Tuesday Reads: Congressional Oversight Has ArrivedPosted: March 5, 2019
Congressional oversight has finally arrived, more than two years into the Trump “presidency.” For the first two-plus years, Republicans did nothing but run interference for Trump’s obstruction-in-plain sight of the Russia investigation. But voters elected a Democratic House of Representatives in November of 2018, and those voters knew that Democrats would investigation Trump’s crimes and corruption. And now Jerry Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee has fired the first salvo.
The New York Times: With Sweeping Document Request, Democrats Launch Broad Trump Corruption Inquiry.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee delivered a flurry of demands for documents from the executive branch and the broader Trump world on Monday that detailed the breadth and ambition of a new investigation into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power by President Trump and his administration….
[T]he newest requests from Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the Judiciary Committee chairman, opened perhaps the most perilous front to date for Mr. Trump — an inquiry that takes aim at the heart of his norm-bending presidency and could conceivably form the basis of a future impeachment proceeding.
Mr. Nadler was explicit on Monday in saying that the House was no longer content to await the findings of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and would delve into many of the same issues, but with a different standard of evidence not wedded to a criminal indictment.
“We will act quickly to gather this information, assess the evidence and follow the facts where they lead with full transparency with the American people,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement. “This is a critical time for our nation, and we have a responsibility to investigate these matters and hold hearings for the public to have all the facts. That is exactly what we intend to do.” […]
The letters from Mr. Nadler, dated March 4, went to 81 agencies, individuals and other entities tied to the president. They included the Trump Organization, the Trump campaign, the Trump Foundation, the presidential inaugural committee and the White House. The Justice Department and the F.B.I., which have collected substantial evidence on Mr. Trump’s behind-the-scenes interactions with federal investigators, were also recipients.
Letters also went out to dozens of the president’s closest family members and aides who counseled him as he sought to suppress the story of a pornographic film actress, Stormy Daniels, whose claim of an affair threatened his presidential campaign, and later as he began attacks against federal investigations into him and his associates, the news media and the federal judiciary.
…the Judiciary Committee could face significant hurdles to obtaining some of the material it seeks. Aides to the committee said that they had intentionally limited their initial requests to material already provided to other congressional committees or federal investigators to ensure substantial compliance.
But witnesses could still choose to slow-walk production or defy subpoenas. Mr. Trump could choose to go further and assert executive privilege over certain materials, as well.
We’ll see. I think pressure from the American people could influence what happens. At least it did during the Watergate scandal. Congressional hearings will educate the public on Trump’s corruption, as MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said last night.
Natasha Bertrand details some of the document requests at The Atlantic: The House’s Latest Move Could Be a Big Threat to Trump’s Presidency.
Many of the individuals who received a letter from Nadler—including Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and the former top White House aides Hope Hicks, Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon—have already testified before Congress and provided documents in conjunction with the various probes into Trump’s ties to Russia. In the new letters sent out on Monday, which addressed everyone from the Trump Organization’s Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, Nadler wrote that the House Judiciary Committee is investigating “a number of actions that threaten our nation’s longstanding commitment to the rule of law, including allegations of obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power … President Trump and his administration face wide-ranging allegations of misconduct that strike at the heart of our constitutional order.” He added that “Congress has a constitutional duty to serve as a check and balance against any such excesses,” and that the House Judiciary Committee “has also played a historic role as the primary forum for hearings on the abuse of executive power.”
The document requests varied in subject and scope. In a request to the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, for example, Nadler appears to be homing in on alleged collusion between the campaign and Russia. (Trump said on Monday that he cooperates “all the time with everybody … You know the beautiful thing — no collusion. It’s all a hoax.”) Nadler asked for all documents relating to changes to the Republican platform in 2016 dealing with Russia and Ukraine, discussions of sanctions policy with regard to Russia, and the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. In a letter to the FBI, meanwhile, Nadler seems to be zeroing in on questions of potential obstruction, asking for any communications involving Trump and his associates about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. And in a letter to the CEO of American Media, David Pecker, Nadler requested more information about payments made to the benefit of the Trump campaign that might have violated campaign-finance laws. The Trump campaign’s digital director, Brad Parscale (now Trump’s 2020 campaign manager), received one of the most extensive document requests, covering everything from plans for a Trump Tower Moscow in 2016 to Trump’s conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 and 2018.
Two House Judiciary Committee sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment freely on the investigation, said some witnesses were asked specific questions “because we’re pretty sure they know” the answer, while other questions were more speculative in nature. But none of the witnesses were hit with completely new document requests that haven’t been asked of them before, by either the special counsel, the Southern District of New York, or various congressional committees. Even more document requests could be sent out to additional witnesses as the investigation moves forward. “This is just the first wave,” one source said. “The committee will continue to make news as the weeks go on.”
