WASHINGTON (CN) – House Republicans on Tuesday effectively killed an effort from Democrats to prod the Justice Department to devote greater scrutiny to 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 attempts by Democrats to pressure their Republican colleagues in regard 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 the election.
“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 voted to report the resolution unfavorably with an 18 -16 vote.
The vote did not kill the bill outright, but sent it to the House floor with the recommendation that the full body 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 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. But Nadler said later that Democrats have sent multiple letters to the Justice Department looking for this information but have hear nothing back.
In an interview after the hearing Nadler said the hearing was the first time he had heard about the letter, but acknowledged if it ends up being similar to what he put in the failed 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 is important, especially if it is signed by the minority members too.”
Goodlatte also offered an amendment correcting a mistake in the resolution that referenced a provision preventing heavy drinkers from serving in the competitive service rather than one related to receiving foreign gifts.
“This resolution is about politics, not information,” Goodlatte said.
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 send documents about Trump’s business dealings, including investments by foreign governments into his companies, the details of his plan to hand over his business to his adults son and other looks at places where he might have run afoul of federal ethics laws.
In addition the resolution asked for documents on any “criminal or counterintelligence investigation” looking into Trump, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The Trump confidants referenced in this section have all been accused of having cozy relationships with Russia, especially Flynn, who resigned from the White House amid reports that he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office.
The committee also struck down by a 15-18 a resolution from Rep. Ted Deutch D-Fl., asking for communications between the White House and FBI officials, referencing a CNN report that the White House asked the FBI to publically 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 15-16 vote.
The resolution was essentially doomed before the vote even happened, as Republicans have more seats on House committees because they are in the majority. The debate on the committee was no different than 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 on the need to protect Democracy and criticizing Trump.
The hearing on the resolution was unusually crowded, with a large line of people waiting for hours for the committee to debate 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.