by Laura Olson, the Morning Call
U.S. House Democrats launched a sweeping new probe of President Donald Trump this week, with the Judiciary Committee sending document requests to 81 people linked to the president and his associates.
The Morning Call spoke Tuesday evening with U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery County, who serves on that panel.
Dean, a former attorney and English professor, talked about the timing and intention of those requests, whether the requests lay groundwork for impeachment, and what happens next with the committee’s investigation.
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean: The three main areas we are looking into are possible obstruction of justice, possible public corruption, and possible abuses of power. I feel very, very strongly that Congress has a constitutional responsibility for oversight in order to make sure that we keep the system of checks and balances in place. We’ve spent two years with many accusations against this administration, this president, those around him, the campaign and others, and also public actions, observable actions with no oversight. I’m happy that we’re doing our job of oversight.
TMC: Why did the committee decide to make these requests for information now, as opposed to waiting for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation?
MD: I think the chairman rightly undertook this now for two reasons. One, he and I and anybody else on our side of the committee wants to make sure that the Mueller investigation is protected, but we also recognize that it is limited in scope. It is limited to investigating the links, or coordination, if any, between the Russian government and President Trump and his campaign. So with that narrow mission, there was no reason to wait in order to do a broader investigation of possible corruption or abuse of power or obstruction of justice.
The other reason not to wait is that we have waited. The American public has waited for two years. The majority party was unwilling to do any kind of check on this administration, even in the face of some indecent behaviors, frankly. So in terms of timing, I was thinking of what Martin Luther King said, that the time is always right to do what is right.
TMC: Republicans have been critical of the breadth of the document request, describing it as a fishing expedition. How do you respond to criticism on the probe’s scope?
MD: Well, one could say that it’s long and one could say that after two years’ time … many of these documents have been sought by others, including the Mueller investigators. So I don’t see it as so broad and sweeping. I think it is comprehensive. There’s no reason not to be, with two years’ of an absence of oversight. I get that the Republicans want to have that observation, but frankly, if there’s nothing to see here, then there’s going to be nothing to see here. If there are 81 requests and the requests come back and it shows business as usual with good governance, and no impropriety, no conflicts of interest, no obstruction of justice or corruption, then there was nothing to see here.
TMC: Some people are saying this is a step toward impeachment.
MD: I think about that, and I don’t leap to that. I’m just one member of the committee, but I think I share the opinion of some other folks. Impeachment, if it’s to happen, only happens as a result of facts, data, evidence, and truth. So my role, I believe as a member of this committee, is to demand and seek the truth, seek the oversight, so that we can tell the story to the American people.
I was a little girl, or at least young, at the time of the Nixon impeachment. I remember, even as a young person, the extraordinary toll that the investigations and impeachment took on our country, and the distraction from the role of our governance. I certainly would not leap to the conclusion of impeachment. I want to see where the facts and evidence takes us.
TMC: Is there a certain person on the list of 81, or group of people, that you’re particularly interested in hearing from?
MD: Number one, by way of history and maybe chronology, what happened during the campaign? What interaction did the campaign have with foreign sources? What we want to know is, was the president acting in good faith on behalf of the American people or is he acting on behalf of himself and his personal interests? Another area that I think will be illuminating is possible violation of the [U.S. Constitution’s] emoluments clause. We see very bold-faced that this president speaks about and boasts about and advertises his own projects, his own hotel. How these things fit into our constitutional obligation to not allow a violation of the emoluments clause, those are things I’ll be looking at.
A final one — interesting to me, as I care deeply about gun violence — is our request for documents from the [National Rifle Association]. What coordination, cooperation, did this administration, the campaign, before and after the election have with the NRA?
TMC: The American people are hearing a lot about various investigations by different groups within the U.S. House of Representatives. Do you see them as overlapping or parallel efforts?
MD: I absolutely believe, because I’ve talked to some of the chairs and leadership, that each committee is trying to very thoughtfully and with integrity advance in specific areas so that there’s minimal overlap. The Judiciary Committee will have some overlap with Mueller, but that’s a limited scope.
I just happened to talk to [House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman] Elijah Cummings, and I told him I was very moved by his closing statement with the Cohen hearing. His closing statement was, I thought, so beautiful and so thoughtful and not condemning. He showed compassion to this man who is in grave trouble. He said to me, “That came from the heart. … I feel an obligation, and I have said this to my fellow chairs, that anything we do, every piece of oversight that we take on, we must do with the upmost integrity.” That is the common theme that I’ve heard … they’re trying to avoid overlap as much as possible but not leave anything out.
TMC: What happens from here? There’s a deadline for responding to the document request in a couple of weeks. What’s your level of hope that there will be compliance?
MD: It will be interesting to see. Most, if not all, of these documents had been requested before, so it’s not as if they have to dig these out in an original fashion. So in some way, I thought it was wise that Chairman Nadler put a relatively limited period of time on it. There’s no sense wasting time. This is stuff that’s producible. I’m hoping there’s cooperation.
But if after the two weeks’ time there’s some reluctance to provide the information, to allow us to look into oversight, we have other levers at our disposal. The chairman has subpoena power. So we’ll keep proceeding with integrity to get the information. The American public has a right to know what has or hasn’t happened under this administration.