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This Week: Administration Squirms As Congressional Oversight Swings Into Gear

February 7, 2019 4:36 p.m.

During the State of the Union address Tuesday, President Trump took a jab at the spate of investigations coming his way from House committees, newly under Democratic control.

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” the President rhymed.

Democrats were unimpressed. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the statement an “all-out threat.” She interpreted the President’s turn of phrase to mean he “wasn’t going to cooperate” on legislation “unless we didn’t exercise our constitutional responsibility to oversight,” she told the press.

This is indeed the week in which this White House is discovering the checks and balances that come along with divided government: Democrats are laying the groundwork for their legal strategy to obtain Trump’s tax returns and mulling subpoenas to get answers to their questions from Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. The House Foreign Affairs committee is investigating the role President Trump’s businesses play in the administration’s foreign policy, and the House Appropriations subcommittee is investigating administrative rule-breaking during the recent government shutdown.

The President is also facing mounting legal challenges. In a brief filed Wednesday to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the attorneys general for Maryland and Washington, D.C. — who are suing the president for violations of the Emoluments Clause — pushed back on the DOJ’s emergency request for a writ of mandamus that would allow it to avoid the discovery process. “The President is neither above the law nor exempt from litigation,” the attorneys general wrote.

Meanwhile, on Monday, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York sent a wide-ranging subpoena to Trump’s presidential inaugural committee, asking the committee to produce documents related to donors and event attendees, vendors, contracts, federal disclosure filings, and “any benefits handed out” to guests and donors, including photo ops with the president. The New York Times reported that investigators are interested in any donations by foreign individuals to the committee, which are illegal.

Perhaps relatedly, CNN reported on Tuesday that prosecutors from the Southern District are seeking interviews with top executives at the Trump Organization. Reports indicate they may be interested in potentially illegal connections between the company, the campaign and the inauguration.

Also on Tuesday, ProPublica and WNYC reported that an investment firm founded by Tom Barrack, who chaired the inaugural committee, drew up a plan one month after the inauguration to profit from its connections to the administration and to foreign dignitaries. The firm claims it never acted on the memo.

Meanwhile, the administration’s work to turn agencies against their intended purpose continues. On Wednesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau weakened rules on payday lenders, one of the primary industries the agency was created to police. The original version of the rule, which would have taken effect in August, would have required lenders to make sure that people applying for loans were able to afford them before they were granted them, and would have had the effect of closing many payday loan providers. The CFPB struck that provision and delayed the rule’s implementation.

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