Earlier on Friday, however, Democrats made it clear that if it were confirmed that the president asked a witness to lie on his behalf, it would be cause for impeachment.
“If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,” Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy weighed in, too. “If Mueller does have multiple sources confirming Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, then we need to know this ASAP,” he wrote. “Mueller shouldn’t end his inquiry, but it’s about time for him to show Congress his cards before it’s too late for us to act.”
Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley followed up on Friday morning: “If this report of Trump suborning false testimony is confirmed, then Trump committed a felony and must resign or be impeached,” he wrote. “This is obstruction of justice,” Democratic Representative David Cicilline, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told CNN. “If the facts are true, this is suborning perjury. It’s an impeachable offense.” Representative Jamie Raskin, a member of House leadership, told CNN, “This is a completely impeachable offense, if this report is true.” He said Congress would need to hear from “everybody who was involved” in the alleged conspiracy before moving forward with impeachment.
The comments marked a noticeable shift in what had been the standard party line on the possibility of impeachment—that Democrats should wait to act until after Mueller issues his final report. But the attorney-general nominee Bill Barr’s refusal to commit to providing Mueller’s findings to Congress and to the public, combined with BuzzFeed’s implication that the president committed a felony while in office, has given Democrats a new sense of urgency—and they won’t necessarily wait to hold Trump accountable, I’m told, if they conclude that he knowingly obstructed justice to hide his involvement in business negotiations with the Kremlin during the election.
“The conduct alleged by BuzzFeed is consistent with other, independent evidence of Donald Trump as candidate instructing others to lie and Donald Trump as president obstructing justice,” Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell, who sits on both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, told me. “Evidence is not a conclusion. It must be tested. We should do all we can in Congress with the subpoena power and oversight responsibility to see if Trump acted this way. I don’t think anyone will be surprised if it’s confirmed.”
A White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, told Fox News on Friday that the allegation was “ridiculous.” “I’m not going to give any credence or credibility to Michael Cohen,” he said. But Mueller has documentary evidence to support Cohen’s claims, according to BuzzFeed, and its reporting is not the first piece of evidence that Trump has sought to obstruct the federal and congressional Russia investigations. The FBI opened an obstruction inquiry after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey—who was leading the investigation into his campaign at the time he was ousted—and told the Russians that dismissing Comey took “great pressure” off him. Trump’s decision to draft a misleading statement on his son’s behalf about a meeting with the Russians at the height of the election to obtain dirt on his opponent, Hillary Clinton, has factored into the obstruction probe, too, according to The New York Times.