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The drumbeat among Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump got a little louder on Tuesday, when former White House counsel Donald McGahn failed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee after Trump instructed him to defy a subpoena.
“Our subpoenas are not optional,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said at the hearing, McGahn’s empty seat directly in his view. “The president has taken it upon himself to intimidate a witness who has a legal obligation to be here today. This conduct is not remotely acceptable.”
Nadler vowed to hold McGahn in contempt of Congress, and to hold Trump accountable “one way or the other.”
“We will not allow the president to block congressional subpoenas, putting himself and his allies above the law,” he said. “We will not allow the president to stop this investigation. Nothing in these unjustified and unjustifiable legal attacks will stop us from pressing forward with our work on behalf of the American people.”
McGahn was a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Trump's attempts to stop his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. House Democrats want to hear more from McGahn about an episode of possible obstruction detailed in the Mueller report. McGahn said Trump ordered him to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller.
Trump has falsely claimed that the report totally exonerated him. While the special counsel declined to charge Trump with obstruction of justice, investigators explicitly refused to exonerate the president.
Trump’s vow to defy all congressional subpoenas has led some Democrats — and one Republican — to call for the launch of impeachment proceedings.
On Tuesday morning, the two co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus issued statements pushing for those proceedings to begin.
“Regrettably, the President’s most recent actions and continued disrespect for the Constitution are forcing us down the road to impeachment,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis. “Congress is a co-equal branch of government, charged with oversight of the Executive Branch and with the power to subpoena information and individuals. The President and his associates are engaging in a campaign of obstruction and lawlessness that undermines the rule of law and does not reflect the actions of someone who is ‘exonerated’ as innocent.”
“We are now at the point where we must begin an impeachment inquiry,” wrote Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., in a tweet. “I don't say that lightly. We've taken every step we can w/subpoenas and witnesses. Trump obstructs everything. A president who thinks he’s king, accountable to nobody & above the law is absolutely unacceptable.”
They were joined by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who told the Washington Post he supported moving forward with the process.
“I think that overwhelming evidence has been presented to us in the Mueller report, and outside of it too, of high crimes and misdemeanors, and we should launch an impeachment inquiry,” said Raskin. “Remember, an inquiry doesn’t prejudge the outcome. We’re not talking about articles of impeachment.”
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that "the time has come to start an impeachment inquiry."
Congress has patiently tried to work within traditional means to get to the bottom of this extraordinary situation," Scanlon said. "But we have reached an inflection point."
The House cannot remove the president on its own. If it votes one or more articles of impeachment, the Senate would be required to hold a trial and vote on removal. Two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached but were acquitted by the Senate and remained in office. Richard Nixon resigned in the face of likely impeachment.
On Monday, Democrats held a contentious closed-door debate, per a Politico report. While some members pushed for an impeachment inquiry if McGahn refused to testify, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team rejected the call to move forward. The Speaker pointed to a federal ruling that Trump had to turn over accounting information to the House Oversight Committee as evidence that the House’s oversight procedures were functioning. Others disagreed.
“It’s a fact-finding process,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., of the push to start an impeachment inquiry after making the case to Pelosi in the meeting. “There’s no doubt that opening an inquiry strengthens the hand of Congress in forcing compliance with subpoenas, whether it’s for documents or individuals.”
While most of the Republican Party has closed ranks around Trump, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., came out in support of impeachment proceedings over the weekend. Amash, a libertarian who came to Congress in the tea party wave of 2010, said there was enough evidence in the special counsel’s report to begin a congressional investigation of the president. Trump replied by calling the five-term representative a “loser” and “total lightweight.”
On Tuesday morning, CBS News reported that Amash was talking to a school group outside the Capitol about why impeachment proceedings needed to begin, stating that people who didn’t tell the truth are “really dangerous for our country.” A pro-Trump Republican in Amash’s district has already announced he will be challenging the congressman in the primary prior to next year’s election.
Pelosi originally came out against impeachment in March.
“I’m not for impeachment,” said Pelosi in an interview with the Washington Post. “This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”
Freshmen Democrats have been pushing for impeachment since beginning their tenure. Shortly after being sworn in in January, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., said “We’re going to impeach the motherf***er.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told Yahoo News in April that she was in favor of the process.
It is just as politicized a maneuver to not impeach in the face of overwhelming evidence as it is to impeach w/o cause,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter Tuesday. “Congress swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. That includes impeachment. We have a duty to preserve our institutions + uphold the rule of law.”
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