One huge takeaway from Mueller’s report and statement today is the special counsel felt the law and Justice Department policy prevented him from charging President Donald Trump with obstruction, even though there was evidence of it. But Mueller also reiterated that Congress is not so hamstrung.
“The opinion [in the report] says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” he said.
Mueller was clear in his report: Congress is the body that gets to decide whether Trump obstructed justice.
“The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” Mueller wrote in his report.
But Congress may be no closer to pulling the trigger on impeachment proceedings than they were last week. Democrats are still divided on where to go from here.
Democrats running for president are ready to start impeachment proceedings. House Democrats aren’t as sure.
On Wednesday, a number of Democrats running for president reiterated calls for impeachment. Meanwhile, House Democrats, who are the most consequential figures to decide whether Congress will pursue impeachment, kept their thoughts much closer to the vest.
Here are the statements of some presidential candidates on impeachment after Mueller’s Wednesday statement.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker were all in on Congress starting impeachment proceedings immediately.
Mueller’s statement makes clear what those who have read his report know: It is an impeachment referral, and it’s up to Congress to act. They should.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 29, 2019
What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral. Now it is up to Congress to hold this president accountable.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 29, 2019
We need to start impeachment proceedings. It's our constitutional obligation.
Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately.— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 29, 2019
It's time for Congress to begin impeachment hearings and follow the facts. Robert Mueller clearly expects Congress to exercise its constitutional authority and take steps that he could not. We can't let the president defy basic accountability measures built into our Constitution.— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) May 29, 2019
Rep. Seth Moulton came out with a full-throated call to start impeachment hearings “tomorrow,” while a House colleague also running for president, Rep. Eric Swalwell, said on MSNBC that he believed Mueller would testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee — even though Mueller cast doubt on whether he would testify.
Mueller did his job. Now it’s time to do ours.— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) May 29, 2019
Impeachment hearings should begin tomorrow. https://t.co/9za3s0pqOA
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading in the polls, took a more measured tone than many of his colleagues in a campaign statement. Biden agreed with the strategy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: continuing to investigate the president. His campaign said that while impeachment proceedings would be “divisive,” it may also become “unavoidable” in the future.
“Congress must do everything in its power to hold this Administration to account,” the campaign statement read. “That is what Congress is doing and should do: continue to investigate.”
NEW: @JoeBiden campaign statement on Mueller - "We know beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump asked for help from the Russians. He got it. He used it." Adds, Congress should "continue to investigate." @CBSNews pic.twitter.com/Cjeh2FkpeH— Bo Erickson (@BoKnowsNews) May 29, 2019
Sen. Bernie Sanders, another leading candidate in the presidential race, walked a middle ground. While not calling for immediate impeachment, Sanders said he’d support the House Judiciary Committee if they decided to launch an impeachment inquiry.
Given the reality that we have a president who believes he is above the law, Congress must continue its investigations. If the House Judiciary Committee deems it necessary, I will support their decision to open an impeachment inquiry. https://t.co/6lTVdcaTXc— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 29, 2019
To be sure, it’s easier for presidential candidates to call for impeachment. House Democrats are in more of a bind because they are the ones ultimately in charge of deciding whether to start proceedings.
There’s disagreement within the Democratic caucus over how far to go on impeachment. House Democrats’ statements following Mueller’s Wednesday remarks ranged from saying Democrats need to dig into their investigations to calling for impeachment outright, as House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) did in a tweet.
“No more hiding behind the special counsel,” Waters tweeted. “Enough is enough. It’s time to #ImpeachTrump.”
Mueller made clear Trump is NOT exonerated and that AG Barr is a liar. Mueller did his job now it's time for Congress to do its job. No more hiding behind the special counsel. Enough is enough. It's time to #ImpeachTrump. We can't wait for 2020. The time is NOW!— Maxine Waters (@RepMaxineWaters) May 29, 2019
But House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who is in charge of the committee that could open an impeachment inquiry, made no mention of impeachment in his statement.
“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies, and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so,” Nadler said.
Read my statement following Special Counsel Robert Muller's press conference this morning on the conclusion of the investigation into President Trump and his associates: pic.twitter.com/1FDMotIgiY— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) May 29, 2019
But, importantly, Nadler did not say what exactly Congress should do to hold the president to account.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued her call for Congress to do its investigative work deliberatively.
“The Congress holds sacred its constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the President accountable for his abuse of power,” she said in a statement. “The Congress will continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy. The American people must have the truth.”
Pelosi has said House Democrats should only pursue impeachment if they find something explosive enough that there is bipartisan agreement to do so. Her statement today seems to indicate Democrats haven’t yet found it.
The question now is if Mueller said anything to change her or her committee chairs’ minds.