Jerrold Nadler, Democrats bid to take down Donald Trump
Congressional Democrats demanded Monday that the president let them interview the translators who were there for his unorthodox meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Democrats expanded their election-season attempt to paint Mr. Trump as a criminal.
Chairmen of the House Oversight, Foreign Affairs and intelligence committees said that in addition to the translators, they want to talk with anyone who was briefed orally or in writing about Trump-Putin meetings, and they also demanded to see all documents stemming from the talks.
Their demands came just hours after Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler issued document requests to 81 people or entities in the Trump orbit, on everything from hirings and firings to pardons and presidential emoluments to negotiations with Russia before, during and after the election.
Among the targets are the White House, the president’s children, figures from the 2016 campaign, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the president’s business empire. Mr. Nadler even sought to reach into the grave, asking the estate of late Republican banker Peter W. Smith to pony up answers.
Mr. Nadler said the onslaught was necessary because Republicans, who had controlled the House until this year, let so much of the president’s conduct go unchecked.
“Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms,” Mr. Nadler said. “This is a critical time for our nation, and we have a responsibility to investigate these matters and hold hearings for the public to have all the facts. That is exactly what we intend to do.”
Analysts struggled to find parallels to the kind of political body cavity search Mr. Nadler and the other chairmen are undertaking.
The wide-ranging information expedition is likely to become the new standard, leaving future presidents and their teams to fear similar persecution.
“The House Judiciary Committee has launched a road map to impeachment and set in motion unlimited, unrestrained harassment of Trump associates,” said one official who served on the 2016 Trump campaign. “Those who use such tactics today should realize that they can be used against you tomorrow.”
Mr. Trump, for his part, seemed to suggest the White House would comply, to some extent.
“I cooperate all the time with everybody,” he told reporters. “It’s a political hoax. There’s no collusion. There’s no anything.”
It’s unlikely that his cooperation will extend to the request for access to his translator during his meetings with Mr. Putin, though.
Past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have said a president’s ability to conduct foreign affairs requires an ability to shield both internal discussions and international negotiations from the reach of Capitol Hill.
The Democratic chairmen Rep. Elijah Cummings, Rep. Elliot Engel and Rep. Adam Schiff acknowledged they are chasing after “media reports” that accused Mr. Trump of trying to “conceal the details of his communications” with the Russian leader.
According to those reports Mr. Trump held one two-hour meeting with Mr. Putin that was attended by no one other than translators. And Mr. Trump confiscated his translator’s notes afterward, the reports said.
“These allegations, if true, raise profound national security, counterintelligence, and foreign policy concerns, especially in light of Russia’s ongoing active measures campaign to improperly influence American elections,” the chairmen wrote.
While Monday’s request did not include a subpoena, that remains an option.
In addition to the translator, Democrats demanded the White House and State Department make available anyone who was at Trump-Putin meetings, people who “have knowledge” of the talks, and anyone who’s seen or heard “readouts” of what transpired in the meetings.
They said Congress has a right to see what Mr. Trump is communicating to foreign leaders and whether he’s “acted in the national interest.”
Mr. Nadler, meanwhile, said his goal with the 81 document requests is to create a public record on obstruction of justice, corruption and “abuses of power” on the part of the president and his team.
He set a deadline of March 18, and said this was only an “initial” production.
He did not mention the “I” word, but Mr. Nadler, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, would oversee any impeachment hearings.
“We are far from that,” he told CNN on Monday night. “It may come to that if the facts show that, and it may not.”
Mr. Nadler said he gave an alert about his document requests to both special counsel Robert Mueller and the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, both of whom are conducting separate criminal investigations into Trump figures’ behavior during and after the 2016 campaign.
The White House issued a terse message acknowledging the requests.
“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,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Rep. Doug Collins, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Nadler was jumping the gun.
“We don’t even know what the Mueller report says, but Democrats are already hedging their bets,” he said. “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.’”
The requests make clear the extent of the fishing expedition.
The request to former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, for example, ran to four pages. Mr. Spicer was only on the job for about six months, but Mr. Nadler asked him to produce documents on ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn; the president’s contacts with then-FBI Director James Comey; the president’s thoughts on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, special counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI team that targeted Mr. Trump; former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and his payments to porn star Stormy Daniels; authorship of the 2016 Republican Party platform; decisions on Russian sanctions; and the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where the president’s team met with Russian operatives offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, was asked to detail efforts to protect Mr. Trump by buying and squashing unfavorable stories.
Mr. Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, was asked to detail any knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting and any contacts “direct or indirect ... involving yourself and the Trump campaign, its officials, agents and/or intermediaries.”