WASHINGTON: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted on Friday (Jul 26) she is not squashing efforts to impeach President Donald Trump, as some Democrats took a determined step towards launching an impeachment investigation.
Democrats have struggled to formulate a new battle plan against the Republican president after Robert Mueller's lacklustre testimony before Congress this week failed to reveal a clear path for impeachment.
Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, has frustrated some members of her party after signalling she will only move forward with proceedings aimed at ousting the president if there is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing, and if the divisive move has public support.
"No, I'm not trying to run out the clock," Pelosi told reporters as members of the House of Representatives left Washington for a six-week summer recess.
"We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed - not one day sooner."
Some colleagues including House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler wasted no time advancing efforts to obtain potentially damning evidence, a move some Democrats said leaves little doubt the panel has launched an impeachment investigation.
Nadler on Friday filed a petition in federal court seeking grand jury secrets, including witness testimony, that Mueller gathered during his two-year investigation of Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
"Because Department of Justice policies will not allow prosecution of a sitting president, the US House of Representatives is the only institution of the federal government that can now hold President Trump accountable for these actions," Nadler said, quoting the legal filing made to Judge Beryl Howell, who supervised the Mueller grand jury.
Attorney General Bill Barr has repeatedly declared that Congress should not have access to the material.
The US Constitution gives Congress the power to remove a president, and Nadler's filing directly references the possibility of initiating impeachment.
"The House must have access to all the relevant facts, and consider whether to exercise its full Article 1 powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity: recommendation of articles of impeachment," Nadler said, again quoting the filing.
'CROSSING A THRESHOLD'
Nadler spoke Friday flanked by several members of the powerful Judiciary Committee, including some who considered the court petition a significant step towards an impeachment inquiry.
"We're now crossing a threshold with this filing," congresswoman Veronica Escobar said, "and we are now officially entering into an examination of whether or not to recommend the articles of impeachment."
Without an ironclad case, an impeachment in the Democratic-led House will almost certainly die in the Senate, where Trump's Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.
While Nadler downplayed any divisions with the speaker, Pelosi doubled down on her position two days after Mueller's testimony in a performance that Trump branded a disaster for Democrats.
Mueller did not provide camera-friendly soundbites or bombshell revelations, though Democrats say he brought his report's findings to a broader American audience.
Some 95 Democrats went on record last week supporting impeachment efforts, and a handful more announced their backing after Mueller's testimony.
Pelosi was unfazed.
"I'm willing to take whatever heat there is to say, the decision will be made in a timely fashion. This isn't endless," she said.
"Their advocacy for impeachment only gives me leverage," she went on, adding: "I have no complaint with what they are doing."
Lawmakers are running out of time to launch impeachment procedures, given that the 2020 election campaign will kick into full gear within months.
Many of the Democratic candidates in the large presidential field have called for Trump's removal, including senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris.