U.S. Rep. Adam Smith caused a brief ruckus Thursday morning when he publicly broke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her delay in sending articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate.
But within hours, Smith, D-Bellevue, fell back in line, saying he “misspoke.”
Smith’s bad morning began with a CNN interview in which he said “it is time” to send the articles “and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial.” While he said it had been “perfectly advisable” for Pelosi to try to leverage a fair Senate trial that “would show evidence and bring out witnesses,” he concluded “at this point, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”
The comments by Smith, a 12-term representative and chair of the House Armed Services Committee, swiftly drew headlines. NBC News reported “Top House Democrat: ‘Time to send’ articles of impeachment to Senate.” Fox News cited Smith in a story about “rising pressure” on Pelosi.
While there was no word on whether he was privately admonished by Pelosi or other fellow Democrats, Smith soon took to Twitter to backtrack.
“I misspoke this morning,” he wrote. ” … If the Speaker believes that holding on to the articles for a longer time will help force a fair trial in the Senate, then I wholeheartedly support that decision.”
Smith’s office also sent out an identical official statement, adding: “I am concerned that Senator McConnell won’t have a fair trial and I am with the Speaker that we should do everything we can to ensure he does. Ultimately, I do want the articles sent to the Senate for the very simple reason that I want the impeachment process to go forward.”
In an interview with The Seattle Times, Smith said he revised his comments because he hadn’t meant to split from Pelosi and demand an immediate transmittal of the impeachment charges.
“I saw the way it was being reported and that was not the message I wanted to send. I did not say it the way I should have,” Smith said.
While it’s not an option to simply never send the matter to the Senate, Smith says he supports Pelosi’s “leverage campaign” to set the terms of a trial. “I support her. At the end of the day it was a question of timing,” he said.
Smith said he had not spoken with Pelosi about his remarks prior to walking them back.
Like all House Democrats from Washington state, Smith voted last month to impeach Trump over his efforts to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, and his refusal to cooperate with the House’s inquiry into those efforts.
But since the House vote, Pelosi has delayed transmitting the two articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial, where a two-thirds majority would be required to convict the president and remove him from office. Pelosi and other Democrats have criticized Senate Republicans for refusing to commit to a fair trial, citing McConnell’s vow of “total coordination” with the White House.
Trump tweeted Thursday about what he called the “Impeachment Hoax,” saying “she never sent the Articles to the Senate. Just another Democrat fraud. Presidential Harassment!”
A growing number of Senate Democrats have publicly called on Pelosi to end the wait and transmit the articles of impeachment. Asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter when she’d send the articles, Pelosi responded, “I know exactly when, but I won’t be telling you right now.”
Smith said he remains “deeply frustrated” that Senate Republicans clearly intend to acquit Trump.
“My opinion is there is plenty of information to say the president did exactly what we said he did: that he tried to blackmail the Ukraine… The thing is the Republicans simply decided to be dishonest,” he said.