House Democrats poised to take the baton from Mueller, move toward impeachment

WASHINGTON — This city is waiting with bated breath for special counsel Robert Mueller's report on his investigation into the Trump operation's ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice by the president and his allies, which is widely expected to land soon.

But even without those findings in hand, House Democrats effectively launched the impeachment process this week.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, demanded a ream of documents from Trumpworld; Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, beefed up his staff; and Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., a member of the Ways and Means Committee, told NBC his panel would likely ask for Trump's tax records in the next "two, three weeks."

The Mueller report won't be the beginning of the end of the investigation into Trump. Instead, it will be the end of the beginning of a political and legal nightmare that promises to subsume an ever greater portion of his presidency and could, conceivably, lead to his impeachment.

For Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress, the latest moves by Democrats in Congress — which come alongside a New York state investigation into his company's insurance records, the latest in a long list of state probes of his finances — amount to a partisan push to overturn the results of the 2016 election that could backfire on his adversaries.

"Their intention is impeachment regardless of the facts, and it should be the opposite way," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the Republican whip in the House. "I think the American people are tired of that kind of harassment of the president."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed Nadler's new probe as a "fishing expedition" — "a disgraceful and abusive investigation."

Expanding their inquiry into the possible destruction of documents

Democratic leaders are trying to carefully shepherd a two-step process that begins with investigations which might or might not lead to impeachment.

Earlier this week, Nadler, Schiff and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote letters to White House officials explaining that they were expanding their inquiry into the possible destruction of documents relating to Trump's private meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin because the administration had not responded to a request to turn over relevant records.

The lines of investigation run from Trump's campaign and White House operations all the way to his tax records and business dealings, and some Democrats are convinced they will ultimately be able to use their findings to tell the story of a president who has committed offenses for which he should be removed from office.

But there's tremendous friction within their own party over this methodical approach. Some lawmakers, like freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., have already grown impatient with the pace of the process.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 28: Former FBI director Robert Mueller attends the ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey at the FBI Headquarters October 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey was officially sworn in as director of FBI on September 4 to succeed Mueller who had served as director for 12 years. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama applauds outgoing Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director Robert Mueller (L) in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on June 21, 2013 as he nominates Jim Comey to be the next FBI director. Comey, a deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, would replace Mueller, who is stepping down from the agency he has led since the week before the September 11, 2001 attacks. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller applauds key staff members during a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW HEADSHOT)
391489 03: U.S. President George W. Bush speaks during a conference as he stands with Justice Department veteran Robert Mueller, left, who he has nominated to head the FBI, and Attorney General John Ashcroft July 5, 2001 the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller stands for the national anthem during a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) reacts to a standing ovation from the audience, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (C) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) during Mueller's farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller gestures during his remarks at a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (R) and FBI Director Robert Mueller speak about possible terrorist threats against the United States, in Washington, May 26, 2004. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and FBI Director Robert Mueller make their way to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (C) delivers remarks at a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Also onstage with Mueller are Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (FROM L), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director George Tenet and TSA Administrator John Pistole. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: (L-R) Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder and other members of the Obama administration are being criticized over reports of the Internal Revenue Services' scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests and the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. Mueller said on Thursday that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to hold confessed leaker Edward Snowden accountable for splashing surveillance secrets across the pages of newspapers worldwide. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) welcomes FBI Director Robert Mueller during their meeting in Kiev June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Efrem Lukatsky/Pool (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS)
FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) arrives for the Obama presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington. President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. Woman at right is unidentified. REUTERS/Win McNamee-POOL (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON, : FBI Director Robert Mueller answers questions before Congress 17 October 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mueller was testifying before the House and Senate Select Intelligence committees' final open hearing investigating events leading up to the September 11, 2001. AFP Photos/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
399994 02: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller visits the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller (L) stand during the National Anthem alongside Attorney General Eric Holder (R) and Deputy Attorney General James Cole (C) during a farewell ceremony in Mueller's honor at the Department of Justice on August 1, 2013. Mueller is retiring from the FBI after 12-years as Director. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
399994 01: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller greets American forces on the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller, center, talks with Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talk before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 06: OVERSIGHT HEARING ON COUNTERTERRORISM--Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, before the hearing. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
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Tlaib said Wednesday that she would introduce a resolution this month calling on the Judiciary Committee to formally begin impeachment proceedings. Earlier this year, she grabbed headlines when she was caught on camera telling supporters Democrats would "impeach the motherf---er."

But many House Democrats aren't ready to vote to impeach the president. Some don't believe they've seen enough evidence of "high crimes and misdemeanors" — the Constitution's standard for impeachable offenses — while others say it's a fool's errand for the House to pass articles if there aren't 20 Republican senators ready to help create the two-thirds majority needed to remove Trump from office.

The tension within the caucus is palpable, especially as a crop of newcomers who won in heavily Democratic seats push to take action, while those who helped create the new Democratic majority by winning Republican-held territory are generally more circumspect.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a Blue Dog Democrat from upstate New York who is representative of the latter group, said there's been a noticeable ramping up of impeachment talk on Capitol Hill in recent days.

"It sure feels like it," he said in an interview Wednesday morning. That concerns him because "it could sidetrack us" from demonstrating to voters that Democrats can move forward with a policy agenda.

"I'm not for impeachment," he said. "It's going to be a high bar."

The investigation piece must be a predicate for impeachment, said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who attributed the seemingly sudden shift in urgency to the power Democrats now have in the House. Earlier in the year, they were focused mostly on a fight with Trump over a partial government shutdown and the question of whether Congress would fund his border wall.

Trump sees a sprawling 'witch hunt' designed to bring him down

Now, though, with the government re-opened and the wall brawl in the hands of federal courts, committee chairmen are starting to get down to investigative business.

"All questions about the Trump White House have been bottled up for two years," he said. "This is an accumulation."

Trump sees a sprawling "witch hunt" designed to bring him down at any cost.

"Now that they realize the only Collusion with Russia was done by Crooked Hillary Clinton & the Democrats, Nadler, Schiff and the Dem heads of the Committees have gone stone cold CRAZY," he wrote on Twitter Tuesday. "81 letter[s] sent to innocent people to harass them. They won't get ANYTHING done for our Country!"

While it's clear the House has now jumped headlong into what could be a lengthy process for investigating and possibly impeaching the president, senior Democratic lawmakers are still trying to play down the extent to which they are turning up the heat.

"We're just doing our regular oversight," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.

But with Mueller's report widely expected to drop shortly, they are also preparing to take up the investigative baton.

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