In a preview of the aggressive oversight Democrats plan to unleash in the next Congress, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee sent more than 50 letters Wednesday to the Trump administration demanding answers about everything from family separations at the border to the Flint water crisis to security clearances and Cabinet secretary travel.
Many of the questions are ones Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, has asked before, but the letters have new weight behind them now that Democrats will control the House of Representatives in January and will have subpoena power.
“These are documents that even the Republicans on the Oversight Committee – at least at some point in time – believed we needed to conduct effective oversight, but when the Trump administration refused to comply fully, the Republicans would not issue a single subpoena,” Cummings wrote in a statement.
“Many of these requests were bipartisan, and some are now more than a year old. As Democrats prepare to take the reins in Congress, we are insisting – as a basic first step – that the Trump administration and others comply with these Republican requests.”
Reissuing requests for information has been the strategy across several committees on Capitol Hill, a kind of warning of the potential subpoenas to come. Incoming Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has re-sent a whole scope of letters he sent when in the minority on questions related to immigration, white nationalism and the firing of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Cummings demanded that the White House and federal agencies comply with the requests by January 11, 2019.
House Oversight Democrats sent multiple letters to Trump’s Cabinet secretaries including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Elaine Chao at the Department of Transportation, Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, Steve Mnuchin at Treasury, Sonny Perdue at Agriculture, Mike Pompeo at State, Andrew Wheeler at the Environmental Protection Agency, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and many others. A letter was also sent to Trump’s outgoing chief of staff John Kelly.
The letters all ask for documents relating to use of government-owned vehicles for personal travel or private, non-commercial aircraft for official travel.
Cummings writes that the committee requested these documents in September 2017 and October 2017 and the committee has not received a response. The letter reminds the Cabinet members that Democrats will hold the majority.
“I intend to continue this investigation in the next Congress,” he wrote.
Several members of Trump’s Cabinet have faced questions about taxpayer-funded travel. Trump’s former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign last year for his use of private charter aircraft. The agency’s inspector general found Price spent $1.2 million on charter and military aircraft travel for 21 trips. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt also faced scrutiny for his spending on travel.
Cummings also remains focused on misconduct at the EPA under Pruitt, who resigned his post in June amid multiple ethics controversies, including questions about his spending, housing arrangements, large security team and salary raises for political appointees. A CNN investigation also found Pruitt and his staff held regular meetings to “scrub,” alter or remove controversial events from his calendar.
Cummings is calling for Wheeler, the current EPA chief, to “comply with the committee’s previous requests for documents regarding former administrator Scott Pruitt.” Democrats’ original request for this information was made earlier this year.