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Democrat divisions over Mueller report
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 25 - 04 - 2019

US House Democrats are divided over whether to proceed to impeach President Donald Trump after the publication of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report, but they could still hold Trump accountable without impeachment, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Monday.
In a letter to fellow Democratic lawmakers, Pelosi said it was “important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings.” She added that Trump had engaged in highly unethical and unscrupulous behaviour “whether currently indictable or not.”
Pelosi and some other Democratic Party leaders have been wary of impeaching Trump, a Republican, just 18 months before the November 2020 presidential elections, with some worried that this could help the president mobilise his right-wing base.
They believe US voters should decide through the ballot box whether Trump should keep his post.
However, prominent liberals have demanded the start of proceedings to remove Trump from office since the release of a redacted version of Mueller's report on Thursday, pointing out that even if procedures did not work out because the Republicans continue to have a majority in the Senate, they still owe it to the American people to act on alleged violations committed by Trump, particularly in relation to the “obstruction of justice.”
Senior congressional Democrats have left the door open to pursuing impeachment plans, but they have also said they would first need to complete their own probe into whether Trump obstructed justice in Mueller's investigation.
“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 said in her letter.
During a conference call of House Democrats on Monday, House committee chairmen discussed moving ahead with investigations of Trump to see where the facts led, lawmakers said afterwards.
“Not fact-finding as a means of punting... but as a means of determining how best to fulfill our responsibilities,” Representative Tom Malinowski said. “There's no question that Mueller referred this to the Congress, and none of us want to drop the ball.”
Mueller's report concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US elections “in sweeping and systematic fashion,” but that there was not enough evidence to establish that Trump's campaign had engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow.
However, the report outlined multiple instances in which Trump had tried to thwart Mueller's probe, going as far as pushing senior aides to fire him. However, those aides had ignored his requests, the report revealed.
While it stopped short of concluding that Trump had committed any crime, it did not exonerate him. Mueller also noted that Congress had the power to address whether Trump had violated the law.
Impeachment advocates spoke up during the Democrat conference call, but “I would say that was a minority point of view,” said Representative Gerry Connolly. He said the Democrats would continue various investigations of Trump, including of his tax returns and financial dealings, but any quick move to impeach him could “truncate” those probes.
The division among Democrats in Congress was echoed by the party's 2020 presidential candidates. Answering audience questions at a televised CNN event in the early voting state of New Hampshire, three Democratic Party 2020 elections candidates shied away from calling for Trump's impeachment.
Another, California Senator Kamala Harris, said Congress should “take the steps towards impeachment” but believed such an effort would likely fail.
Only one candidate at the event, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, issued a full-throated call for Congress to try to remove Trump from office.
“If any other human being in this country had done what's documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail,” Warren said. Julian Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio and another 2020 hopeful who was not at the CNN event, has also called for Trump's impeachment.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said that “if for the next year and a half all the Congress is talking about is ‘Trump, Trump, Trump, ' and ‘Mueller, Mueller, Mueller' and we're not talking about the issues that concern ordinary Americans, I worry that works to Trump's advantage.”
In brief remarks on Monday, Trump dismissed questions from reporters about his staff's reluctance to carry out his orders and the chances of impeachment proceedings in Congress.
The 448-page Mueller report revealed staff and associates had sometimes ignored requests from Trump to deliver messages, including one to fire Mueller. “Nobody disobeys me,” Trump said when asked if he was worried about his orders not being followed.
In his report, Mueller said that he had found “multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law-enforcement investigations.”
According to the report, White House Counsel Don McGahn had been on the brink of resigning when Trump told him to ask Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller. Trump then denied using the word “fire,” according to McGahn's retelling to Mueller.
Mueller's report drew upon interviews, notes and communications with Trump advisers. Trump's personal lawyer during the campaign, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to crimes as did campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump's first national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Asked on Monday whether he was concerned about the threat of impeachment on allegations of obstruction of justice as some Democrats have called for, Trump said “not even a little bit.”
Trump also filed suit on Monday to keep US lawmakers from obtaining his financial records. The suit seeks to block a subpoena issued by the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee for Information about Trump's personal and business finances, alleging the Democrats have launched an “all-out political war” on Trump with subpoenas as their “weapon of choice.”
The committee's subpoena sought eight years of documents from Mazars USA, an accounting firm long used by Trump to prepare financial statements, related to its investigation of allegations Trump inflated or deflated financial statements for potentially improper purposes.
Elijah Cummings, House Oversight Committee chairman, issued the subpoena to the president's accountant after Trump's former lawyer, Cohen, testified to Congress in February that Trump had misrepresented his net worth.
“Chairman Cummings's subpoena is invalid and unenforceable because it has no legitimate legislative purpose,” Trump's lawyers said in a filing, arguing it exceeded constitutional limits on the power of Congress to investigate.
“Its goal is to expose private financial information for the sake of exposure, with the hope that it will turn up something that the Democrats can use as a political tool against the president now and in the 2020 elections,” they said.
In a statement on Monday, Cummings said there was no valid legal basis to try to block the subpoena and accused the White House of “unprecedented stonewalling” in refusing to produce a single document or witness to the committee.

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