Democrats are at an impeachment crossroads

In an interview on CNN's State of the Union, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) did not rule out using findings from the Mueller report in the case for impeachment. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig explains what that means.

Posted: Dec 9, 2019 9:40 AM
Updated: Dec 9, 2019 9:40 AM

That President Donald Trump should be impeached is self-evident to most of the Democratic Party, which has recoiled at his entire presidency and was ready to get rid of him long before he applied pressure to Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

But it's not self-evident to the portion of the country that either supports Trump or tolerates him.

So even as Democrats push what they see as a slam dunk case on Ukraine or on Russia, they must balance the desire to defeat a political foe with what will be acceptable to voters who go to the polls in less than a year.

Their fear is that Trump is rewiring what the country will accept from its President and how it views its Constitution. If Democrats are perceived as lashing out rather than measuring and applying checks and balances, it could end up making Trump even more powerful if he wins a second term.

Nadler: Jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat'

With sources telling CNN a vote in the House Judiciary Committee to impeach Trump is expected as soon as this week, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said Sunday that he sees the Ukraine evidence as part of "a pattern" of conduct by the President.

The New York Democrat told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union" Sunday he was confident in Democrats' "solid" case for impeachment, and said his party's case "if presented to a jury would be a guilty verdict in about three minutes flat."

The Judiciary Committee provided the White House with the investigative materials from Congress that are part of the impeachment proceedings against the President, according to a letter Nadler sent White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Sunday.

Nadler's comments to CNN come ahead of Monday's 9 a.m. ET hearing where evidence against Trump will be presented by the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

And while Trump's conduct as detailed in Robert Mueller's special counsel report will be at least part of Monday's discussion, both Nadler and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff signaled Sunday they are ready to move forward without including it.

"I can tell you as a former prosecutor it's always been you know, my strategy, in a charging decision, and an impeachment in the House is essentially a charging decision, to charge those that there's the strongest and most overwhelming evidence, and not try to charge everything even though you could charge other things," Schiff said in an interview on CBS' "Face The Nation."

He later added: "I think we should focus on those issues that provide the greatest threat to the country."

  • CNN's Stephen Collinson writes: Including elements of Mueller's Russia report suggesting Trump was guilty of obstruction would help arguments he did exactly the same in the Ukraine investigation. But reviving the controversy over the special counsel's probe could blur the much clearer current abuse of power case and play into Trump's claims that both Washington intrigues are all part of the same "hoax."

Speaking of Russia...

The Department of Justice Inspector General's report on the start of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is expected to be released Monday.

The report will say the probe was properly launched but lower-level employees made a series of mistakes, according to two sources familiar with the matter -- information Trump is certain to seize on as a way to divert attention from the House impeachment inquiry.

Before the report is released, check out this Q & A with CNN's Crime and Justice reporter David Shortell for a breakdown of what to expect.

Vulnerable Dems plan for impeachment vote

As the House Judiciary Committee last week held its first impeachment hearing into Trump, some of the House's most vulnerable Democrats privately huddled to discuss how to protect their majority.

At the headquarters of the House Democrats' campaign arm, they talked about what they were hearing back home and were briefed on an internal poll surveying 57 battleground districts from October to November, according to a source familiar. That poll showed support for impeaching and removing Trump had stayed about the same — slightly trailing the opposition — despite a Republican onslaught.

While the polling was meant to reassure Democrats from highly competitive districts, they are still uneasy about the historic vote they're about to cast, which could have major ramifications for the country and their races.

Here's a sample of what some vulnerable Democrats are saying publicly:

Rep. Anthony Brindisi of New York, a freshman from a competitive district who had initially resisted an impeachment inquiry, said Friday: "I'm totally undecided." He added, "Anytime you talk about impeaching a president -- the third time in our nation's history -- that's a very serious vote. I take it very seriously."

Rep. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma told CNN that she's still deciding on how to vote and waiting to see "all the information," including how the articles of impeachment will be written.

Rep. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina said the allegations against Trump are "very serious" but wasn't sure how he'd vote until he saw the articles. "I wasn't elected to impeach the President," he said. "And I also wasn't elected to protect the President."

Giuliani's latest falsehood

A series of conspiratorial claims against Ukraine's government and the US embassy in Kiev have now been alleged by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

The former New York City mayor tweeted Thursday evening and into Friday morning several allegations over US aid to Ukraine and supposed stand-down orders directed from the US embassy in Ukraine to the country's police force.

"The Accounts Chamber in Ukraine found an alleged misuse of $5.3B in U.S. funds during the Obama administration while Biden was 'Point Man,'" Giuliani tweeted Thursday night. "Obama embassy urged Ukrainian police NOT to investigate!"

The next morning Giuliani tweeted the same allegations, this time naming former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch -- who Giuliani worked to have removed from her post -- and adding a new conspiracy that "much of the $5.3B in US Aid Ukraine reported as misused was given to the embassy's favored NGO's."

Facts First: The $5.3 billion figure comes from multiple countries, not solely from the US, and funds to non-government organizations represents a small percentage of this aid. The Accounting Chamber of Ukraine reported that there was not a proper accounting of the funds and their designated projects, not that the funds were "misused." And there is no evidence to support the accusation that the US embassy "urged Ukrainian police NOT to investigate."

Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr counseled Trump that Giuliani has become a liability for his administration, The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing people familiar with the conversations.

Giuliani has long stirred alarm among the President's advisers who worry his foreign business dealings often make it unclear who he is representing, people familiar with the situation told the Post.

The Post reported on other foreign efforts by Giuliani, including an attempt to replace the ambassador to Qatar and an agreement to find a way to negotiate a back channel communication between Trump and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

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