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Top House Dems Talk Impeachment        12/10 06:15

   Top House Democrats have raised the prospect of impeachment or the real 
possibility of prison time for President Donald Trump if it's proved that he 
directed illegal hush-money payments to women, adding to the legal pressure on 
the president over the Russia investigation and other scandals.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Top House Democrats have raised the prospect of 
impeachment or the real possibility of prison time for President Donald Trump 
if it's proved that he directed illegal hush-money payments to women, adding to 
the legal pressure on the president over the Russia investigation and other 
scandals.

   "There's a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, 
the Justice Department may indict him, that he may be the first president in 
quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time," said Rep. Adam Schiff, 
the incoming chairman of the House intelligence committee. "The bigger pardon 
question may come down the road as the next president has to determine whether 
to pardon Donald Trump."

   Rep. Jerry Nadler, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, 
described the details in prosecutors' filings Friday in the case of Trump's 
former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as evidence that Trump was "at the 
center of a massive fraud."

   "They would be impeachable offenses," Nadler said.

   In the filings, prosecutors in New York for the first time link Trump to a 
federal crime of illegal payments to buy the silence of two women during the 
2016 campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller's office also laid out previously 
undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries and 
suggested the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Trump and his Republican 
campaign by playing to both his political and personal business interests.

   Trump has denied wrongdoing and has compared the investigations to a "witch 
hunt."

   Nadler, D-N.Y., said it was too early to say whether Congress would pursue 
impeachment proceedings based on the illegal payments alone because lawmakers 
would need to weigh the gravity of the offense to justify "overturning" the 
2016 election. Nadler and other lawmakers said Sunday they would await 
additional details from Mueller's investigation into Russian election 
interference and possible coordination with the Trump campaign to determine the 
extent of Trump's misconduct.

   Regarding the illegal payments, "whether they are important enough to 
justify an impeachment is a different question, but certainly they'd be 
impeachable offenses because even though they were committed before the 
president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently 
obtaining the office," Nadler said.

   Mueller has not said when he will complete a report of any findings, and it 
isn't clear that any such report would be made available to Congress. That 
would be up to the attorney general. Trump on Friday said he would nominate 
former Attorney General William Barr to the post to succeed Jeff Sessions.

   Nadler indicated that Democrats, who will control the House in January, will 
step up their own investigations. He said Congress, the Justice Department and 
the special counsel need to dig deeper into the allegations, which include 
questions about whether Trump lied about his business arrangements with 
Russians and about possible obstruction of justice.

   "The new Congress will not try to shield the president," he said. "We will 
try to get to the bottom of this, in order to serve the American people and to 
stop this massive conspiracy --- this massive fraud on the American people."

   Schiff, D-Calif., also stressed a need to wait "until we see the full 
picture." He has previously indicated his panel would seek to look into the 
Trump family's business ties with Russia.

   "I think we also need to see this as a part of a broader pattern of 
potential misconduct by the president, and it's that broad pattern, I think, 
that will lead us to a conclusion about whether it rises to the level to 
warrant removal from office," Schiff said.

   In the legal filings, the Justice Department stopped short of accusing Trump 
of directly committing a crime. But it said Trump told Cohen to make illegal 
payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen 
McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had affairs with Trump more than a 
decade ago.

   In separate filings, Mueller's team detail how Cohen spoke to a Russian who 
"claimed to be a 'trusted person' in the Russian Federation who could offer the 
campaign 'political synergy' and 'synergy on a government level.'" Cohen said 
he never followed up on that meeting. Mueller's team also said former campaign 
chairman Paul Manafort lied to them about his contacts with a Russian associate 
and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.

   Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called the latest filings "relevant" 
in judging Trump's fitness for office but said lawmakers need more information 
to render judgment. He also warned the White House about considering a pardon 
for Manafort, saying such a step could trigger congressional debate about 
limiting a president's pardon powers.

   Such a move would be "a terrible mistake," Rubio said. "Pardons should be 
used judiciously. They're used for cases with extraordinary circumstances."

   Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine and a member of the Senate 
intelligence committee, cautioned against a rush to impeachment, which he said 
citizens could interpret as "political revenge and a coup against the 
president."

   "The best way to solve a problem like this, to me, is elections," King said. 
"I'm a conservative when it comes to impeachment. I think it's a last resort 
and only when the evidence is clear of a really substantial legal violation. We 
may get there, but we're not there now."

   Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut urged Mueller to "show his cards 
soon" so that Congress can make a determination early next year on whether to 
act on impeachment.

   "Let's be clear: We have reached a new level in the investigation," Murphy 
said. "It's important for Congress to get all of the underlying facts and data 
and evidence that the special counsel has."

   Nadler spoke on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, Rubio was on CNN and 
ABC's "This Week," and Schiff appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation." Murphy spoke 
on ABC, and King was on NBC's "Meet the Press."


(KA)

 
 
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