Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee appeared to lay the groundwork Wednesday for including the findings from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
In his opening statement, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., linked Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election with the allegations that Trump asked the Ukrainian president earlier this year to investigate a political rival in the 2020 election.
"President Trump welcomed foreign interference in the 2016 election, he demanded it for the 2020 election,” Nadler said. “In both cases, he got caught and, in both cases, he did everything in power to prevent the American people from learning about his conduct."
Several of the Democratic legal experts referenced the Mueller report during their testimony.
One witness on Wednesday, University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt, told lawmakers in his opening statement, “The Mueller Report found at least five instances of the president’s obstruction of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the president’s campaign and Russia.”
He added, “Taken either individually or collectively, these instances are strong evidence of criminal obstruction of justice.”
While Trump and Republicans have claimed that Mueller’s report exonerated him of any wrongdoing and should be put to rest, some Democrats have suggested recently that the report’s findings regarding obstruction of justice mean it should be included in any articles of impeachment.
“Obstruction of justice, I think, is too clear not to include” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Tuesday in an interview with McClatchy.
Adding the findings from the Mueller report to any possible articles of impeachment is a controversial matter within the Democratic Party, with more liberal Democrats pushing to have the report included. More centrist and moderate Democrats, however, prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans understand.
In the nearly 500 page report which was released to the public in April, Mueller and his team found that Russia worked "in sweeping and systematic fashion" to influence the 2016 elections and that the Trump campaign welcomed Moscow’s maneuvers, but that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the campaign ever "coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities."
Mueller also decided not to pass judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice during the investigation and left it up to Congress to decide whether the president committed an impeachable offense.
During its hearings in the impeachment inquiry, the House Intelligence Committee did not focus on the Mueller report – instead honing in on whether Trump abused his office as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s business dealings in the country. At the time, Trump was withholding $400 million in military aid, jeopardizing key support as Ukraine faced an aggressive Russia at its border.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said no decision has been made on whether there will be a House vote on impeaching Trump.
The Judiciary panel responsible for drafting articles of impeachment convened as Trump's team was fanning out across Capitol Hill. Vice President Mike Pence met behind closed doors with House Republicans, and Senate Republicans were to huddle with the White House counsel as GOP lawmakers stand with the president.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.