By Sarah N. Lynch and Yasmeen Abutaleb
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top congressional Democrats left the door open on Sunday to pursue the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump, but said they would first need to complete their own investigations into whether he obstructed justice in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Democratic Party leaders have cautioned against impeachment just 18 months before the 2020 presidential election, although prominent liberals have called for the start of proceedings to remove Trump from office since the release on Thursday of Mueller’s report.
U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, whose panel would spearhead any impeachment proceedings, said Democrats would press ahead with investigations of Trump in Congress and “see where the facts lead us.” “Obstruction of justice, if proven, would be impeachable,” Nadler said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
A redacted version of Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, the product of a 22-month investigation, built a broad case that Trump had committed obstruction of justice. While it stopped short of concluding Trump had committed a crime, it did not exonerate him.
Mueller noted that Congress has the power to address whether Trump violated the law, and Democrats said it would be a matter of discussion in the coming weeks.
“That’s going to be a very consequential decision and one I’m going to reserve judgement on until we have a chance to fully deliberate on it,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Nadler has issued a subpoena to the Justice Department to hand over the full Mueller report and other relevant evidence by May 1, although the Justice Department called the request “premature and unnecessary.”
With Republicans standing by Trump, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has cautioned against an impeachment effort that would have no chance of success in the Republican-led Senate.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren became the first major contender for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination to call for the start of impeachment proceedings, saying on Twitter on Friday that “the severity of this misconduct” demanded it.
Democratic House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Congress needed to look at Trump’s finances and gauge Mueller’s intentions with his report.
He said even if Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic impeachment effort, “I think history would smile upon us for standing up for the Constitution.”
Democratic presidential contender Tim Ryan, a member of the House, said the party should wait until the multiple ongoing investigations of Trump in Congress have had a chance to uncover more evidence.
“Let the process play itself out,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “I would just rather us take this next step: educate the American people, really get these details out, let the Judiciary Committee do its work.”
Trump, who has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt,” has claimed vindication from Mueller’s report. Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers, tried to undermine the credibility of Mueller’s investigators on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I don’t think his people are fair,” Giuliani said of Mueller’s team. “I don’t think that report is fair.”
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Yasmeen Abutaleb; Additional reporting by John Whitesides and Tim Ahmann; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Bill Berkrot)