While most fellow 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls ducked and dived to find safe ground — and party elders solemnly warned against over-reach — Sen. Elizabeth Warren stepped boldly out into the open late Friday and called on the House to begin an impeachment process against President Donald Trump based on special counsel Robert Muellers report.
The Massachusetts senator and 2020 Democratic presidential contender slammed Trump for having “welcomed” the help of a “hostile” foreign government and having obstructed the probe into an attack on an American election.
“To ignore a Presidents repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country,” Warren tweeted. “The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty. That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.”
It was a rare moment in a crowded and unsettled primary: A seized opportunity for a candidate to cut through the campaign trail cacophony and define the terms of a debate that will rage throughout the contest.
With her party torn between its impulses — to avoid the potential political death spiral of a failed impeachment even though it may be popular with the energized base and to hold Trump accountable for what Democrats see as gross abuses — Warren framed pursuing House hearings as a matter of conscience.
In other words, she sided with that base of core party supporters, defined its cause in moral terms and hollered the message from the mountaintop.
But most people arent going to read the nearly 500-page report. Republicans have already seized on Barrs words — and on the lack of criminal charges in a document that was never going to contain criminal charges — to claim total vindication for Trump. The presidents manifest disloyalty to the country in trying to halt an investigation into a foreign attack on an American election is, to the right, of no account. Nor are the counterintelligence implications of Muellers findings, which arent part of the report. In the eyes of the presidents supporters, his campaign did not participate in the criminal conspiracy that helped elect him, so no more needs to be said.
Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon. Hes worse
Thats classic Warren. And in a period when shes focused her campaign on serious policy proposals, it is a timely reminder to progressives that they like her politics, too.
It was probably naïve to think that Mueller could cut through such a thick web of falsity. But if anyone could have, it would have been him, the embodiment of a set of old-fashioned virtues that still ostensibly command bipartisan respect. Over the months of the investigation, he came to represent for many an ideal of manliness that rebuked Trumps insecure machismo. He was a war hero, Trump was a shirker. He was a public servant, Trump a venal con man. He was honest, Trump a liar. America doesnt have a Walter Cronkite anymore, a person whose word is trusted implicitly across the political spectrum. Mueller was as close as we were going to get.
“Not doubting her sincerity here but its also probably a very shrewd primary move to leap out front on this,” tweeted David Axelrod, who served as a top campaign and White House adviser to President Barack Obama.
A campaign official told NBC News Warren believed it was the right course of action after reading Muellers report during a flight home from the campaign trail Thursday. Nevertheless, she will remain focused on her policy platform, not impeachment, the official said.
And yet, calling for the removal of a president — especially when so many other Democrats are reluctant to do so (shortly before Warren issued her statement, fellow senator and 2020 hopeful Amy Klobuchar said, “I think youve seen all the senators are very cautious about talking about this because we would be the jury if there was any kind of an action brought over from the House”) — isnt a particularly forgettable act.
Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has endorsed Warren, said the political left is outraged over the handling of the Mueller report by Attorney General William Barr and the response by the White House.
Most Democrats, conversely, have facts on their side, but not conviction. They are reluctant to begin an impeachment inquiry into Trump because majorities, in polls, dont support it, and there is no Republican buy-in. Whether or not this is politically wise, failing to impeach would be a grave abdication. If you want people to believe that the misdeeds enumerated in the Mueller report are serious, you have to act like it. To not even try to impeach Trump is to collaborate in the Trumpian fiction that he has done nothing impeachable.
Warrens move could help her capitalize on that energy at a time when several of her rivals have been garnering more attention — as well as bigger fundraising hauls and higher poll numbers — in the early months of the primary campaign.
“If you think about the oxygen that is now in the room for the entire Russia-Mueller-impeachment swirl of stuff, for weeks or months, every time someone comes out publicly and agrees that we need to begin impeachment hearings, people will remember that Elizabeth Warren is the presidential candidate that got that started,” Green said.
While Green noted Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., introduced the House resolution that would be a likely vehicle for beginning impeachment hearings, Warrens status as a significant player in the primary will likely make her announcement a major marker if the House moves forward against the president.
