WASHINGTON — When they won the majority last year, House Democrats promised a barrage of investigations into President Donald Trump and those around him. It now looks more like a continuous bombardment.
This week alone, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee sent 81 document requests seeking information on potential obstruction of justice, abuse of power and corruption in the Trump administration. Three more committees demanded documents and witness interviews related to Trump’s private communications with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. And the Intelligence Committee subjected Michael Cohen, once one of the president’s most loyal aides, to his fourth congressional grilling in a little more than a week.
The Democratic investigations will long outlast the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and are already a tangle of targets and witnesses. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters Wednesday that Trump was in “denial.”
Here is where the investigations stand.
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Possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power by the president
The Judiciary Committee has one of the broadest mandates of any in Congress, and its chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, intends to use almost every inch.
Nadler sent 81 initial letters Monday, sketching out a sweeping new inquiry into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power by Trump and his administration. The requests and targets — including government agencies, presidential advisers, Trump business and political associates, the Trump Organization, the Trump campaign and inaugural committee — suggest that the committee is particularly interested in any attempts by Trump to undercut or mislead federal investigations, dangle pardons to potential witnesses or profit from his time in office.
Along the way, the committee will almost certainly step onto turf claimed by others, including contacts between Trump associates and Russia, and campaign finance violations associated with hush-money payments made during the 2016 campaign to quiet a pornographic film actress who said she had an affair with Trump. Nadler has said he will leave untangling the Russia connections and the national security risks associated with them to others, but as the leader of the one committee empowered to consider impeachment, he may draw heavily from work across the House.
The bottom line: Nadler has said repeatedly he does not yet see a case to justify impeachment, but the Judiciary Committee’s fact-finding could put it on a different path if it uncovers a clear pattern of behavior by Trump.
Oversight and Reform Committee
Hush-money payments and security clearance irregularities, among others
The Oversight and Reform Committee delivered Democrats their first blockbuster investigative hearing last week, when Trump’s longtime fixer, Cohen, laid out what he claimed was a pattern of lies, deception and potential crimes by his former boss. Cohen’s testimony broadcast key details that federal prosecutors have built for months, but it also gave the committee a road map for its own inquiries.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, is for now taking the Democrats’ most direct shot at revealing Trump’s involvement in the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels. He has said he wants to interview two lawyers involved in preparing the president’s federal financial disclosure forms, and has indicated he will pursue other Trump Organization executives, including the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who appear to have had knowledge of the hush-money arrangement.
Other demands by Cummings have produced fireworks as well. The committee opened a review last month of possible abuses of the government’s security clearance process, including reports that Trump personally intervened to grant his son-in-law a top-secret clearance despite legal and national security concerns. The White House has resisted his requests, and Cummings could soon issue one of the Democrats’ first subpoenas to try to compel cooperation.
With the authority to investigate almost anything inside the government or out, the Oversight Committee will stay busy with other targets as well, including the Trump administration’s border policies, its handling of the 2020 census and reports of misconduct by Cabinet officials.
The bottom line: Given its jurisdiction, the Oversight Committee will most likely veer from topic to topic. But with one of the largest staffs on Capitol Hill, it has the potential to churn up significant new details capable of tarnishing Trump and people close to him.
Russian election interference and other potential foreign influences over President Trump
If the Judiciary Committee has laid primary claim to obstruction of justice, the House Intelligence Committee has staked out an inquiry into the other main lane investigated by the special counsel: Links among Trump, his associates and the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.
Republicans closed the committee’s Russia investigation last year when they were in power. Led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, Democrats have reopened it and begun calling witnesses, starting with Cohen. In a sign that the committee intends to be more public than in the past, Schiff announced last week a public hearing with Felix Sater, a longtime business associate of Trump, to focus on a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow.
But this time around, Democrats have added to their list of questions whether Russia or other foreign powers hold or held any leverage over Trump and his associates that could have influenced U.S. policy. In coordination with the House Financial Services Committee, they are in discussions with Deutsche Bank over financial records related to the Trump Organization that could shed light on accusations of money laundering.
The bottom line: Schiff and his committee have already been in the public eye for two years now. They have laid out an exceedingly open-ended inquiry that could hang a cloud over Mr. Trump as he seeks re-election — even if Mr. Mueller’s team clears him.
Ways and Means Committee
Tax returns, tax returns, tax returns
An obscure provision in the federal tax code gives the House Ways and Means Committee the power to request tax information on any filer, including the president. Rep. Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, its chairman, is preparing such a request for Trump’s tax records, but he has kept private details about how much information the committee will ask for and when.
“I can just tell you this: diligently the staff is preparing the documentation,” Neal said last week.
Part of the reason for the caution: Trump broke with modern presidential norms by refusing to release his returns, and he has warned that he views scrutiny of his intertwined personal and business finances as crossing a red line. Practically speaking, Democrats believe that the Treasury Department will immediately challenge the validity of their request in court, so they are carefully compiling a record of legislative reasons they believe the president’s tax returns ought to be examined. Neal is also keen to fend off Republican accusations that Democrats are just trying to embarrass the president.
The bottom line: Democrats believe reviewing Trump’s tax returns could jump-start inquiries across the House and offer a glimpse at Trump’s own adherence to the tax laws, but it may be months — or longer — before Neal sees anything if a court challenge is involved.
Foreign Affairs, Oversight, and Intelligence
Trump’s meetings with Vladimir Putin.
Democrats have harbored suspicions about Trump’s interactions with Putin since before he was president. Now, amid other investigations of the president’s ties to Russia, they are trying to discern what the two men have said to each other in private and why Trump appears to be so keen to hide the details.
Cummings, Schiff and the chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, wrote this week to the White House and the State Department requesting all documentation related to meetings, telephone calls or other communication between the two leaders. They asked for interviews with any staff, including linguists or translators, privy to any such exchanges. And they also made requests designed to understand how information about the exchanges was shared within the government and what steps, if any, were taken to mask them.
The bottom line: The White House is unlikely to hand over sensitive materials related to the Trump conduct of foreign policy, and the president could choose to assert executive privilege to shield the records, effectively thwarting Democrats’ oversight efforts. Democrats are trying to score political points by drawing attention to the meetings anyway.