Donald Trump 'richly deserves' to be impeached, says top Democrat on House committee

Hugo Lowell
Rep. Jerrold Nadler made the comments about Donald Trump - Getty Images North America

Donald Trump "richly deserves" to be impeached, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee which can unilaterally launch proceedings to remove the president from office has said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler has previously said that Mr Trump was guilty of committing "high crimes and misdemeanors" - the benchmark for impeachment - but these were his strongest comments yet.

"My personal opinion is that [Trump] richly deserves impeachment," Rep. Nadler told CNN's 'State of the Union'. "He has done many impeachable offences, he's violated the law six ways from Sunday."

Rep. Nadler stopped short of joining a growing number of House Democrats calling for a full impeachment inquiry when pressed on his comments, but was steadfast on his general position.

"The question is, can we develop enough evidence to put before the American people? We have broken the logjam. The president and the attorney general were lying to the American people constantly."

Rep. Nadler has signalled privately he believes impeachment hearings should begin  Credit: Reuters

In comments to aides and other members of the Judiciary committee, Rep. Nadler has signalled he has gradually become convinced the panel should proceed with impeachment hearings.

He has nonetheless not staked that opinion publicly, in part because of opposition from top Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the lack of support from the Senate.

"Too much has been made of the phrase 'an impeachment inquiry'," Rep. Nadler said on Friday. "We are using our full Article I powers to investigate the conduct of the president."

The duelling positions illustrates the growing tension within the Democratic Party that will be a struggle to reconcile, particularly in the wake of former special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony.

Mr Mueller appeared before two House committees last week in nationally televised hearings and said the president wanted him fired because of his investigation - an impeachable offence.

The testimony convinced more than half a dozen Democratic lawmakers to throw their support behind impeachment proceedings, pushing the overall number in favour in the House to 101.

But a majority of the Democratic caucus remained skeptical of what would be a polarising move, leading Ms Pelosi to urge caution. "We will proceed when we have what we need," she said.

The Democratic-led Judiciary Committee, which Rep. Nadler oversees, has been flirting with the idea of impeachment for some time, and has subpoenaed dozens of witnesses and documents.

In a major escalation on Friday that drew fury from Mr Trump, the panel asked a federal judge to unseal grand jury testimony that formed the backbone of Mr Mueller's two-year probe.

The Mueller report concluded there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the results of the 2016 election but did not clear the president of obstruction.

Mr Mueller decided not to pursue an obstruction charge against Mr Trump in part because of the Department of Justice guidelines that prevent the indictment of a sitting president. 

The result of the legal action to gain access to secret grand jury evidence rests on Judge Beryl Howell applying a precedent that dates back to the impeachment of president Nixon.

Release of Watergate evidence was deemed lawful in 1974 because it fell under an exception authorising disclosure of grand jury material “in connection with a judicial proceeding”.

On Sunday, Rep. Nadler rejected the suggestion House Democrats were running out of time to launch formal impeachment proceedings because of the forthcoming 2020 presidential election.

"We have to defend the Constitution against these kinds of unconstitutional and illegal deeds," he said. "We have to do this, whatever time frame there is."

Rep. Nadler did not address whether Mr Trump should be prosecuted for possible obstruction of justice or other alleged crimes after leaving office, but suggested he might be in favour.

"Anyone else who had done what he did would have been indicted on a charge of at least five different major crimes," Rep. Nadler said.

"And a president who is immune from prosecution by virtue of the Justice Department's saying... should be prosecuted after he leaves office. Or at least impeach him, if you can prove those crimes."