Pelosi Raises Impeachment as a Way to Break Trump’s Information Stonewall
WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Thursday that House Democrats could always open an impeachment inquiry to pry free documents and testimony from stonewalling Trump administration officials — a sharp response to the White House’s blanket claim that House requests served no “legitimate” legislative purpose.
“The courts would respect it if you said we need this information to carry out our oversight responsibilities — and among them is impeachment,” Ms. Pelosi said during her weekly news conference at the Capitol.
“It doesn’t mean you’re going on an impeachment path, but it means if you had the information you might,” Ms. Pelosi said. “It’s about impeachment as a purpose.”
Her threat was the first time Ms. Pelosi suggested using impeachment as an information-gathering tool, although she had made the suggestion in private before, according to a person familiar with her thinking.
For weeks, the speaker has fought back efforts by many in her caucus to move ahead with impeachment proceedings based on President Trump’s order to ignore all House subpoenas on a broad range of investigations. Her stance has not changed, her aides said.
But Ms. Pelosi’s statement reflects her mounting anger at the White House over a block-and-deny strategy that has stymied efforts to marshal public outrage over Robert S. Mueller III’s report on the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia during the 2016 campaign and his findings on whether the president obstructed justice.
Many of the speaker’s allies in the House have suggested using impeachment as a pry bar for compliance — in the belief that formally convening an impeachment inquiry would effectively turn the House into a grand jury. That would compel the administration to be more cooperative. It would also ease mounting pressure from the party’s left wing to begin a full-scale impeachment process immediately.
But her comments also reflect caution: Ms. Pelosi pointedly refused to say on Thursday whether she personally supported fining or jailing administration officials for failing to comply with the House’s requests.
“This is one of the possibilities that is out there,” the speaker said when asked about the idea, put forward by members of the six committees investigating Mr. Trump, that the House pursue such a strategy under a concept called inherent contempt of Congress.
“I’m not saying we’re going down that path, but I’m just saying that nothing is off the table,” she added.
On Wednesday, the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, sent Representative Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a letter rejecting the committee’s broad request for documents from administration aides and demanding that he narrow his inquiry.
The broadside, which stopped short of an assertion of executive privilege, challenged the committee’s assertion that its investigation was a fundamental part of the congressional oversight function protected by the Constitution.
“Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized ‘do-over’ of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice,” Mr. Cipollone wrote.
Mr. Mueller, the special counsel, has yet to appear before two House committees that have expressed interest in his testimony, so members of the House majority were forced to read aloud his 448-page report for dramatic effect to a handful of reporters in a Capitol committee room on Thursday.
Ms. Pelosi played down the likelihood that she would put an impeachment inquiry to a vote any time soon, saying that the committees had to exhaust other legal and legislative options.
“We want to see what we can get respectfully,” she said. “First we ask. Then we subpoena, friendly. Then we subpoena otherwise. And then we see what we get — so let’s not leapfrog.”
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