Democrats resume search for a 'smoking gun' to bring down Trump

With former special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s appearance before two House committees Wednesday failing to touch off a hoped-for groundswell of support for impeachment, House Democrats are returning to their search for the “smoking gun” of impeachable crimes by President Trump.

For now, they are relying on the judicial system.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that Democrats would continue to fight Trump in court.

“My position has always been whatever decision we make in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts,” Pelosi said when asked if she would pursue Trump’s impeachment. “It’s about the Congress, the Constitution and the courts. And we are fighting the president in the courts.”

Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Democrats have filed lawsuits seeking to obtain Trump’s tax returns, his financial records with Deutsche Bank, as well as the grand jury testimony from the Mueller report. Many in the media have speculated on what Trump’s tax filings might reveal, but Pelosi framed these requests specifically as an attempt to gather more information on Trump’s ties to Russia, one of the two major elements of Mueller’s report.

“As you know, the Mueller investigation could not do the president’s personal or business connections and one of those connections could be to the Russians and that’s what we want to find out,” Pelosi said.

Referencing the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration, Pelosi noted that it wasn’t until “they got the information in the tapes” that public opinion swung against the president.

Donald Trump
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

While court proceedings are likely to drag on long enough to spare Trump the spectacle of impeachment hearings before the next election, whatever Democrats do manage to uncover could be used to help prevent him from winning a second term. Here’s a look at the outstanding lawsuits filed by House Democrats against the Trump administration.

Trump’s tax returns

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal sued Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on July 2, seeking six years of Trump’s tax returns, which the committee is entitled to receive by law.

“In refusing to comply with the statute, Defendants have mounted an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to obtain information needed to conduct oversight of Treasury, the IRS, and the tax laws on behalf of the American people,” Neal’s lawsuit states.

New York state also passed a law this year allowing Congress to request state tax returns. Trump and the Trump Organization are based in New York.

In May, Mnuchin refused to honor a subpoena for the records, and this week, Trump filed a countersuit against the House committee.

“The targeting of the president by the House Ways and Means Committee, the New York Attorney General, and a New York tax official violates Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said in a statement released Tuesday.

The case will likely have implications regarding the limits of congressional oversight of the executive branch.

Bank records

In May, a federal judge in New York ruled in favor of Democrats on the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees by refusing to block subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Capital One for bank records on billions of dollars in loans made to Trump. The president and three of his children had filed suit to block the subpoenas, and they have since appealed the judge’s decision.

Grand jury testimony and witness subpoenas

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said at Wednesday’s news conference that his committee would enforce subpoenas that the White House has been attempting to block, including one to former counsel Don McGahn.

“The very next step, be it tomorrow or Friday, is we’re going into court to enforce, to ask for the grand jury material and to enforce a subpoena against Mr. McGahn.”

According to the special counsel’s report, Trump told McGahn to fire Mueller in 2017. McGahn did not obey the order.

While Democrats say that they are duty bound to clear up outstanding questions raised by the Mueller report and need the grand jury testimony the special counsel used to compile it, Republicans have been eager to close the book on the investigations.


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