After Mueller, what House panels are investigating Trump?
Washington, DC – US Attorney General William Barr said on Sunday that the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election concluded that no individual part of Donald Trump‘s campaign “conspired or knowingly coordinated” with Russia during the election.
Barr’s account in a four-page memo to Congress came after Special Counsel Robert Mueller finished his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, possible coordination with the Trump campaign and whether Trump unlawfully obstructed the investigation.
On the last question, Barr said he did not find sufficient evidence to suggest the president obstructed justice, but “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.'”
Trump and his supporters are celebrating the reporting, with Trump tweeting, “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!”
But Democrats and some Republicans are calling on Barr to release the full report to Congress and the public as sweeping and wide-ranging investigations by committees in the US House of Representatives into Trump, his business, family and inner-circle continue.
What are the House investigations?
Five House committees are investigating allegations of campaign finance violations, bank and insurance fraud, and obstruction of justice. The Senate Intelligence Committee has also been investigating Russian interference in the election.
Although Mueller found no evidence of a conspiracy between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian hackers, House committees are moving forward and plan to bring Attorney General Barr to give evidence.
“We are going to move forward with our investigations of obstruction of justice, abuses of power, corruption, to defend the rule of law which is our job,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told reporters in New York. “It’s a broader mandate than the special prosecutor had.”
The five House committees investigating Trump are led by an ensemble cast of very experienced Democrat legislators. Four of the five committee chairmen have served in Congress since the 1990s and witnessed the Republican impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.
House Intelligence Committee
Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is the youngest of the group. He’s been representing California in Congress since 2001. The committee is investigating Trump’s talks with Russia surrounding Trump Tower Moscow, the Russian hacking in 2016 and whether Russia and Saudi Arabia have gained financial leverage over Trump and his family, among other issues, he has said.
Schiff’s committee will hold a public interview of Felix Sater, a former Russian mobster, on Wednesday about his business dealings with the Trump Organization and the deal for a high-rise tower in Moscow that Trump pursued in 2016. On Thursday, the committee will hold a hearing on Kremlin political tactics.
Financial Services Committee
The Financial Services Committee is coordinating with attorneys for Deutsche Bank, the big German lender, to take a close look at $350m in loans it provided to Trump at a time when other commercial lenders would not.
“We are requesting documents. We are not ready to talk about it yet. We are just working on that,” Representative Maxine Waters, Financial Services chairwoman, told Al Jazeera.
Ways and Means Committee
The Ways and Means Committee is laying the groundwork to demand 10 years of Trump’s tax returns. Under a little-used US law, the request must come from Representative Richard Neal, the chairman of Ways and Means panel, to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is not likely to comply without a court order.
“Right now, Mr Mnuchin is in a defensive mode. Sycophants usually are. We know what he is going to say. That doesn’t stop us from our responsibility. We can’t cop out,” Democrat Bill Pascrell, senior Ways and Means member, told reporters. “My prediction would be the request will go out in the next couple of weeks.”
The Judiciary Committee, which under House rules has the sole authority to issue articles of impeachment against Trump, unveiled document requests on March 4 to 81 people, agencies and businesses related to Trump, his family and members of his inner circle. Committee Democrats said they are pursuing allegations against Trump of obstruction of justice, public corruption and abuses of power.
“For the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical and constitutional rules and norms,” Nadler said in a statement.
The Oversight Committee, led by Democrat Elijah Cummings, has requested documents from the White House on Trump overriding the security clearance process for his daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. The same committee also sought White House documents on the president’s role in reversing a decision to relocate the FBI headquarters in DC, adjacent to his hotel.
“The American people should be concerned and the press definitely should be concerned when you cannot get information that you need to make one accountable,” Cummings told Al Jazeera. “I anticipate there will be some discussions with the White House counsel and we will see what we can do from there.”
In more than six hours of public testimony on February 27 before the Oversight Committee, the president’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen spoke about Trump’s alleged lies, dishonest way of doing business and scams he pulled before becoming president. Cohen gave names and presented Congress with copies of checks the president wrote to pay hush money to an adult film star.
He has since elaborated in two days of closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on his negotiations for a Trump Tower deal in Moscow during the 2016 campaign and efforts by the White House to conceal those talks later from Congress.
Intel chairman Schiff told reporters staking out the second hearing that Cohen “was fully cooperative” and committee members “found it an enormously productive session”.
Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s lawyers, said in a television appearance on MSNBC February 28 that Cohen had offered the committee new information about pressure from White House lawyers to lie about the timing and extent of Trump’s negotiations with Moscow on real estate deal during the 2016 campaign. The White House has denied the allegation.
“There is plenty of evidence of a conspiracy to collude with Russia. But this is about lying and obstruction evidence,” Davis said. “It’s pretty explosive.”
Avoiding talks of impeachment
Mueller’s report says the Special Counsel’s office found no evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian hackers.
Transcripts of Cohen’s testimony are being redacted now in preparation for eventual public release, according to Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, a member of the Intelligence Committee. “We had him for two days. He said a lot, about a lot of different subjects,” Krishnamoorthi told Al Jazeera.
Without White House cooperation, it will take months and likely a court battle before Congress hears from the many witnesses and sorts through documents Democrats are asking for. The effort is complicated by the work of Special Counsel Mueller and a separate inquiry opened by the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
Republicans say the Democrat-led House investigations are an overreach, that the investigations lack a basis in facts and are motivated by a partisan drive to bring down the president.
“It goes on until the 2020 elections, or they impeach him, whichever comes first,” Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and chair of the House Freedom Caucus which supports Trump, told Al Jazeera. “They are spreading a wide net. It appears to be a prelude to an impeachment resolution that would come out of the Judiciary Committee.”
Prior to Mueller’s probe conclusion, most Democrats publicly avoided overt talk of impeachment, though privately they acknowledged that’s where these investigations were headed.
But now with Barr’s remarks on Mueller’s conclusion out, it’s likely Democrats will continue to probe Trump, though impeachment now seems less likely.
“This is our constitutional responsibility, to have oversight over the executive branch, and the evidence they will have, is what they will gather doing the oversight, bringing the truth to the American people,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has, for now, ruled out impeachment proceedings.
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