Donald Trump’s declaration this week that his administration will stonewall “all the subpoenas” from Congress has pushed House Democrats to rethink their impeachment calculus.
Top Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said the party will consider impeachment only after doing due diligence—like hearing from key figures like Special Counsel Robert Mueller, obtaining the documents he used in his investigation, and more.
But the White House’s plans to indefinitely stiff-arm their requests for documents and testimony, combined with the instances of alleged obstruction already laid out in Mueller’s report, is complicating that plan— and may drag House Democrats toward impeachment as an appropriately forceful way to respond to the administration’s conduct.
“I think the combination of the chilling depictions in the Mueller Report and Trump’s opacity is moving some members into the impeachment camp,” said one Democratic lawmaker. “Translation: it’s always the cover-up that gets ‘em.”
And a senior Democratic aide told The Daily Beast that the temperature within the conference has gone up since Trump said point-blank that the White House fights all congressional subpoenas.
Contempt of Congress was the third article of impeachment against Nixon— a piece of history that has been front-of-mind for congressional Democrats over the last few days. And Democrats say they are prepared to hold members of the Trump administration in contempt if the stonewalling continues.
The obstruction outlined in the Mueller Report, said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has “leapt off the page” in the last week with Trump’s refusal of lawmakers’ request.
“I have a hunch,” said Raskin, “that he is moving the whole caucus closer to seeing impeachable offenses.”
On Wednesday, Trump’s attitude about Democrats’ attempts at oversight was crystal clear. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” he said outside the White House. “I say it’s enough… These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”
In the days since Mueller’s report became public, the administration has backed up Trump’s tough talk with rejections of a raft of Democratic requests for documents and testimony on a number of fronts.
On Russia, the Department of Justice has also not responded to requests for Mueller to testify in front of House committees and requests for additional evidence that informed Muller’s conclusions. Trump’s personal lawyers, meanwhile, are fighting the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena of an accounting firm to obtain the president’s financial information.
On other topics of oversight, Democrats are getting the silent treatment. The Justice Department said on Wednesday, for example, that a top lawyer, John Gore, would ignore a subpoena for him to testify about the administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the U.S. Census.
The administration has also stiff-armed the House intelligence committee, where Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) is looking to scrutinize Trump’s finances. The committee has asked for an FBI briefing on security issues at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort, but has yet to receive one, per a committee aide. The Justice Department also has not responded to the committee’s bipartisan request for documents related to the Mueller Report, the aide said—and a response to a query about communication with Russian President Vladimir Putin did not address their request.
“If the president is successful in stopping us from collecting evidence, then we have a judgment to make: Can we discharge our constitutional responsibility in the face of that, or is that in and of itself sufficient obstruction of Congress?” said Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of House Leadership. “That was the third article of the Nixon impeachment. I don’t know that we’re there yet.”
The Democratic conference isn’t a monolith, and members’ views on impeachment are wide and varied. Pelosi’s ability to keep impeachment talk tamped down has benefited from the near-consensus on that point among the conference’s most powerful committee chairs—namely Nadler, Schiff, Richard Neal of Ways and Means, Elijah Cummings of Oversight, and Eliot Engel of House Foreign Affairs. Maxine Waters, who chairs the Committee on Financial Services, is the exception; she has been pushing for impeachment for most of Trump’s presidency.
But Cummings’ rhetoric sounded markedly impeachment-friendly in an interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid on Tuesday. When she asked if Trump deserved to be impeached, Cummings responded, “I think he does.”
—with additional reporting by Erin Banco