Most Democrats avoid Trump impeachment talk, but billionaire Tom Steyer is preparing an ad blitz after Michael Cohen's bombshell

Jahi Chikwendiu | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Tom Steyer holds one of his Need to Impeach town hall meetings on March 20, 2018, in Largo, Md.

Most Democrats avoided talking about booting President Donald Trump from office after his former lawyer Michael Cohen's claim that the president directed him to commit a crime.

Not Tom Steyer.

The billionaire former hedge fund manager's Need to Impeach campaign quickly launched digital ads Tuesday escalating calls to impeach Trump. The videos followed Cohen's guilty plea for campaign finance violations and other federal crimes, and former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort's conviction on eight counts of fraud and other charges. Both developments happened only minutes apart on Tuesday.

Steyer is not done. Tuesday's events directly motivated Need to Impeach to redouble its efforts and cut a new television ad calling for impeachment due to corruption, Kevin Mack, the group's lead strategist, told CNBC on Wednesday. He expects the group will spend at least $1 million nationally to place the ad, which will film in the next 48 hours.

The plan will set Steyer at odds with the vast majority of Democratic leaders and strategists, who consider an impeachment push risky now as the party tries to flip at least 23 GOP-held House seats and take control of the chamber. Many Democrats worry that talk of removing Trump will motivate Republicans in swing districts, where the minority party hopes to capitalize on a voter enthusiasm advantage in November.

In May, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called impeachment a "divisive issue" and "not the path the party should go on" this year. Cohen's plea and Manafort's conviction have not changed the California Democrat's views, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said.

Some Democratic representatives in safe seats, such as Maxine Waters of California and Al Green of Texas, have called for the president's impeachment. But the idea has not gained traction among other House Democrats or challengers running for GOP seats, despite Steyer's efforts.

The House has the constitutional power to impeach or formally charge an official. The Senate can then convict and remove the official from office.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is dedicated to electing House Democrats, has not pushed for Trump's impeachment and its strategy is unlikely to change. Asked about the issue Wednesday, a DCCC spokesman pointed to ads released by swing district candidates in states such as Virginia, North Carolina and Minnesota in recent days. Those ads highlighted issues such as health-care affordability and national security and did not mention impeachment.

Other candidates have echoed that strategy on the trail.

Tom Malinowski, a Democrat aiming to unseat GOP Rep. Leonard Lance in New Jersey's competitive 7th District, held an event with voters Tuesday night shortly after the Cohen plea and Manafort conviction. Asked whether he would vote for impeachment, Malinowski said he wanted to protect the democratic process and make decisions based on evidence. That would mean not impeaching a president because of "strong feelings," he said.

"What I will fall on my sword for is protecting that process," the former Obama administration State Department official said.

Kim Schrier, a Democrat running in the highly competitive Washington 8th District, also is not supporting impeachment following the Cohen and Manafort developments. Americans "deserve to learn all the facts and understand just how far this corruption extends," and electing a Democratic House majority will help to ensure that special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation goes to its conclusion, Schrier campaign spokeswoman Katie Rodihan told CNBC.

CNBC contacted the campaigns of more than a dozen other Democratic candidates running in key races in states such as Pennsylvania, California, Iowa, Kansas and Florida about their stances on impeachment. Most of the campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Steyer has to strike a delicate balance between his impeachment push and his related efforts to boost young Democratic voter turnout. Earlier this month, the group announced a $10 million effort that aims to increase voting among the more than 5 million people who signed up for the impeachment campaign.

Steyer previously committed $20 million to Need to Impeach.

While most Democratic officials are reluctant to call for impeachment, Need to Impeach's Mack believes the issue will resonate with voters and actually help the party take a House majority. He said the group's polling supports that notion.

"We're going to make sure that impeachment is part of the national dialogue so that when a new House is sworn in they'll actually step up and do their jobs," Mack said.

On Tuesday, Rudy Giuliani, Trump's lead outside lawyer in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, said "there is no allegation of wrongdoing against the President in the government's charges against Mr. Cohen." He said that Cohen's "actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time."

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Steyer's new impeachment push.

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