Document requests from House aren't 'attacks' — they're a welcome return to normal

Document requests from House aren't 'attacks' — they're a welcome return to normal
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings/Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings/Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, the chairmen of the House committees on Oversight, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence sent requests for documents from a variety of sources. Many media outlets, including of course the Trump propaganda network, have painted this as Democrats “going after” Donald Trump, “expanding” their investigation, and “attacking” Trump, his family, and his business. But there’s a simpler term for it: doing their jobs. If the numerous requests seem like a flood, there’s a simple explanation for that, as well. For the last two years, Republicans have not been doing their jobs.

In the Intelligence Committee alone, Democrats had previously requested the subpoena of over three dozen documents and two dozen witnesses. Every single one of those requests was denied, or simply ignored, by committee Chair Devin Nunes. While interest in some new documents related to Trump’s business has increased in the last few months due to testimony of witnesses such as Michael Cohen, and questioning that gave these committees good reason to seek additional information, the majority of items on that list that went out Monday had first been requested more than a year ago.

The story isn’t how much Democrats are going after Trump. It’s how much Republicans have done to shield Trump from the normal oversight role that Congress has performed in the past. That reticence to look at the activities of the executive is the real deviation from normal.

It’s certainly not what Republicans intended to do if the 2016 election had ended with the expected outcome. As the Washington Post reported at the time, two weeks before the election, Republicans were already stockpiling the items they wanted to dig into following a Hillary Clinton victory. Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz called it a “target-rich environment,” and said that Republicans had “two years’ worth of material already lined up.” Paul Ryan was praising the “vigorous oversight” that had already been done on the nation’s most critical issue … her emails. Jim Jordan, the same Jim Jordan so enraged that the nation would take time to question Cohen, had already indicated himself ready to convene a ninth investigation of events in Benghazi. It’s not even as if Republicans have been idle in issuing subpoenas over the last two years. Nunes has notably subpoenaed dozens of documents and witnesses from the Justice Department, in defense of Trump.

The House committee requests for information on Trump aren’t an assault. They’re not payback. They’re not even unusual, except in the sense that so many items have accumulated that clearly need attention. It’s just Democrats addressing the backlog that built up as Republicans whistled their way past real scandals—and conducted more investigations of Hillary Clinton anyway.

Now that Democrats have regained control of the House, that last point seems particularly jaw-dropping. At the same time that Republicans failed to honor a single request for information on Trump, they opened multiple new investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server. And when that proved an insufficient number of Clinton investigations, they added three more on the already investigated and cleared Uranium One deal. And they announced still more to look at the Clinton Foundation. And while all these investigations were underway, both before and after the election, Republicans did not hesitate to provide their insightful analysis that Clinton was guilty, guilty, guilty, even if they hadn’t yet found the evidence.

As the Washington Post reported, Nunes made it clear to Republican donors at the time of the 2018 election that Republicans saw the House not in its constitutional role of providing oversight of the executive branch, but as Trump’s shield. Even if that meant shielding Trump from the outcome of genuine investigations. “If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president,” said Nunes, “We’re the only ones, which is really the danger.” That does represent a danger, all right, though not the one that Nunes was speaking about.

The new House requests for documents from Donald Trump are, as the Wall Street Journal reports, a sign that Democrats are intensifying the investigation of Trump and those around him. What they are not is evidence that Democrats are “unhinged” or “overtly partisan.” These are serious matters that have not been subjected to serious investigation in the past. The only report issued to date on any aspect of the requests is the report that came from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee under Nunes. That report not only excluded important information surfaced during the extremely limited “investigation,” but also ignored requests for both document and witness subpoenas and was released before a single Democrat on the committee could even see the result, much less contribute.

There were so many requests from the House because there is so much still to be done. That’s what happens when Republicans spend two years not only failing to fulfill Congress’ oversight obligations, but defending Trump rather than the nation. These are serious requests, on serious matters, and it’s time they were taken seriously.

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