WASHINGTON (CN) – House Republicans on Tuesday effectively killed an effort from Democrats to request documents from the Justice Department regarding President Donald Trump’s potential business ties, ethical conflicts and relationship with Russia.
The resolution, put forward by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., is the latest in a series of calls from Democrats to put pressure on Republicans to give greater scrutiny to Trump’s tangle of business interests and the mountain of charges that Trump’s campaign had improper contacts with the Russian government during and after his election run.
“The public deserves to know the truth about the president and we must not stop until we get these answers,” Nadler said before the committee decided to report the resolution unfavorably with an 18-16 vote.
The vote does not outright ruin the bill’s chances, but instead sends it to the House floor with the recommendation that the House vote against it.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the resolution was “unnecessary, premature and not the best way for the committee or the House to conduct oversight over the issues covered by the resolution.”
He also criticized the resolution as politically motivated, noting it would not have any more legal authority to force Attorney General Jeff Sessions to respond than would a simple letter from members of Congress.
Goodlatte said he plans to send a letter to Sessions requesting similar information later this week.
Nadler claimed that Democrats have already sent multiple letters to the Justice Department seeking this information without any response.
In an interview after the hearing, Nadler said the hearing was the first time he had learned about the letter, but acknowledged that its ends are the same as those of his faltering resolution.
“Legally, there’s no difference, he’s right,” Nadler said. “Had we passed this resolution, it does not have the force of law, it’s a request, although a very strong request from the committee to the attorney general. A letter from the chairman, I don’t know if it’s as strong, but certainly it’s important, especially if it is signed by the minority members, too.”
Other Republicans, particularly Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., tried to draw a distinction between opposing Nadler’s resolution and their desire to know about foreign attempts to influence the election.
“I think we need to limit ourselves to what we know, what we can know and what we need to know,” Issa said.
But Democrats supporting Nadler insisted the resolution was the beginning of an investigation into Trump’s ethical conflicts and ties to the Russian government.
The resolution would have asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to share documents with Congress about Trump’s business dealings, including investments by foreign governments into his companies and the details of his plan to hand over his business to his adults sons, as well as other places where he might have run afoul of federal ethics laws.
In addition, the resolution asked for documents on any “criminal or counterintelligence investigation” involving Trump, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
These particular Trump confidants have been accused of having cozy relationships with Russia. Flynn resigned from the White House amid reports that he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office.
In an 18-15 vote, the committee also struck down a resolution from Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fl., asking for communications between the White House and FBI officials, which referenced a CNN report that the White House asked the FBI to publicly condemn reports that people close to Trump communicated with Russian officials during the campaign.
Another amendment, offered by Rep. Hakeem Jefferies, D-N.Y., would have asked for documents related to the circumstances under which Sessions would recuse himself from an investigation into Trump. Jefferies’ resolution fell by a 16-15 vote.
Nadler’s resolution was essentially doomed before the vote even happened, as the Republican majority gives them more seats on House committees. The debate on the committee mirrored arguments about Russian interference and Trump’s ethical conflicts that have raged across Capitol Hill since the election.
Republicans did not take many opportunities to speak, instead listening as Democrats gave lengthy speeches criticizing Trump and emphasizing the need to protect democracy.
The hearing on the resolution was unusually packed, with a large line of people waiting for hours as the committee debated other bills before getting to Nadler’s proposal. The crowd was staunchly pro-resolution, clapping after speeches from Nadler and other Democrats on the merits of the proposal.
Some who attended the hearing and were standing in the hall during a break to allow members to attend a vote applauded as Nadler walked by.