The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday charged that the sweeping investigation opened this week by the panel’s chairman into President Donald Trump’s campaign, administration and businesses was unconstitutional and an abuse of congressional power.
GOP Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia wrote in a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, that the new investigation was “an abuse” of Congress’ oversight power, since it was not a formal impeachment inquiry and unrelated to writing legislation.
“Such an investigation serves only one of two possible purposes: either you intend to impeach the president, for alleged crimes that have yet to be discovered, or you intend to embarrass him,” Collins wrote. “The severe overreach of your inquisition runs afoul of nearly 150 years of Supreme Court precedent and over 200 years of oversight conducted by this committee.”
The letter from Collins is another sign that Nadler’s investigation will face fierce resistance from congressional Republicans – as well as the White House and Trump, who has attacked the Democratic investigations as “presidential harassment.”
Democrats say they’re conducting the rigorous oversight of the administration that Republicans refused to do the first two years of Trump’s presidency. And one of the congressional oversight experts quoted in Thursday’s letter objected to Collins’ claim that Nadler’s effort was unconstitutional.
Nadler announced on Monday a sweeping probe, sending letters to 81 people and entities – including the White House, the Justice Department, senior campaign officials, Trump Organization officials and the President’s sons – into possible corruption, obstruction of justice and abuses of power.
“Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms,” Nadler said in a statement announcing the probe. “Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress and a core function of the House Judiciary Committee.”
Nadler said on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday that the President “very clearly” obstructed justice – the charge in articles of impeachment during the Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton presidencies – but that he would not open an impeachment inquiry at this time.
The House Judiciary Committee would be tasked with leading an impeachment proceeding if Democrats choose to pursue it.
“Before you impeach somebody, you have to persuade the American public that it ought to happen,” the New York Democrat said on Sunday.
The White House has attacked Nadler for the investigation, saying that “Democrats are not after the truth, they are after the President.”
Republican Judiciary Committee aides argued that Nadler was trying to have it both ways by investigating alleged criminal conduct, which is outside Congress’ purview, without opening an impeachment inquiry.
In Thursday’s letter, Collins said that the document requests infringe on the First Amendment rights of their targets, including “the recipients’ protected speech rights and the right to associate,” because the requests are unrelated to legislation. “Instead, your requests are part of a concerted effort to target and punish associates of the president,” wrote Collins.
The letter cites Morton Rosenberg, a longtime expert on government oversight, quoting him as saying that “the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment restricts Congress in conducting investigations.”
But Rosenberg told CNN that he doesn’t think Nadler’s effort conflicts with the Constitution.
“All they’re doing is making an invitation with these letters – an invitation to cooperate,” Rosenberg said. “That’s all.”
He said that if the House Judiciary Committee subpoenas witnesses, the committee then has to demonstrate that it has the jurisdiction, authority and “some relation, not absolute relation, to a legislative purpose.”
Rosenberg said he thought Collins is “exaggerating what’s going on here,” adding “there’s no constitutional problem” with Nadler’s investigation.