The chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena on Friday for special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report as Democrats intensified their investigation of President Donald Trump. But their leaders stopped short of demands from liberals within the party for impeachment proceedings.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted on a methodical, step-by-step approach to the House’s oversight of the Trump administration, and she refuses to consider impeachment without public support, including from Republicans, which seems unlikely. But in light of Mr. Mueller’s findings, Democratic leaders are under mounting pressure from the party’s rising stars, deep-pocketed donors and even a presidential contender to seize the moment as a jumping-off point for trying to remove Mr. Trump from office.
Speaking on Friday in Belfast as she wrapped up a congressional visit to Ireland, Ms. Pelosi declined to signal action beyond Congress’s role as a check-and-balance for the White House.
“Let me assure you that whatever the issue and challenge we face, the Congress of the United States will honour its oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States to protect our democracy,” she told reporters. “We believe that the first article – Article 1, the legislative branch – has the responsibility of oversight of our democracy, and we will exercise that.”
The Democrats’ subpoena was issued only hours after Mr. Trump struck a defiant tone, unleashing tweets saying claims in the report by former administration officials that he tried numerous times to stop or influence the probe were “total bullshit.”
According to the 448-page report released on Thursday, Mr. Trump discouraged witnesses from co-operating with prosecutors and prodded aides to mislead the public on his behalf to hamper the Russia probe he feared would cripple his administration.
Mr. Trump lashed out at people who co-operated with Mr. Mueller’s team. He said statements in the report made by some were “fabricated & totally untrue.” He alleged that “notes” some people said they took after meetings didn’t exist but were created for the Mueller investigation.
“I never agreed to testify, it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the ‘Report’ about me, some of which are total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad),” Mr. Trump tweeted. “This was an Illegally Started Hoax that never should have happened.”
Some liberals in the Democratic party see in Mr. Trump’s actions not just a president unfit for office but evidence of obstruction serious enough that Mr. Mueller said he could not declare Mr. Trump exonerated.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now signed on to an impeachment resolution from fellow Democratic representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, bringing new energy to the effort. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a presidential candidate, said on Friday the House “should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president.” And billionaire Tom Steyer, a leading advocate of impeachment, has grown impatient with the House’s pace of investigations and wants televised hearings to focus Americans’ attention on Mr. Trump.
“Let’s get the show on the road,” Mr. Steyer said in an interview on Friday. “The Mueller report very clearly outlined obstruction by the President and basically said, I can’t do anything about it, it’s up to Congress to hold the President accountable.”
Democrats, though, may see greater power in pursuing an investigative effort, leaving impeachment on the shelf as a break-glass option.
The Judiciary chairman, Jerrold Nadler, says he expects the Justice Department to comply with the committee’s subpoena for the full report by May 1.
That’s the same day Attorney-General William Barr is to testify before a Senate committee and one day before Mr. Barr is to appear before Mr. Nadler’s panel. Mr. Nadler also has summoned Mr. Mueller to testify by May 23.
“It now falls to Congress to determine the full scope of that alleged misconduct and to decide what steps we must take going forward,” Mr. Nadler said.
A Justice Department spokeswoman, Kerri Kupac, called Mr. Nadler’s move “premature and unnecessary.”
“The Department will continue to work with Congress to accommodate its legitimate requests consistent with the law and long-recognized executive branch interests,” she added in a statement
Mr. Barr sent Congress a redacted version of the Mueller report, blacking out several types of material, including classified information, material pertaining to continuing investigations and grand jury evidence.
Mr. Nadler said he was open to working with the department on accommodations, but he also said the committee “needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice.”
But the committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins of Georgia, said the subpoena was “wildly overboard” and that Mr. Trump already had declined to assert executive privilege over the Mueller report in a move of “unprecedented openness.”
“This is politically convenient,” Mr. Collins said, allowing the chairman “to grandstand and rail against the attorney general for not co-operating on an impossible timeline.”
Mr. Mueller’s report provides fresh evidence of Mr. Trump’s interference in the Russia investigation and challenges lawmakers to respond.
For Congress, though, organizing an immediate response has been complicated by the spring recess that left leadership in both parties away from Washington and rank-and-file lawmakers.
GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has been on a delegation trip to South America, and GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been in Africa.
One Republican, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, was one of the few who spoke out on Friday, saying he was “sickened” by the report’s findings of dishonesty at the highest levels of the administration, “including the president,” and appalled that some Americans were working with Russians during the 2016 election.
Mr. Romney said it was “good news” that there had been insufficient evidence to charge Mr. Trump with conspiring with a foreign adversary or obstructing justice, which he said could have triggered a constitutional crisis.
“Even so, I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President,” Mr. Romney said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia – including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine,” Romney added.
Ms. Pelosi will convene House Democrats for a conference call on Monday, after the holiday weekend when many lawmakers are celebrating Easter and Passover.
With Mr. Barr, Democrats expect a long battle ahead. The Attorney-General has come under intense scrutiny over his handling of the Mueller report and subsequent comments that have left him exposed to criticism he is acting in Mr. Trump’s interest.
Late Friday, Democrats rejected an offer from Mr. Barr for a limited number of congressional leaders to view some of the redacted materials in a confidential setting. They said it was inadequate.
It’s unlikely that the full Mueller report or the special counsel’s public testimony will untangle the dilemma that Democrats face. Mr. Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Mr. Trump directed others to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel’s appointment in May, 2017, and Mr. Trump made clear that he viewed the probe as a potential mortal blow – “the end of my presidency.”
Democratic leaders are walking a delicate line on what to do with Mr. Mueller’s findings.
The No. 2 Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, drew criticism for refusing to consider impeachment, and quickly revised his comments to say “all options ought to remain on the table.”
And Ms. Pelosi, in an interview last week, before the report’s release, reiterated her “high bar” for impeachment. But she also didn’t close the door on the option.
“The fact is the President has engaged in activities that are unethical, un-American. … In every way he is unfit to be president of the United States. Does that make it – is that an impeachable offence? Well, it depends on what we see in the report.”