Democrats Demand Oversight on Cohen Plea, Presidential Pardons

Judiciary Committee Dems want more information about investigations into Michael Cohen, other Trump associates

House Judiciary ranking member Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and the 16 other Democrats on the committee asked Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to conduct oversight over the Justice Department’s plea deal with Michael Cohen, former attorney for President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee want to return to Washington from August recess a week early to address the new allegations that President Donald Trump violated campaign finance laws.

Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, implicated the president for directing him to violate campaign finance laws while he pleaded guilty in court in a New York courtroom Tuesday to eight counts of campaign finance, bank fraud and tax fraud.

In a letter to Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, ranking member Jerrold Nadler and the other 16 Democrats on the committee asked Goodlatte to “immediately call the Committee to order” so that Nadler and Goodlatte can hold private conversations with Justice Department officials to learn more about the “nature and process by which this investigation is proceeding.”

The Democrats’ request is “similar to and in accord with the series of private meetings” Goodlatte and Nadler have held with Department officials and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team regarding their investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, they wrote.

The Democrats also asked Goodlatte to schedule hearings on “abuse of presidential pardon authority” after Trump told Fox News he would consider pardoning his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was convicted this week for tax evasion and bank loan fraud.

Manafort faces a maximum 80 years in prison but is likely to receive a much more lenient sentence.

The Judiciary Democrats invited their GOP colleagues to help them draft a resolution officially opposing pardons by a president that would “insulate him or her from legal exposure.”

Goodlatte is not expected to agree to Democrats’ demands, which also include reconsideration of a bill, the so-called Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, that would prohibit Trump from arbitrarily firing Mueller before he can complete his investigation.

A spokesperson for Goodlatte could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Though the letter is likely to have no bearing on how the Republican-controlled committee proceeds overseeing the Justice Department’s investigations over the next few months, it does provide insight into Judiciary Committee Democrats’ priorities if they are able to wrestle control of the House after the midterm elections in November.

Party leaders, including Nadler and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have adamantly swatted down the notion that they would try to impeach Trump if they gain a majority in the chamber.

After Cohen pleaded guilty this week and implicated Trump for directing him to pay hush money to two former mistresses, including adult film star and director Stormy Daniels, more Democrats — and some Republicans — have begun speaking more candidly about what kinds of infractions Trump would have to be found guilty of for them to consider impeaching him.

The Democrats’ letter, though, does not mention impeachment. It focuses on the committee’s oversight responsibilities.

The committee is “at a crossroads,” they wrote, but “has the expertise and authority necessary to take action to protect the rule of law and trust in our governmental institutions.”

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