US President Donald Trump: Democrats are debating whether to launch an impeachment probe of Trump over allegations he tried to obstruct the Russia meddling investigation
Washington (AFP) - Democratic Party talk of impeachment intensified Tuesday after Donald Trump's former lawyer Don McGahn refused to testify about obstruction allegations against the US president.
House Democratic leaders held off fresh pressure from rank-and-file legislators to launch an effort to remove the president, after the White House again stymied their probe into Trump's actions in the Russia meddling investigation.
But McGahn's refusal to abide by a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee stoked the furor among Democrats, with more demanding the party resolve to put the president on trial.
"Stonewalling Congress on witnesses and the unredacted Mueller report only enhances the President's appearance of guilt, and as a result, he has pushed Congress to a point where we must start an impeachment inquiry," said Representative Mark Pocan, one of the leaders of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
"We need to do our job & vote on impeachment," tweeted Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has so far fended off pressure to pursue that option, scheduled a party meeting Wednesday to discuss the issue.
"I don't think we're there at this point in time," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Pelosi's deputy, said Tuesday.
Hoyer said they would continue on the current path of investigating Trump, which has included seeking testimony and documents that so far the Trump administration has refused to hand over.
"And if it leads to a conclusion that we need to proceed further through other avenues, including impeachment, so be it," he said.
- White House 'stonewalling' -
McGahn's refusal to appear before the Judiciary Committee was the most recent in a growing list of ways the White House has frustrated investigations by the Democrat-controlled House.
Trump's Justice Department has refused to turn over to Congress the unexpurgated version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report on his Russia meddling and obstruction investigation, along with supporting documentary evidence.
Arrangements for Mueller himself to testify have been stalled on his insisting that much of his testimony take place in private.
And the White House appealed Tuesday against a federal court order for Trump's accountants to turn over years of his financial records to another House committee.
McGahn was subpoenaed to testify on evidence he provided to Mueller on Trump's efforts to stifle that investigation, evidence which Mueller indicated was strong enough to support criminal obstruction charges.
Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said each of the incidents that McGahn described to Mueller "constitutes a crime," and that McGahn must testify.
"Our subpoenas are not optional," Nadler said in opening the hearing with the witness chair empty.
"Let me be clear: this committee will hear Mr McGahn's testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it."
Nadler accused Trump of "stonewalling" but the White House maintains that Mueller's sprawling probe cleared the president, meaning there was no need for more digging.
The White House also says that people on Trump's staff cannot legally be compelled to testify.
Nadler underscored his disagreement and determination to force testimony Tuesday afternoon when his committee subpoenaed former Trump aide Hope Hicks and former McGahn chief of staff Annie Donaldson to testify.
There was no immediate indication of whether the White House, as with McGahn, would try to prevent them from appearing before the panel.
- Shadow of 2020 -
But Democrats remain divided on how to move ahead. With an election 18 months away, Democratic leaders have so far stuck to the position that determined investigations of Trump will serve a better purpose than a politically fraught impeachment effort.
The Washington Post reported that late Monday Nadler, whose committee would handle any impeachment action, told Pelosi that he favored opening an impeachment inquiry, the first step in the process.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a member of Nadler's committee, told reporters that she will formally introduce a "resolution of investigation" for impeachment "in the next 48 hours."
But Hoyer argued that his fellow Democrats were not yet ready.
"I don't think there is any Democrat who probably wouldn't in their gut say, he's done some things that probably justify impeachment," said Hoyer.
"Having said that... I think the majority of Democrats continue to believe that we need to continue to pursue the avenue that we've been on."