Click on the link to read the rest.
More specifics from Aaron Black at The Washington Post: 7 intriguing names on the list of Democrats’ Trump-world documents requests.
The House Judiciary Committee on Monday sent 81 letters requesting documents from President Trump’s businesses, the Trump campaign, Trump’s family, Trump allies and people who have unwittingly found themselves mixed up with Trump. It represents the first big onslaught of requests stemming from the new majority status House Democrats enjoy.
But while some of the names on the list are no surprise, a few are worth picking out. Here are some of the more intriguing inclusions — and one notable omission.
The individuals (and one group) that Blaka provides background and comments on are: Hope Hicks, Allen Weisselberg, Michael Flynn Jr., K.T. McFarland, the estate of Peter Smith, Trump’s long-time secretary Rhona Graff, and Irakly Kaveladze/Rinat Akhmetshin/Anatoli Samochornov/Rob Goldstone. Read what he has to say at the WaPo.
Michael Daly at The Daily Beast: The Guy Trump Called ‘Fat Jerry’ Is Chairman Nadler Now.
Long before there was Crooked Hillary and Lyin’ Ted there was Fat Jerry.
That 1995 bit of name-calling by Donald Trump was aimed at Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Democrat from New York who now serves as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Nadler long ago lost 100 pounds, but he’s still someone for Trump to hate and fear.
Their original object of contention was Television City, a metropolis within a metropolis that Trump proposed on a 52-acre tract he acquired on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1980s. The initial plan was for eight towers and 5,700 apartments, as well as television and movie studios.
Nadler met with Trump as the state assemblyman who then represented the area. Trump excitedly told him that the centerpiece would be a 150-story building, the tallest in the world. The lower floors were to be NBC’s new headquarters. Trump would of course occupy a palatial penthouse apartment at the very top.
“Above the clouds,” he told Nadler.
“New Yorkers want the tallest building,” Trump also said. “And so do I.”
Nadler was more of the opinion that New Yorkers wanted an affordable apartment. He opposed Trump’s project, viewing it as a neighborhood destroyer. Enough of the neighborhood agreed with him that he was elected to Congress after the incumbent, Rep. Ted Weiss, died the day before the primary in 1992.
Read more history of the Nadler-Trump relationship at the link.
This article precedes the Nadler letters, but it’s obviously relevant. Adam Davidson at The New Yorker: Fifteen Questions for Allen Weisselberg, the C.F.O. of the Trump Organization.
It now seems likely—at long, long last—that Weisselberg will be a central focus of the many sprawling investigations of Donald Trump and his businesses by the Democratic-controlled House. Weisselberg has been Trump’s primary accountant since Trump entered his father’s business, in 1973. Journalists who cover Trump’s finances have heard, from source after source, some variation of “I don’t know, but Allen does” about questions regarding Trump’s unorthodox accounting practices. Weisselberg is obsessively private, but he did give a deposition in a Trump Foundation lawsuit that revealed his willingness to engage in practices that appear far outside financial norms.
It seems likely that Weisselberg knows more than any other person—including Trump himself—about the specifics of how Trump made his money and who supported him financially. It is impossible to imagine a thorough investigation of Trump’s potential conflicts of interest without a full accounting from Weisselberg.
Click the New Yorker link to read Davidson’s questions.
Two more useful pieces to check out at Emptywheel:
In this one, Marcy Wheeler tries to break down the recipients of requests into logical groupings according to what we know about the Russia investigation.
While the rest of us were looking at the content of the letters the House Judiciary Committee was sending out to witnesses yesterday, @zedster was looking at the metadata. The requests have dates and times reflecting three different production days: towards end of the work day on March 1 (Friday), a slew starting just after 3PM on March 3 (Sunday), with some individualized documents between then and Sunday evening, with a ton of work being done until 1:30 AM March 4 (Monday morning), and four more trickling in after that.
I think the production dates likely reflect a number of different factors.
First, the letters are boilerplate, which may explain why most of those were done first. Three things might explain a delay on any of those letters: either a late decision to include them in the request, delayed approval by SDNY or Mueller for the request, or some difficulty finding the proper addressee for the letter (usually, but not always, the person’s counsel of record). Not all of these addresses are correct: as one example, Erik Prince reportedly has gotten a new lawyer since Victoria Toensing first represented him, but has refused to tell reporters who represents him now; his letter is addressed to Toensing.
Read more at Emptywheel.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.