Pelosi Cautions on Impeachment as She Decries Trump’s Ethics

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, acknowledging a Democratic divide over new findings from Robert S. Mueller III, appeared to urge her caucus to hold off impeaching President Trump for now, even as she decried his “highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior” which she said “does not bring honor to the office he holds.”

In her first extended comments since the release of the special counsel’s report last week, Ms. Pelosi counseled caution to Democrats as she tested for cracks among Republicans. In a letter to colleagues, she said, “Congressional Republicans have an unlimited appetite for” the “low standards” set by President Trump.

“The G.O.P. should be ashamed of what the Mueller report has revealed, instead of giving the president their blessings,” she wrote.

But she also urged Democrats not to put a specific punishment — namely impeachment — ahead of lining up the facts in the coming weeks in hearings and a potential legal fight over access to the special counsel’s investigative files.

“While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth,” Ms. Pelosi wrote. “It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings.”

“As we proceed to uncover the truth and present additional needed reforms to protect our democracy,” she continued, “we must show the American people we are proceeding free from passion or prejudice, strictly on the presentation of fact.”

She vowed to “scrupulously assert Congress’ constitutional duty to honor our oath of office to support and defend the Constitution and our democracy.” But she implied that duty could be fulfilled through oversight short of impeachment.

Ms. Pelosi’s letter arrived a few hours before House Democrats are set to convene by conference call for the first time since the release of Mr. Mueller’s report last Thursday. With lawmakers scattered around the country for their spring recess — Ms. Pelosi spent last week overseas — the call will provide Democrats with a chance to begin to hash out differences over what comes next. They are also likely to discuss how to handle upcoming hearings with Attorney General William P. Barr, who will testify before both the House and Senate next week, and Mr. Mueller, whom Democrats have asked to testify.

Several prominent Democrats — including Representatives Maxine Waters of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — have vocally endorsed the idea of initiating impeachment proceedings in recent days. They argue that the House would legitimize Mr. Trump’s behavior by taking a pass on punishing him, and abdicate its duty to uphold constitutional norms.

Mr. Mueller’s report documented in vivid detail about a dozen episodes in which Mr. Trump sought to beat back the investigation into Russian election interference to protect himself and his associates, including attempts to fire the special counsel and other Justice Department officials who could influence the case. But Mr. Mueller declined to indict the president or recommend impeachment because he said legal and factual constraints prevented him from reaching a traditional judgment about whether Mr. Trump’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice.

Instead, he nodded to Congress’s ability to judge for itself.

House leaders and their allies, including Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, have taken a more cautious approach. Without at least some bipartisan support, they have insisted, impeaching Mr. Trump simply may not be worth it, especially with the Republican-controlled Senate unlikely to convict and remove him from office.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, bolstered that assessment Monday afternoon.

“Well, look, I think it’s time to move on,” Mr. McConnell told reporters after an event in Owensboro, Ky. “This investigation was about collusion — there’s no collusion, no charges brought against the president on anything else. And I think the American people have had quite enough of it.”

In the meantime, House Democrats have tried to keep pressure on the Justice Department to hand over an unredacted copy of the more than 440-page Mueller report and all the evidence underlying it. Mr. Nadler issued a subpoena for those documents on Friday and party leaders have consistently argued that whatever path they proceed on, Congress is entitled to all relevant material to make judgments.

The Justice Department offered last week to make a fuller version of the report available to House leaders — an offer Democrats rejected as too narrow — but says that it cannot legally share secretive grand jury information gathered as part of the investigation.

Mr. Trump, for his part, insisted on Monday there were no grounds to impeach him. Trumpeting Mr. Mueller’s conclusion that his campaign had not conspired with Russia to undermine the 2016 election and obscuring his more complicated assessment of whether the president obstructed justice, he said again that he had committed no crime.

Mr. Trump’s statements of exoneration might affect the politics of a potential impeachment, firming up Republican opposition to the idea. But nothing in the Constitution says a crime must have occurred to warrant impeachment. Rather, it is up to any given Congress to determine what constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor, and in the past noncriminal acts have been so defined.