Chairman of House oversight committee will seek to make independent investigation of president one of the demands in next term
President Donald Trump’s decision to appoint his own attorney general could have ramifications far beyond a loss by Republicans to keep control of the Senate in November.
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At stake are the positions of two Republicans on the House of Representatives committee that is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. That probe may determine whether Trump will face impeachment proceedings, with some analysts now even speculating that the president’s own dismissal of the attorney general may precede that move.
Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House oversight committee, on Tuesday had already promised to seek “additional information and documents” from Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, but stepped up his campaign on Wednesday.
“Russia continues to seek American electoral success,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “New information is emerging every day and those of us on the Oversight Committee have an obligation to obtain all the information available to fully evaluate the Kremlin’s influence campaign on our elections.”
He continued: “This committee will hold President Trump accountable and press forward with our bipartisan commitment to ensure that our democracy is safeguarded. The American people must have confidence that the investigation into Russian interference in our election is being conducted with full independence, independence from politics and bias from any perspective.”
The committee is conducting a parallel inquiry with the Senate intelligence committee, which is already investigating possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.
The push for a committee-wide investigation of Russia, Trump and the election is a move strongly opposed by the Trump White House.
Quick guide Donald Trump and impeachment Show Hide Why now? Trump’s approval ratings are low – a recent Gallup poll put his approval rating at 41%, with 57% disapproving. For most of his presidency, he has not faced sustained pressure to resign or faced impeachment threats. But in recent weeks, cracks have started to appear in the Republican caucus, and conservative activists in Trump’s own party are clamouring for him to be impeached. Who initiated it? A small band of anti-Trump Republicans in Congress have been trying to force articles of impeachment before the midterm elections. How big a threat is it? The threat of impeachment is low. If Trump is removed from office, Democrats would likely take control of the House, which means they could easily impeach him and force a trial in the Senate. But such a move is highly unlikely as most Republicans in Congress support Trump and any Democrat wanting to impeach would likely be blocked by the Senate. What happens next? The Republican-controlled House may try to impeach Trump before the midterms, though even then it is unclear whether it would succeed. If it does succeed, the impeachment process is likely to last months, during which time Trump could be impeached and removed from office. But the Senate, where Republicans have a majority, is likely to vote against removing Trump. If he is impeached, Trump could still be removed from office through a conviction at a trial in the Senate. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Europe
Trump is also just one member of a likely Republican-controlled House after the midterms, further eroding the power of the Republicans to subpoena people to testify or compel witnesses to appear before the House intelligence committee, as they have done to Trump’s campaign under his predecessors.
Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, called on Barr to tell congressional leaders whether the CIA had any reason to doubt whether the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, colluded with Trump’s 2016 campaign or if there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the president.
If the congressional inquiry is closed down, Barr may have to decide whether to grant a subpoena to Trump to appear before the committee to answer those questions.
Barr will be in position to make that decision based on a set of rules governing executive privilege, especially with Congress likely to try to narrow that privilege, which does not exist in the context of congressional proceedings.
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Trump has already defended Barr’s nomination, saying on Tuesday: “Bill Barr is highly respected. He knows the DOJ backwards and forwards. He did an outstanding job under very difficult circumstances as the deputy attorney general and will do an even better job as attorney general.”
Democrats are also looking to mount investigations of Trump in the next Congress. The House intelligence committee will likely want testimony from Donald Trump Jr, the White House and others.