GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Rep. Justin Amash, the sole congressional Republican to call for President Trump’s impeachment, said Tuesday that the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III left him with no other option.
Defending his stance, Amash (Mich.) told supporters and opponents at his first town hall since his tweets angered Trump and other Republicans that Congress “has a duty to keep the president in check.”
“I’d do it whether it was a Republican president or a Democratic president. It doesn’t matter. You elected me to represent all of you,” Amash told hundreds of people crowded into an auditorium at Grand Rapids Christian High School.
During the two-hour town hall — one hour more than scheduled — Amash was pressed on why he remained a Republican. Asked why he did not leave the party and become an independent, Amash said Michigan election law made it hard for independents to win. Asked whether he would run for president as a libertarian, Amash did not rule it out, though he said, “If I were trying to roll out something like that, this is not how I’d do it.”
He linked the congressional debate over whether to impeach the president to a general dysfunction in Washington. Echoing Mueller, he said that a sitting president could not be indicted, but impeachment amounted to a “special form of indictment” — one that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seemed to be resisting for political reasons.
“I think she’s concerned with her members in tougher districts,” Amash said. “She’s concerned with protecting her majority, so she kind of wants it both ways.”
The town hall meeting was Amash’s first major public appearance since May 18, when in a series of tweets, he wrote that Trump had “engaged in impeachable conduct” and became a pariah among his GOP colleagues.
He had turned down media interviews, preferring to make his arguments on Twitter. In a series of Tuesday tweets, Amash wrote that Attorney General William P. Barr had deliberately misrepresented key aspects of Mueller’s report “to further the president’s false narrative about the investigation.”
In more than two dozen tweets — which he encouraged constituents to read — Amash took issue with the rationale Barr offered for not indicting Trump on obstruction charges before the Mueller report was publicly released.
“Mueller’s report describes concerning contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and people in or connected to the Russian government,” he wrote. “It’s wrong to suggest that the fact that Mueller did not choose to indict anyone for this means there wasn’t a basis to investigate whether it amounted to a crime or ‘collusion,’ or whether it was in fact part of Russia’s efforts to help Trump’s candidacy.”
Amash, who was first elected in the 2010 tea party wave, has faced stiff Republican opposition since endorsing an impeachment inquiry.
Two Republicans have filed to run against him in the primary; one of them, state Rep. Jim Lower, told The Washington Post that he raised $60,000 since Amash’s impeachment tweets. The wealthy DeVos family, a force in western Michigan and supporters of Amash’s previous campaigns, said through a spokesman last week that they would support another Republican for the 3rd Congressional District seat; Lower said he’d been in touch with the family.
In an interview, Lower said he had not read Mueller’s report but agreed with the assessment of most Republicans that it ended questions about Trump’s conduct. On Monday, as he greeted voters at a Memorial Day event, several Republicans told Lower they were ready to help him get Amash out of office, citing his criticism of the president.
“Those voters do not want the president to be impeached, and they disagree with the congressman’s conclusion,” Lower said. “Throughout this primary campaign, I will be the voice for those voters.”
Amash’s initial tweets on impeachment also drew the wrath of the president, who said last week that the congressman has “been a loser for a long time.” Privately, Trump vented to associates about the Michigan lawmaker, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Amash, 39, has long been comfortable breaking with his party, citing his libertarian principles in regularly opposing GOP leaders on votes ranging from spending bills to the routine approval of the daily House journal.
“When I got elected, as part of the tea party movement, people cared about limited government,” Amash said at the town hall meeting. “Under this government, spending has skyrocketed. But I haven’t changed. I’m who I said I was. I’m a principled, constitutional conservative.”
Republicans had never been entirely comfortable with Amash. In 2014, he fended off a primary challenger backed by some of his colleagues, and after the election, he was removed from the House Budget Committee. Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) dismissed Amash as an irrelevant member of his conference who “wants to have attention” — evidence, according to Amash, of how bankrupt the party leadership had become.
“I read the Mueller report. I’m sure he didn’t read it,” Amash said. “He resorted to ad hominem attacks; that’s the kind of ‘leadership’ we now have in Congress.”
Amash detailed numerous objections to how Barr handled Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, starting with a memo to Congress in late March that summarized Mueller’s key findings and relayed that he decided not to pursue obstruction-of-justice charges against Trump.
“Barr has so far successfully used his position to sell the president’s false narrative to the American people,” Amash said in the final tweet of his thread. “This will continue if those who have read the report do not start pushing back on his misrepresentations and share the truth.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Mueller’s report says he chose not to decide whether Trump broke the law because there’s an official [Department of Justice] opinion that indicting a sitting president is unconstitutional, and because of concerns about impacting the president’s ability to govern and preempting possible impeachment,” Amash wrote.
“Barr’s letter doesn’t mention those issues when explaining why Mueller chose not to make a prosecutorial decision,” he continued. “He instead selectively quotes Mueller in a way that makes it sound — falsely — as if Mueller’s decision stemmed from legal/factual issues specific to Trump’s actions. But, in fact, Mueller finds considerable evidence that several of Trump’s actions detailed in the report meet the elements of obstruction.”
Amash also took issue with Barr’s declaration at a subsequent news conference that Mueller had found “no collusion” between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Barr implied that the investigation was “baseless,” Amash wrote.
“In truth, Mueller’s report describes concerning contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and people in or connected to the Russian government,” Amash wrote. “It’s wrong to suggest that the fact that Mueller did not choose to indict anyone for this means there wasn’t a basis to investigate whether it amounted to a crime or ‘collusion,’ or whether it was in fact part of Russia’s efforts to help Trump’s candidacy.”
Amash’s district backed Trump in the 2016 election, with the president running well ahead of his winning statewide margin. But when he pointed out that “the president did much worse in this district than I did,” the audience, heavy with Democrats, burst into applause. Several Democrats said they had come out simply to support the congressman.
“Trump isn’t standing up for us, and a lot of people are too chicken to say it,” said Mitri Zanea, 67, who brought a sign to the town hall reading “Thankful for Your Courage, Justin.”
Just three constituents who got to ask questions of Amash said they disagreed with the congressman’s impeachment stance. Two said they had supported him in the past; two said he was effectively letting the president’s political enemies in “the deep state” violate privacy laws, citing the FBI’s surveillance of the 2016 campaign.
“Nobody has fought more against [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] abuse than me,” said Amash, pointing out that some of the president’s congressional allies, like Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), had thwarted his efforts to change FISA law. “Now they’re saying FISA’s bad because it was used against the president? That’s just an excuse.”
Over the evening, as it became clear that most of the audience supported his impeachment stance, Amash sought out critical questions. He called on Doug Booth, one of the Democrats already running against him in 2020, and he made sure the one attendee wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat got a question.
“As a person from an immigrant family, I can tell you, you see countries around the world where people don’t respect the rule of law, and don’t care about the ethics of their leaders,” Amash said. “The good news is, Americans aren’t like that.”