Trump, Democrats clash over probes

President Trump and House Democrats on Wednesday opened up a pitched battle over an intensifying set of investigations, the latest sign partisan warfare may extinguish chances of bipartisan cooperation on major issues under divided government.

The public clash came one day after Trump slammed Democrats for “ridiculous partisan investigations” in his State of the Union address. Undeterred, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee charged ahead with plans for a sweeping investigation into Russia’s election interference and Trump’s finances. 

{mosads}Trump responded by blasting Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) as a “political hack who’s trying to build a name for himself” and as having “no basis” for launching the probe. “It’s just presidential harassment, and it’s unfortunate and it really does hurt our country,” Trump told reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.  

Schiff shot back that he “won’t be distracted or intimidated by threats or attacks” by Trump. “I can understand why the idea of meaningful oversight terrifies the president,” the California Democrat tweeted. “Several of his close associates are going to jail, others await trial, and criminal investigations continue.” 

The Intelligence panel’s investigation is one of several House Democrats are launching using their newfound majority, all of which promise to dog the president well into his 2020 reelection campaign. 

Trump is also grappling with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether members of his 2016 presidential campaign coordinated with Moscow, in addition to a federal probe into payments made during the race by then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to women who claimed to have had affairs with the former business mogul.

The president’s comments on Wednesday stood in stark contrast to the measured tone Trump used in portions of his State of the Union address the night before. 

Well aware House Democrats are eager to pursue him after spending eight years in the minority, Trump warned them during his annual address that partisan probes could end the “economic miracle” happening under his watch. 

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. 

But Trump also dangled the possibility of bipartisan compromise on issues such as infrastructure, drug pricing and trade if Democrats heed his warnings.

Party leaders appeared uninterested in playing along. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday called Trump’s remarks a “threat” to the legislative branch and its oversight authorities. 

“The president should not bring threats to the floor of the House,” Pelosi told reporters following a Democratic caucus meeting.

Trump isn’t without his defenders on Capitol Hill. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Wednesday suggested investigations into the president “should come to a close.”

“Look, we will never give up our oversight role, but this country is too great for a small vision of just investigations,” McCarthy said. “There are challenges out there that we have to get done. And to be fair, we have been investigating for the last two years.” 

But there is little Republicans can do to thwart the blizzard of Democrat-led probes, a stark disadvantage of being shuffled to the minority. 

The salvos between the White House and House Democrats also highlight arguably the biggest decision Pelosi and her lieutenants will face in this Congress: whether to start impeachment proceedings against Trump. While Pelosi and other leaders have said they will need to review Mueller’s final report, Trump last month said, “You can’t impeach somebody that’s doing a great job.” Last year, he said “people would revolt” if Democrats pursued impeachment. 

Schiff on Wednesday outlined the parameters of the committee’s expanded Russia investigation, which he revived as one of his first orders of business as chairman — months after Republicans on the committee abruptly ended it last spring. 

In addition to probing potential coordination between the Russians and other foreign entities and the Trump campaign, Schiff said the panel would focus on Trump’s business interests and whether he, his family or his associates were ever at “heightened risk” for foreign exploitation or coercion. 

The committee’s first major witness is expected to be Cohen, who is facing a three-year prison sentence for campaign finance violations and other crimes, and who has been a key cooperator in Mueller’s investigation. 

Cohen has admitted to lying to the House and Senate Intelligence panels about plans to build a Trump property in Moscow —doing so in order to minimize links between the project and then-candidate Trump at a key moment in the 2016 campaign. 

The committee was supposed to grill Cohen behind closed doors on Friday, but Schiff on Wednesday postponed his testimony until Feb. 28, days before he is supposed to report to prison. Trump has slammed Cohen as a “rat” lying to investigators in order to reduce his jail sentence. 

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is separately negotiating an appearance by Cohen, after he abruptly canceled public testimony, citing threats from Trump and the president’s lawyer in the Russia probe, Rudy Giuliani.

The White House has beefed up its legal and communications teams to prepare for the coming onslaught from Democrats. 

Last week, it was officially announced that attorneys Michael Purpura, Patrick Philbin and Kate Comerford Todd would be joining White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s office as deputies. Cipollone is expected to bring in roughly 17 lawyers to help with the effort.  

Steven Groves, who formerly worked in the counsel’s office, was moved into the press shop to respond to investigations.

Other probes on a wide variety of topics are sure to produce more headaches for the president. 

The Oversight panel has also launched a wide-ranging probe into the White House security clearance process, requesting a trove of documents from the administration on current and former officials who were cleared to view classified information. 

Various Democrats are also targeting Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over the administration’s decision to lift sanctions on firms tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. 

“What we’re going to do is we are going to get Mr. Mnuchin into the committee and ask him real pointed questions about delisting [Deripaska’s companies],” House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday. 

And Friday, the House Judiciary Committee will publicly question acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a political ally the president installed atop the Justice Department following Jeff Sessions’s ouster, about his oversight of the special counsel’s investigation. 

Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is planning to authorize a subpoena to compel Whitaker to testify — just in case he tries to avoid appearing or relies on executive privilege to sidestep questions about his communications with the White House. 

“My understanding is that you will provide full and complete answers to these questions when they are asked at your hearing this Friday,” Nadler wrote in a letter to Whitaker Wednesday.

Olivia Beavers contributed.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Kevin McCarthy Maxine Waters Nancy Pelosi Robert Mueller Steven Mnuchin

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