Democratic presidential candidates ratcheted up the pressure on US house speaker Nancy Pelosi to start the process of impeaching president Donald Trump after special counsel Robert Mueller’s first public comments on his two-year Russia probe.
Mueller, who was assigned to investigate Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election, on Wednesday reaffirmed that his team did not consider filing charges against Trump for obstruction of justice because US Justice Department policy bars the indictment of a sitting president.
Several Democratic contenders for the White House interpreted Mueller’s remarks as encouraging the Democratic-led House of Representatives to determine whether Trump tried to derail the probe and should be impeached.
‘I think it’s a fair inference from what we heard in that press conference that Bob Mueller was essentially referring impeachment to the United States Congress,’ US senator Kamala Harris of California told reporters while campaigning in South Carolina.
Pelosi has resisted calls from progressive members of her caucus to move forward on impeachment, arguing it could damage Democrats politically in advance of the November 2020 presidential election. On Wednesday, she released a statement saying Trump was not ‘above the law’ but made no reference to initiating proceedings.
After Mueller spoke, US senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York actively advocated impeachment for the first time.
Both previously were more restrained, criticising the Trump administration for stonewalling congressional subpoenas and suggesting that continued obstruction could eventually lead to impeachment.
‘Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately,’ Booker wrote on Twitter soon after Mueller finished speaking.
Leading contenders such as Harris, US senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former US congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas had called for Trump’s impeachment prior to Mueller’s remarks.
O’Rourke on Wednesday tweeted that ‘there must be consequences, accountability, and justice. The only way to ensure that is to begin impeachment proceedings.’
Another top contender, South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, had previously said Trump ‘deserves’ to be impeached but said he would leave the decision to Congress.
On Wednesday, he said that Mueller’s statements were ‘as close to an impeachment referral as you could get under the circumstances.’
Former vice president Joe Biden, the front-runner for the nomination, stuck to his more cautious stance.
Biden ‘agrees with speaker Pelosi that no one would relish what would certainly be a divisive impeachment process, but that it may be unavoidable if this administration continues on its path,’ his campaign said in a statement.
Making sure Trump is not re-elected ‘is the sure-fire way to get him out of office,’ the campaign said.
US senator Bernie Sanders, another leading contender who has not formally called for proceedings, said on Twitter that he would support a decision by the House Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment inquiry.
With Republicans in control of the US Senate, which would likely refuse to convict Trump on charges brought by the House, some Democrats fear bringing impeachment proceedings would end up as a pointless exercise that could alienate moderate voters.
The Trump re-election campaign released a statement by campaign manager Brad Parscale that said Mueller’s remarks on Wednesday ‘fully and completely exonerated’ Trump and that the ‘case is now closed.’
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