The Slatest

A Democrat on the Judiciary Committee Said “Impeachment”

A pencil drawing of a game of Hangman in which the letter P has been correctly guessed and entered as the second letter of an 11-letter word. The letters Z, Q, X, J, and K have been guessed incorrectly and the "hangman" is nearly complete.
Artist’s rendering of the House Democratic caucus impeachment strategy.
Tom Scocca for Slate

In the initial stages of Robert Mueller’s Wednesday testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Democrats seemed to be sticking to the Nancy Pelosi–endorsed strategy of hoping that Robert Mueller, on his own, would talk the public into supporting impeachment. As the hearing went on, though—and, probably not coincidentally, as more junior members of the caucus got their turns to speak—more Dems began punctuating their questions to Mueller with comments about upholding the principles that the president is not above the law and is, specifically, accountable to Congress. Finally, the last of 23 questioners, Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, became—by my count—the first Democrat on the committee, which would be responsible for holding impeachment hearings, to assert out loud that the formal process for holding a president accountable for crimes is impeachment.

Here’s the transcript:

ESCOBAR: Director Mueller, at your May 29, 2019, press conference, you explained that, quote, “The [Department of Justice] opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” end quote. That process, other than the criminal justice system, for accusing a president of wrongdoing, is that impeachment? 

MUELLER: I’m not going to comment on that.

ESCOBAR: In your report, you also wrote that you did not want to, quote, “potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct,” end quote. For the nonlawyers in the room, what did you mean by, quote, “potentially preempt constitutional processes?”

MUELLER: I’m not going to try to explain that. 

ESCOBAR: That actually is coming from Page 1 of Volume II in the footnote—is the reference to this. What are those constitutional processes? 

MUELLER: I think I heard you mention at least one. 

ESCOBAR: Impeachment. Correct? 

MUELLER: I’m not going to comment. 

ESCOBAR: OK. That is one of the constitutional processes listed in the report in the footnote in Volume II. Your report documents the many ways the president sought to interfere with your investigation and you state in your report on Page 10, Volume II, that with a—interfering with a congressional inquiry or investigation with corrupt intent can also constitute obstruction of justice. 

MUELLER: True. 

ESCOBAR: Well, the president has told us that he intends to fight all [congressional] subpoenas. His continued efforts to interfere with investigations of his potential misconduct certainly reinforce the importance of the process the Constitution requires to, quote, “formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” as you cited in the report. And this hearing has been very helpful to this committee as it exercises its constitutional duty to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the president. I agree with you, Director Mueller, that we all have a vital role in holding this president accountable for his actions. More than that, I believe we, in Congress, have a duty to demand accountability and safeguard one of our nation’s highest principles that no one is above the law. From everything that I have heard you say here today, it’s clear that anyone else would have been prosecuted, based on the evidence available in your report.

It now falls on us to hold President Trump accountable. Thank you for being here. Chairman, I yield back. 

For today’s hearings to amount to anything more than a time-wasting stall, some Democrat had to outline the argument that Escobar made in admirably clear fashion. Now the question is whether anyone in her caucus’s leadership or the broader public will agree with her.