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To impeach or not to impeach? Capitol Hill weighs the question after Cohen plea

Testimony from President Trump's former longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen on Tuesday that Mr. Trump directed him to violate campaign finance law — claims he made as he pleaded guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations — renewed questions on Capitol Hill about the possibility of impeachment. 

Cohen is not the only former Trump associate to be convicted of a crime — former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of financial fraud-related crimes on Tuesday, former national security adviser Mike Flynn is awaiting sentencing, and former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. But Cohen's allegations point back to the president directly.

A number of Democrats are still being cautious on the possibility of pursuing impeachment. For Republicans, a top GOP aide tells CBS News Correspondent Nancy Cordes, "This is the most uncomfortable Republicans have been" about the president's actions, but they still don't plan to take more decisive action than they have in the past. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said impeaching Mr. Trump is "not a priority" for Democrats, telling the Associated Press after the Cohen and Manafort court decisions that "impeachment has to spring from something else." Pelosi said she prefers that Democrats — if they take the House come November — conduct oversight hearings and let special counsel Robert Mueller do his job. 

"I think that everyone is a little cautious about throwing around impeachment" — at least before the midterms, a Democratic strategist told CBS News. But if Democrats get win the House, that could change, the strategist added. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said Cohen's claims are serious and troubling — but it's "premature" to discuss impeachment, because "more information has to come forward" and it's "too early in the process to be using these words." 

However,  Durbin warned of a "constitutional crisis" should Mr. Trump attempt to fire Mueller. 

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, said the Cohen situation is serious, but deflected questions about impeachment. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said it's time to talk not just about impeachment, but indictment, of the president. "The president can be indicted....all remedies should be on the table," Blumenthal said, although legal scholars disagree about whether the Constitution allows for a president to be indicted

But some Republicans, too, expressed concern — although most are shy to discuss the likelihood of any impeachment proceedings. 

"Well these are serious charges and they can't be ignored," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah. 

Asked whether he thinks any allegations involving the president reach the level of high crimes and misdemeanors — the threshold for impeachment — Hatch said, "I wouldn't go that far just yet." 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.