At nearly the same time as Warren spoke out, fellow progressive Bernie Sanders, the polling leader among candidates currently in the race, waved off press questions about the Mueller report in South Carolina.
On Thursday, former Rep. Beto ORourke, D-Texas, who said during his Senate campaign last year against Ted Cruz that he would vote to impeach Trump, framed the question as one for Congress or the voters — rather than presidential candidates.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, said he was “pretty sure” Trump “deserves to be impeached” but deferred to Congress, while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castor called it “perfectly reasonable” for lawmakers to begin impeachment proceedings.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said on MSNBCs “All In with Chris Hayes” on Thursday that she wants to hear what Mueller has to say about his report before passing judgment on whether impeachment proceedings should begin — similar to the position of her fellow Californian, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the most important player in any impeachment drama.
The reticence of some Warrens rivals suggests her decision to walk point on the left flank of the impeachment front carries some risk, even if its a quick path to rally support from liberals.
It will not only put her squarely back in Trumps field of vision, but it also will expose her to friendly political fire from Democrats who believe pursuing his ouster is the surest way to ensure his re-election.
Still, Warren, often cited as the heir to Edward M. Kennedy as the liberal lion of the Senate, has shown that her brand can be most compelling when a healthy dose of politics is mixed in with her substance.
Thats what happened when GOP senators cited the chambers rules to take away Warrens speaking privileges during a 2017 debate over Trumps nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. Warren had read from a letter criticizing Sessions that had been written by Coretta Scott King in 1986.
Since Sessions was a member of the Senate at the time of the nomination fight, Warren was told she couldnt malign him under the rules. The Senate voted to prevent her from speaking again on Sessions nomination.
Now we know why. For the Mueller report is packed with damning proof that Trump and his team cheered on the sweeping and systematic Russian attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election, that they expected to benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, that they actively planned campaign strategy around each new release of emails hacked from Democrat headquarters by Russian intelligence, emails helpfully funnelled through WikiLeaks. (Mueller has the documents that show Julian Assange telling his acolytes as early as November 2015 that we believe it would be much better for GOP [the Republicans] to win.)
“She was warned. She was given an explanation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said afterward. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Progressives quickly adopted McConnells disparaging phrase as a symbol for strong women. It was even condensed to “She Persisted” for the title of a bestselling book by Chelsea Clinton.
It remains to be seen whether Warrens impeachment call will give her a major boost. But there arent many opportunities to stand out from the crowd, and she took this one without hesitation.
Jonathan Allen is a Washington-based national political reporter for NBC News who focuses on the presidency.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Friday urged Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump, suggesting that the newly released Mueller report had laid out the groundwork for Congress to act.
In a series of tweets, the presidential hopeful cited the report as evidence of obstruction of justice and collusion, adding that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had “put the next step in the hands of Congress.”
“The Mueller report lays out facts showing that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump welcomed that help,” she said in one tweet. “Once elected, Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack.”
On the contrary, the evidence is copious. No wonder Trumps hand-picked attorney general, William Barr, held on to the report so long, issuing only his own, highly selective four-page summary last month, a document that included not so much as a single full sentence from Muellers text, holding up instead a half-line here or a fragment there that might show the president in a favourable light.
Warren went on to cite the report, which was released in full, with redactions, on Thursday. In it, Mueller says that “Congress has the authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority.”
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Mueller’s report was released into Washington’s partisan scrum Thursday morning. It showed investigators did not find evidence of collusion between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and Russia – a conclusion reiterated by Attorney General Bill Barr last month and again in the run-up to the document release.
But the report did lay out an array of actions taken by the president that were examined as part of the investigation’s obstruction inquiry.
Democrats continue to insist that Barr’s summary last month misled the American people, and that the fuller report, even with its multitude of redactions, told a very different story.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., slammed Barr for what he said was an attempt “to put a positive spin for the president on the special counsel's findings.”
“If the special counsel, as he made clear, had found evidence exonerating the president, he would have said so. He did not. He left that issue to the Congress of the United States, and we will need to consider it,” Schiff said at a press conference Thursday.
Warren went a step further on Friday with her insistence that congressmen “do their constitutional duty.”
“That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.”
She feared that ignoring a president’s “repeated efforts to obstruct” justice would inflict “lasting damage” on American politics.