Cummings asks prosecutors about decision not to charge Trump in hush money probe

Democrats are pressing federal investigators on whether an internal Department of Justice policy played any role in their decision not to indict President TrumpDonald John Trump Former US ambassador: 'Denmark is not a big fan of Donald Trump and his politics' Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president MORE following a probe into payments made to women alleging affairs with Trump.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse committee heads demand Coast Guard Academy explain handling of harassment allegations Can the Democrats unseat Trump? Democrats slam alleged politicization of Trump State Department after IG report MORE (D-Md.) in a Friday letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern District of New York asked whether the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion "played any role in your office’s decision not to indict President Trump for these hush money crimes.”

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“If prosecutors identified evidence of criminal conduct by Donald Trump while serving as President—and did not bring charges as they would have for any other individual—this would be the second time the President has not been held accountable for his actions due to his position,” Cummings wrote. “The Office of the President should not be used as a shield for criminal conduct.”

The OLC opinion argues that a sitting president cannot be indicted or be the subject of criminal prosecution because doing so would “undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”

The request from Cummings comes shortly after U.S. District Judge William Pauley III ordered prosecutors to file case-related documents in largely unredacted form, while noting that investigators had completed their probe into the campaign finance violations tied to the hush money payments.

Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenCapitol Police advised Gaetz against holding open events I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Wyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations MORE, the president's former personal attorney, has publicly testified that Trump directed him to arrange payments to women alleging affairs with Trump ahead of the 2016 election.

The court documents unsealed on Thursday reveal that Cohen was in contact with Trump multiple times as he arranged the payments. Cohen was also in touch with other Trump campaign officials, like then-campaign press secretary Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksHope Hicks defends accuracy of her congressional testimony Nadler subpoenas Lewandowski, former White House official for testimony House panel to go to court to enforce McGahn subpoena, Nadler says MORE, according to the documents.

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Cummings is asking the Southern District of New York to turn over "all evidence collected about the role of any other individual in connection with the campaign finance charges against Cohen," including the president, by Aug. 2. He is also seeking information as to whether the office granted any immunity deals or non-prosecution agreements, formal or informal.

Cohen, who is serving a three-year prison sentence for campaign finance violations and other offenses, blasted the news that the investigation was concluding without bringing charges against the president or others.

"The conclusion of the investigation exonerating The Trump Organization's role should be of great concern to the American people and investigated by Congress and The Department of Justice," Cohen said in a joint statement with his attorney Lanny Davis on Thursday.

Cohen made the payments to two women — adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — both of whom have alleged extramarital affairs with Trump from before he was president. Trump has denied the allegations.

The president, who initially denied knowledge of the payments, has denied any wrongdoing as it relates to possible violations of campaign finance laws. He has also questioned Cohen's credibility.

Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 election as part of a deal to cooperate with now-former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee blasted Cummings for using Cohen's accounts of the payments to go after the president.

“Everyone knows that convicted felon Michael Cohen is a habitual liar. But still Chairman Cummings continues to use Cohen—the Chairman’s first announced witness this Congress —to attack the President for political gain," a GOP spokesperson for Oversight said in a statement. "Democrats in Congress should be solving real problems instead of indulging their obsession with impeaching the President.”

Cummings drew parallels between the OLC opinion playing a role both in the hush money case and the special counsel's Russia report, in which Mueller said the investigation did not make a determination either way about whether Trump obstructed justice.

Cummings noted that he is reaching out directly to the U.S. attorney's office because Democrats feel Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrProsecutors are mainly to blame for the criminal justice crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes 10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall MORE fumbled the release of the Mueller report by relaying information to Congress and the public in a way that "fundamentally mischaracterized the findings of the report." 

Mueller is slated to testify publicly on Wednesday in what is expected to be a historic event on Capitol Hill. Democrats are eager to press the former special counsel on the episodes of possible obstruction by Trump as laid out in his report, as well as how much weight he gave to the OLC opinion. Republicans are expected to ask Mueller about the origins of the Russia investigation.