House Democrats now in charge of the three major investigative committees have some tough choices ahead. With so much concern about foreign interference and self-dealing in Donald Trump’s Washington, where do they even start?
The Big Three — Jerrold Nadler on Judiciary, Elijah Cummings on Oversight, and Adam Schiff on Intelligence — have spent the past two years of the Trump presidency hamstrung as Republican chairs investigated anything but the man in the Oval Office and his team. Why worry about Russians corrupting the election process when you could be combing through Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, right?
Democrats now want to make up for lost time. Just to give a flavor of how much pent-up frustration Democrats have endured, Cummings, as the then-ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, submitted 64 subpoena requests during the past two years. None were approved by the then-Republican chair.
So the stage is now set — but for what?
Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, said on CNN Sunday that one of his first acts will be to share the transcripts of closed-door testimony before the committee with special counsel Robert Mueller, “including for the bringing of perjury charges, if necessary, against any of the witnesses.” Those transcripts would likely include testimony by Donald J. Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Roger Stone.
Among the subpoenas not issued by the former Republican Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, was one that might answer an intriguing question: Who did Trump Jr. talk to on his cell phone between calls setting up the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton? Trump Jr. insists he simply can’t recall, and Nunes was remarkably uncurious about it. Not so, Schiff.
Also of interest are “persistent allegations that the Trumps, when they couldn’t get money from US banks, were laundering Russian money,” Schiff told the Lawfare Podcast. “If that is true, that would be a more powerful compromise than any salacious videotape or any aborted Trump Tower deal.”
Cummings’s Oversight Committee has even broader jurisdiction — and with it, the temptation to spread itself too thin. Clearly any possible violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause comes under the committee’s jurisdiction, and whether Trump personally profited from decisions he made as president are of particular interest to Cummings. That would include whether a decision by Trump not to move the FBI headquarters from its current Pennsylvania Avenue address — across the street from the Trump International Hotel — was actually designed to prevent any potential rival from acquiring what would be a most desirable “surplus” property.
“The American people have the right to know if the President is working in his own personal best interest to support his pocket book, or whether he is working in theirs,” Cummings told ABC News.
The committee also has jurisdiction to investigate the administration’s family separation policies at the southern border. Cummings seems determined to make sure those children are accounted for — as he should.
The Judiciary Committee shares jurisdiction over Immigration and Customs Enforcement — not that you would have known that during the past two years under Republican oversight. Nadler has put the December deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody on his early investigative to-do list.
The best part, of course, is that Trump can huff and puff, but he can’t fire Schiff or Nadler or Cummings.
There will be no shortage of material for eager Democrats to probe in the days ahead. In fact, the temptation will be to do it all. But being in the majority also requires discipline and focus, often in short supply on Capitol Hill. Possible corrupt acts, possible violations of the rule of law, and policies with real life and death impact ought to go to the top of everyone’s list.