Now that a few hours have passed, the subtext of Robert Mueller's first-ever public statement about the Russia probe is starting to sink in for both Democratic presidential contenders and the press (though comparing Mueller to a professor chiding his students for not 'doing the reading', like Buzzfeed did, misses the point).
Blaze media critic Robert Eno hit the nail on the head when he pointed out in a tweet that Mueller didn't just restate the findings from his report: His statement was larded with hints appearing to goad Democrats into pursuing impeachment.
This whole reason Mueller gave this press conference was to give the media this soundbite.— Rob Eno (@Robeno) May 29, 2019
It was calculated.
He's signaling his wish for impeachment. pic.twitter.com/MPg3gx0N2m
This message wasn't lost on the contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, many of whom swiftly demanded that the House begin impeachment proceedings immediately.
Mueller’s statement makes clear what those who have read his report know: It is an impeachment referral, and it’s up to Congress to act. They should.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 29, 2019
Mueller leaves no doubt:— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 29, 2019
1) He didn't exonerate the president because there is evidence he committed crimes.
2) Justice Department policy prevented him from charging the president with any crimes.
3) The Constitution leaves it up to Congress to act—and that's impeachment.
Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately.— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 29, 2019
What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral. Now it is up to Congress to hold this president accountable.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 29, 2019
We need to start impeachment proceedings. It's our constitutional obligation.
Mueller made clear this morning that his investigation now lays at the feet of Congress. No one is above the law—Congress should begin an impeachment inquiry.— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) May 29, 2019
Even the Biden campaign said impeaching Trump 'may be unavoidable'.
And AOC, who isn't seeking higher office this election cycle, reiterated her calls for impeachment and also accused Mueller of "playing a game of Taboo with Congress," which is actually a fairly apt comparison.
Mueller is playing a game of Taboo with Congress.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 29, 2019
His word is “impeach.” https://t.co/mS4K8faLCw
That part ⬇️ https://t.co/XYsukFu0kJ— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 29, 2019
But despite growing support for impeachment, members of the Democratic Congressional leadership sounded conspicuously restrained.
Nancy Pelosi's statement on Mueller's remarks was surprisingly restrained. Though the leader of the Democrats in the House acknowledged that the president should be investigated, she stopped short of calling for impeach:
It is with the greatest respect for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the deepest disappointment in the Department of Justice holding the President above the law, that I thank Special Counsel Mueller for the work he and his team did to provide a record for future action both in the Congress and in the courts regarding the Trump Administration involvement in Russian interference and obstruction of the investigation.
Special Counsel Mueller made clear that he did not exonerate the President when he stated, 'if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.' He stated that the decision not to indict stemmed directly from the Department of Justice's policy that a sitting President cannot be indicted. Despite Department of Justice policy to the contrary, no one is above the law - not even the President.
The Special Counsel's report revealed that the President's campaign welcomed Russian interference in the election, and laid out eleven instances of the President's obstruction of the investigation. The Congress holds sacred its constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the President accountable for his abuse of power.
The Congress will continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy. The American people must have the truth. We call upon the Senate to pass HR 1, the For The People Act, to protect our election systems.
We salute Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team for his patriotic duty to seek the truth.
Schumer's response was similarly restrained.
Robert Mueller made clear today that the Russians interfered in our elections, the wellspring of our democracy.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 29, 2019
If Pres Trump & Congress don’t do anything, it'll be worse in 2020— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 29, 2019
Yet inexplicably, Sen McConnell & Senate GOP are blocking bipartisan election security legislation, despite Dems’ repeated calls to protect our democracy from interference—by Russia or any other foreign adversary
Robert Mueller’s statement also makes clear that Congress has a right—we believe an obligation—to continue our constitutionally mandated oversight without interference or stonewalling and follow the facts wherever they may lead.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 29, 2019
There was at least one member of the Democratic leadership who appeared open to impeachment: Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said 'all options are on the table' when asked about impeachment, adding that Mueller has demonstrated that Trump clearly lied.
The message is clear: Despite growing support for moving ahead with impeachment proceedings among some of the 2020 candidates, Pelosi, Schumer and the rest of the leadership are sticking with their plan to forego impeachment proceedings to try and avoid inflaming Trump's base before the election.
Pursuing impeach very well might turn out to be a political trap for the Dems, but if Pelosi & Co. continue to push back against it, they could be setting themselves up for a showdown with left-wing Democrats.