Impeach or investigate? Democrats see no reason to choose

WASHINGTON (AP) — Whatever happens next, don’t call it impeachment.

House Democrats have been careful not to rush to impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump in the aftermath of Robert Mueller’s report, despite calls to do so by high-profile lawmakers and 2020 presidential contenders. But as Congress resumed Monday, the Democratic oversight and investigations agenda is starting to look a lot like the groundwork that would be needed to launch an impeachment inquiry. At some point, it’s a political difference rather than a practical one.

“I don’t think there’s a magical moment at which proceedings become ‘really’ impeachment proceedings,” said Cornell Law School professor Josh Chafetz.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from Attorney General William Barr on Thursday, despite resistance from the administration. The Oversight Committee has reached an agreement with the White House for testimony this week on security clearances. The Intelligence Committee is probing Trump’s financial dealings. And the Ways & Means Committee is pursuing Trump’s tax returns.

“The House has such broad oversight powers that it really doesn’t matter whether they’re geared toward impeachment, toward legislating, toward overseeing the functioning of the executive branch, etc.,” Chafetz said. “At the end of the day, for the purposes of the powers available to the House, I don’t think it makes much of a difference whether they use the word ‘impeachment’ or not.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted the door is neither open nor closed to impeachment. Instead, she says, Congress is taking a step-by-step approach in exerting its role as a check on the executive branch. It will lead wherever it leads, and the public can decide.

While Republicans and others in Washington are ready to move on from the report from special counsel Robert Mueller, Democrats in Congress are still fighting to see it. The Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., subpoenaed for a full and un-redacted copy of the 400-page report, and its underlying materials. He also wants Mueller to testify before the panel by May 21.

Pelosi suggests that Congress will have more to say on impeachment after lawmakers — and the American public — digests the findings of the two-year probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction by Trump.

“In every way he is unfit to be the president of the United States,” Pelosi said in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month. “Does that make it — is that an impeachable offense? Well it depends on what we see in the report.”

Pelosi says she sets a “very high bar for impeachment because I think it’s very divisive in the country.”

In many ways, House Democrats are trying to have it both ways — pursuing the investigations that could serve as a prelude to impeachment proceedings without taking the politically fraught step of calling it impeachment.

The balancing act reflects recent polling that shows Americans are interested in getting more information, but also split. A poll showed that even with the Mueller probe complete, 53% said Congress should continue to investigate Trump’s ties with Russia, while 45% said Congress should not.

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