Mon, 26 Aug 2019

Democrats in the United States House of Representatives believe President Donald Trump is engaged in a "cover up", House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday.

Pelosi spoke to reporters following a meeting of House Democrats as politicians contend with how to handle multiple investigations into Trump, a Republican, and his administration, including whether to launch an impeachment inquiry.

"No one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up," Pelosi said.

Democrats who control the House of Representatives and Trump are engaged in a high-stakes power struggle over their ability to investigate him, with the president stonewalling multiple investigations of him by congressional committees.

The probes range from whether Trump obstructed justice during Special Counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russian election meddling to his personal finances and businesses.

Pelosi and other senior House leaders have been trying hard for months to contain demands from more junior Democratic politicians to kick off impeachment proceedings.

Those demands mounted on Wednesday after former White House Counsel Don McGahn ignored a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to appear before it and testify. Trump has broadly stonewalled most all of their investigations, saying he will fight "all the subpoenas".

Pelosi has previously urged patience, and said she believes Trump is "goading" Democrats into impeachment.

Trump appeared to relish the Democratic division in a Wednesday tweet. "The Democrats are getting ZERO work done in Congress," he said.

Some Democratic leaders, who have been hesitant, signaled that a march to impeachment may become inevitable.

"We are confronting what might be the largest, broadest cover-up in American history," Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters. If a House inquiry "leads to other avenues including impeachment," the Maryland Democrat said, "so be it".

Democrats Joaquin Castro of Texas and Diana DeGette of Colorado added their voices to the impeachment inquiry chorus.

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"There is political risk in doing so, but there's a greater risk to our country in doing nothing," Castro said. "This is a fight for our democracy."

DeGette tweeted, "The facts laid out in the Mueller report, coupled with this administration's ongoing attempts to stonewall Congress, leave us no other choice."

But Representative Jim Clyburn, the No 3 Democrat in the House, counseled caution. A majority of Democrats would support impeachment, Clyburn said, "just not now". He told CNN the House should follow a methodical process to get to the facts about Trump's actions.

Amid the impeachment talk and despite Trump's broad pledge to stonewall, there was one rare detente between House Democrats and the administration - House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff postponed a meeting to enforce a subpoena against the Justice Department after the department agreed to turn over a cache of documents related to Mueller's report. The House Judiciary Committee recently voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress after negotiations broke down with the department over similar materials.

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Schiff said the department "will begin turning over to the committee 12 categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials as part of an initial rolling production".

Still, Democrats are continuing to escalate their requests for information. On Tuesday, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler issued subpoenas for more Trump administration officials - former White House communications director Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, a former aide in the White House counsel's office - for documents and testimony. The committee is expected to vote on contempt against McGahn in June.

Trump's former White House counsel is the most-cited witness in Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation report, recounting the president's attempts to interfere with the probe. And that makes his silence all the more infuriating for Democrats.

"Our subpoenas are not optional," Nadler said. "We will not allow the president to stop this investigation."

Democrats are also encouraged by an early success in the legal battles, a Monday ruling by a federal judge against Trump on in a financial records dispute with Congress. Trump's team filed notice of appeal on Tuesday.

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But Pelosi's strategy hasn't been swift enough for some politicians. In particular, several members of the Judiciary panel feel they must take the lead in at least launching impeachment proceedings. They say a formal impeachment inquiry could give Democrats more standing in court.

"I think that's something a lot of members of the committee - and more and more members of the caucus - think is necessary," said Democrat Steve Cohen.

Others, though, including some from more conservative districts, said they prefer the step-by-step approach.

"We want to make sure that we're following all the legal processes, everything we've been given, to truly make the best decisions," said Democrat Lucy McBath, a freshman on the Judiciary panel.

Pelosi scheduled Wednesday's meeting with politicians after some members confronted her during a gathering among top Democrats Monday evening.

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At that time, Democrat Jamie Raskin led others in arguing that an impeachment inquiry would consolidate the Trump investigations and allow Democrats to keep more focus on their other legislative work, according to people familiar with the private conversation who requested anonymity to discuss it.

Pelosi pushed back, saying that several committees are doing investigations already and noting that Democrat Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the Oversight Committee, already had won the early court battle over Trump's financial documents.

With a 235-197 Democratic majority, Pelosi would likely find support for starting impeachment proceedings, but it could be a tighter vote than that margin suggests.

Some politicians say voters back home are more interested in healthcare and the economy. Many come from more conservative districts where they need to run for re-election in communities where Trump also has support.

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