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House Democrats announce broad probe into allegations of obstruction of justice

Posted at 10:38 AM, Mar 04, 2019

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler on Monday announced a sweeping investigation into President Donald Trump's campaign, businesses, transition and administration, a probe that would lay the groundwork for Democrats if they choose to pursue impeachment proceedings against the President.

The Judiciary Committee on Monday sent letters to 81 people and entities — including the White House, the Justice Department, senior campaign officials, Trump Organization officials and the President's sons — marking the start of a broad investigation that will tackle questions that include possible obstruction of justice, hush-money payments to women, collusion with Russia and allegations of the President abusing his office and using it for personal gain.

They are demanding responses within two weeks.

The sprawling net cast by the committee also signals that the Democratic-led investigations are likely to stretch on for months, with multiple committees seeking information from senior officials in the White House, the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization.

The evidence gathered in the investigation would be the basis of a possible impeachment proceeding, which the Judiciary Committee would lead, though Nadler has said it's too soon to be discussing impeachment.

"We do not now have the evidence all sorted out and everything to do an impeachment," Nadler said in an interview on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "Before you impeach somebody, you have to persuade the American public that it ought to happen."

But Nadler also said that it was "very clear" the President had obstructed justice.

"It's very clear — 1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt, he tried to -- he fired -- he tried to protect (former national security adviser Michael) Flynn from being investigated by the FBI," Nadler said. "He fired (former FBI Director James) Comey in order to stop the Russian thing, as he told NBC News. ... He's intimidated witnesses, in public."

The committee's probe comes amid the anticipated conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion and obstruction of justice, signaling the committee is likely to retread ground that federal prosecutors have already pursued. Many of the same witnesses that the Judiciary Committee is now requesting information from have already spoken to Mueller's prosecutors and the grand jury.

The letters are just the first step in what's likely to be a lengthy process as the committee probes a wide range of issues. A Judiciary Committee counsel said that the letters are intended to begin collecting a large trove of evidence that the committee would comb through and then decide who they should bring in to testify.

Some of the witnesses, particularly those in the White House, could also fight the committee's request for information, citing executive privilege. The committee counsel acknowledged a subpoena fight could be possible with some requests.

Most of the letters have a two-week deadline to respond. Subpoenas might follow, the committee counsel said, but they will try to negotiate first.

The White House acknowledged the letter it received on Monday.

"The House Judiciary Committee's letter has been received by the White House. The Counsel's Office and relevant White House officials will review it and respond at the appropriate time," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The Democratic-led committee is seeking a range of documents that span the gamut -- from details about contacts with foreign contacts to hush-money payments to silence affairs, which Trump had denied.

Among the people listed in the request for documents include some of Trump's closest associates and family members, including his two sons -- Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, his campaign manager Brad Parscale, former aides Hope Hicks and Don McGahn and longtime employees of the Trump Organization like chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, and Rhona Graff, a longtime gatekeeper to Trump.

In addition, Nadler is sending letters and demanding documents from David Pecker, the head of the parent company of the National Enquirer, which engaged in a "catch-and-kill" scheme to keep a story quiet about Trump's alleged affair with model Karen McDougal. Nadler wants all documents tied to "any narrative, personal account, documentation, recording, or photograph" tied to Trump from Pecker's company since 2015.

The document requests also appear to cover ground already under investigation by other congressional committees and by federal prosecutors.

For instance, the committee is demanding a wide-range of documents from former Trump attorney Michael Cohen tied to the Trump Organization's efforts to build a Trump Tower Moscow project, a matter that is a part of several probes. But it also asks Cohen to disclose any discussions he had about pardons with the Trump administration -- something Democrats have asked several witnesses, seeking details about any pardon discussions involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Flynn.

And other congressional committees are interested in the same officials, too, creating a possible environment where Democratic-led panels are fighting a turf war to get witnesses before them.

For instance, after Cohen's testimony last week, both the House Oversight and Intelligence committees indicated they wanted to speak to Weisselberg, who is on the Judiciary Committee's list as well.

The Department of Justice and the White House also face scrutiny from Nadler. From the White House, Nadler wants a swath of information tied to Russia demanding the White House provide information about contacts with Comey before he was fired as FBI director, details about the firing of Jeff Sessions as attorney general and documents about misleading statements given to the press in 2017 when it was first revealed that Trump Jr. met with Russians during the 2016 campaign.