The House Likely Has Started an Impeachment Investigation of Trump

Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

For everyone calling for Donald Trump’s impeachment, there may be some room for optimism, finally.

Four members of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday published an Op-Ed in The Atlantic titled “Why We’re Moving Forward With Impeachment.” Signed by House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Mary Gay Scanlon and Reps. David Cicilline, Pramila Jayapal, and Veronica Escobar, the column notes that the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller paints a “damning picture of a corrupt president who welcomed and encouraged an attack on our country, capitalized on it, and then tried to cover up what he had done.”

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They called Mueller’s testimony before Congress this week “a watershed moment.” While that may be an exaggeration, as Mueller’s testimony revealed nothing we didn’t already know, it is an indication that members of the committee understand the unspoken message that Mueller was trying to convey in his report: It’s up to Congress to do something about Trump and his alleged crimes.

The lawmakers wrote:

Despite assertions to the contrary by the president and his allies, the special counsel’s report and testimony are not the end of our investigations. We have now filed a petition in court to obtain the grand-jury documents referenced in the special counsel’s report. In that filing, we have made clear that we will utilize our Article I powers to obtain the additional underlying evidence, as well as enforce subpoenas for key witness testimony, and broaden our investigations to include conflicts of interest and financial misconduct.

While many people believe that beginning an impeachment investigation can begin only with a vote of the full House of Representatives, this is not true. Article I authorizes the House Judiciary Committee to begin this process.

The petition mentioned above was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday. It asks the court to release portions of the Mueller report that were redacted, along with grand jury testimony and other evidence related to Trump’s knowledge of Russia’s efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. It also seeks any evidence related to “President Trump’s knowledge of any potential criminal acts by him or any members of his administration, his campaign, his personal associates, or anyone associated with his administration or campaign.”

The petition also cites a memorandum by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler that states, “[w]ith regard to the Committee’s responsibility to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the President, articles of impeachment have already been introduced in this Congress and referred to the Judiciary Committee. They are under consideration as part of the Committee’s investigation, although no final determination has been made.”

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The petition also states:

Because Department of Justice policies will not allow prosecution of a sitting President, the United States House of Representatives is the only institution of the Federal Government that can now hold President Trump accountable for these actions. To do so, the House must have access to all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article I powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity—approval of articles of impeachment.

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According to attorney Joshua Matz, an expert in constitutional law, that means “there can now be no doubt that the committee is engaged in an investigation of whether to impeach President Trump,” he wrote in an Op-Ed in The Washington Post.

Matz explains:

The Constitution itself does not use phrases like “impeachment investigation” or “impeachment proceedings.” This has led some to mistakenly assume that the House is disregarding its impeachment power because it has not yet held a floor vote approving articles of impeachment (or expressly instructing the Judiciary Committee to deliberate on such articles).

But to those who specialize in these matters, that all-or-nothing vision of the impeachment power is mistaken. The Constitution’s text and structure — supported by judicial precedent and prior practice — show that impeachment is a process, not a single vote. And that process virtually always begins with an impeachment investigation in the judiciary committee, which is already occurring.

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We already know Nadler favors starting the impeachment process, as earlier this week he clashed behind closed doors with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has adamantly and consistently opposed beginning impeachment hearings in the House. Following Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday, Nadler reportedly advocated for drafting articles of impeachment against Trump, as Splinter’s Paul Blest noted on Friday.

In announcing the court filing, Nadler used cautious language, stating only that “we made clear to the court that we are considering impeachment, along with other options, under our Article I powers.” But he added: “Congress must hold this President accountable.”

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We’ll eventually see how this all plays out, although lawmakers are now on a six-week summer recess. Regardless, it is clear that House Judiciary Committee members believe there is something important in that grand jury testimony and the redacted portions of the Mueller report.

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