Top House Dem backtracks after urging Pelosi to send impeachment articles to Senate

A top Democrat in the House, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, now says he "misspoke" when he said "it is time" for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to send the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate.

The initial comments from Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, came as several Democratic senators this week called on Pelosi to send the articles to Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., so the impeachment trial can begin.

"I understand what the speaker is trying to do, basically trying to use the leverage of that to work with Democratic and Republican senators to try to get a reasonable trial, a trial that would actually show evidence, bring out witnesses," Smith told CNN on Thursday morning. "But at the end of the day, just like we control it in the House, Mitch McConnell controls it in the Senate."

"I think it was perfectly advisable for the speaker to try to leverage that to get a better deal," he continued. "At this point, it doesn't look like that is going to happen. And yes, I think it is time to send the impeachment to the Senate and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial. He ultimately is."

Within hours, Smith walked back his remarks in a pair tweets.

"I misspoke this morning, I do believe we should do everything we can to force the Senate to have a fair trial," Smith tweeted. "If the Speaker believes that holding on to the articles for a longer time will help force a fair trial in the Senate, then I wholeheartedly support that decision."

"I am concerned that Senator McConnell won’t have a fair trial and I am with the Speaker that we should do everything we can to ensure he does," he continued. "Ultimately, I do want the articles sent to the Senate for the very simple reason that I want the impeachment process to go forward."

Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Dianne Feinstein of California, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both of Connecticut, have made similar comments in recent days.

"I don’t quite know what the strategy is," Feinstein told NBC News. "If you’re going to do it, do it. If you’re not going to do it, don’t."

"And obviously they’re going to do it, so I don’t understand the delay," she added.

But Feinstein, Blumenthal and Manchin also took a step back Thursday, saying the decision was up to Pelosi.

Pelosi has withheld the articles since her chamber adopted them last month, saying she will not transmit them to the Senate until the trial process is explicitly laid out. But she suggested she could submit them soon.

In a letter to colleagues Tuesday, Pelosi said it was important that McConnell "immediately publish this resolution, so that, as I have said before, we can see the arena in which we will be participating, appoint managers and transmit the articles to the Senate."

No trial can begin until the articles are sent.

McConnell has said he wants the Senate to conform to the procedure from President Bill Clinton's 1999 impeachment trial, which amounted to a two-step process: an initial agreement to hear the case and then a vote to decide whether to call witnesses.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has pushed for a single resolution that would set parameters for presenting the case and calling witnesses. Schumer wants the Senate to call four witnesses to testify about Trump's Ukraine conduct, including former national security adviser John Bolton, who announced this week he would testify if subpoenaed, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

McConnell, who in December vowed "total coordination" with the White House on the impeachment trial proceedings, said Tuesday he has the votes to set his desired process.

Last month, the House approved the two articles of impeachment against Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

"PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!" Trump tweeted Thursday morning, repeating a refrain he and top Republicans have been using since Democrats took control of the House last year.