GOP Blocks Democratic Gambit to Obtain DOJ File on Trump Ethics

  • House Democrats lose panel vote on query to Justice Department
  • Top Republican says his own request for briefing was ignored

The House Judiciary Committee defeated a Democratic effort Tuesday to obtain any information the Justice Department has on possible conflicts, ethical violations or improper connections to Russia by President Donald Trump and his associates.

The committee’s Republican chairman, Bob Goodlatte, opposed the resolution, even as he acknowledged the Justice Department hasn’t acted on his own request for a briefing on alleged Russian interference with the U.S. election and potential ties to the Trump campaign.

"Having not received a briefing," Goodlatte of Virginia said he and other committee members plan to ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a letter this week to pursue "all legitimate investigative leads" into any criminal conduct regarding those matters.

Goodlatte said the Democratic resolution seeking information from the Justice Department was "unnecessary and premature" and motivated mainly by a political effort to force Republicans "to vote on Trump." The measure, H. Res 111, was rejected in a 16-18 vote.

The House and Senate intelligence panels began investigating in late January what intelligence officials said was Russian meddling in the U.S. elections aimed at benefiting Trump. On Monday, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and top panel Democrat Adam Schiff said they had agreed on expanded boundaries of their mostly closed-door investigation.

The ranking Democrat on House Judiciary, John Conyers of Michigan, equated Republican opposition to Tuesday’s resolution to members of the same committee voting in 1974 against impeaching President Richard Nixon. He said the resolution Tuesday was "not as weighty" as impeachment, but wondered how history would judge the vote.

The room was packed by spectators from some of the groups that have organized protests at lawmakers’ town halls across the country. Occasional outbreaks of applause and boos punctuating lawmakers’ comments prompted Goodlatte to hammer his gavel for silence.

Rarely Used

Goodlatte said the type of resolution sought by the Democrats has been brought to the House floor only twice in 71 attempts over the past 70 years. In any case, he said it would have had "no greater legal force than sending the attorney general a letter requesting this information."

Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the resolution’s main sponsor, said it covered two broad areas: "President Trump’s breathtaking web of business entanglements, which he has refused even to disclose, and the close relationship he and his aides appear to have with Russia."

“Is Donald Trump already violating the Constitution?" Nadler asked. He questioned whether Trump is accepting payments from foreign powers or whether his campaign colluded with Russia to intervene in the election or hack the Democratic National Committee’s computers.

Nadler acknowledged that one goal was to get Republicans who control the committee to cast recorded votes on the issue.

"Today, we will find out who wants to know the truth and who wants to bury their heads in the sand," he said.

Before the meeting, people hoping to get a seat formed a long line down two halls outside the hearing room. "I want to see Trump’s conflicts of interest investigated," said Diane Alejandro of nearby Fairfax County, Virginia. She was later escorted out by police after shouting, "This is the business" of the committee.