The new Democratic majority in Congress maps out its investigations of the Trump administration.
To avert an investigative free-for-all, Democrats decided early on that they needed to prioritize their inquiries within a basic narrative framework: How is misbehavior X endangering the health and safety of our democracy or of the American people?
Issues ranking high on Democrats’ inquiry list include the administration’s
- response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; its decisions
- not to defend the pre-existing conditions provision of Obamacare and to undermine the program by starving it of funds; its policy of
- separating migrant families at the southern border; and its
- rollback of environmental protections. Other prime lines of inquiry are
- whether former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stood to benefit personally from decisions he made in office,
- whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied to Congress about his efforts to add a question about citizenship to the new census — and
- pretty much every decision made so far by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Such potential maladministration may not be as buzzy as, say, exploring
- whether Mr. Trump paid hush money to former mistresses or
- underpaid his taxes by a few hundred million dollars. But it does concretely influence the health and well-being of the public.
This is not to say Mr. Trump will get a pass on his personal behavior, simply that Democrats will try to keep the focus on the bigger picture. For instance, Mr. Trump’s continued refusal to release his tax returns is part of his family’s sketchy financial dealings, which raise serious questions about everything from emoluments violations to inappropriate dealings with foreign interests. The crucial question isn’t whether the president has violated the law but whether he has been selling out the nation for personal gain.
WASHINGTON — President Trump has stepped back from declaring a national emergency to pay for a border wall, under pressure from congressional Republicans, his own lawyers and advisers, who say using it as a way out of the government shutdown does not justify the precedent it would set and the legal questions it could raise.
“If today the national emergency is border security, tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change,” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the idea’s critics, said this week. Another Republican, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, told an interviewer that declaring a national emergency should be reserved for “the most extreme circumstances.”
.. “What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” he told reporters gathered in the Cabinet Room as the shutdown approached its fourth week. Minutes later he contradicted himself, saying that he would declare a state of emergency if he had to.
.. Instead, Mr. Trump would use his authority to transfer funds to the wall that were appropriated by Congress for other purposes. Toward that end, the Army Corps of Engineers has been directed to study whether it can divert about $13.9 million in emergency aide set aside for Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and California. And with the money secured, the president could drop his opposition to the appropriations bills whose passage would end the shutdown.
.. Former White House aides, who noted that Mr. Trump did not focus on the wall during the first two years of his presidency, said the optics of fighting for the wall were more important to the president than erecting it.
.. But opposition has come from many Republican quarters. Some conservatives see it as an unacceptable extension of executive power. Kellyanne Conway, a White House aide, has said it would essentially give Congress a pass. Representative Mike Simpson, Republican of Idaho and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said it was not clear to him that an emergency declaration would even lead to the prompt reopening of the government.
While some Democrats have pressed for Trump’s impeachment, what would be certain is that Democratic committee chairs would swamp Trump and his deputies with subpoenas, document requests and public hearings that would bog down his administration and distract from his agenda ahead of the 2020 elections.
Already, congressional Democrats have amassed dozens of oversight requests targeting the White House, various Cabinet departments and private entities with business ties to Trump and his family.
.. Some outside Trump advisers have mused in recent days that losing the House would be a political disaster but saw a silver lining in the possibility that Democrats would veer left next year and be a foil for Trump
.. “There is a never-ending stream of outrage,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican political consultant who served in the final three years of the Bush White House. “The only difference is, now all of their outrage is directed at Twitter. But when you give somebody a gavel, they can actually hurt you.”
.. Their mission would be to stop the EPA or any other regulatory agency from just functioning, basically, until they can regain power.”
.. it was difficult not to contemplate the possibilities that would come with not only subpoena power, but also a much larger staff and investigative budget.
.. Since Trump took office, Oversight Committee Republicans have blocked more than 50 Democratic subpoena requests ranging from
- documents pertaining to the administration’s health-care policies to
- information on the government’s use of chartered airplanes to
- a demand for testimony from former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
.. would also scrutinize policy issues such as
- prescription drug prices,
- postal reform and
- preparations for the 2020 Census.
