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Why Rep. Raskin says he’s changed his mind on impeaching Trump

The showdown over the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches continued to play out Tuesday on Capitol Hill, as Congress again sought answers from the White House, and the Trump administration declined to provide them. Lisa Desjardins reports, and Judy Woodruff talks to Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, about moving toward impeachment.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The showdown over the balance of power played out again today on Capitol Hill, as congressional Democrats seek answers from the White House, and the Trump administration exerts executive privilege.

    Our Lisa Desjardins has the latest.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Another hearing about the Mueller report, and another empty chair.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    Our subpoenas are not optional. Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for this scheduled appearance. If he doesn't immediately correct his mistake, this committee will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Former White House counsel Don McGahn, a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, he ignored a subpoena to appear before the House Judiciary Committee today.

    President Trump has instructed McGahn and others not to testify before congressional Oversight Committees, which he and other Republicans, like Doug Collins of Georgia, argue are political theater.

  • Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.:

    The chairman orchestrated today's confrontation, when he could have avoided it, because he is more interested in the fight than fact-finding.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But many House Democrats see a constitutional issue, and are debating how to respond, in the past day, rising sentiment that the House should open an impeachment inquiry.

    Massachusetts Congressman and presidential candidate Seth Moulton.

  • Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.:

    It's past time to have this debate, and I think, frankly, we waited too long waiting for the Mueller report to come out.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has cautioned against speeding toward impeachment. Congresswoman Karen Bass of California agrees.

  • Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.:

    I think that this lawless administration is probably going to force us to impeach, but I don't believe that we are there today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This as the president is on offense, with a mocking tone in Pennsylvania last night:

  • Donald Trump:

    Angry Democrats all after us with all of it. And they still have — it's like little embers that are burning. They're going crazy, because when the Mueller report was finished, it said no collusion. They went crazy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    House Democrats have called a meeting for tomorrow morning to talk about their next steps.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Congressman Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland. He's a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

    Congressman Raskin, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Thanks for having me, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Absolutely.

    You are a member who is calling for impeachment proceedings to begin, but, as you know, Speaker Pelosi is saying it's too soon. She's saying Democrats need to focus right now on the issues, and, besides, there are other avenues that haven't been exhausted yet.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Right.

    Well, you know, a number of members on the Judiciary Committee, probably a majority of the Judiciary Committee, now feels that it's time to launch an impeachment inquiry.

    Now, that's different from impeachment. And the press has framed this as impeachment or no impeachment. The real question is, should we have an inquiry that looks into whether there have been high crimes and misdemeanors?

    And I think there has been such overwhelming evidence presented to us from the special counsel in the Mueller report of presidential obstruction of justice, 11 different episodes of it, that it's staring us in the face.

    And since the Mueller report finally came out, after that agonizing choreography by Attorney General Barr, we have had even more obstruction from the White House. The president has essentially ordered everybody in the executive branch not to comply with our subpoenas, not to render testimony to Congress, not to produce documents and so on.

    So it's a completely unacceptable situation, an untenable situation, and we need this to be on the table along with everything else that we're doing.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But even — if I could just interrupt, but even with the definition, OK, you're saying it's an inquiry, rather than an impeachment formal proceeding, you still have the speaker and others saying, you are going to have to go to the courts.

    You need court rulings on the question of executive privilege, other constitutional questions. Can you really proceed in any meaningful way unless you have the courts with you?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Well, I think, first of all, the courts are going to be with us, starting with yesterday's excellent ruling for the Oversight Committee in its desire, and our desire, because I serve on that committee, too, in our desire to obtain the information from the president's accountants.

    And the court there made the critical point, which is that, if Congress has the power under Article 1, to impeach the president, we certainly have the lesser power to investigate the president for criminal deeds.

    But you have the executive branch going around and saying, the Congress isn't a prosecutor, they can't get information from us about financial improprieties or other crimes that may have been committed. And the court completely repudiated that argument.

    So we have got the authority to get all of that stuff, and the Supreme Court has been very clear that the fact-finding function is an essential prerogative of the legislative branch of government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about Speaker Pelosi's point, though, Congressman, that unless there is bipartisan agreement on this in the Senate, which there is not now, you're just, in effect, spinning your wheels?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Well, we love our speaker, and we love her because of her political judgment, and I think that that is precisely what we are going to have to be discussing as we move forward.

    Obviously, there is overwhelming sentiment for launching an impeachment inquiry in our party. And we have heard from a lot of even more conservative members that they want the Democratic Party to stand tall and stand strong for the rule of law and for the Constitution.

    You know, the question of what the Senate will do — and we say this with respect to everything. You know, we just have prescription drug reform to lower everybody's prescription drug prices. We passed gun safety to try to close the Internet loophole and the private gun show loophole. We don't know what the Senate is going to do.

    Mitch McConnell seems to be sitting on everything. He calls himself now the Grim Reaper, because he wants the Senate to be the graveyard for all of the good legislation we pass in the House.

    But you know what? We have to ignore that and go on and do our jobs and try to encourage them as much as possible to do theirs, too. And I think this situation is no different.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it's not just the Senate. The latest poll we did, came out earlier this month, showed only 39 percent of Americans think that impeachment proceedings should begin.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Well, and, you know, I wasn't part of that 39 percent. I was part of the 61 percent.

    I think a lot of us were on the committee. And we were encouraging our people to say, stay cool, let's see if we can make this happen through contempt citations. Let's see if we can get the administration to behave reasonably.

    I think the whole country can see now that this president is acting in a lawless and totally unprecedented way, when he says, we are not going to cooperate with Congress at all. So they're operating with what they think is immunity from the Constitution and absolute impunity.

    So, I flipped over. Last week, I was with where most people were in saying, let's give it some more time. But now I just — I have seen enough. And I think that we do need to move forward at some point, and I hope quickly, to an impeachment inquiry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can you move ahead on this if you don't have your leadership's support?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    No, I think we have got to be together as a team.

    And we have got a great leader on the Judiciary Committee in Jerry Nadler. And we have got a great leader as speaker. And the Democrats are unified in trying to stop this lawlessness.

    Judy, it is not an easy situation, as you know. We are dealing with the most lawless president of our lifetimes. And we're all trying to figure this out together. But I think that we have got great unity and solidarity within our caucus, and we are going to move together as one to try to get this done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee, thank you.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Thank you for having me.

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