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House Democrat leaders backed off the idea of immediately launching impeachment proceedings against President Trump in an urgent conference call Monday evening, amid a growing rift among the party’s rank-and-file members, presidential contenders and committee chairs on the contentious issue.
Fox News is told by two senior sources on the conference call that even House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, an anti-Trump firebrand, told fellow Democrats that while she personally favored going forward with impeachment proceedings, she was not pushing for other members to join her.
Waters’ hesitation signaled clearly that, for the time being, any impeachment effort would struggle to gain steam. Just last week, Waters, D-Calif., took a far more aggressive tone, charging that “Congress’ failure to impeach is complacency in the face of the erosion of our democracy and constitutional norms.”
Waters also has called Attorney General Bill Barr a “lackey,” saying he was not being “respectful” to Congress. Barr held a news conference presenting Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusions and has referred bluntly to the FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign as “spying,” rankling Democrats even as he said the important issue was whether the spying was properly predicated.
On the call Monday night, Waters took a more muted tone and said she was simply saying what she personally thought — not demanding impeachment proceedings.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said while she personally favored impeachment proceedings, she was not pushing for other lawmakers to join her. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reportedly told colleagues on the call that while the findings from Mueller’s investigation merited further review, taking the president to trial would be premature. Congress is currently on a two-week recess, and representatives are scattered across the country.
The brewing fractures in the Democrat Party were evident on the Sunday talk show circuit, as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif, told “Fox News Sunday” that the impeachment question presented a “very difficult decision” that would take “the next couple of weeks” to determine.
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“I’m not there yet, but I can foresee that possibly coming,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Democrats would be wise to instead focus on the upcoming presidential election.
“Obstruction of justice, if proven, would be impeachable,” New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” adding his committee would “see where the facts lead us.” Nadler issued a subpoena on Monday for documents and testimony from former White House Counsel Donald McGahn, who resisted Trump’s calls to fire Mueller, according to the special counsel’s findings.
Meanwhile, prominent progressive firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat running for president in 2020, wholeheartedly embraced the impeachment push.
Pelosi recognized the intra-party split in a letter to Democrats on Monday, ahead of the conference call.
“While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth,” Pelosi wrote. “It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings.”
Pelosi added: “Whether currently indictable or not, it is clear that the president has, at a minimum, engaged in highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior which does not bring honor to the office he holds.”
Mueller’s 18-month-long probe found no evidence the Trump team conspired illegally with Russians, and debunked numerous conspiracy theories that mainstream media outlets had advanced on the topic. Democrats quickly pivoted to focus on whether the president had illegally obstructed the Russia investigation — a question Mueller chose to allow Barr, the Justice Department, and Congress to address.
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Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told “Fox News Sunday” that it was unfair for Democrats to expect Mueller to have “exonerated” Trump on obstruction.
“You do not apply a standard of exoneration to anyone,” Giuliani told host Chris Wallace, after saying the standard was “warped” and that the Mueller report was full of “lies” told by disaffected Trump aides.
“Whether it’s a president, an impeachment,” Giuliani said, “you can’t exonerate. Exoneration means proving a negative.”
Fox News’ Alex Pappas, Chad Pergram, Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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