White House hits Amash after his calls for impeachment

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, holds a town hall meeting at Grand Rapids Christian High School's DeVos Center for Arts and Worship on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. The congressman came under scrutiny May 18 when he posted a series of Tweets to outline his support for impeachment proceedings.

Washington — Aides to President Donald Trump clapped back at U.S. Rep. Justin Amash on Wednesday, dismissing the West Michigan congressman as inconsequential after he called on House leaders to launch impeachment proceedings over Trump's conduct. 

“I don't think Congressman Amash is worth the time of the White House," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters outside the West Wing. 

Amash, a libertarian Republican from Cascade Township, this month became the first GOP lawmaker in Congress to break with the president on the outcome of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, saying his conduct met the "threshold of impeachment." 

Amash was met with standing applause and, at times, angry Trump supporters Tuesday evening during his first town hall since his impeachment remarks, which prompted the president to label Amash a “loser” and GOP leaders to denounce him. 

"It’s appropriate for the speaker to proceed to an inquiry,” Amash said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the town hall.

“I think it’s really important that we do our job as a Congress, that we not allow misconduct to go undeterred,” Amash said. Doing nothing could signal “that someone can violate the public trust and that there are no consequences to it."

Asked about Amash potentially running for president as an independent or Libertarian Party nominee — which he hasn't ruled out — Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said, “Amash can do what he wants.”

"We know that director Mueller and his team had all the latitude and no interference, no obstruction from this president, from this place,” Conway told reporters.

“We certainly haven’t talked about somebody who wants to go get single digits in the presidential race.”

Amash was asked during the town hall about a potential White House run and said, "If I were trying to roll out something like that, this is not how I’d do it."

Amash did draw last week a primary challenger for his House seat from state Rep. Jim Lower, R-Greenville. Sanders on Wednesday did not dismiss the possibility that Trump would support an Amash primary challenger.

"I'll let the president make that determination," she said. 

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale took to Twitter to attack Amash as "phony," saying if Amash were a "TRUE libertarian, he wouldn’t stand for abuse of FBI power, spying, & bogus dossiers funded by political foes and fed to secret FISA courts.

"He is just another Grandstanding Swamp Creature auditioning for the approval of the liberal media," Parscale tweeted Wednesday. 

Parscale was referring to the FBI's use of allegations contained in the so-called Steele dossier as part of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to surveil a Trump campaign adviser.

Amash at Tuesday's town hall touted his record of pressing for FISA reforms, telling constituents that “nobody has fought against FISA abuse more than me.”

The maverick congressman also accused Trump defenders of using the initial warrant application as an “excuse” to ignore the president’s attempts to obstruct Mueller's investigation.

The fifth-term congressman, who has often clashed with party leaders, last year sponsored an amendment to reform FISA section 702 by requiring the government to seek a warrant based on probable cause before searching surveillance data for information about Americans.

The House rejected the amendment at the urging of Trump’s office, Amash said.

He called presidential allies such as GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California “the ring leaders” who defeated his data protection proposal and allowed the “abuse” to continue.

“And then a week later they all turn around and say, ‘Oh, FISA’s bad because it was used against the president,” Amash said. 

“They don’t support FISA reform. They are not protecting your rights. They want to protect the president. But the rest of you? Forget about it. The government can spy on all of you, and they don’t give one crap about it.”

Amash noted there “is not just one type of abuse in government,” adding that he is also concerned abuses like “obstructing justice” and “preventing the rule of law from taking place.”

Amash reiterated his call for Congress to take action in response to Mueller's findings, following a Wednesday news conference in which Mueller said he was legally barred from charging Trump with a crime but noted specifically that his report did not exonerate the president. 

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. 

Mueller in his remarks suggested that Congress is the appropriate venue for deciding if action should be taken against Trump in relation to allegations that he obstructed the probe.

"The Constitution requires a process outside the criminal justice system to accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing," Mueller said. 

Amash tweeted in response: "The ball is in our court, Congress."

In response to Mueller's remarks, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, also repeated her call for Congress "fulfill our constitutional responsibility" to investigate Trump through an impeachment inquiry.

“This President must be held accountable and it is our duty and responsibility to investigate him thoroughly," Tlaib said Wednesday. 

But Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, passed over the impeachment issue and focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“The objective need to safeguard our political system from foreign attack has unfortunately been lost in the partisan back-and-forth around the Mueller report," Slotkin said in a statement.

"But I believe that Democrats and Republicans alike agree to their core that a foreign adversary should never be able to wage a disinformation campaign to sow discord in our communities and influence our elections. I will do all I can to build on our common commitment to protecting our country and work to safeguard our political process."

From the White House, Sanders issued a statement saying Mueller had closed his case. 

"The report was clear — there was no collusion, no conspiracy — and the Department of Justice confirmed there was no obstruction," Sanders said.

"After two years, the Special Counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same.”