By Lauren Manelius
BLUE BELL, Pa. — They came out in force, braving driving rains and tornado watches, to ask U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean one thing:
Where does she stand on the impeachment of President Donald Trump?
Dean chuckled at the question from the crowd that nearly filled Montgomery County Community College’s Science Center Theater Wednesday for a constituent town hall put on by the 4th District Democrat.
“I actually wondered whether anybody would bring it up,” Dean said, as she was met with laughter from the crowd. “I didn’t think that was gonna sound funny.”
Then she cut to the chase.
“I think we are faced with the most indecent president of our lifetime,” Dean continued, as the crowd’s laughter turned into applause.
“And I really care about decency. That’s not the same thing as criminality. But it sure does matter when you’re the executive of this great nation,” she said. “He’s the most indecent, the most the openly corrupt, the most cruel of executives that you could ever, ever imagine.”
Along with fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, Dean sits on the House Judiciary Committee. That means she could be called upon to be one of the House managers in any future impeachment proceeding.
Dean, an attorney, told the crowd that she’s been eager to put her legal skills to work. She said she’d specifically asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., to appoint her to the panel for that reason.
“I want to put my own legal skills to bear,” she said.
The meeting with constituents came hours after Special Counsel Robert Mueller captured the news cycle in rare public comments to declare that his two-year investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election had not cleared Trump of any wrongdoing.
In a statement issued in the wake of Mueller’s news conference, Dean issued a sternly worded statement saying, “The Special Counsel was clear: ‘If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.’ Mueller also reminded us that he did not have the option of indicting the president – because according to Justice Department policy, ‘a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.’”
In her statement, Dean continued: “Mueller … described his view of the appropriate next steps: ‘the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.’ In other words, Special Counsel Mueller cannot act, but Congress can – and we will.”
Speaking to her constituents Wednesday, Dean expanded on her comments, saying that “time after time,” Trump “through his attorneys in his administration, through both [U.S. Attorney General William Barr] and his personal attorney, put roadblock after roadblock in the way,” of Mueller’s investigation.
“Enough is enough… we should open an impeachment inquiry,” she said. “That is where I have decided to go.”
Dean made it clear that calling for an impeachment inquiry is not a call for immediate impeachment, stressing the need to follow process.
“I believe we have evidence of impeachable offenses, there is no doubt about it. Impeachment proceedings are one of the most grave things that we can do as a Congress. We need to make sure we’ve got all the facts, as many as we can possibly get, in the face of an administration that is trying obstruct, and cover up, and obstruct, and cover up,” she said. “Because I believe it’s our duty to bring the facts to the American people. Ultimately it’s back to that notion of public sentiment. If you’re not with us, if you don’t believe that this is impeachable stuff, then we won’t be successful.”
Dean said Mueller’s decision to call that Wednesday press conference was an “incredibly positive thing,” because he “did the right thing” in the face of Barr’s “total mischaracterization” of the report, which led to a month of public confusion.
“He stood up [Wednesday] and said, ‘American people, read the report. The evidence is all there. I didn’t have the ability to charge a sitting president with obstruction of justice even though the evidence is there.’”
Outlining the major points of Mueller’s report, Dean noted the more than 180 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia as they “sweepingly and systematically” interfered with the 2016 election to the benefit of the Trump campaign.
“They welcomed it … if that’s not something that’s wrong, boy oh boy we’ve gotta change the laws around that,” she said, going on to say that the report notes at least ten instances of obstruction of justice by Trump. “I do believe this president cannot stand in terms of tearing down the very fabric of our Constitution.”
Dean fielded other questions on topics including infrastructure. There, Dean took another opportunity to scold Trump, accusing him of throwing a “tantrum” during his meeting with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Responding to a question from an audience member who wondered whether future impeachment proceedings would give Congress the power to compel Barr and others to obey with subpoenas, Dean said, “We might be in a legally better position in Congress.”
She added that it was important to take stock of two federal judicial opinions issued last week that upheld the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s argument that they have the right to the documents they subpoenaed, such as Trump’s tax returns.
“So while the president can be fighting with Congress and not respect us as an equal branch, I’m counting on this third co-equal branch of government to weigh in and tell the president very directly, he’s dead wrong,” she said. “We have every right nationally and a Constitutional obligation to the oversight we’re going to do to get the information for the American people.”
Lauren Manelius is a freelance writer based in Lancaster, Pa.