Updated 8:30am EST Feb. 8 with information on Whitaker’s hearing.
“Adam Schiff?” Donald Trump said Feb. 6 at the White House, when asked about the Democratic congressman from California who chairs the House Intelligence Committee. “Never heard of him.”
He’s about to learn more. Schiff’s committee is launching an wide-ranging probe into Russian efforts to influence US elections that includes probing any leverage that a foreign government may have on Trump and his entire family.
The Schiff-led investigation is just the tip of the iceberg. Democrats who control the House unleashed a volley of probes into how agencies are managing everything from America’s national parks to the implementation of the remaining elements of Obamacare.
Even as the minority, House Democrats had sought more information through the committees that oversee the agencies but the administration has refused to turn over much. Now that these committees are controlled by Democrats, they have more leverage to force agencies to submit documents and to force officials to testify. Congress’ role in the review, monitoring, and supervision of federal agencies, programs, activities, and policy implementation, is an “essential part of the separation of powers,” as the conservative Heritage Foundation says.
Trump seemed to realize the gravity of the situation, if not fully appreciate Congress’s remit, early today, tweeting that the situation amounted to “presidential harassment” and that Democrats are “going nuts.”
Asked about Trump’s assertions that these investigations amount to harassment, speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters the president was “projecting his own unruliness.”
“We will not surrender our constitutional responsibility for oversight,” Pelosi said. “That would make us delinquent in our duties.”
On Friday (Feb. 8) at 9:30am, acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker will testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee on oversight of the Department of Justice, after protracted negotiations over the terms of his appearance. Expect questions about his communications with Trump, and his protection of FBI special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Under California Republican Devin Nunes, the intelligence committee closed its probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election in March 2018, stating it found “no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
However, the panel failed to review all available evidence and call key witnesses, Democrats said at the time. Under Schiff, the committee says it will examine:
- The scope and scale of the Russian government’s operations to influence the US political process, and the US government’s response, during and since the 2016 election.
- The extent of any links and/or coordination between the Russian government, related foreign actors, and individuals associated with Trump’s campaign, transition, administration, or business interests, in furtherance of the Russian government’s interests.
- Whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.
- Whether Trump, his family, or his associates are or were at any time at heightened risk of, or vulnerable to, foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion, or have sought to influence US government policy in service of foreign interests.
- Whether any actors–foreign or domestic–sought or are seeking to impede, obstruct, and/or mislead authorized investigations into these matters, including those in the Congress.
The committee may also expand its scope further and could call on other congressional committees for help. There are no hearings scheduled at this time.
In late January, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform launched “a wide-ranging investigation of the White House’s security clearance process based on a series of grave breaches over the past two years.” The committee is seeking information on the clearance process for multiple current and former officials, including:
- Former national security advisor Michael Flynn
- Michael Flynn Jr.
- Former deputy national security advisor K.T. McFarland
- Current National Security Advisor John Bolton
- Senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner
- Former White House staff secretary Robert Porter
- Former National Security Council senior director Robin Townley
- President Trump’s former personal assistant John McEntee
- Former deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka
The investigation, which includes asking vice president Mike Pence and the FBI for information, is demanding documents relating to former White House chief of staff John Kelly’s review of security clearance processes in 2018, and specifically will focus on Kushner, Trump’s son in law.
“The system is supposed to be a nonpartisan determination of an individual’s fitness to hold a clearance, not an ad hoc approach that overrules career experts to give the President’s family members access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” said committee chair Elijah Cummings, the Maryland Democrat. Hearings are not yet scheduled.
The House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees taxes, tariffs, and Social Security, held its very first hearing Feb. 7 on the history and import of presidents and vice presidents making their tax returns public. Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts is building a “strong case” that the committee has the authority to subpoena Trump’s tax returns, his office said this week.
The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee starts three hearings today on the policy that has left thousands of children separated from their asylum-seeing parents, with no way to reunite many of them. The House Judiciary Committee also is holding a hearing on Feb. 12 that will question the role that the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services played.
“It is clear that the departments were either incompetent, or grossly negligent, in the policy’s implementation, which only compounded the trauma inflicted on innocent children,” said Judiciary chair Jerrold Nadler of New York.
The controversial Department of Homeland Security secretary will appear in front of the House Homeland Security Committee on March 6, after first refusing to testify. Kirstjen Nielsen’s agency approved of and helped implement the family-separation policy and has been clamping down on legal immigration. Earlier, she prohibited DHS immigration experts from testifying to Congress.
The House Appropriations Committee—responsible for monitoring how the federal government spends its money—held a hearing yesterday on the Trump administration’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and it plans further hearings on the topic. (Members of this committee are also negotiating behind closed doors over funding for border security)
After a bill to repeal Obamacare failed, the Trump administration diverted advertising funding that was supposed to encourage people to sign up and has scrapped vital subsidies that make it work.
The House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on the interior and the environment is investigating how America’s national parks were managed during the shutdown and also a decision to funnel entrance fees into operations as an attempt to cut the overall budget for parks.
“Those recreation fees are for capital-improvement projects to enhance the visitor experience,” subcommittee chair Betty McCollum said yesterday. “They are not a slush fund for the Administration to use when it wants to circumvent Congress’s power of the purse.”
The Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on transportation and housing will hold a hearing Feb. 12 on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s handling of the thousands of low-income housing contracts it manages during the government shutdown. Buildings that hold low-income elderly people were among those suddenly left with no funding during the 35-day shutdown.