Democrats are pressing federal investigators on whether an internal Department of Justice policy played any role in their decision not to indict President TrumpDonald TrumpHarris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — The Facebook Oversight Board is not pleased MORE following a probe into payments made to women alleging affairs with Trump.
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee 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.”
“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 CohenAuthor of controversial Trump Russia dossier speaks out: 'I stand by the work we did' Trump Organization faces new scrutiny in New York civil probe Michael Cohen: Trump bluffing about another White House bid 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 HicksWhite House orders release of Trump records to Jan. 6 committee Grisham calls Kushner 'Rasputin in a slim-fitting suit' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan MORE, according to the documents.
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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 BarrBill BarrMeadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report Why it's time for conservatives to accept the 2020 election results and move on Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ 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."