Following a day of intense testimony from Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill, the end result seems to be that President Trump faces less chance of impeachment than he did even 48 hours ago, which was already quite a distant option for Democrats. Some analysts were speculating that depending on what Mueller said, the issue could be ratcheted up for House Democrats, already working to float impeachment proceedings for obstruction of justice. In the end, however, the testimony largely revealed that Robert Mueller himself seemed to know less about the contents of his report than the Congressmen, journalists, and the general public.
The New York Times called the episode “disappointing” for Democrats if they were hoping for greater bombshells or answers which strayed outside the lines of the report:
By the time he finished nearly seven hours later, Democrats were disappointed they did not get the made-for-TV accusatory moment they wanted, and the prospect for impeachment appeared far more difficult. Although the president’s critics vowed to persist, a gleeful Mr. Trump claimed he was completely cleared while shouting angry insults at reporters on the South Lawn.
“Much as I hate to say it, this morning’s hearing was a disaster,” Laurence Tribe, the Harvard law professor who has argued that the House should pursue impeachment, wrote on Twitter. “Far from breathing life into his damning report, the tired Robert Mueller sucked the life out of it. The effort to save democracy and the rule of law from this lawless president has been set back, not advanced.”
It’s quite surprising from the standpoint of an outside political observer that Democrats felt they had something big about to be revealed. Mueller had already stated at his press conference months ago when talking about the report that any testimony would be a waste of time since his answers would not extend outside the bounds of the written report.
Nevertheless, it was important to get him on the record for both sides to at least query him on particular parts of the report that were either vague or needed more explanation.
Democrats huddle on impeachment strategy
At this point, with the 2020 presidential election looming, the prospects of impeachment seem entirely unlikely if not outright ridiculous, especially considering an impeachment bill came to the House floor last week yet was voted down, even by most Democrats.
However, CNN is reporting that House Democrats have hunkered down to discuss the matter and decide how to move forward and determine whether impeachment against President Trump is viable in any form:
In a closed door meeting Wednesday evening, one House Democrat after another pressed the leadership about impeachment proceedings and asking for clarity on the process for moving forward with a formal inquiry, according to multiple attendees.
Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued to indicate that it’s still not time to begin that inquiry, she and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler did welcome a more detailed discussion among House Democrats eager to know the game plan over impeachment now that Mueller is done with his testimony.
Nadler indicated that one possibility was to have the six congressional committees that are investigating Trump to formally draft articles of impeachment against the President, according to sources with knowledge of the discussion. One of the sources cautioned, however, that it was an idea he floated but not one that is currently underway.
Nadler was also asked about the process of beginning an impeachment inquiry — and he indicated that impeachment proceedings could begin without a vote of the full House, according to two sources.
One of those sources tells CNN some members read that to mean that once the Democrats’ lawsuits to get more information from the Trump administration are exhausted, the House Judiciary Committee could begin the process without members having to take what — for some — could be a tough vote to start an impeachment process.
With Mueller’s lackluster testimony not offering Democrss anything concrete to move on, the impeachment train has probably come to its final stop. Democrats will continue investigating, perhaps reaching into more places, such as the President’s state tax returns from New York, but anything related to the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign seems to be a dead-end in the legal sense.
How are the 2020 candidates responding?
Not every 2020 Democratic candidate spent time to address the Mueller testimony, likely for the reasons outlined above. Most of the candidates spent their Wednesday at the NAACP convention in Detroit, Michigan, and preferred to stay on message pushing their various campaign issues.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren continued to push for impeachment calling the Mueller report an “impeachment referral”:
I read the Mueller report the day it came out. Three things were clear: A hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election, Trump welcomed their help, and Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack. I agree with @NAACP—it's time to begin impeachment proceedings. pic.twitter.com/W0iCN9Cv7k
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) July 24, 2019
Former vice president Joe Biden was asked about Mueller’s testimony but deferred on impeachment and also deferred on the possibility of Trump being prosecuted after he leaves office:
When I asked him if a Biden administration would prosecute Trump after his presidency, he said that was “premature.”
"I’m not one of these guys, you know, lock him up or send her home or that kind of stuff." https://t.co/2H8pJ0VVkO
— Lauren Gambino (@laurenegambino) July 24, 2019
Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted, and then deleted, the following comment:
“I’ll say it again: Robert Mueller basically returned an impeachment referral in his report. Congress must hold this president accountable. The House must begin impeachment proceedings.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke called for impeachment proceedings saying that Mueller’s testimony reiterated O’Rourke’s belief that Trump is unfit for office:
This hearing only confirms the facts: Trump invited an attack on our democracy, obstructed the investigation into it, & made clear there won't be consequences for launching another. As I've said since I was running in TX, he's unfit for office. Begin impeachment proceedings now.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 24, 2019
Voters still in charge of Trump’s fate
Unless something else comes out of the numerous investigations being led by House Democrats, the prospect of President Trump being removed from office by Congress has been as dead as it ever was. The end result is that voters in 2020 will be the deciding factor as to whether the President deserves a second term, or whether the eventual Democratic nominee can make a convincingly better argument for changing course and putting someone else in charge.
There may be a question or two about Mueller’s testimony at the Democratic debate next week, but it appears the candidates would rather move on and talk about something else entirely.