Democrats said the evidence was incriminating enough — and easy enough for voters to understand — to proceed with their impeachment inquiry and soon. “Strike while the iron’s hot,” said one individual in the meeting, summarizing the sentiment. Democrats said they could move quickly on impeachment and act by the end of the year.
The Democrats spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe private discussions.
Inside the room, Democrats said, Pelosi (D-Calif.) told colleagues that keeping the inquiry narrowly focused on the Ukraine allegations could also help keep the investigation out of the courts, where a slew of investigative matters have been bogged down for months — though she did not rule out ultimately including other episodes in potential articles of impeachment.
The meeting included multiple members of the House Judiciary Committee, which has been probing alleged obstruction of justice, self-dealing and other matters involving Trump, though not Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). It ended without a firm decision on whether to circumscribe those probes entirely but with consensus inside the room that narrowing the investigation, if only in terms of political messaging, made sense.
“I think we need to focus on what this very clear threat to national security and to our Constitution is,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), a member of Pelosi’s leadership circle who spoke generally about her own views but not about what was said inside the meeting. “I think a lot of the American people understand that, . . . and I think we need to focus on something that everybody understands.”
Earlier Wednesday, rank-and-file House Democrats had split on whether to keep the investigation narrowly focused on the Ukrainian affair or look at a much broader portfolio of alleged wrongdoing.
The question, according to conversations with more than a dozen lawmakers and aides Wednesday, stands to be crucial to the unfolding probe. How it is resolved will dictate key decisions, such as how long the investigation will take, which committees and lawmakers will be involved and what witnesses will be brought before Congress.
Multiple Judiciary Committee members said that they expected probes of other matters to continue unabated and potentially contribute to impeachment articles drafted this year. Several liberal lawmakers also want to include multiple charges in any impeachment articles.
“There’s clearly enough evidence before the Judiciary Committee, in my view, to support articles of impeachment on a number of issues,” said Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of both the Judiciary panel and the House leadership team.
But he added that the final decision would be made by Democratic leaders after the process played out, and he recognized the Ukraine allegations were unique: “If this is the scandal and the conduct of the president which unites the Congress in the urgency of taking action, then we ought to proceed with that. This is not about an affinity for our own work. This is about showing the country that as a body, the Congress of the United States is going to stand up and protect the rule of law.”
Others, however, were less equivocal. “We’ve got to go narrow, no question about it,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), arguing the president’s admission of intervention in the Ukraine matter would simplify the impeachment process. “I would hope within a six-week frame, we could get the evidence on the table so the American people can see it, and hopefully we will have some resolution before the holidays.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) held up the rough transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call and said the House would focus on its contents in the coming days and weeks.
“We are going to focus on this particular matter,” he said, noting that the substance of the alleged wrongdoing — urging a foreign leader to intervene to influence an upcoming election — was simple for the public to understand.
At a news conference later Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) would not answer questions about the scope of the impeachment proceedings against Trump. But he told reporters that the transcript is “far more damning than I and others had imagined” and accused Trump of engaging in a “classic mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader.”
“This is how a mafia boss talks” he said, referring to Trump’s discussion of “reciprocity” on the call. “Like any mafia boss, the president didn’t need to say, ‘That’s a nice country you have. It would be a shame if something happened to it.’ Because that was clear from the conversation. There is no quid pro quo necessary to betray your country or your oath or office.”
There is a sense among senior Democrats that the Ukraine matter is a much clearer argument to make against Trump than, for example, obstruction-of-justice allegations made by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III or other admissions of wrongdoing.
Democrats also argue that because the issue relates to national security, voters may care about it more. The party has struggled to move public sentiment on impeaching Trump, but they are hoping that if anything will resonate, it would be the latest revelation.