Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave a rare, silence-shattering statement on Wednesday, May 29, after nearly two years of reticence on his investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. Just hours after Mueller's suggestive statement, a barrage of Democrats voiced their support for Congress to initiate Trump's impeachment process, mounting immense pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The special counsel, in his statement, noted that Congress — and not he — had the power to hold the president accountable for his misdoings. The former FBI chief said that he was bound by the Department of Justice regulations to not charge Trump, and hence did not have an "option" to do so. Mueller also stated that the president had not been exonerated of criminal conduct and his team of investigators would have stated so otherwise.
"The Special Counsel's Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy," Mueller said. "Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider."
"The [OLC] opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing," he added, hinting that the onus is now on Congress to take things further.
Michael A. Genovese, Professor of Political Science at Loyola Marymount University, analyzed the special counsel's statements, and told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) that he "basically said his hands were tied by the DoJ regulations." Mueller said "that if Trump were innocent of obstruction he would have said so, but he wasn't saying Trump is innocent. Read into that what you will, but it should now be in Congress' hands... he handed it off to the Congress."
The House Speaker, however, has continued to remain hesitant on launching an impeachment procedure against Trump — so close to the 2020 presidential elections — stating that Trump would use it as an opportunity to victimize himself to garner more support for the polls.
While Pelosi's argument may appear politically sound, it remains to be seen how the speaker will fare amid a resurging Democratic drive to hold Trump accountable, with many voters questioning her reasoning as indulging in a political ploy in the face of delivering justice. Some experts, however, believe that given the Senate would likely be unwilling to convict Trump on the impeachment charges, Speaker Pelosi seems to be taking a "cautious position", Craig Burnett, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Hofstra University said.
A significant chunk of the 2020 Democratic contenders, who were initially hesitant of starting an impeachment investigation, gave resounding statements after Mueller's public appearance, stating that the process needs to start now. With Pelosi continuing to stand her ground, her strategy has come under scrutiny as Democratic presidential candidates want a more robust offensive against Trump.
Democratic candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts warned that if Congress doesn't act then "we have fundamentally violated our duties under the Constitution, and changed how this country operates."
Another White House aspirant, Senator Cory Booker said that Mueller's "statement makes it clear" that "Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately." He added that the Trump administration has continued to stonewall Congress's oversight and that he sees beginning impeachment proceedings as the only path forward.
"Will Congress act? The Speaker is being very cautious, perhaps a bit too cautious for fear of voter reprisals come 2020 election. An undue fear in my view," Genovese, President of the Global Policy Institute at university said. "I think she is hoping that revelations on Trump's financial irregularities will move public opinion on impeachment but Trump will delay and stonewall and do everything in his power not to release his financial information. So, it may well be impeachment now or never."
If the speaker gives a nod for the impeachment process to begin, the lower house of the legislature, in this case, the House of Representatives, will level charges against President Trump for crimes alleged to have been committed by him, which is similar to an indictment. The proceedings will then be conducted by the upper house of the legislature, in this case, the Senate, to reach a decision.
Impeachment, however, does not mean the removal of President Trump. He can continue to remain in office until a trial is held. Once a government official is impeached, they must then face the possibility of conviction by a legislative vote. However, the trial and a possible conviction is a separate act from the impeachment process.
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