The Oversight Storm That Could Paralyze The Trump Presidency

So the Democrats take the House. Then what?
Former chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) speak on June 20, 2012.
Former chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) speak on June 20, 2012.
Jose Luis Magaua / Reuters

Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election may be the greatest imminent threat to Donald Trump’s presidency, but there’s another storm coming for President Trump that he likely hasn’t even considered.

This storm will touch every person who works in the West Wing, every member of the Trump cabinet, every department and agency within the federal government. It could effectively paralyze the entire Trump administration.

And we don’t have to go back to Watergate for historical precedent.

During the Obama administration, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform took center stage as Republican Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.) wielded the committee’s unique oversight authority to relentlessly investigate the Obama White House. I spent four years working as a spokesperson and advisor for the committee, working to create an environment that made our weekly hearings must-see TV.

This committee is one of the only bodies in all of government that has the legal authority to induce cooperation from the executive branch. Whether it’s a deposition from a White House official, testimony from a cabinet secretary or production of documents and emails, the chair of the Oversight committee has unilateral subpoena authority to compel cooperation.

“This committee is one of the only bodies in all of government that has the legal authority to induce cooperation from the executive branch.”

During Issa’s four years as chairman, the Oversight committee subpoenaed the Obama administration more than 100 times for wide-ranging investigations into the State Department, the IRS, the General Services Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department, to name a few. Issa’s use of subpoenas was on par with his predecessors ― for the two years Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) chaired it while President George W. Bush was in office, the committee issued 46 subpoenas.

When Donald Trump became president, the Republicans’ appetite for vigorous and visible oversight seemingly disappeared overnight. They have deliberately abandoned their responsibility to serve as the people’s check on the executive branch. By ignoring the avalanche of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement occurring daily in the Trump administration, Oversight Republicans have betrayed the American taxpayers whom they are sworn to protect. In the wake of their silence, a litany of questions about government operations have gone unanswered.

Now, in the wake of Conor Lamb’s upset victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, it seems almost inevitable that House Republicans will lose their majority to Democrats in November. Should Democrats claim control of the House, and with it the Oversight committee’s gavel, the American people may finally get the answers they deserve.

While the Republican majority has been content to turn a blind eye to the Trump administration’s flagrant conduct, the panel’s Democrats, led by ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), have been keeping track.

Recently, Cummings sent Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) a list of 13 motions of subpoenas he’d like the majority to act on. The list, which Oversight Republicans predictably ignored, is a blueprint for the type of investigations we can expect should Cummings and his Democratic colleagues take control of the committee. In totality, these investigations could have a crippling effect on the functionality of the Trump administration.

Oversight Democrats are targeting documents that touch every part of the Trump presidency, including: the Trump Organization’s foreign payments, Trump’s Muslim ban, Jared Kushner’s emails, the White House and FBI’s security clearance process, Michael Flynn’s business dealings in the Middle East, the Justice Department’s role in opposing the AT&T-Time Warner merger, joint business deals between the Trump Organization and Kushner Companies, the use of private email accounts, private travel by administration officials like White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s $31,000 dining set, the Custom and Border Protection’s response to sexual assault allegations and attempts to discredit the FBI.

To this point, the Trump administration has been protected by House Republicans willing to look the other way in the face of unethical conduct that under President Obama they would have investigated relentlessly.

What will happen to Donald Trump if he loses that protection this November? He may be preoccupied with defending himself against the Mueller probe, but make no mistake about it: A Democratic House majority, and specifically the Oversight committee, will be capable of generating a storm that threatens the future of the Trump presidency.

Kurt Bardella is a HuffPost columnist. He served as a spokesman for and senior adviser to the former chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella.

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