Ever since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, they’ve focused much of their investigative firepower on President Trump. Half a dozen committees have begun probes into everything from his tax returns to whether he obstructed the investigation into his campaign and what he told the Russian president behind closed doors.
But not all investigations are created equal. Here are the most potentially damaging ones to the president, ranked in order from least to most.
6. Did Trump obstruct justice?
At least two House committees are looking into whether Trump obstructed justice, unconvinced by Attorney General William P. Barr’s conclusion that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III did not find sufficient evidence. The House Judiciary Committee will try to force Barr to hand over the unredacted report. And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), said it’s “inevitable” that Mueller will testify to Congress. Schiff also wants to know whether the FBI is still investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, regardless of the end of the special counsel investigation.
Likelihood of getting the documents: Barr said he’ll release much of the Mueller report within a week. But getting the unredacted report will be a fight, because Barr has said Congress would have to make their case before a judge to be able to see it.
What this could mean for Trump: Some on Mueller’s team say there’s more obstruction-related news in their report than the attorney general shared. But if an independent investigator ostensibly couldn’t find enough evidence to clearly implicate the president in a crime, it’s doubtful a deeply divided Congress will. And even if lawmakers did find something, it almost certainly would be viewed by many Americans through the lens of partisanship.
5. Did Trump make foreign policy decisions to enrich himself?
Schiff, the lawmaker at the center of many Russia-related investigations, said his Intelligence Committee will prioritize counterintelligence concerns, such as whether Trump could be financially compromised when he makes foreign policy decisions. Schiff specifically cited Trump’s attempts to build a tower in Moscow and his existing business ties with Saudi officials. To dig in, Schiff hired a former federal prosecutor known for tracking Russian organized crime who will help the committee look into things like whether the president’s businesses have any money laundering ties. He also wants the transcripts of all conversations Trump has had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Chance of getting the documents: Fairly low, because it’s not totally clear what exists. Trump went to great lengths to keep secret details from a two-hour conversation he had with Putin in July.
What this could mean for Trump: It’s hard to say, because it depends on what Schiff’s committee uncovers — or doesn’t. Corruption can be difficult to prove in a legal setting, since the quid pro quo (you do this for me, I’ll do that for you) is rarely a straight line. But of all allegations against Trump, his curious friendliness toward Russia and Saudi Arabia appears to irk Republicans the most. Could Schiff uncover something that turns some GOP lawmakers against the president?
4. Did Trump inflate his net worth?
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is asking one of Trump’s accounting firms for 10 years of the president’s financial documents.
They want to know if Trump fudged how much money he really had to get loans or to dodge real estate taxes. Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, testified to Congress earlier this year that Trump bumped up his net worth to try to buy the Buffalo Bills football team, for example. The committee also wants to know why Trump’s financial documents once failed to disclose some $75 million in debt on a Chicago Trump Tower.
Taken together, it’s possible these alleged actions could constitute fraud and be illegal.
Likelihood of getting the documents: Pretty high. The accounting firm, Mazars USA, is asking Congress for a “friendly subpoena” to hand over the information, House Oversight Chairman Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said.
What this could mean for Trump: Congress can’t charge Trump with a crime, and it’s likely that the Justice Department wouldn’t indict the president as long as he’s in office. But evidence that Trump repeatedly resorted to unsavory or even illegal business practices is, well, not the best way to start a presidential reelection campaign. And it could punch a hole in one of his central narrative to voters, that he’ll run the country like he runs his business.
3. Did Trump lie about getting Jared Kushner a security clearance?
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform plans to subpoena the White House’s former security director as part of its investigation into how people like Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner got security clearances over national security officials’ objections. Those objections, as detailed by a whistleblower working with the committee, included concern about these Trump officials’ ability to be blackmailed, potentially inappropriate foreign ties, conflicts of interest and drug abuse and criminal conduct. The committee wants to get the exact list of everyone who got a clearance over concerns from security experts like whistleblower Tricia Newbold.
Likelihood of getting the documents: It’s unclear whether they’ll get the full list of people granted clearances over experts’ objections. But Newbold’s boss at the White House, Carl Kline, has indicated he’s willing to talk to Congress.
What this could mean for Trump: This investigation has the potential to catch Trump in a lie. He told the New York Times in January he had no role in getting Kushner top-secret clearance after experts denied Trump’s son-in-law. But the New York Times reported the existence of memos by his former chief of staff and other White House officials documenting that Trump ordered them to give Kushner the top-secret clearance. As president, that’s Trump prerogative. But Trump is ultimately in charge of protecting the nation’s secrets, and it’s possible some of his allies worry he put that in jeopardy for his son-in-law.
2. Is there something damaging in the president’s tax returns?
The House Ways and Means committee, which oversees the IRS, requested six years of Trump’s tax returns, plus returns from some of his businesses like his golf club in New Jersey. Together, Democrats say this information represents the “core of the president’s business empire.”
Likelihood of getting the documents: If the Treasury Department refuses to hand them over, it’s looking like the battle for Trump’s taxes will play out in court. If Congress wins, a Democratic aide said it’s possible the public could see his tax returns, too. But that’s if Congress wins. The question here is not whether lawmakers can request the returns but whether they can prove they have a legitimate, legislative reason to.
What this could mean for Trump: It’s clear by now that the president doesn’t want the country to see the footprints of his financial life. He was the first major presidential candidate in decades not to voluntarily release his tax returns, raising the question: Is there something in there that he fears could be politically damaging to him? Also, this investigation has the potential to determine if Trump really was under audit during the campaign, as he claimed. (The president has repeatedly said that he won’t release the returns and that the public doesn’t care. He addressed this as recently as Wednesday, when he told reporters, “I got elected last time with the exact same issue. . . . Frankly, the people don’t care.”)
1. Did Trump play a role in illegal hush-money payments?
In February, the House Oversight Committee had Cohen testify about 2016 hush-money payments to quiet women alleging Trump had affairs with them. Now, the committee is investigating whether Trump disclosed these payments as campaign contributions (all indications are he didn’t, which would be illegal). A Democratic aide said they are also trying to interview Trump’s personal attorney, Sheri Dillon, as well as a Trump Organization lawyer, Stefan Passantino, about it.
Likelihood of getting the information: We’ll see if Trump’s lawyers talk.
What this means for Trump: Of all the investigations, this is the clearest line connecting Trump to potential illegal activity. Cohen will go to jail for three years for crimes tied to this investigation, and Cohen testified that Trump directed him to make these payments. He even provided the committee with two checks that he said showed Trump reimbursed him. If so, this could be a violation of campaign finance laws. Remember a sitting president probably can’t be indicted. But given this is already an ongoing investigation, is Trump in danger of prosecution over this if he were to lose the election in 2020?