The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats prepare to investigate Trump from every angle

Democratic women in Congress call on the Government Oversight Committee to investigate Trump's sexual assault accusations. (Video: Reuters)

This is the third in a four-part series examining the dynamics of the new Congress. | Part one, Part two.

The majority party in the House and the Senate enjoys a wide-ranging mandate to conduct oversight of the executive branch. During any presidency, if the opposing party has control of either chamber, the president can expect intense scrutiny of his administration. But in two weeks, when Democrats officially assume control of the House, those investigative powers will be in overdrive. Some have calculated nearly 100 different areas Democrats can mine for wrongdoing by President Trump, his aides, his family, his personal business, his campaign and his policies. Come January, the White House will be mired in legal defenses as Democrats send up a dizzying number of document requests, testimony summons and possible subpoenas on issues including Russian interference in the 2016 election, immigration actions and Trump’s finances.

Democrats have slammed Republicans for failing to use Congress’s constitutional powers to provide oversight of the Trump White House. The House GOP, rather than digging in on Russia’s role in Trump’s election, investigated the FBI for bias against Trump and its handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Democrats understand that their successes in November were, in part, related to issues such as health care and jobs, but also a message from voters that there needed to be a check on Trump and his administration.

What will be the big investigations?

Democrats certainly have a lot from which to choose. Expect them early on to begin a parallel investigation to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into allegations of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia. Democrats have already said they intend to subpoena Trump’s tax returns, delve into his financial relationships with Saudi Arabia and Russia, and question potential violations of the emoluments clause, which forbids Trump from profiting from foreign governments. Then, this week’s sudden resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after Trump’s abrupt pullout of Syria invites inquiries into the administration’s foreign policy.

Who are the faces of congressional oversight and what are their roles?

The incoming chairs of 21 House committees will all be looking for areas to scrutinize Trump and his administration. But there are a few key names who will have much of the glory. At the top of the list is Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) who is going to re-up the panel’s Russia investigation. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (Mass.) will be responsible for seeking Trump’s tax returns. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) will be able to investigate all goings-on at the Justice Department and plans to make his first subpoena Trump’s acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker. Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (Calif.), who has been a Trump target, wants to dig into the president’s finances. Then there’s Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), who has broad authority to investigate anything and everything Trump-related, including the migrant family-separation policy, the handling of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and ethics violations by White House officials.

Will Democrats move to impeach Trump?

Democrats are trying to measure expectations around impeachment, with top leaders saying they want to see what Mueller’s investigation reveals before going down that road. But in recent weeks, as Mueller has brought charges against Trump associates, rhetoric around a Trump impeachment has increased, with Schiff even suggesting Trump could eventually serve jail time. Democrats may feel pressure from their base to proceed with impeachment, but even if they do, there’s no guarantee that the Senate would vote to convict and remove him. That would take a two-thirds majority of the Senate, and Republicans, who have rallied to Trump’s defense, control the upper chamber.