Democratic White House hopeful calls for Trump impeachment

California senator Kamala Harris the latest presidential candidate to urge severe action

Sen Kamala Harris (Democrat-California): ‘I believe Congress should take the steps toward impeachment.’ Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/New York Times

Sen Kamala Harris (Democrat-California): ‘I believe Congress should take the steps toward impeachment.’ Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/New York Times

 

California senator Kamala Harrishas become the second major Democratic presidential candidate to call for the impeachment of US president Donald Trump.

Ms Harris’s remarks come following the report by special counsel Robert Mueller, which outlined efforts by the president to block the investigation into links between his campaign and Russia.

“We have very good reason to believe that there is an investigation . . . that has produced evidence that tells us that this president and his administration engaged in obstruction of justice,” said Ms Harris said in New Hampshire on Monday evening. “I believe Congress should take the steps toward impeachment.”

The call from Ms Harris, a former California attorney general, follows that of senator Elizabeth Warren, who last week became the first presidential contender to call for impeachment. Julian Castro, a former Texas mayor also running for president, last week said it would be “perfectly reasonable” to start impeachment.

Ms Harris was speaking at one of five town hall events that CNN hosted with Democratic presidential candidates on Monday. The other participants included three senators – Ms Warren, Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota – in addition to Pete Buttigieg, an Indiana mayor.

Ms Klobuchar avoided calling for impeachment. She said Mr Trump “should be held accountable” but stressed that the House of Representatives was responsible for deciding whether to open impeachment proceedings. If the Democratic-led House passed articles of impeachment – which only requires a simple majority – the Senate would hold a trial where a two-thirds majority is required for conviction.

“Impeachment proceedings are up to the House. They are going to have to make that decision,” said Ms Klobuchar. “I am in the Senate. And I believe that we are the jury . . . If the House brings the impeachment proceedings before us, we will deal with them.”

Mr Buttigieg said it was “pretty clear” that Mr Trump deserved to be impeached but he stressed that he would leave the decision to Congress. “My role in the process is trying to relegate Trumpism to the dustbin of history,” he said. “There’s no more decisive way to do that, especially to get Republicans to abandon this kind of deal with the devil they made, than to have just an absolute thumping at the ballot box for what that represents.”

Mr Sanders said Congress should “take a hard look” at the results of the Mueller investigation and call witnesses to testify in order to determine whether Mr Trump attempted to obstruct justice. But he said he was worried that a preoccupation with impeachment would distract Democrats from talking about the issues that he believes the country should be spending more time discussing ahead of the election.

“If . . . all that the Congress is talking about is impeaching Trump and . . . Mueller, Mueller, Mueller, and we’re not talking about healthcare, we’re not talking about raising the minimum wage to a living wage, we’re not talking about combating climate change . . . and all of the issues that concern ordinary Americans, what I worry about is that works to Trump’s advantage,” said Mr Sanders.

Split on impeachment

The split between the presidential contenders illustrates the dilemma facing Democrats. While some members of the party believe that Congress has a constitutional duty to impeach Mr Trump, others argue that the party should focus on core issues, and avoid trying to proceed with impeachment, which would only energise Mr Trump’s supporters and have little chance of success in the Republican-led Senate.

House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat) cautioned House politicians about pursuing impeachment, suggesting there were other ways to hold Mr Trump to account. She held a conference call with Democrats on Monday evening to debate how to respond to the report.

“While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth,” wrote Ms Pelosi to Democrats ahead of the conference call. “It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings.”

While Democrats debate whether to try to impeach the president, House politicians have started to call witnesses who spoke to the Mueller team. Jerrold Nadler, Democratic head of the House judiciary committee, on Monday issued a subpoena to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about his role during the Russia investigation.

According to the report that Mr Mueller wrote after his investigation, Mr McGahn on several occasions refused to carry out orders to dismiss Mr Mueller. The special counsel was appointed after Mr Trump fired James Comey, the then FBI director who had been overseeing the Russia investigation. A lawyer for Mr McGahn did not respond to a question about whether his client would comply with the congressional subpoena.

Democrats also plan to ask Mr Mueller to appear before Congress. Mr Mueller concluded that, regardless of the evidence, he could not charge Mr Trump with obstruction of justice because of justice department guidelines that bar the indictment of a sitting president. However, Mr Mueller said the evidence “does not exonerate” Mr Trump, as he appeared to push the issue to Congress to determine.

The debate over the response to the Mueller report came as the number of Democrats aiming to topple Mr Trump in the 2020 election approached a record 20 contenders.

Reports on Tuesday suggested former vice-president Joe Biden is set to announce his candidacy on Thursday. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019