‘It would fit with their style to want to find everything they can bang on the president for…’
(Billy House, Bloomberg News) Democrats are ready to wield a set of subpoena powers established by Republicans under the Obama presidency to dig into the activities of President Donald Trump, his family and his administration if they win control of the House in the November elections.
In 2015, Republicans changed the House’s rules to give several committee chairmen unilateral powers to subpoena witnesses and compel document production without consultation or approval from the ranking minority member.
Democrats complained at the time, but now they plan to take advantage of those changes should they regain control of the House.
Republicans said the Democrats want to use congressional committees as a partisan weapon to harass and immobilize the Trump administration.
“It would fit with their style to want to find everything they can bang on the president for,” said Rep. Michael Conaway of Texas.
Democrats must flip 24 GOP seats in the Nov. 6 midterms without losing any in order to regain the House majority. History favors them as only two previous presidents since World War II (Bill Clinton during his 1998 impeachment proceedings and George W. Bush in 2002 after the Sept. 11 attacks) have yielded net gains for their party during a midterm election.
With an average approval rating similar to what Donald Trump’s has been in his first two years, Ronald Reagan lost 26 seats in the 1982 election. But a recent surge in Trump’s approval rating following the contentious confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh–as well as upward-trending economic factors–may yet have an unseen impact.
Regardless, Democrats who project a “blue wave,” led by current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are already making plans. Early moves are expected to target Trump’s tax returns and family bank records; additional witnesses in the Russia probe; the administration’s hurricane responses, and spending and travel practices of agency heads. Allegations in a New York Times article on Tuesday that Trump and his family committed fraud when building their business empire have further fueled Democratic demands that Trump hand over his tax returns.
It would be a dramatic turnaround for a White House that, despite the constant media distractions of the Mueller investigation launched in May 2017, has been largely shielded from intense scrutiny by congressional Republicans.
“The silence speaks to an administration run amok and a Republican majority willing to turn a blind eye to misconduct,” said Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, which already has floated the possibility of impeachment proceedings.
The House Financial Services Committee would be led by Maxine Waters of California if Democrats take charge. Waters—who was admonished for her rhetoric calling on protesters to “get up in the face” of Trump supporters—has pushed for investigations into financial ties between Trump and his family with Deutsche Bank AG and Russia, as well as tougher scrutiny of the administration’s efforts to dismantle many financial regulations.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who would chair the Intelligence Committee if Democrats take the House, has signaled his intention to re-open the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, calling for interviews — or re-interviews — with 30 “key witnesses,” including former Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway; and senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller, and to also force Donald Trump Jr. to provide more information.
“I would expect them to investigate every member of his family,” Conaway said. “They’ll reopen Russia. They’ll create new Russia investigations. It would be pure partisan.”
But the Democrats contend that they simply plan to reciprocate what the GOP did to the Obama administration after retaking the House in 2010.
“I believe Democrats have learned a valuable lesson in how powerful unilaterally issued subpoenas could be,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations. “And I believe having learned that lesson, we are now prepared to deploy it.”
When Republican Darrell Issa of California became chairman of the House Oversight Committee in 2011, he signed 15 subpoenas during his first six months, and by his own count more than 100 subpoenas during his four years as chairman.
And when current Oversight chair Trey Gowdy of South Carolina led the House hearings into the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans and occurred when Hillary Clinton was Obama’s secretary of State, he issued 14 subpoenas.
Under Trump, the Oversight Committee didn’t issue a single subpoena for the first 15 months of Gowdy’s tenure, until doing so last month for the first time.
“With most government officials, subpoenas do not even have to be threatened, much less executed; therefore your uncooperative posture is a telling and unacceptable outlier,” Gowdy wrote in a letter.
Democrats on the Oversight Committee already have created a to-do list of things to investigate, starting with about 150 subpoena requests that they claim Republicans have ignored. Their top concerns include the response to Hurricane Maria; perceived ethics violations by Cabinet members; and loans made to the Trump presidential campaign.
“The waste, fraud and abuse is plain to see,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the Democrat most likely lead the Oversight Committee, said.
Cummings was of the signatories of a 2016 letter from 38 Democrats asking House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions to revert to the old rules of subpoena power in Obama’s final year as president.
“The 114th Congress has shown that unilateral subpoena power can too easily be used as weapon against those expressing views with which a committee chair does not agree, and we write to urge that this rule be changed to prevent further abuse and partisanship,” they wrote.
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.
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