Emily Jan / The Atlantic

If Pete Buttigieg beats Donald Trump in 2020, he’d support a criminal investigation into the former president.

“To the extent that there’s an obstruction case, then yes, DOJ’s got to deal with it,” the South Bend, Indiana, mayor said yesterday, during a meeting with Atlantic editors and reporters. Citing Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon after Watergate, Buttigieg said he would not be interested in doing the same for Trump.

“I would want any credible allegation of criminal behavior to be investigated to the fullest,” Buttigieg said—something a pardon would preclude.

Over the past two months, the 2020 Democratic primary candidates have been wrestling with the question of impeachment, as they try to balance just how much they should talk about Trump. Pressure, however, continues to build: Many base voters are continuing to call for impeachment, with more than 60 House Democrats trying to pressure their leaders to begin hearings. And that pressure has only increased since Special Counsel Robert Mueller went on television two weeks ago and repeated what was written in his report: that while he did not consider criminal charges because of a Justice Department policy that bars the indictment of a sitting president, if his team “had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

Among the Democratic candidates, about half have called for Trump’s impeachment, including Buttigieg himself. Senator Kamala Harris of California said yesterday that Trump should be prosecuted after he’s out of office, arguing that her Justice Department would have “no choice.”

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But Buttigieg said he’d be wary of actively directing his attorney general to pursue charges against the president.

“A lot of this could go back to the U.S. attorneys after he’s president,” he said, referring to inquiries into obstruction of justice and other potential criminal activity. “You don’t have to go out of the DOJ. And the less it’s done out of the DOJ, the better, because the further away it is from the political body, the better.”

Buttigieg reiterated his position in favor of Congress launching an impeachment inquiry, even as he says the realistic focus should be on beating Trump in next year’s election. “The more we separate the concept of impeachment from the concept of removal from office and talk about this as a process,” he said, “the more likely it is that Congress will find that its greatest contribution to the rule of law may well be in creating that process.”