WASHINGTON • US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, confronting a Democratic divide over the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, urged her caucus to hold off impeaching President Donald Trump for now, even as she denounced the "highly unethical and unscrupulous behaviour" she said had dishonoured his office.
Her comments, outlined in a letter to House Democrats on Monday and made in a subsequent conference call with them, seemed designed to increase support for the investigations already begun, rather than impeachment.
But several Democrats questioned the cost of not beginning the impeachment of Mr Trump.
The release last week of the report by Mr Mueller threw to Congress the fate of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Mr Trump's efforts to interfere with it.
Some House Democrats are convinced impeachment proceedings would be doomed to fall short of removal from office and therefore would only help Mr Trump politically. Others argue that failing to impeach would effectively signal to this President and his successors that serious misdeeds will be tolerated by a legislative branch fearful of political consequence.
Mrs Pelosi tried to convince her colleagues that they have the tools to hold Mr Trump to account without impeaching him.
The Democrat-led Judiciary Committee announced as the call began that it had subpoenaed former White House counsel Donald McGahn, one of the central figures of Mr Mueller's report, to appear at a public hearing in late May.
We have to save our democracy. This isn't about Democrats or Republicans. It's about saving our democracy.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI, to the 172 members who participated in an 87-minute conference call on Monday.
Representatives Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon and Steve Cohen of Tennessee had brought up the possibility of voting to censure the president, the people on the call said.
"We have to save our democracy. This isn't about Democrats or Rep-ublicans. It's about saving our democracy," Mrs Pelosi told the 172 members who participated in the 87-minute conference call, keeping the possibility of impeachment alive.
For now, House Democratic leaders appeared to have enough leeway to pursue investigations without formally convening impeachment proceedings.
On the call, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, walked them through a string of public hearings in the coming weeks, including with Attorney-General William Barr, who will testify before both the House and Senate next week; and Mr Mueller, who has been asked by Democrats to testify.
If Mr Barr, Mr Mueller and Mr McGahn all appear before the Judiciary Committee, the proceedings will have the look of impeachment hearings without the title.
Mr Trump insisted on Monday that there were no grounds to impeach him and told reporters he was "not even a little bit" concerned.
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 "high crimes and misdemeanours".
He wrote on Twitter: "Only high crimes and misdemeanours can lead to impeachment. There were no crimes by me (No Collusion, No Obstruction), so you can't impeach."
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' ability to judge for itself.
The cautious approach from House leaders is not new. Without at least some bipartisan support, they have insisted, impeaching Mr Trump simply may not be worth it, since the Republican-controlled Senate would be unlikely to convict and remove him from office.
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, bolstered that assessment on Monday afternoon.
"Well, look, I think it's time to move on," Mr McConnell told reporters after an event in Kentucky. "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."