"It's very clear that the president obstructed justice," Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler told ABC News recently. "It's very clear -- 1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt, ... he tried to protect Flynn from being investigated by the FBI. He fired Comey in order to stop the 'Russian thing,' as he told NBC News. ... He's intimidated witnesses. In public."
Think what you will about the reasons -- calling an investigation a "witch hunt" is obstruction of justice? -- but Nadler sounded less like a man weighing the evidence than a man who has has made up his mind. Given that, Nadler's interview led to a question: President Nixon was threatened with impeachment for obstruction of justice. President Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice. Why is Nadler, who, as judiciary chair, heads the committee in the House that originates articles of impeachment, not moving forward with impeaching President Trump right now?
"We don't have the facts yet," Nadler said -- a perplexing admission for a man who had just confidently enumerated the president's crimes. "Impeachment is a long way down the road."
As Rich Lowry pointed out a short time later, no one should believe Nadler's caution. "Don't be fooled," Lowry tweeted. "Being a 'long way' from impeachment is their first step to impeaching (Trump)."
Indeed, Nadler went on to explain why Democrats have not yet moved to impeach the president. Essentially, he said, the party doesn't yet have its ducks in a row. There is preparatory work -- evidence gathering and creating a communications strategy -- to be done before going forward.
"We have to -- we have to do the investigations and get all this," Nadler said. "We do not now have the evidence all sorted out and everything ... to do an impeachment. Before you impeach somebody, you have to persuade the American public that it ought to happen. You have to persuade enough of the -- of the opposition party voters, Trump voters, that you're not just trying to ... reverse the results of the last election."
Nadler's talk with ABC was the clearest indication yet that Democrats have decided to impeach Trump and are now simply doing the legwork involved in making that happen. And that means the debate among House Democrats will be a tactical one -- what is the best time and way to go forward -- rather than a more fundamental discussion of whether the president should be impeached.
Not long after speaking to ABC, Nadler released a list of 81 names of Trump associates from whom the Judiciary Committee is requesting documents in what Nadler called "the first steps of an investigation into the alleged corruption, obstruction and other abuses of power by President Trump, his associates and members of his administration."
Other House Democrats are sending similar messages. "There is abundant evidence of collusion," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on CBS recently. Schiff has launched a new Trump-Russia investigation to re-cover the territory covered in the probes by his own committee, by the Senate Intelligence Committee and by Trump-Russia special counsel Robert Mueller.
"I have said that I think we should await the evidence from Bob Mueller as well as our own work," Schiff said. That could mean almost anything; Schiff's committee can -- and most certainly will -- investigate Trump for the rest of the president's term. What Schiff did not say is at what point House Democrats will decide to pull the trigger.
There will be other House leaders involved, too. A few days ago, NBC reported that Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal has told his staff to prepare a request to the Internal Revenue Service for the president's tax returns.
It will, in fact, be a demand -- "We will take all necessary steps, including litigation, if necessary, to obtain them," a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told NBC. The administration will likely resist -- the House "request" would be unprecedented -- and the process could take time. But Democrats believe, as Pelosi's spokesman said, that "all roads lead back to President Trump's finances."
So now the Democratic plan is coming into sharper relief. The impeachment decision has been made. Various committee chairs are moving forward in gathering and organizing the formal justification for removing the president. The timing decision is still up in the air, as is an overarching communications plan -- selling impeachment to the American public, or more specifically, to those Americans who don't already support it.
The sales campaign will most certainly be high-minded. "It's our job to protect the rule of law," Nadler said Sunday, echoing the Republicans who impeached Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
But whatever the stated rationale, impeachment is on.
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