Dems reach deep into Trump orbit

Democrats unleashed a sprawling investigation of President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE’s businesses, family, campaign and administration on Monday as the House Judiciary Committee demanded paperwork from at least 80 different people and organizations.

The investigation reflects a burgeoning effort by Democrats to use their newfound majority in the House to launch aggressive probes into Trump and his administration. Judiciary’s announcement comes days after Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen delivered high-profile testimony to Congress.

Democrats are being careful to say that the new investigation is not part of an impeachment process, but they have indicated that is still possible down the line.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Monday that did not mention impeachment once.

“Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress and a core function of the House Judiciary Committee,” he said. “We have seen the damage done to our democratic institutions in the two years that the Congress refused to conduct responsible oversight.”

Trump blasted the investigation as a “hoax” during comments at a White House event on Monday but said he would comply with it.

“I cooperate all the time with everybody,” Trump said.

The White House called it "a disgraceful and abusive investigation into tired, false allegations."

"Chairman Nadler and his fellow Democrats have embarked on this fishing expedition because they are terrified that their two-year false narrative of ‘Russia collusion’ is crumbling," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. "The Democrats are not after the truth, they are after the President.”

Nadler said the investigation would cover three core areas: obstruction of justice, public corruption and abuses of power. He said it was necessary for the Democrats to conduct their investigation even as special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE continues his probe, which may be close to winding down.

In another move that highlights the pressure the Democratic House intends to impose on Trump, the three chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform committees demanded records and interviews related to the president’s contacts with Russian President Vladimir Putin, both in person and over the phone, as well as access to the interpreters who sat in on their private meetings.

But the bigger development was Nadler’s probe, which outside observers said has the potential to tie the White House into knots.

“This is extremely broad in scope. There seems to be very few if any articulated limits on what they’re looking for,” Elie Honig, a white-collar criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said of the Judiciary Committee’s investigation.

“I think this is where we are going to finally see some sort of legal battle over ... the breadth of these [requests],” Honig said. “We also may see Fifth Amendment invocations and we also might see the executive privilege fight.”

The White House already has been staffing up its legal team under new counsel Pat Cipollone. It is expected to bring on 17 additional lawyers, some of whom were announced in February, and has bolstered its press shop to respond to congressional probes.

The administration also must contend with inquiries from federal prosecutors in Manhattan looking into the payments made to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump before the 2016 election, meaning it has at least three flanks to consider given Mueller’s continuing work.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said they would be looking at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin, the Trump Organization's plans to build a Trump property in Moscow and the hush money scheme to keep two women quiet about alleged affairs with Trump.

A committee counsel told reporters Monday that the immediate goal of the requests is to put together “a very large treasure trove of evidence” that can be combed through to guide the investigation and determine future witnesses.

The committee is giving recipients two weeks to respond voluntarily to the document requests and plans to take steps to subpoena them if the individuals do not comply.

“These are documents we plan to get one way or another,” the committee counsel said.

Judiciary Democrats, when pressed why certain individuals like Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpTech finds surprise ally in Trump amid high-stakes tax fight White House, Congress near deal to give 12 weeks paid parental leave to all federal workers Lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to allow new parents to advance tax credits MORE were not included on the list, described this hefty request as the first wave, signaling there are more to come.

Possible misdeeds before Trump took office are not off the table in this investigation, the committee counsel told reporters.

While Judiciary has jurisdiction over impeachment, Democrats in their comments in recent days have been cautious in discussing the possibility.

“We do not now have the evidence all sorted out and everything to do — to do an impeachment. Before you impeach somebody, you have to persuade the American public that it ought to happen,” Nadler said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Last week, when asked about whether any of the crimes alleged by Cohen amounted to impeachable offenses, Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsImpeachment can't wait Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings Tucker Carlson calls Trump 'full-blown BS artist' in segment defending him from media coverage MORE (D-Md.) said, “I’m not there.”

Republicans, meanwhile, were quick to cast Nadler’s probe as a fishing expedition.

“We don’t even know what the Mueller report says, but Democrats are already hedging their bets," said Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsThe House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage Doug Collins on potential 2020 Senate run: I'm not 'ruling it out' MORE (Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary panel.

“After recklessly prejudging the president for obstruction, Chairman Nadler is pursuing evidence to back up his conclusion because, as he admits, ‘we don’t have the facts yet.’”

Trump has lambasted Mueller and Democrats over their respective investigations, claiming he is the target of partisan and improper probes. On Sunday, Trump accused House Democrats of “Presidential Harassment” and later suggested that Cohen’s public testimony contributed to the failure of his denuclearization talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Nadler said Monday that prosecutors in Mueller’s office and in the Southern District of New York are “aware” of the committee’s investigation, signaling he took steps to make sure the requests did not interfere with their work. Several individuals who have been charged or cooperated in Mueller’s investigation also received document requests, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortGiuliani draws attention with latest trip to Ukraine GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP fantasies about Ukrainian election 'interference' blow up Trump's impeachment defense MORE, who will be sentenced for bank and tax fraud later this week.

“We have sent these document requests in order to begin building the public record,” Nadler said.

“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 added. “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.”

-Updated 9:09 p.m.