.. Unlike the partisan congressional probes into Bush and Obama, which focused mainly on alleged missteps by subordinates, Democrats are primed to put the president himself in the investigative crosshairs
.. For one, Democrats would be able to inspect Trump’s federal income tax returns for the first time — a trove that they have long demanded but Republicans have shown no interest in obtaining. Under federal law, any tax return can be examined by the chairman of any of the three congressional tax committees.
.. Other information regarding Trump’s personal finances and business dealings could also be subject to Democrats’ prying eyes. They could include rosters of hotel clients and members of Trump golf and social clubs, as well as details of real estate deals that his companies have participated in.
.. requests for information on the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, as well as Trump’s controversial border policies.
Four Democratic senators on Thursday requested a Pentagon investigation into whether the White House improperly offered tours of Air Force One to members of Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
.. As part of our continuing effort to resist the exhausting and numbing effects of living under a relentlessly abusive and degrading president, we present, for the third time in nine months, an updated guide to what Republicans now consider to be acceptable behavior from the commander in chief. As before, these examples, drawn from incidents or disclosures in the last three-plus months, do not concern policy decisions — only the president’s words and actions.
Imply, without evidence, that a television anchor was involved in a murder.. Call the American justice system a “joke” and a “laughingstock”
Have your lawyer pay $130,000 in hush money to a porn star with whom you had an affair while your wife was at home caring for your new son
.. Continue to call for a criminal investigation of your former political opponent, whom you call the “worst (and biggest) loser of all time” a year after the election.. Tell your rich friends after your tax bill passes, “You all just got a lot richer”.. Defend your mental competency by saying that you are “like, really smart” and a “very stable genius”.. Threaten to take away a TV network’s broadcast license for reporting on your deliberations about the nation’s nuclear arsenal.. Threaten to use federal tax law to punish a professional sports league for letting its players express political opinions
Tell reporters that “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it”
Warn American citizens in Puerto Rico, only weeks after a catastrophic hurricane, that the federal government can’t help them out “forever,” even as you tell victims of a hurricane in Texas, “We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow, and we will be with you EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER, to restore, recover, and REBUILD!”.. Spend one-third of the first year of your taxpayer-funded presidency visiting your own golf courses or properties.. While debating policy with lawmakers on live television, accidentally agree to a deal that is the opposite of what your party wants, get corrected by the House majority leader, and then release an official White House transcript that omits the exchange
.. Claim that a new tax bill you support will “cost me a fortune,” even though it will probably save you millions, but who knows since you refuse to release your tax returns.. Try to stop the publication of a book that says critical things about you and your administration.. Accuse an F.B.I. agent of treason without evidence.. Watch four to eight hours of cable television a day, mostly the channel that feeds you self-serving propaganda.. Choose for federal judgeships nominees who cannot identify or explain basic legal concepts, and who were rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.. Falsely claim that you have signed more legislation than any first-year president, when in fact you have signed less than any post-World War II president.. Taunt a foreign leader who claims he has nuclear weapons by saying your “nuclear button” is “a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”.. Criticize a law that your party firmly supports, then, two hours later, reverse yourself.. Pick nominees to the federal bench who call a sitting Supreme Court justice a “judicial prostitute” and refer to transgender children as part of “Satan’s plan”.. Campaign hard for a Senate candidate; then when he appears likely to lose, say “I might have made a mistake” and later delete your tweets supporting him .. Behave so erratically and irresponsibly that senators of your own party resort to saying you’re treated like someone at “an adult day-care center” to keep you from starting World War III.. Spend one of every three days as president visiting at least one of your own properties.. Publicly and privately humiliate your own attorney general for recusing himself from an investigation into your campaign.. Say nothing when a foreign leader’s bodyguards brutally attack peaceful protesters in the streets of Washington, D.C... Encourage police officers not to be “too nice” when apprehending criminal suspects.. Help draft a misleading statement about the purpose of a meeting between your son, other top campaign aides and representatives of a rival foreign power intent on interfering in the election
Deliver a speech to the Boy Scouts of America that includes mockery of a former president and winking references to sexual orgies, and then lie by claiming that the head of that organization called and told you it was the best speech ever delivered in Boy Scout history
