Mueller evidence likely to be included in articles of impeachment

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Robert Mueller

House Democrats are signaling they plan to include evidence gleaned from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as part of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

The articles have not been finalized, as talks continue to take shape behind the scenes, with no final decisions having been made. Whether to include Mueller’s findings of obstruction of justice has been debated internally for weeks as some moderate Democrats only got behind an impeachment inquiry because it was narrowly focused on Ukraine.

But in a series of steps the House Judiciary Committee took this week, Democrats are now suggesting that the articles of impeachment could go beyond the scope of the Ukraine investigation that has dominated Washington for the past two months.

Moreover, Democratic sources say that Trump’s misconduct in office fits a pattern that extends beyond his dealings with Ukraine, meaning there’s a growing expectation in the House that the articles will showcase a body of evidence of what Democrats believe amount to high crimes and misdemeanors.

Democrats gave their strongest sign to date they are moving in that direction when they announced the House Judiciary Committee’s next impeachment hearing on Monday. At the hearing, lawmakers will hear presentations of evidence from two committees: Intelligence, which investigated the Ukraine scandal, and Judiciary, which took the lead on investigating the episodes of obstruction of justice detailed in the Mueller report. The committee could move to vote on articles of impeachment later next week.

Also, at their first hearing on Wednesday, House Judiciary Democrats intentionally raised the Mueller investigation and asked questions about obstruction of justice on multiple occasions, with Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, noting that Trump’s latest actions showed a “pattern of conduct” seen since his first year in office.

And the committee also listed three “impeachable offenses” on a slide inside the hearing room: abuse of power and bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.

Democratic sources say it’s not an accident that they are reintroducing the Mueller report at this crucial juncture in the impeachment proceedings.

If Democrats decide to draft three articles of impeachment, abuse of power is likely to focus mainly on Ukraine, while obstruction of Congress could include the President’s efforts to defy subpoenas before both House Judiciary and Intelligence as well as other committees.

An article of impeachment that focuses on obstruction of justice, however, is likely to mainly focus on how Trump allegedly sought to undercut the Mueller probe into his campaign and his presidency.

“When his own Department of Justice tried to uncover the extent to which a foreign government had broken our laws, President Trump took extraordinary and unprecedented steps to obstruct the investigation, including ignoring subpoenas, ordering the creation of false records, and publicly attacking and intimidating witnesses,” Nadler said at the hearing.

At her press conference Thursday after announcing Democrats would be proceeding with articles of impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to get into details about the articles or whether it would include elements of the Mueller report. But she also made a point to allege that the Ukraine scandal was the “vehicle” of Trump’s misconduct.

“This has been a couple of years, two and a half, since the initial investigation of the Russian involvement in America’s election, which started much of this and then led to other things,” Pelosi said. “Ukraine was the vehicle of the President’s action. … This isn’t about Ukraine. This is about Russia.”

‘I was opposed to this’

There are potential risks for Democrats to expand the scope of impeachment beyond the allegations that Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals while withholding US security aid and a White House meeting.

Moderate Democrats, particularly those in Trump-leaning districts, resisted moving forward on an impeachment inquiry throughout much of the year, as liberal Democrats pushed for Congress to take up Mueller’s report to launch an impeachment inquiry. That all changed in September when Pelosi announced a narrow impeachment inquiry to investigate the Ukraine allegations, and nearly every House Democrat publicly backed it.

“I was opposed to this previous to Ukraine — be cognizant of that,” said freshman Rep. Max Rose, a New York Democrat who announced his opposition to an impeachment inquiry but later backed one in the aftermath of the Ukraine scandal, on Thursday.

Rose said he would wait to see the articles before deciding if he’d vote to impeach the President.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia was one of seven freshmen Democrats who jointly announced their support for an impeachment inquiry in the wake of the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Still, she’s said that her focus is on other issues, noting that she held a town hall on prescription drug costs with senior citizens in which no one questioned her about impeachment. Asked whether she thought Trump obstructed justice, Spanberger said “there is a lot of evidence” that the Judiciary Committee is reviewing.

Pelosi on Thursday dismissed the notion she was concerned about her moderates facing blowback for impeachment.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with politics,” she said.

Two Democrats voted against the impeachment inquiry last months: Reps. Colin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey. Van Drew said he plans to vote against all the articles of impeachment “unless there’s something that I haven’t seen, haven’t heard before.” He warned Democrats to “be careful what you wish for” and he added that impeachment “is tearing the nation apart. … And I want to bring people together.”

Van Drew said he would have preferred a censure vote so they could “move on.”

Asked if he’d vote for impeachment, Peterson said “I don’t have an idea what they’re doing,” before walking onto the House floor.

Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, who has not ruled out impeachment, criticized Democrats for the “rush to judgment” on impeachment. He said it might be enough for him to oppose impeachment.

“I think they would be better serving the American people if they slowed down, fought the privilege, got the first-hand people, do the thorough kind of thing that’s been done before instead of a rush to judgment,” Rooney said.

Deciding on articles

Pelosi said the committee chairs will be “making recommendations” on what to include in impeachment articles, although Democratic sources say the ultimate decision will be made in a small, closely held group likely to include Pelosi, Nadler and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California. Pelosi huddled in her office Thursday with the six committee chairs who have been investigating the President all year.

“I’m not here to talk about that because that is what they will be working on,” Pelosi said when asked about including obstruction of justice charges.

Schiff declined to say how he would be involved in the drafting of impeachment articles, telling reporters only that he would be “engaged in the process.”

On the House floor, lawmakers are expected to be able to vote on each individual impeachment article, raising the prospect that moderates could vote to impeach Trump based on some articles, but still oppose others. In the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, the House approved two impeachment articles but rejected another two. A simple majority is needed to impeach in the House, where Democrats have a 233-197 advantage.

As the House’s investigation into Ukraine progressed over the past two months — which was conducted by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees — Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have been pushing for including Mueller’s charges, too. They’ve argued that not including the obstruction of justice episodes would in effect excuse the President’s behavior toward the special counsel probe.

While Pelosi isn’t tipping her hand yet, others in Democratic leadership have suggested Mueller’s charges should be included.

“Obstruction of justice, I think, is too clear not to include,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn told McClatchy this week.

“This is not a rush to judgment,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on CNN’s ‘New Day.” “This has been a long, thoughtful, careful process from a number of different entities, including Mr. Mueller.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.

CNN’s Alex Rogers contributed to this report.