WASHINGTON — President Trump and his Republican foot soldiers on Capitol Hill are claiming the Mueller investigation is over — and they won.
“We closed the book on this investigation,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared after former special counsel Robert Mueller left the Capitol.
But Democrats warned they’re just getting started, and that means they’re redoubling their efforts to drag current and former members of Trump’s inner circle before Congress. While the Mueller hearings may not have produced a smoking gun, they did give the Democrats a road map to haul many of Mueller's witnesses to the Hill to testify about things that aren't necessarily in the report.
“Mueller came out and said the president is not exonerated."
“Mueller came out and said the president is not exonerated. That tells me we’ve got to continue doing our investigation, we’ve got to continue to dig,” Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), who serves on the Judiciary Committee, told VICE News at the Capitol after the hearings. “It motivates me to do additional oversight.”
They also know the first hurdle for impeachment may start with the House, but it ends with a formal trial in Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate, and that means they need to build a case strong enough to embarrass senators who vote not to convict.
“The Mueller report in and of itself is insufficient evidence to walk into the Senate for a trial,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the hearing. “We can collect the evidence without declaring an impeachment.”
That’s why other committee members say they’re planning to redouble their efforts to interview the same people Mueller and his team interviewed. At the top of many of their lists are former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former White House counsel Don McGahn, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn, and former White House communications director and campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks, according to Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).
“I think we’ll continue to press hard to bring the witnesses before the committee,” Cicilline, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told VICE News after the hearings. “I would like to secure the documents that are necessary to start an investigation, and there are many of us who will continue to press for the formal opening.”
What about Russia?
Still, other Democrats want the investigation to focus back on Russia and other foreign adversary’s attempts to disrupt an American election. That’s why, while many Democrats are focusing their attention on the potential obstruction of justice charges — Volume 2 of Mueller’s report, others are staying focused on Volume 1: Russia. And a group of freshmen are crafting legislation, some of which is coming out as soon as this week, to address that.
“No one talks about Volume I. Volume I outlines the way that a foreign adversary interfered in our elections,” Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “Disinformation, social media interference, all that stuff. And so we’re acting on it.”
Other Democrats fear the true story behind the 2016 elections is already being buried, and they’re not letting up.
“I’m hoping that we will look into the whole function of hacking and how easy it is to hack into election machines here in the United States,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “I still think that is an overriding concern that we should all have.”
3 more for impeachment
Democrats did actually gain three more votes for impeachment this week. Reps. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), John Garamend (D-Calif.) and Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) joined the more than 90 members who now say they'd vote in favor of initiating impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
All three seem to have made up their minds prior to hearing Mueller’s testimony. Indeed, unlike most of the American public, they had already had his 440-page report.
“The report itself speaks for itself,” Brownley told VICE News at the Capitol after the hearings. “And it’s not a fun read, necessarily.”
Still, the most important vote — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's — is still conditioned on a case strong enough to potentially gain a conviction in the Senate.
"If we have a case for impeachment, that’s the place we will have to go. Why I’d like it to be a strong case is because it’s based on the facts — the facts and the law, that’s what matters," Pelosi told the congressional press corps Wednesday evening. “The stronger our case is, the worse the Senate will look for just letting the president off the hook.”
Even if Mueller didn’t advance their case, Democrats say they’re not dismayed.
“You know, this isn't like Watergate when there’s nothing else to watch on television, or nothing else going on," Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “It’s harder in this era.”
Cover: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Democratic Caucus hold an event on the House steps to highlight their agenda since taking the majority in the 2018 election, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)