As President Donald Trump tried to move on this week from the special counsel’s Russia investigation, Democratic investigators mashed the gas pedal on their various oversight probes, authorizing subpoenas for the full Mueller report and for nine current and former Trump administration officials.
And on Wednesday afternoon, the House Ways and Means Committee formally kicked off its pursuit of the president’s tax returns, capping what has been the most aggressive week of this Congress’ oversight of the administration to date.
In the face of what House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings has coined “an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction” by the Trump administration, Cummings’ committee and the House Judiciary Committee authorized three subpoena resolutions this week.
All three were authorized on party-line votes.
Watch: Judiciary and oversight subpoena power, explained
After receiving approval from the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Chairman Jerrold Nadler now has a subpoena in his quiver to demand for the full report of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in case Attorney General William Barr releases only a redacted copy.
Nadler has suggested he could hold onto that subpoena if Barr acquiesces to Democrats’ demands to include grand jury information and information in the report related to unindicted persons that could include the president, his adult children, and his son-in-law.
But Barr notified Congress in a letter in March that he is scrubbing the report — with the special counsel’s help — of such information.
“We expect the full report and underlying evidence and will subpoena it if necessary,” a House Judiciary Committee aide said Thursday, adding that there is no timeline for the chairman to serve his subpoena.
Cummings, on the other hand, is not waiting around. He has served all four subpoenas he was authorized to submit on Tuesday.
The Oversight Committee authorized subpoenas for Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to provide documents about Ross’ proposed addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census and for Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore to testify in Oversight’s investigation into the matter.
The committee also authorized Cummings to issue a subpoena for White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline to testify regarding the committee’s probe into the White House security clearance process. Trump and his administration are facing allegations that they overrode career intelligence officials’ advice not to give a security clearance to the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, in addition to two dozen other people.
And don’t forget about the Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer who testified in February that Trump committed bank loan fraud on multiple occasions: Cummings told reporters Wednesday that Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, will provide financial documents from the president going back 10 years after the chairman issues a “friendly subpoena” for the documents. Democrats are investigating whether Trump inflated the value of his assets in order to secure loans in the early 2010s, including an effort to purchase the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Ways and Means
Signaling a fight ahead, Trump told reporters later he was “not inclined” to comply with Neal’s demand.
Neal’s authority to seek the president’s tax returns stems from Section 6103 of the tax code that stipulates the Treasury Secretary “shall” furnish tax-writing committees “with any return or return information” requested for an individual.
Trump has been criticized for being the first president since Richard Nixon to not voluntarily release his tax returns. In a statement accompanying his letter, Neal said the request was about “policy, not politics,” and “in no way based on emotion of the moment or partisanship.”
Democrats on the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees will be keen to comb those returns as they dig into the president’s personal finances and ties to foreign government and entities for their own, separate wide-ranging investigations.
As Democrats tied the bows on their most aggressive week of oversight since taking back the House majority in January for the first time in nearly a decade, their Republican counterparts accused them of impeding the president’s agenda and ability to work with House Democrats on policy solutions.
“This was not a transparency subpoena, this was a 2020 subpoena,” Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina said in an interview on Fox News Thursday morning about the Judiciary Committee’s authorization of the Mueller report subpoena.
Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, sits on both the Oversight and Judiciary panels.
“It’s all political theater. It has nothing really to do with getting to the truth,” Meadows said of the Democrats’ subpoena barrage this week.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday she is not concerned that the aggressive investigative shift this week will play into Republican messaging that Democrats are on a political “fishing expedition” to unearth damaging information about Trump.
“No, no I’m not [concerned],” the California Democrat said. “I salute my chairmen. They’ve been very thoughtful. They’re evidence-based in what they are doing.”
In a tweet Thursday, the president panned the Democrats’ week of demands as “the highest level of Presidential Harassment in the history of our Country,” repeating a phrase he has often used to describe Congress’ constitutionally mandated oversight of the executive branch.
Democrats should “focus on legislation,” Trump tweeted.
According to polling, few people seem to care about the Russian Collusion Hoax, but some Democrats are fighting hard to keep the Witch Hunt alive. They should focus on legislation or, even better, an investigation of how the ridiculous Collusion Delusion got started - so illegal!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 4, 2019
Watch: Subpoena scuffle divides Oversight Committee