Dems zero in on Trump and Russia

Democrats vowed to introduce tough oversight of President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE if they won back the House majority, and they are signaling a new aggressiveness to meet their promises.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, is slated to testify before Congress publicly next month, an event that promises high drama as lawmakers question him on Trump’s dealings in Russia and his involvement in a scheme to pay off women alleging affairs with him during the 2016 campaign.

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Meanwhile, dueling reports have given Democrats momentum in further probing Trump’s actions and his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Taken together, the developments underscore the new political reality facing Trump as he readies for his reelection bid in 2020.

Trump on Monday was forced to deny ever working for the Russian government following a bombshell New York Times report that the FBI opened an investigation into whether he was secretly being directed by the Kremlin shortly after Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyWashington in frenzy over release of Mueller report Ten post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents MORE’s ouster.

“I never worked for Russia,” Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving to speak at a farmers convention in New Orleans. “Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it's a disgrace that you even asked that question, because it's a whole big fat hoax.”

It has long been expected that House Democrats would launch full-scale investigations into Trump and his administration with their newfound subpoena and oversight powers. The announcement late last week that Cohen would testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7 marked the first major power play by Democrats, just a week into the new Congress.

“The Congress doesn’t meet but so many days in a year. And all I’m saying is that we’ve gotta hit the ground, not running, but flying,” Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Dems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings MORE (D-Md.), the committee’s chair, said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday evening.

Some Republicans have criticized Cummings for calling Cohen to testify, noting he is a cooperating witness in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian election interference. Cummings has said questions will be limited so as not to interfere with the probe.

A flurry of investigations promises to dog Trump over the next several months. This includes Mueller’s inquiry into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow, which is widely assumed to be in its later stages. It also includes the investigation into Cohen’s payments to women claiming affairs with Trump run by federal prosecutors in New York City.

Trump has seethed over the special counsel’s investigation for more than a year, denying collusion between his campaign and Russia and accusing Mueller of running a partisan “witch hunt” in search of a crime.

Recent revelations are likely to spawn more Russia-related congressional probes.

Democrats are promising to dig for more information about Trump’s official interactions with Putin after The Washington Post reported that he sought to conceal the details of those conversations from others in his administration, including in one instance taking a notes from an interpreter who was present at a 2017 meeting with the Russian president.

The report has revived scrutiny of last July’s Helsinki summit, at which Trump sparked bipartisan condemnation for his genial attitude toward Putin and unwillingness to challenge him publicly on election interference following the closed-door meeting.

Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsJordan, Meadows press intelligence chief on House Intel Russia probe transcripts Overnight Energy: John Kerry hits Trump over climate change at hearing | Defends Ocasio-Cortez from GOP attacks | Dems grill EPA chief over auto emissions rollback plan Kerry goes after Trump over climate on Capitol Hill MORE acknowledged days after the summit that he didn’t know what had transpired during the one-on-one meeting and signaled weeks later that he still did not have a full accounting.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report Dems say Pompeo won't allow briefing by Trump's Afghan envoy Tensions between the United States and Russia over Venezuela increase MORE (D-N.Y.) said his panel would hold hearings on Trump’s “bizarre relationship” with Putin. Two congressional panels are also considering subpoenaing the American interpreter present at the Helsinki meeting to testify — a proposal swiftly defeated by Republicans in the last Congress.

Trump has reacted angrily to the developments, blaming the news media for writing unfair stories about him and claiming he has been tougher on Russia than any modern president. The Post report came on the heels of a Times article detailing that the FBI opened an investigation into whether Trump had been working on behalf of the Kremlin in 2017. There has been no public evidence that the president ever worked on behalf of the Russian government, and it remains unknown whether Mueller has kept the inquiry open, according to the Times.

On Monday, Trump lashed out at the FBI officials who opened the investigation into his conduct as “scoundrels” and “dirty cops.”

Trump has also dismissed the significance of Cohen’s impending testimony, accusing his former lawyer of peddling a false narrative in hopes of receiving a lighter prison sentence.

Cohen pleaded guilty to a slew of federal charges last year, including one count of lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump property in Moscow. He is expected to report to federal prison to serve a three-year sentence in March.

The House Intelligence Committee has also expressed interest in bringing Cohen to testify behind closed doors as part of an investigation into Russian interference that Democratic leaders are restarting after Republicans shuttered it last spring.

“We’re in discussions with his counsel, and that’s all I can say at this point,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report Dems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings Congress won't get Mueller report until after Barr press conference MORE (D-Calif.) told The Hill when asked about negotiations to bring Cohen before the committee late last week.

Democrats have already fired a warning shot against Trump ahead of Cohen’s appearance after the president told Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro in an interview that Cohen “should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at.”

“Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress,” Cummings, Schiff and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said over the weekend.

“The President should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress’ independent oversight and investigative efforts, including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress,” they said.