Democrats dig in on probes post-Mueller

Democrats dig in on probes post-Mueller
© Greg Nash

House Democrats are moving forward with lawsuits and subpoenas following former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE’s testimony, even as their caucus remains divided over impeaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE.

Across various committees, Democrats are seeking to obtain witness testimony and documents shedding light on the president’s conduct, personal finances and his administration.

While Mueller’s testimony offered nothing new for Democrats to sink their teeth into, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler calls Trump a 'dictator' on Senate floor Poll: Majority think Senate should call witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Susan Collins asked Justice Roberts to intervene after Nadler late-night 'cover-up' accusation MORE (D-N.Y.) described it as an “inflection point” on Friday.

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He announced his panel would file an application in court to secure the grand jury material underlying Mueller’s investigation, and that it is doing so to decide whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump.

While Nadler has made similar comments in the past about the fact that his panel is considering the issue of impeachment, it was his most definitive declaration yet of the possibility.

With more Democrats over the past few days supporting an impeachment inquiry, the caucus is split nearly 50-50 on the issue.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address MORE (D-Calif.) remains opposed to launching an impeachment inquiry, however, and other Democrats have suggested the caucus faces a narrowing timeline for making such a decision. Pelosi worries the impeachment drive could hurt centrist Democrats in next year’s election, after they helped create the Democratic majority in the House.

“The decision [on impeachment] will be made in a timely fashion,” Pelosi said Friday during her weekly press conference, stating that it will be decided when Democrats “have the best, strongest possible case.”

Nadler has faced pressure from his panel’s members to move forcefully against the White House, which has sought to shut off documents and witnesses from the committee. Going after the grand jury material is a new aggressive step on his part.

Grand jury material is generally subject to federal secrecy rules in the absence of a court order.

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In some past instances, judges have ruled in favor of releasing grand jury material to Congress, but some legal experts argue the committee’s case would be stronger if they launched formal impeachment proceedings rather than just saying that impeachment may be on the horizon.

Judiciary counsels, however, insisted they had a strong case when speaking to reporters Friday.

They pointed to past episodes in which Congress has secured grand jury material without a formal House vote on impeachment proceedings. 

Democrats on a host of other committees are also moving forward with investigations and lawsuits.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month seeking Trump’s federal tax returns, for example.

The House Intelligence Committee is seeking records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One as part of a sprawling investigation into Trump’s finances and foreign business dealings. That lawsuit also involves the House Financial Services Committee.

House Intelligence Committee aides said following Mueller’s testimony that they intend to press forward on those threads, arguing that Mueller’s answers demonstrated that the special counsel’s investigation was limited in scope. 

Attorneys for Democrats and the president will face off in a federal appeals court in New York at the end of August over the subpoenas.

“We have a lot of work to do, because it’s incumbent upon our committee to bring to light whether any foreign policy decisions are being motivated by compromise or personal interest as opposed to the national interest,” said one Intelligence Committee aide. 

A D.C. appeals court also heard arguments earlier this month over a subpoena from the House Oversight and Reform Committee to Trump’s accounting firm Mazars and have signaled that they won’t rule until the end of August, or later.

The slow nature of court proceedings may put a damper on House investigations, forcing lawmakers to wait months before they can get their hands on key documents and blunting momentum in the probes. 

Democrats have also faced growing criticisms from Republicans that they’re ignoring other legislative and oversight issues in favor of their investigations. 

Nadler has forecast plans to go to court early next week to enforce a subpoena for documents and testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn, who was summoned to testify more than two months ago, but he was blocked from doing so by Trump.

Former federal prosecutor Elie Honig said that while Mueller didn’t reveal much new information during his testimony, the special counsel’s report serves as a foundation for what Democrats can do moving forward.

“The findings that Robert Mueller made in his testimony establish a reasonable basis to believe the president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. And so we need to carry forward,” he said.

Honig observed that McGahn’s testimony could be “more compelling” than Mueller’s, and that the panel might also be strengthened in that case if it opens a formal impeachment inquiry. 

“I think having some sort of formality behind an impeachment inquiry will help their case there,” Honig said.

The Judiciary Committee also authorized Nadler to issue a bevy of subpoenas for current and former Trump administration officials and others earlier this month, and Nadler signaled Friday he may issue them in due time. 

“Our work will continue into the August recess, and we will use those subpoenas if we must,” Nadler said.