Hang a framed copy of a fake Time magazine cover celebrating your business acumen in your golf clubs around the world
Mock a female television anchor’s appearance, saying the anchor was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” at a holiday gathering at your private resort
Force your cabinet members to take turns extolling your virtues in front of television cameras
Continue to deny that Russia attempted to influence the presidential election, despite the consensus of the American intelligence community — and yet also blame your predecessor for not doing anything to stop that interference
Grant temporary White House press credentials to a website that, among other things, claims that Sept. 11 was an “inside job” and that the massacre of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax.. Pardon a former sheriff who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to obey the law
Continue to repeat, with admiration, a false story about an American military general committing war crimes
Mock the mayor of a world city for his careful, sober response to a terrorist attack.. Admit to trying to intimidate a key witness in a federal investigation.. Profit off the presidency, accepting millions of dollars from foreign government officials, businesses, politicians and other supporters who pay a premium to patronize your properties and get access to you — while also attempting to hide the visitor lists at some of those properties from the public.. Promise to drain the swamp, then quietly grant ethics waivers to multiple former industry lobbyists who want to work in your administration
Accuse a former president, without evidence, of an impeachable offense.. Allow White House staff members to use their personal email for government business
Claim, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally
Fail to fire high-ranking members of your national security team for weeks, even after knowing they lied to your vice president and exposed themselves to blackmail
Refuse to release tax returns
Hide the White House visitors’ list from the public
Vacation at one of your private residences nearly every weekend
Use an unsecured personal cellphone
Criticize specific businesses for dropping your family members’ products.. Hire relatives for key White House posts, and let them meet with foreign officials and engage in business at the same time
Promote family businesses on federal government websites.. Compare the U.S. intelligence community to Nazis.. Share highly classified information with a hostile foreign power without the source’s permission
It’s not Trump’s motives that are scary; Wolff reports that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were “increasingly panicked” and “frenzied” about what Comey would find if he looked into the family finances, which is incriminating but unsurprising. The terrifying part is how, in Wolff’s telling, Trump sneaked around his aides, some of whom thought they’d contained him.
.. “In presidential annals, the firing of F.B.I. director James Comey may be the most consequential move ever made by a modern president acting entirely on his own.” Now imagine Trump taking the same approach toward ordering the bombing of North Korea.
.. We learn that the administration holds special animus for what it calls “D.O.J. women,”
.. most of all, the book confirms what is already widely understood — not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it.
.. One thread running through “Fire and Fury” is the way relatives, opportunists and officials try to manipulate and manage the president, and how they often fail.
.. the people around Trump, “all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”
.. According to Wolff, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, called Trump an “idiot.” (So did the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, though he used an obscenity first.)
.. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, compares his boss’s intelligence to excrement. The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, thinks he’s a “dope.” It has already been reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” which he has pointedly refused to deny.
.. Wolff takes a few stabs at the motives of Trump insiders. Ivanka Trump apparently nurtured the ghastly dream of following her father into the presidency. Others, Wolff writes, told themselves that they could help protect America from the president they serve
.. Some of the military men trying to steady American foreign policy amid Trump’s whims and tantrums might be doing something quietly decent, sacrificing their reputations for the greater good.
.. But most members of Trump’s campaign and administration are simply traitors. They are willing, out of some complex mix of ambition, resentment, cynicism and rationalization, to endanger all of our lives — all of our children’s lives — by refusing to tell the country what they know about the senescent fool who boasts of the size of his “nuclear button” on Twitter.
.. Maybe, at the moment, people in the Trump orbit feel complacent because a year has passed without any epic disaster, unless you count an estimated 1,000 or so deaths in Puerto Rico
.. A guy falls from a 50-story building. As he flies by the 25th floor, someone asks how it’s going. “So far, so good!” he says.
Eventually, we’ll hit the ground, and assuming America survives, there should be a reckoning to dwarf the defenestration of Harvey Weinstein and his fellow ogres.
.. His enablers have no such excuse.