Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo appears to have been the first Republican member of Congress to publicly suggest it might rise to an impeachable offense — obstruction of justice — if President Donald Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia ties.
Curbelo acknowledged the possibility of impeachment when speaking to Capitol Hill reporters Tuesday afternoon, and later repeated it Tuesday night on CNN.
“I was just being honest,” Curbelo said Wednesday in an interview with the Miami Herald, in which he called impeachment still “premature.” “Any effort to impede or interfere with a federal investigation is by definition obstruction of justice, and there’s precedent for the House to consider obstruction of justice an impeachable offense.”
The distinction of being the first Republican to raise impeachment didn’t come up until Michigan Rep. Justin Amash made similar comments Wednesday.
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The Hill, a Washington publication, identified Amash as the first Republican to mention impeachment after The New York Times reported Tuesday about a Comey memo recounting Trump’s request.
“I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey, according to Comey’s notes recounted to the Times.
Curbelo’s office had to point out to The Hill that the Miami congressman had actually beaten Amash to it. That prompted an update to The Hill’s story — and a correction in a Mother Jones story that had cited The Hill.
On Tuesday, Curbelo told Independent Journal Review that the possibility of impeachment “depends on the facts.”
“If there was any obstruction of justice, that would obviously rise to that level,” he said.
“Obstruction of justice, in the case of [former President Richard] Nixon, in the case of [former President Bill] Clinton in the late ’90s, has been considered an impeachable offense,” Curbelo told CNN.
It’s hard to know at any given point which of the 535 members of Congress first said something. But the fact that this is something Curbelo’s office found worth correcting shows the kind of trouble Trump is starting to get into with his own party.
“It was news to me that I was the first to say it publicly, because many members have said it privately,” Curbelo told the Herald.
Curbelo, who had previously endorsed the creation of a select committee to investigate prior allegations regarding Russia, wants Comey to turn over his notes and testify publicly before Congress so lawmakers can learn firsthand about the president’s actions.
“Once we have that information, we’ll be better informed and see how we proceed from there,” he said. “This could be the beginning of a very dark chapter in our history — or it could be nothing.”
Curbelo’s comments have returned him to the spotlight as a Trump critic. He had spent the past couple of weeks fielding angry reactions over his vote for House Republicans’ healthcare legislation. Curbelo represents the Democratic-leaning 26th district and has cast himself as a moderate; his vote for the American Health Care Act, however, helped narrowly pass a priority bill for Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
On Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for now Curbelo’s chief political foe, called on Curbelo to back legislation to create an independent commission to investigate the president.
“The American people deserve answers and anything less is a sign that Carlos Curbelo is willing to put his Party before the community he claims to represent,” DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter said in a statement.
Such is the typical political whiplash Curbelo faces as congressman for one of the nation’s most competitive districts, which stretches from Westchester to Key West. On Monday, liberal activists protested outside Curbelo’s Miami office, clamoring for a town hall. A day earlier, PBS’ “Newshour” had featured Curbelo’s work on climate change.
Curbelo has yet to draw a 2018 challenger.
“I go back to when I was a high school basketball referee: You just have to tune out the noise,” Curbelo said. “There’ll be a lot of highs and lows in our politics between now and next year.”