WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged divided fellow Democrats Monday to focus on fact-finding rather than leaping to talk of impeachment to hold President Donald Trump accountable for the "highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior" described in special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
In her first remarks on next steps, Pelosi acknowledged in a letter to rank-and-file Democrats that the party's officeholders have a range of views on how to proceed. But she counseled them repeatedly to go after facts, not resort to "passion or prejudice" in the intense run-up to the 2020 presidential and congressional elections.
"We all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth," Pelosi wrote. "It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings."
Either way, Trump insisted he wasn't worried.
"Not even a little bit," he said when asked Monday whether he was concerned about impeachment. However, his many tweets seeking to undermine the report's credibility — even calling it "bullshit" — indicate he is hardly shrugging it aside.
"Only high crimes and misdemeanors can lead to impeachment," he said Monday on Twitter. "There were no crimes by me (No Collusion, No Obstruction), so you can't impeach. It was the Democrats that committed the crimes, not your Republican President!"
Mueller's report last week described in vivid detail episodes in which Trump is said to have dispatched allies to fire Mueller, shut down his investigation and lie. The strength of the findings kicked off a struggle among Democrats over what to do now — show restraint and investigate, or try to impeach? The debate now stretches from the Capitol to the campaign trail, where the party's 18-plus candidates are divided as they battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Until one is crowned next year, Pelosi is the de facto leader of the party. On Monday, she stuck to her longtime advice to go with investigations and facts, rather than passionate declarations of how to make Trump pay for his conduct.
"We must show the American people we are proceeding free from passion or prejudice, strictly on the presentation of fact," she wrote. She added: "Whether currently indictable or not, it is clear that the president has, at a minimum, engaged in highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior which does not bring honor to the office he holds."
A series of hearings and investigations, particularly in the Democrat-controlled House, is likely to keep in public unflattering details about Trump's behavior provided both by the report and by his former legal fixer, Michael Cohen. Congressional panels are demanding the unredacted version of the Mueller report and its underlying material gathered from the investigation. Attorney General William Barr is expected to testify in the House and Senate next week. And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has summoned Mueller to testify next month, though no date has been set.
What's different after the report's release is the detailed evidence that the president tried to shut down or stall Mueller's investigation, a commander in chief having his top lieutenants lie or obfuscate on his behalf. The fact that many refused to do so may have helped save Trump from grave political danger.
Congress has additional options, and key chairmen have been clear that they believe the Mueller report provides enough detail to implicate Trump in obstruction of justice.
But there is no impeachment effort underway, in part because Democratic leaders have been adamant there would have to be bipartisan sentiment for such proceedings. Republicans still support Trump on Capitol Hill, though they've had less to say about the report than Democrats. At the Justice Department on Monday, Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said a less-redacted version of Mueller's report that he read supported the conclusion that Mueller found "no collusion" and "no obstruction." In fact, Mueller did not clear Trump of obstruction but also did not recommend charging him.
Democratic leaders nonetheless are under pressure from some of the party's rising stars and some 2020 presidential contenders to begin impeachment, including from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Julian Castro, a former Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Other Democratic candidates, including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, have suggested it is too soon to initiate impeachment proceedings. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, asked if she'd support moving forward given a possible roadmap by the Mueller report, said in a phone interview Monday that she wants more information.
It remains to be seen how many Democrats will get on the impeachment bandwagon. The issue has split the party since the day the new Congress was sworn in. That January night, freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., was recorded using a profanity to tell supporters the Democrats were going to impeach Trump.
After Mueller's report was released, the most prominent of the Democratic freshmen, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, signed on to Tlaib's resolution calling for an investigation into Trump's conduct and the question of whether it merits a formal charge in the House.
"Mueller's report is clear in pointing to Congress' responsibility in investigating obstruction of justice by the President," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.