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Opinion | The End of Impunity

Democrats who are likely to head key committees say they aren’t planning revenge; it’s important to them to show that they can govern. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wants to make sure Democrats emphasize bread-and-butter issues like the rise in prescription drug prices. “One thing I’m not looking for is retribution,” he told me. “I’m just trying to get to regular order, I swear to God.”

But regular order entails a level of accountability that the Trump administration has never faced. Adam Schiff, who is poised to lead the House Intelligence Committee if Democrats win a majority, plans to renew the committee’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. (He insists that for Democrats, the investigation never stopped.) Schiff said he’ll look at the work being done by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and by the Senate Intelligence Committee, and figure out where the gaps might be. “One that I would put as very important is the issue of whether the Russians were laundering money through the Trump Organization,” he said.

If Democrats prevail in November, his committee won’t be the only one examining Trump’s finances. Under a rarely used 1924 law passed after the Teapot Dome scandal, leaders of three congressional committees — the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation — can each demand to see the president’s tax returns. “You’re not going to find out whether this president put the United States in jeopardy because of his financial dealings unless you get his tax returns,” said Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat who sits on the Ways and Means Committee and has made obtaining Trump’s tax returns a signature issue.

Earlier this month, after the ProPublica revelation that Mar-a-Lago members were dictating Veterans Affairs policy, the House Democrats Julia Brownley and Annie Kuster wrote a letter calling for an investigation by the department’s inspector general. “Taxpayers want to know that their tax dollars are going to high-quality care for our nation’s heroes, not to line the pockets or egos of President Trump’s billionaire boys club,” Brownley said at the time. In a Democratic House, Brownley and Kuster would be in line to run key Veterans Affairs subcommittees, where they’ll be in a position to demand answers. “The goal, obviously, will be to get to the truth,” said Brownley.

Cummings, meanwhile, said he plans a two-lane process, combining attention to national issues that transcend Trump with scrutiny of the administration. “We are in a fight for the soul of our democracy,” he said. “So I understand that for me to effectively do that second lane that I just talked about — voting rights and all those good things, prescription drugs — I need to have the democracy intact.” The Trump administration, he said, needs to be exposed, which might mean hearings into the way Trump is profiting off the presidency, or on abuses of the security clearance process. “What we’re going to have to do is try to create a new but appropriate sense of what is normal,” Cummings said.


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