Robert S. Mueller III’s public statement Wednesday about his investigation sharply increased pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open an impeachment process that she has resisted, with several Democratic presidential candidates demanding that Congress act.
Pelosi (D-San Francisco) remained noncommittal, but half a dozen presidential candidates issued demands just minutes after Mueller reiterated that his report did not exonerate President Trump.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. He also noted that the Justice Department policy that forbids indicting a sitting president explicitly refers to alternatives.
“The opinion says the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” he said.
Although Mueller had said the same thing in his report, presidential hopefuls — and some sitting House members — took his repetition of those words in a televised, public statement as an invitation for Congress to begin the impeachment process.
Their comments highlighted the degree to which large parts of the Democratic voter base want Congress to go further than Pelosi has been willing to support.
Pelosi and her allies have concerns that a focus on impeachment would simply help Trump rally his own supporters and would detract from Democratic efforts to gain attention for their legislative agenda. They also fear that since a Republican-majority Senate would almost surely refuse to convict Trump, an unsuccessful impeachment effort would allow him to claim exoneration.
But many other Democratic leaders, including several of the party’s presidential hopefuls, disagree, saying that if the evidence suggests Trump abused his authority or committed criminal acts, Congress can’t refuse to act.
“What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who has previously supported impeachment, said on Twitter as she campaigned in South Carolina. “Now it is up to Congress to hold this president accountable.”
New calls for impeachment proceedings came from candidates who had previously not embraced the idea, including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas.
“We have one remaining path to ensure justice is served. It is our legal and moral obligation to hold those who have committed crimes accountable. It’s clear that the House must begin impeachment proceedings. No one is above the law,” said Booker, who had previously called impeachment talk premature.