The third most senior House Democrat wants a vote on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump — and the charges against him to include obstruction of justice related to the findings of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
That controversial strategic position, laid out by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., in a brief interview with McClatchy on Tuesday evening, is the strongest and most decisive statement yet by a member of the House Democratic leadership team.
It also comes amid a hushed internal debate over how best to proceed.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s top lieutenants have, until this point, been circumspect about their intentions, even as the party’s impeachment inquiry heads into its final stages. And many members of the House Democratic Caucus have been operating on an assumption the California Democrat could deny efforts to incorporate the Mueller report into impeachment articles.
Publicly, Pelosi has repeatedly insisted no decisions have been made about whether to draft articles of impeachment against Trump or what the articles, if drafted, would even cover.
She has also worked to promote unity among House Democrats around a process for exploring whether to impeach Trump, refusing to give any indication she and her colleagues have entered these proceedings with a predetermined endgame, as Republicans contend.
But Clyburn’s admission on Tuesday that he has a preferred outcome for this process shows that private conversations are now beginning to spill out into the open — hours after the House Intelligence Committee released a 300-page report cataloguing Trump’s alleged misconduct and on the eve of the House Judiciary Committee’s scheduled public hearing with impeachment scholars.
“Oh lord, yes, things have changed a whole lot since these testimonies,” Clyburn said, referring to the Intelligence Committee depositions and hearings, acknowledging he had told reporters two weeks ago he was still unsure about whether impeaching Trump was in the offing.
Clyburn’s comments were also significant in that they signaled an interest in expanding the scope of potential impeachment articles beyond the investigation into whether Trump worked to withhold assistance from Ukraine unless the foreign government agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 rival.
“Obstruction of justice, I think, is too clear not to include” in impeachment articles, Clyburn said.
Whether to restrict impeachment articles to the current Capitol Hill inquiry or bring in elements of the Mueller report which was released in April and has been a source of some disagreement among House Democrats that has yet to be resolved.
Before the Thanksgiving break, one senior House Democratic aide insisted leaders had not ruled out the possibility of including Mueller findings in impeachment articles.
However, an aide to a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for drafting the impeachment articles, countered that this possibility was off the table.
“Leadership has been pretty clear that’s not going to happen,” the Judiciary aide said.
Pelosi’s ability to move forward with any impeachment inquiry, announced in September, also hinged on her members being unified in their alarm over the Ukraine revelations. In contrast, House Democrats were not similarly unified on pursuing impeachment proceedings over the findings in Mueller’s report.
Some Democrats worry that including Mueller’s findings in impeachment articles would be divisive for the caucus — particularly among vulnerable moderates who are already wary of the political consequences of an impeachment vote.
Meanwhile, sources confirmed to McClatchy that lawmakers are also having conversations about producing a “compromise” document laying out Trump’s many alleged offenses presented underneath a cover sheet of a more narrow set of impeachment articles on which the House could vote — reflecting the investigative work of multiple congressional committees over the course of the past year since Democrats reclaimed control of the chamber.
“You can have a report that goes through twenty articles that were investigated, but only one or two are brought to a vote,” said a second aide to a House Judiciary Committee Democrat, who described the proposal as having a “one-page summary” of articles of impeachment serving as the cover to a more comprehensive report.
“You can have things that meet the legal standard of high crimes and misdemeanors but won’t be introduced as article of impeachment because of the politics,” the aide said.
This could satisfy lawmakers like Clyburn, who made clear on Tuesday he was only expressing his own opinion on what should come next.
“I don’t know,” said Clyburn when asked if his colleagues would prefer a more narrow set of impeachment charges. “I’ve not talked about it.”
Michael Wilner contributed to this report.