Special counsel Robert Mueller handed Congress a roadmap for impeachment last month, in the form of a 400-plus page report that outlined evidence of possible obstruction by President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, he publicly reiterated those findings, passing the baton to Congress to take the next steps.
Congress, however, has mostly sidestepped the task. According to Politico, just 10% of the House backs impeachment, including “fewer than 20% of House Democrats,” who control the chamber.
That’s not for lack of evidence. As Mueller noted once again on Wednesday, the final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election details at least 10 instances involving Trump that may constitute criminal obstruction of justice. Mueller also reminded lawmakers that, pursuant to Justice Department regulations, the special counsel’s office was prohibited from indicting a sitting president, apparently the sole justification for not charging Trump already.
“The special counsel’s office is part of that Department of Justice. As part of regulation, it was bound by that policy. Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” Mueller said Wednesday.
Appearing to address Congress directly, he added, “The [Office of Legal Counsel] says the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing … That is the office’s final position.”
Multiple times throughout the press conference, Mueller stated that his office “chose those words carefully” when referring to instances in which Trump may have committed obstruction, seemingly suggesting to Congress that the information it needed was all there in the report. And he went out of his way to make it clear that if Trump had not committed any wrongdoing, he would have said so in his report.
But only a small number of lawmakers have decided to take him up on the referral. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has purposely avoided kickstarting impeachment proceedings, stating on several occasions that, regardless of the report’s damning evidence, it was crucial for Democrats — and the one Republican so far, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who has sided with them in calling out Trump — to hold off until all legal options had been exhausted and their case was shored up.
“Nothing is off the table,” Pelosi said at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday. “But we do want to make such a compelling case, such an ironclad case, that even the Republican Senate, [which] … seems to be not an objective jury, will be convinced of the path that we have to take as a country.”
If Pelosi and House Democrats were counting on Mueller to appear publicly again to bolster their case, however, they may be waiting quite a while. During Wednesday’s press conference, the outgoing special counsel stated several times that he had nothing to tell Congress that wasn’t already in the report.
“The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which has already been made public in an appearance before Congress,” he said.
Nothing Mueller said during this week’s press conference was new to anyone who had read the report (which, according to Amash, is a disturbingly small percentage of legislators). It’s highly unlikely further testimony before Congress would have yielded any additional information either.
But a congressional hearing would give Democrats and perhaps a few critical Republicans like Amash a platform to both present their arguments and educate those who hadn’t read the document on its core findings, a key component in any legitimate impeachment effort.
In the meantime, the handful of Democrats who’ve spoken out in favor of impeachment so far — including Reps. David Cicilline (RI), Ted Lieu (CA), Pramila Jayapal (WA), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Maxine Waters (CA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), and Steve Cohen (TN), who presented articles of impeachment against Trump as early as November 2017 — will likely continue to push Pelosi on the matter.
Pelosi, true to form, has already formulated a response.
“Many of them are reflecting their views as well as those of their constituents,” she said Wednesday. “Many constituents want to impeach the president. But we want to do what is right and what gets results.”