Dems Laud Special Counsel, But Say It's Not Enough

The Justice Department’s appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia investigation elicited bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill Wednesday, but is by itself unlikely to ease the tension that has gripped lawmakers for more than a week after a series of dramatic disclosures related to President Trump and Russia. 

While Mueller’s appointment answers the most immediate call from Democrats for an independent investigator, they want a broader investigation of Trump and continue walking a tightrope between pushing too hard and overplaying their hand.  

“A special prosecutor is the first step, but it cannot be the last,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “Director Mueller will still be in the chain of command under the Trump-appointed leadership of the Justice Department. He cannot take the place of a truly independent, outside commission that is completely free from the Trump administration’s meddling.”

Even before the appointment of a special counsel, Pelosi was managing differing points of view within her conference about how far to go with members’ calls for investigating Trump and Russia. Some liberal lawmakers had been calling for impeachment of the president even before reports surfaced this week of memos written by former FBI Director James Comey, and now they feel emboldened. 

“I’m not afraid of the ‘I’ word -- it’s independent,” Rep. Joe Crowley, the Democratic Caucus chairman, said Wednesday morning. “Independent commission, independent investigator. That’s what I support. That’s also the general consensus of our Democratic leadership.”

But Democratic leaders have tried to tamp down talk of impeachment this early in the process, urging caution on the “I” word. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and a fierce critic of the president, also advised against a “rush to embrace the most extraordinary remedy that involves the removal of the president from office.”

“It cannot be perceived as an effort to nullify the election by other means,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

 

When asked about impeachment, California Rep. Eric Swalwell told RealClearPolitics: “It's not the moment right now to be talking about that. We haven't had a thorough investigation. That's what we need first before we go to any other I words.”

Swalwell sponsored a discharge petition to try and force a vote on legislation that would establish an independent commission to probe the president and questions of collusion with the Russians. Though he praised the appointment of special counsel, he said it didn’t diminish the need for an independent commission within Congress. 

Swalwell, who serves on the Intelligence Committee that is currently investigating Russian interference in the election, said there were “urgent” concerns that required a special prosecutor, and “important” concerns that still require a separate special commission. 

“What is important is future elections,” Swalwell said. “I think an independent commission [is needed] to understand how we were so vulnerable, whether any U.S. persons were involved, what was our response when it happened, and what we can do to make reforms so it doesn’t happen again. That’s a longer-term [investigation] and we can still do that.”

Only one Republican, North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones, has signed onto that effort. And others who support the appointment of a special counsel at the Department of Justice didn’t think another commission was necessary. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, called for a special prosecutor Wednesday morning and praised the appointment of Mueller, but said adding a commission on top of that would be counterproductive, leaving the matter a partisan affair.  

“If we want to start popping up all kinds of different investigations everywhere, then it’s never going to be solved and it’s literally just going to be that, a political talking point for the next cycle,” Kinzinger said. “I don’t care about that part of it. I want to get to answers because this is beyond what it means for Republicans or Democrats.” 

Two Republicans -- Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who represents a district Hillary Clinton won by 17 points, and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a Freedom Caucus member -- raised the question of impeachment if allegations reported in the Comey memos were accurate. But GOP leaders weren’t ready to reach conclusions. “We need the facts. It is obvious there are some people out there that want to harm the president," House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters. 

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said he would like to hear from Comey. The Senate Intelligence Committee invited Comey to testify in both open and closed sessions and to want to view his memos. The Senate Judiciary Committee has also asked to see the documents, and any tapes of recorded conversations, as Trump implied may exist in a tweet last week. The full Senate will receive a briefing from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed the special counsel, Thursday afternoon. 

House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz asked the FBI to submit all of Comey’s documents to his committee by May 24, and also said his panel would conduct a hearing next Wednesday. 

But such actions hardly satisfied some Democrats. “I will not be moved. The president must be impeached,” Texas Rep. Al Green said on the House floor on Wednesday.

During a speech Tuesday at a Center for American Progress event, before the news of the Comey memos broke, California Rep. Maxine Waters was cheered for saying, “We don't have to think impeachment is out of our reach.”

Outside Congress, Illinois Democrat J.B. Pritzker, who is running for governor in 2018, said lawmakers should begin impeachment proceedings. 

Pelosi has been wary of calls for impeachment, however, telling CNN earlier this week of the need to first follow the facts to lay out a case. “What are the facts that you would make a case on?  What are the rules that he may have violated?  If you don't have that case, you're just participating in more hearsay,” she said in a town hall forum on Monday. 

Like Pelosi, most Democrats want to take the slower, more careful approach. “We need to drill down on the facts,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. “As a prosecutor, my rule is first know the facts; otherwise the charges will never succeed in court. And here we are talking about the court of public opinion, and the standard of proof is high.” 

Blumenthal said he has been encouraged by Republican colleagues who he says are “hearing the call” for some type of action. “The political dynamic is shifting seismically.” 

But at the same time, Blumenthal said Democrats should block Trump’s eventual nominee to lead the FBI. “The cloud” over the White House “is so intense that I would oppose any FBI director nominated by this president,” he said.

Article: Real Clear Politics