WASHINGTON — Chatter of impeaching President Donald Trump is reaching new levels among House Democrats, following a bombshell BuzzFeed News report that Trump directed his longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress.
On Thursday, BuzzFeed News reported that Trump personally ordered Cohen to lie in an effort to obscure Trump’s involvement in the discussions for a Trump Tower Moscow project that never materialized. It’s the first known instance of Trump telling someone to lie about the president’s own involvement with Russia, and Democrats on the Hill are saying that this could be an impeachable offense.
“If it’s true, it puts us squarely in impeachment territory,” Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told BuzzFeed News. “Bill Clinton was impeached over telling one lie about a sexual affair. This is about a conspiracy to commit perjury before Congress about matters that go to national security.”
Raskin noted that impeachment should be the “end of a process,” noting “impeachment should not be a fetish with us, nor should it be a taboo.”
But House Democratic leadership has long argued against bringing up impeachment, saying that special counsel Robert Mueller should finish his investigation before Democrats draw any conclusions.
In light of the BuzzFeed News report, two of the top three House Democrats still signaled their position remained unchanged. “Reports that President Trump directed his attorney to lie to Congress further underscore the importance of allowing Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation to proceed without interference. The American people deserve to know the facts,” House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer told BuzzFeed News in a statement, not answering whether he thought Trump directing Cohen to lie was an impeachable offense.
“I have always maintained we ought to wait on the final Mueller report before we begin discussing impeachment, and my position hasn’t changed,” said Whip James Clyburn in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “The House Intelligence Committee is well within its rights to investigate whether Mr. Cohen lied at the President’s direction in his Congressional testimony, and I support Chairman Schiff’s efforts to discover the truth.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Rank-and-file members, however, have fewer reservations about broaching the subject. It’s clear the new information has brought impeachment, which would need widespread Democratic support in the House, to the forefront of the conversation. (Actually removing Trump from office would need an unlikely two-thirds majority support in the Republican-controlled Senate.)
New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, indicated in a Friday morning tweet that his committee would investigate. “We know that the President has engaged in a long pattern of obstruction. Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime,” Nadler added.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee, including California Rep. Adam Schiff, have also said they will investigate.
“If true, this is, I think, the most serious threat to the Trump presidency that we’ve seen so far, and that’s saying something,” Rep. David Cicilline, also a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said on CNN on Friday morning. “This is obstruction of justice, if these facts are true, this is suborning perjury, I mean, there’s no question it’s an impeachable offense.”
“It’s still my preference that we await the final report of Mr. Mueller [the special counsel], but it becomes increasingly difficult when faced with evidence such as this,” Cicilline added, saying that the Judiciary Committee has a responsibility to investigate. “There’s really no explanation for suborning perjury, there’s no innocent explanation for telling a witness to lie to the Congress of the United States, so I think this is different.”
Freshman lawmaker Rashida Tlaib also tweeted the BuzzFeed News report, with a simple "yeah, like I said..." in an apparent reference to the "impeach the motherfucker" comment she made earlier this month that caught on fire.
A handful of House Democrats have long called for impeachment. Once Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, they held back, arguing that since they’re in the majority, they’re in a position to get the information they need before impeachment. But following BuzzFeed News’ report late Thursday night, the word “impeachment” is on more lips than ever before.
Even among members who aren’t ready to use the “i-word” yet, obstruction of justice is coming up quite a bit.
“If true, these reports would add to a mounting case that the President of the United States obstructed justice. It is a federal crime to tell a subordinate to lie to Congress. The House of Representatives has a responsibility to investigate and to protect the rule of law,” Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
This article has been updated with a tweet from Rep. Rashida Tlaib.