BALTIMORE — In an escalation of Democratic efforts to highlight questions about President Trump’s potential conflicts of interest and alleged ties to Russia, a senior House Democrat is dusting off a little-used legislative tool to force a committee debate or floor vote on the issue.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) filed a “resolution of inquiry” Thursday, a relatively obscure parliamentary tactic used to force presidents and executive-branch agencies to share records with Congress. Under House practice, such a resolution must be debated and acted upon in committee or else it can be discharged to the House floor for consideration.
Nadler’s resolution asks Attorney General Jeff Sessions to provide “copies of any document, record, memo, correspondence, or other communication of the Department of Justice” that pertains to any “criminal or counterintelligence investigation” into Trump, his White House team or certain campaign associates; any investment made by a foreign power or agent thereof in Trump’s businesses; Trump’s plans to distance himself from his business empire; and any Trump-related examination of federal conflict of interest laws or the emoluments clause of the Constitution.
Nadler, the No. 2-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said that his move came after Democrats sent two letters to Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and another letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) asking for investigations into Trump’s financial entanglements.
“All of this demands investigation, and of course they’ve refused,” Nadler said Thursday at the House Democrats’ annual policy retreat here. “This resolution will force them to confront the issue.”
Besides Trump, the resolution asks for records from any investigation targeting national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, oil industry consultant and former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, political operative Roger Stone, or “any employee of the Executive Office of the President.” All four men have come under scrutiny over alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump has stepped down from the management of his business empire, but he has not divested his assets as recommended by the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics. He has also denied doing any business in Russia: “I have no deals, I have no loans, and I have no dealings,” he said on Jan. 11.
Resolutions of inquiry have been introduced by Congress hundreds of times since 1947, according to the Congressional Research Service, usually by members of the party not occupying the White House at the time. Most such resolutions deal with politically sensitive issues, but few have targeted the president as personally as Nadler’s does.
Under House rules, a resolution of inquiry is referred to a committee, which has 14 legislative days to debate and vote on whether how it should be reported to the floor. If the committee does not take action in that 14-day span, the measure can be called up on the House floor for a debate and vote.
A spokeswoman for Goodlatte declined to comment Thursday on whether he plans to take up Nadler’s resolution.
The last resolution of inquiry to see floor action was in 1995, when the House voted to order President Bill Clinton to release documents on the Mexican economy and International Monetary Fund activities.
Nadler said the maneuver will force Republicans to debate their role in holding Trump accountable for his potential business conflicts and possibly force every member of Congress to vote on the matter. Should the resolution come to the floor, Republicans would likely move to table it, Nadler said: “That means every Republican will have to vote, in effect, on whether or not to abdicate their responsibility to have oversight.”
He added that while his might be the first resolution of inquiry to be filed in the 115th Congress, it will probably not be the last: Democrats on other congressional committees, he said, are likely to file their own resolutions in the months and years to come.