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House Democrats open sweeping corruption probe into Trump’s world

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler opened his much-anticipated probe with letters to 81 individuals, companies and government entities seeking a wide range of materials that go to the heart of allegations against President Donald Trump. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Congress

The House judiciary panel is requesting documents from more than 80 people or entities in Trump’s orbit, including his adult sons.

Updated

A key House committee with the power to impeach President Donald Trump kicked off a sweeping new investigation on Monday with document demands from the White House, Trump’s namesake company, charity, transition, inauguration and 2016 campaign, as well as several longtime associates and the president’s two adult sons.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, opened his much-anticipated probe with letters to 81 individuals, companies and government entities seeking a wide range of materials that go to the heart of allegations against the president — including abuses of power, corruption, and obstruction of justice.

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“This is a critical time for our nation,” Nadler wrote to each recipient, all of which his staff noted have already been ensnared in investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller or other federal prosecutors. “President Trump and his administration face wide-ranging allegations of misconduct that strike at the heart of our constitutional order.”

By initiating the wide-ranging demand for documents, the Judiciary Committee signaled it is creating its own insurance policy in the event that all of Mueller’s findings are not made public and it finds the kinds of evidence that would be grounds for trying to impeach Trump from office. Public hearings and closed-door interviews based off the materials will begin in a matter of weeks, a senior Democratic committee lawyer said.

The list of letter recipients reads like a who’s who of people in and around the president’s orbit, notably all of Trump’s senior 2016 campaign leaders, including Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale, the current campaign manager for the 2020 re-election effort.

Trump’s White House and key former top aides including chief of staff Reince Priebus, counsel Don McGahn, deputy national security adviser KT McFarland, communications director Hope Hicks and press secretary Sean Spicer must also hand over documents tied to several incidents that have long been seen as central to the swirling federal investigations into the president, his campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Topics under review by the Democrat-led panel include the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn after he lied to senior White House officials about his communications with Russian officials, as well as then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from overseeing the DOJ-led probes into the Trump campaign and the president’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.

At the Trump Organization, top executives Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and chief legal officer Alan Garten are covered under the Democrats’ document requests, as well as Trump’s longtime personal secretary Rhona Graff. Notably, the House panel didn’t include Trump’s oldest adult daughter, White House adviser Ivanka Trump, in its initial round of document requests despite her long-standing connections to her father’s business empire.

Democrats also are seeking materials from several Trump officials who have been charged in the nearly two-year old Mueller probe, including Flynn, Manafort, Trump 2016 campaign deputy Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone.

The committee also targeted other several people and entities that have been ensnared in the various federal investigations, including Tom Barrack, a real estate developer and longtime Trump friend who helped spearhead the president’s inauguration; WikiLeaks; National Enquirer parent company American Media Inc.; the National Rifle Association and Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign’s data firm. AMI and its CEO, David Pecker, were involved in so-called “catch-and-kill” efforts related to women who said they had affairs with Trump.

Adam Schiff

Democrats also requested documents from the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation tied directly to their investigative work over the last two-plus years. They also asked for materials from Trump’s personal legal team, including attorney Jay Sekulow and former spokesman Mark Corallo.

Trump on Monday dismissed the Democrats’ probe as a “political hoax.”

“I cooperate all the time with everybody,” the president said. “You know the beautiful thing — no collusion.”

Sekulow said the president’s personal lawyers are “reviewing the request for documents and we will respond at the appropriate time.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House received the Judiciary Committee’s letter. “

All letter recipients have until March 18 to comply with the document requests, and the committee plans to issue subpoenas if necessary within several additional weeks to force compliance, the Democratic committee counsel said. The information requests seek the same material already turned over in the myriad ongoing probes, which Nadler’s staff said should help to avoid any battles with competing investigators and the Trump White House over executive privilege.

The document request was put together with sign-off from prosecutors in Mueller’s office and the Southern District of New York, the Democratic aides said. It also won’t be the only document request — Nadler’s staff said another round of letters would be going out soon and cautioned against reading into why some people didn’t get letters on Monday.

Nadler views his effort as a complement to Mueller’s investigation, which is looking into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, potential collusion between Trump associates and Russian operatives, and obstruction of justice. It’s also designed as a backstop if the special counsel’s work doesn’t become public. In his Senate confirmation hearing in January, Attorney General William Barr did not pledge to release Mueller’s entire final report, and further complicating efforts to release materials about Trump is the longstanding Justice Department guideline dating to Richard Nixon and Watergate that states a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Jerry Nadler

Democrats aren’t just limiting themselves to obstruction of justice allegations tied to the Russia probe. The committee also plans to examine potential violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution that prohibits a president from personally enriching himself while in office, as well as witness intimidation, and the dangling of pardons to senior Trump officials caught up in federal investigators’ cross hairs.

Nadler’s wide-ranging information requests come on the heels of Michael Cohen’s public testimony last week before a different House committee, in which the former Trump attorney and fixer implicated Trump in numerous alleged crimes and opened the floodgates for Democrats’ investigations by name-dropping Trump associates who may have been involved in crimes Cohen has pleaded guilty to, including lying to Congress and committing campaign-finance violations tied to hush-money payments.

In particular, Cohen said Weisselberg and Trump Jr. signed at least one reimbursement check for illegal hush-money payments to silence an adult-film star who said she had an affair with the president. He also suggested that Trump Jr. informed his father in advance about a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected lawyer and other senior Trump campaign officials.

The committee is also targeting WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Cohen testified to the House Oversight Committee that he overheard a phone conversation between Trump and Stone, during which Stone purportedly said Assange had informed him that “within a couple days there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” Stone last week told POLITICO that Cohen’s recounting of events was “not true.”

Republicans quickly dismissed Nadler’s efforts as premature.

“We don’t even know what the Mueller report says, but Democrats are already hedging their bets,” Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said in a statement. “After recklessly prejudging the president for obstruction, Chairman Nadler is pursuing evidence to back up his conclusion because, as he admits, ‘we don’t have the facts yet.’”

Later Monday, the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight Committees requested all documents related to Trump’s communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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