Washington (AFP) - Democratic White House hopeful Elizabeth Warren said Thursday that if Donald Trump were not protected by his presidential status, he would be "in handcuffs and indicted" for obstructing the investigation into Russia's 2016 election interference.
The progressive US senator from Massachusetts, one of the leading Democrats for the party's 2020 nomination, was the first presidential candidate to speak out in favor of launching impeachment proceedings against Trump.
"If he were anyone other than president of the United States, he would be in handcuffs and indicted," Warren said on ABC talk show "The View."
Warren had called for an impeachment inquiry the day after the April 18 publication of special counsel Robert Mueller's 448-page report on Moscow's election interference.
Following a nearly two-year probe, Mueller concluded in his report that there was no evidence of outright collusion between Trump and Moscow.
He also said that, having detailed at least 10 possible acts of obstruction by Trump, it was not possible to say the president committed no crime.
This week, the special counsel said he was bound by the longstanding policy that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.
"Mueller... says, basically, by the time you get to the end of the report, there are all the facts, multiple examples, of obstruction of justice, I can't indict, it's up to Congress," Warren said.
Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives and are therefore able to launch an impeachment inquiry. But even if the House impeaches Trump, the effort to oust him is likely to fail in the Republican-led Senate.
While several other Democratic presidential hopefuls are also calling for impeachment proceedings, House leaders remain reluctant to begin the process during the 2020 election campaign.
They argue it could prove very unpopular with voters, and its ultimate failure would galvanize Trump's core supporters and fuel his narrative that he is a victim of a system that wants him ousted.
Instead, Democratic leaders are urging rank-and-file members to allow ongoing congressional investigations of Trump to run their course.
Trump meanwhile repeated his claim that the report offered him total exoneration, and that he has been the victim of "giant presidential harassment."
After a rare public statement by Mueller the previous day, Trump on Thursday swatted away the Democrats' threat of impeachment.
"I don't see how they can," he said.