House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler on Thursday insisted that his committee’s investigation into whether President Trump should be impeached is “formal impeachment proceedings” — which would be an escalation by Democrats in their efforts to impeach the president.

“This is formal impeachment proceedings,” Nadler told CNN host Erin Burnett, with emphasis on the word “is.”

“We are investigating all the evidence, gathering the evidence. And we will at the conclusion of this — hopefully by the end of the year — vote to vote articles of impeachment to the House floor. Or we won’t. That’s a decision that we’ll have to make. But that’s exactly the process we’re in right now,” he said.

Nadler announced his committee was launching the investigation days after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified, prompting some confusion over what his investigation was and what it would do.

He has said the committee will call in witnesses and obtain information to investigate whether the president obstructed justice in the special counsel investigation and should be impeached.

But the move is also seen as an attempt to strengthen Democrats’ hand in court when seeking access to witnesses and materials the administration says are under executive privilege.

For example, the committee has subpoenaed former White House General Counsel Don McGahn to appear before it, but the White House has directed McGahn not to appear, arguing he is under executive privilege and there is no legislative purpose to his testifying. Democrats could now point to the investigation and claim there is a legislative purpose.

However, confusion has stemmed from whether the move can be considered actual impeachment proceedings, since those typically begin when the House passes a resolution authorizing an impeachment inquiry. So far, the House has not done so, and a vote last month on impeachment failed, 95-332, with one Democrat voting present.

Although two dozen more Democrats have joined the call for impeachment after Mueller’s testimony, they are still 98 more votes away from authorizing articles of impeachment.

House leadership has opposed passing articles of impeachment, since the country is deeply divided on the issue, and it could distract from other messages Democrats want to run on in 2020. It also backfired on Republicans in 1998 when they impeached former President Bill Clinton.

Pelosi has tried to walk the line between preventing actual impeachment proceedings — which is unpopular among about half of Americans, but appeasing the progressive base calling for impeachment.

Nadler has argued that Pelosi personally signing off on a recent court filing for McGahn’s testimony and others seeking documents amounts to her blessing in his launching impeachment proceedings.

“We could not have filed the lawsuits without her,” he said. “She is cooperating with the committee’s investigation.”

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