Jim Clyburn: House Democrats don’t need to impeach Trump to get him out of office

The third-most senior Democrat in the U.S. House thinks Congressional investigations could force President Donald Trump to leave office early rather than formal impeachment proceedings.

“Nobody jumped to conclusions about impeachment with Richard Nixon,” U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said of the former president who resigned in 1974. “The whole world was educated about what Nixon was doing, and it got to the point where they didn’t need to impeach, because when the world found out what he was doing, he decided the jig was up.

“I anticipate the same thing” could happen with Trump, Clyburn told McClatchy in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

Clyburn clarified he did not necessarily expect Trump will be forced to resign before the end of his term in January 2021, only that it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. It could be, Clyburn said, that House Democrats are able to help diminish confidence in Trump by the time he’s up for re-election.

But Clyburn’s assessment provides a glimpse into House Democratic leadership’s strategy for dealing with the president after the release of a report from White House special counsel Robert Mueller — the culmination of a two-year investigation into whether Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election and whether he obstructed justice in efforts to thwart that inquiry.

Mueller and his team ultimately could not conclude whether collusion or obstruction took place, but the report, in more than 400 pages, provides details that could prove damning to the Trump administration on both fronts. Clyburn said the report, on which he was briefed by his staff, lays out “several road maps” for multiple House committees to conduct vigorous investigations simultaneously.

“One of those road maps deals with his finances,” he explained. “Use the road map to go after his taxes. Use the road map to (find out), ‘did he obstruct justice?’ ... If you go through and find that, and educate the public, you don’t have to worry about anyone second guessing impeachment.”

It is in this scenario, Clyburn said, that the pressure on Trump could become too great to bear.

“I do not believe the public would allow these Republicans to keep their heads hidden in the sand,” Clyburn continued. “They are trying to tough it out, but if these House committees go and do their work, as I know they can, I think we’ll get to that point.”

Democrats, who have the majority in the U.S. House, held a conference call Monday evening to discuss how they could hold Trump accountable without pursuing impeachment, a controversial political strategy with which not every lawmaker is on board.

Many Democrats think pursuing impeachment would alienate voters who consider it a step too far. They worry it would fire up Trump’s base that sees the president as a victim.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the GOP-controlled Senate and a staunch Trump ally, is already sounding the alarm bells that Democrats plan on using the Mueller report to try and bring Trump down. As a member of the U.S. House in the late-1990s, Graham actually helped oversee impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

On Tuesday, Clyburn made it clear he also thinks impeachment is premature. He disagreed, however, that it’s an inherently toxic political issue. He said he didn’t think a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate’s support for the process would be a gamechanger on the campaign trail, specifically in the critical early primary state of South Carolina.

“It could play well with primary voters,” said Clyburn of candidates who support impeachment, like U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California. “People who are saying these things, I think they’re looking for ways to connect to primary voters, but I don’t think it’s going to be determinative of any outcome.”

Asked whether voters talk to him about impeachment and the Mueller report back home, Clyburn — a veteran of state Democratic politics who has pledged to stay neutral through the South Carolina primary season — said some, but “I wouldn’t say a lot.

“People are exasperated over this president. People wonder how this country allowed such an idiot to be elected president.”

Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.