If Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in November, they will gain the most important tool available to investigate the Trump administration: subpoena power. And Democrats on the House oversight committee, that chamber’s main investigative panel, are prepared to use it.
Democratic members on the committee have asked the Republican majority to issue subpoenas related to the administration’s conduct 52 times during the first 20 months of Donald Trump’s presidency. Republicans turned down each of those 52 requests. If Democrats held the committee gavel, the subpoenas would be approved.
Vigorous use of the subpoena power, which was granted to Congress to oversee the executive branch, could bring real attention to the many stories of inept governance, malicious policy and outright corruption that seem to bubble up as brief controversies, only to sink under the flood of the president’s Twitter froth.
“If Democrats win the majority in November, we would finally do what Republicans have refused to do, and that is conduct independent, fact-based, and credible investigations of the Trump Administration to address issues like the security clearance process, conflicts of interest, the numerous attempts by Republicans to strip away healthcare from millions of Americans, postal service reforms, prescription drug pricing, and voting rights,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said in a statement.
The 52 subpoena requests fell into three categories. First, Trump administration and Trump Organization corruption, conflicts of interest and violations of norms of good governance. Second, the committee’s core oversight functions, including agency reorganizations, the issuance of security clearances and the 2020 census. And third, overall issues of waste, fraud and abuse.
This is a list of subpoenas that would likely go out if Democrats win this fall.
Corruption And Good Governance
Trump’s corruption: When Donald Trump announced that he would become the first president of the modern era to not divest from his business interests, he also stated that he would donate any foreign government profits to the U.S. Treasury. When the oversight committee asked the Trump Organization to disclose foreign government payers to his business and how the company calculated profits, it did not receive a proper response. Democrats continue to seek a subpoena of the Trump Organization for information about those foreign profits. Democratic committee members have also sought to subpoena the Trump Foundation to determine if the president used his nonprofit to engage in self-dealing.
Jared Kushner: Kushner is the president’s son-in-law and a senior adviser. Like his father-in-law, he’s a second-generation real estate mogul who inherited his wealth. Democrats want information on Kushner’s government subsidized rental units in the Baltimore region that he reportedly failed to maintain as the law required. They have also called for the committee to subpoena Kushner to appear for a hearing into potential conflicts of interest related to his family business.
Private email correspondence: Committee Republicans actually did cosign a letter with Democrats in September 2017 seeking information from the White House about reports that senior officials were using private email accounts for government business. The White House said some officials confessed to using private email accounts, but refused to provide documentation. Cummings has made four separate requests for follow-up information, including for a subpoena specifically aimed at material related to Kushner’s use of a private email address and private server to conduct official government business.
Michael Flynn: In October 2017, committee Democrats sought to subpoena information from the White House and from the former national security adviser’s consulting businesses related to his contacts and business deals with foreign governments, including Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Democrats reiterated this subpoena request a few months later after further information about Flynn’s efforts to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia came to light.
The 2016 campaign: Republicans blocked a subpoena by committee Democrats to get ex-Trump adviser and campaign manager Steve Bannon to testify about any contacts made by law enforcement agents prior to the 2016 election. Democrats have sought information from two digital firms that worked for the Trump campaign in 2016, Cambridge Analytica and Giles-Parscale, about their contacts with foreign governments and undisclosed employment of foreign nationals. They have also sought documents related to the loans received by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort from Federal Savings Bank and documents about alleged foreign efforts to breach state election systems prior to the 2016 election.
Failure to produce documents: Democrats have sought to subpoena a range of companies and government agencies for withholding documents from the oversight committee. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation failed to hand over documents related to a senior Environmental Protection Agency official who was banned from banking. The departments of Health and Human Services, Justice and Homeland Security withheld documents related to an alleged gag order issued against whistleblowers. HHS also withheld documents about whether officials collaborated with a right-wing group to rescind a Medicaid policy related to family planning. The Agriculture Department withheld documents about communications with corporate lobbyists. EPA did not produce documents related to its failure to fill Freedom of Information Act requests. The White House did not hand over information about its use of chartered flights. A host of agencies failed to disclose the identities of regulatory reform task force members. And the Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube is withholding documents related to alleged “dirty ops” that it ran on behalf of the Trump administration to smear Obama-era officials.
Core Oversight Functions
Census 2020: Committee Democrats want to subpoena all documents related to the Commerce Department’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. They have also sought documents from the Justice Department related to the citizenship question. In May, committee Republicans blocked a subpoena to compel John Gore, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, to answer questions about his role in adding the citizenship query.
Security clearances and classification: The Trump administration’s issuance of security clearances to questionable individuals and refusal to suspend clearances for officials who have fallen under investigation is a major topic of the subpoenas sought by Democrats. They would like to see all documents related to the issuance of security clearances to Flynn, his son Michael Flynn Jr. and Kushner and any documents addressing why Flynn aide Robin Townley’s request for clearance was rejected. They are also seeking documents from the Justice Department on the attempt to classify certain notes made by then-Justice official Dana Boente about his conversations with then-FBI Director James Comey.
Government reorganization: Democrats are seeking documents that the Office of Management and Budget has withheld from the committee about its plans to restrict hiring and downsize executive branch agencies.
Waste, Fraud And Abuse
Committee Democrats are seeking a host of documents that have been withheld by the White House, executive agencies and Michigan’s governor related to political bias, contracts, transparency, inept governance and sexual assault. They sought documents from Customs and Border Protection about sexual assaults committed by employees at Newark International Airport. They have asked the White House for documents related to an allegedly biased refugee report, the response to the hurricanes that struck Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in 2017, the deadly ambush of U.S. soldiers in Niger, the “cleaning” out of career employees, and Martese Edwards, a contractor wanted for attempted murder. They also sought information from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense about their respective responses to the 2017 hurricanes in the Caribbean. Homeland Security was also targeted with a subpoena request for withholding information from its inspector general report on the president’s “Muslim ban.”
Other subpoena requests turned down by the Republican committee majority include requests for documents from the Justice Department about its refusal to defend the Affordable Care Act in court, alleged politicized hiring of immigration judges, reassignment of certain employees, and communications with the White House regarding the AT&T-Time Warner merger. HHS was asked for documents on its effort to strip information from a women’s health website and the proposed gag rule for Title X family planning. There were also proposed subpoena requests for documents from the State Department about political loyalty lists, the Interior Department on the reassignment of employees, the Treasury Department’s inspector general about its investigation of tax-exempt organizations, and Gov. Rick Snyder about Michigan’s investigation into the Flint water crisis.
The Republican majority on the House oversight committee did not respond to a request for comment on why they blocked all these subpoenas.
Democrats have a 72 percent chance of retaking the House, according to the polling aggregator 538. The National Republican Congressional Committee did not respond to a request for comment on whether it sees the Democrats’ subpoena agenda as a reason why the GOP needs to hold the House.
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