeachment proceedings are the most intense, and dramatic, kind of congressional investigation.
Consider: Democrats are already investigating issues including whether Trump obstructed justice in the special counsel investigation, whether he had a role in illegal hush-money payments during the campaign, whether his business had money laundering ties to Russia, and much more. Trump has resisted handing over information in 20 investigations, leading to legal battles.
Most recently, House Democrats are suing Trump’s administration to try to get his tax returns and suing to get Trump’s former White House counsel, Donald McGahn, to testify about key moments in the Mueller report. (That’s the lawsuit they filed Wednesday where they said McGahn’s testimony is key for considering impeachment.) All that is in addition going to court to get the unredacted Mueller report.
Many of these investigations could get wrapped up into an impeachment investigation. And because that investigation carries the weighty “i” word, it guarantees news coverage and eyeballs on all future hearings Democrats have in this committee.
A catalyst for embracing the impeachment term seems to have been former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s III testimony in July to two House committees, where he laid out what his report found: that Trump’s campaign welcomed Russia’s help and Trump may have obstructed justice.
“We all looked up after Robert S. Mueller III’s testimony and realized that we are in an impeachment inquiry,” Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg.
“In every meaningful way, our investigation is an impeachment inquiry,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, wrote in an op-ed in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, right as a majority of House Democrats said they supported taking the first step toward impeachment.
Arguing in under-the-radar court filings that the committee is beginning an impeachment inquiry is one thing. It could be a legal strategy that doesn’t carry much political weight. The “i” word strengthens Democrats’ case to get grand jury information underlying the Mueller report, or to force McGahn to testify, since Congress can argue it, too, is a judiciary body conducting a court proceeding, and it needs evidence to do that.
But having the chairman of the committee key to impeachment openly, and clearly, stating that an impeachment inquiry has started escalates things. The impeachment inquiry that Trump has feared is here.