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House panel casts wide net in Trump obstruction probe

Reuters , Monday 4 Mar 2019
Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump attends an annual meeting at National Harbor near Washington, US, March 2, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)

A powerful US congressional panel on Monday demanded documents from a who’s who of President Donald Trump’s turbulent world, targeting 81 people, government agencies and other groups as part of an investigation into possible obstruction of justice or abuse of power.

Family members, current and former business employees, Republican campaign staffers and former White House aides, as well as the FBI, White House and WikiLeaks were listed as recipients of documents requests by the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee.

The House of Representatives panel also named the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, White House aide and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former White House counsel Don McGahn.

“We have seen the damage done to our democratic institutions in the two years that the Congress refused to conduct responsible oversight,” said US Representative Jerrold Nadler, Judiciary Committee chairman. “Congress must provide a check on abuses of power.”

The Republican president faces investigations from several congressional committees, as well as the 22-month-long federal special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign worked with Moscow to sway the outcome.

At the White House, Trump was asked if he would cooperate with Nadler’s probe. “I cooperate all the time with everybody,” he said before adding: “You know the beautiful thing? No collusion. It’s all a hoax. You get to learn about that as you grow older. It’s a political hoax.”

A committee lawyer told reporters the immediate aim is to amass a large trove of evidence to guide the investigation and help decide which witnesses to approach. The panel is prepared to use its subpoena power if needed, the lawyer said.

Among the committee’s aims is determining whether Trump obstructed justice by ousting perceived enemies at the Justice Department, such as former FBI Director James Comey, and abused his presidential power by possibly offering pardons or tampering with witnesses.

Comey was leading an investigation into Russian activities in the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign when the president fired him in May 2017.

The investigation was subsequently taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is expected to end his investigation and report his findings to Attorney General William Barr in coming weeks.

White House Response Pending

The Judiciary Committee also is looking at whether Trump has used the White House for personal enrichment in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

The White House has received the committee’s letter and will respond at the appropriate time, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the department is evaluating the request.

Republicans in Congress accuse Democrats of pursuing an impeachment agenda against Trump as part of a political strategy to reclaim the White House in the 2020 election.

Democrats say talk of impeachment is premature. They say the first step is to initiate proper investigations, which were missing in the first two years of Trump’s presidency, when his fellow Republicans controlled the House of Representatives.

Nadler said Mueller and the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan are aware of the committee’s action.

The US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York led the investigation into hush money payments that Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen said he helped facilitate to keep stories about Trump’s alleged sexual affairs under wraps. In congressional testimony last week, Cohen said the office was still investigating other possible illegal acts involving Trump.

“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,” Nadler said.

Some of those the committee is seeking documents from are among the dozens charged by Mueller. They include former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former Trump adviser Roger Stone and Cohen.

Also on the committee’s list are others who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign or in the White House, such as Hope Hicks, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer; Rhona Graff, a long-time executive assistant at the Trump Organization; and David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc, which publishes the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer.

Trump maintains that his campaign did not collude with Russia and has repeatedly attacked the investigation on Twitter.

Democrats say Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week directly implicated Trump in various crimes including campaign finance violations.

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