The real damage the House Democratic probes could do to the Trump White House

The North Portico of the White House is seen, Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, in Washington. The partial government shutdown will almost certainly be handed off to a divided government to solve in the new year, as both parties traded blame Friday and President Donald Trump sought to raise the stakes in the weeklong impasse. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (SBG) - When freshly sworn-in freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., was captured on video this week vowing to impeach President Trump – for whom she used a crude expletive – it undermined reassurances provided by DemocratIc Party leaders that they would not use the control of the House of Representatives that they won in November’s midterm elections to try to oust Trump from office.

Yet the episode also underscored the overt promises that Tlaib’s party leaders have repeatedly made, during and after the elections, to use the chairmanship of key House committees to investigate the president thoroughly, and across a broad array of issues, perhaps culminating in impeachment. With Democrats now assuming the gavel in the various committee rooms, that promise is about to become a reality – with potentially profound consequences for the Trump White House’s ability to advance its “Make America Great Again” agenda.

“We're going to use the subpoena power if we have to,” incoming Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., told CBS News on January 2.

Nadler and his fellow chairs are said to be preparing committee probes into the president’s immigration policy, his dealings with Russia, the tax returns he has refused to disclose, the operations of the Trump hotel in Washington, and other issues. To be sure, the president’s antagonists reject any suggestion that their motivation in launching this onslaught of investigations is political. “We have to deal with the issues of corruption not only in the House but in the administration,” Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., told Sinclair last month, “and that’s priority number one.”

“This isn’t about payback,” agreed Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., “We have all come here to not only serve our constituents but the American people.”

Armed with subpoena power, House investigators can demand that presidential aides and Cabinet officers provide documents and appear for grilling by committee members in sworn hearings. Such sessions can in turn produce referrals for criminal investigation to the Department of Justice if lawmakers determine that a witness has perjured himself before a House panel.

However, veterans of Beltway combat also note that some clashes between House investigators and the White House produce more heat than light. They cite as an example the fact that the GOP-controlled House voted to hold then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for his refusal to turn over documents relating to the gun-trafficking operation known as “Fast and Furious,” but that Holder neither produced the documents nor suffered any discernible punishment.

Instead, says former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, now a lawyer in private practice at Holland and Knight in Washington D.C., the true impact of the Democratic probes will likely be a massive drain on the resources of the Trump White House, and an attendant impediment on the ability of the Executive Branch to press the president’s domestic agenda. “It’s going to certainly tie up a lot of resources, because you're going to have secretaries and under secretaries and White House staff scurrying around to produce documents [in response to] massive demands for document production,” Davis said told Sinclair in an interview. “It's difficult to govern when you're being investigated and impeached, or whatever.

“Is there a rhythm to governing, where they can still engage in legislative activity even though there is underneath it all a lot of turbulence and animosity?...It’s been done,” Davis said, citing the operations of the Clinton White House during the impeachment trial of the forty-second president, which ended in acquittal in February 1999.

Having spent four years as chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee – one of the key House panels that uses subpoena power to investigate government operations, just renamed for the new Congress as the House Committee on Oversight and Reform – Davis has been on the issuing end of demands for testimony and evidence. He notes that under his Republican chairmanship the oversight committee investigated President George W. Bush’s administration on its conduct of the war in Iraq and its handling of Hurricane Katrina. But Davis doubts the next wave of probes, led by Democrats, will demonstrate such nonpartisanship.

“I think the Democratic base is livid at this point and thinks that the president has been vastly under-investigated, and wants to look at all aspects of his life, prior to and during the presidency,” Davis said.

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