House Democrats Inch Along on Impeachment
As divided as House Democrats might be about impeachment—around sixty members, a small but growing minority, are thought to support beginning proceedings now—the caucus is united in support of facilitating the House’s ongoing investigations of President Trump. On Tuesday, the House voted to allow individual committees to sue the Trump Administration without the approval of the full chamber. The vote comes a day after the Justice Department agreed to turn over to the Judiciary Committee some of the documents that informed the special counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusions on obstruction of justice, in a deal that was evidently reached to avoid a contempt resolution against Attorney General William Barr. It also came amid reports that the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, is privately pressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings. As Pelosi prefers, House Democrats are instead inching along with their investigations.
Monday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, on “Lessons from the Mueller Report,” was, as Nadler said in his opening statement, “the first in a series of hearings designed to unpack the work of the special counsel and related matters.” The witnesses included the former U.S. Attorneys Joyce White Vance, of Alabama’s Northern District, and Barbara McQuade, of Michigan’s Eastern District, who were invited to highlight and reëmphasize some of the Mueller report’s key conclusions on obstruction of justice. John Dean, the White House counsel for the Nixon Administration, was invited to draw parallels between Trump’s conduct and the Watergate scandal, in which Dean acted as both a participant and, later, a critical witness for investigators. The guest list should have signified the seriousness with which Democrats are taking the Mueller report’s findings, even though they have not compelled the Party’s leadership to pursue impeachment. But throughout the day, most of the seats on the Democratic side of the dais were empty, and several of the Democrats who showed up moved in and out of the hearing as it went on.
Republicans, by contrast, mostly stayed put, taking alternating swings at Dean’s reputation and his relevance to the committee’s investigation. In his opening remarks, Doug Collins, the Republican ranking member, jabbed at Dean and Democrats with reference to President Barack Obama’s dismissal of Mitt Romney’s 2012 warnings about Russia. “Just a few years ago, it was brought up by one of our candidates that Russia was a threat, and the former President Obama said that the eighties are asking for their foreign policy back,” he scoffed. “Well, guess what? This committee is now hearing from the seventies, and they want their star witness back.”
In his testimony, Dean stated what many commentators have surmised since the release of the Mueller report: that the special counsel’s findings were a directive for congressional action. “In many ways,” he said, “the Mueller report is for President Trump what the so-called Watergate roadmap, officially titled the ‘Grand Jury Report and Recommendation Concerning Transmission of Evidence to the House of Representatives,’ was for President Richard Nixon.” The two former U.S. Attorneys reiterated the conclusion shared by hundreds of former federal prosecutors in an open letter last month. “Based on my experience in over twenty-five years as a federal prosecutor,” Joyce Vance told the committee, “I support the conclusion that more than a thousand of my former colleagues came to, and that I co-signed in a public statement last month, saying that if anyone other than a President of the United States committed this conduct, he would be under indictment today for multiple acts of obstruction of justice.”
In defense of the hearing, Dean argued that the committee’s efforts to elevate Mueller’s findings have been meaningful. “I think this committee does have a role and it is adding something that the special counsel could not, and that’s public education,” he said. “This report has not been widely read in the United States. It has not even been widely read in the Congress, from some of my conversations. But I think it’s a very important function that the committee is serving by bringing these matters to public attention.”
It remains to be seen whether the public, apprised of Mueller’s findings, will urge Democrats to do more than hold informational hearings about them.