Politics, outsider status shield Trump from House oversight

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s status as a Washington outsider fuels his fiery populism and also is helping to shield him from the scrutiny House Republicans are devoting to Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. senator and secretary of state.

The GOP-led, subpoena-wielding Oversight and Government Reform Committee isn’t investigating Trump’s business dealings, his charitable foundation or his campaign’s ties to pro-Kremlin elements in Russia and Ukraine — all areas ripe for examination, according to Democrats, who’ve accused Republicans of targeting Clinton in a partisan attempt to influence the outcome of the election.

“Where is our investigation of Donald Trump?” Rep. Elijah Cummings, the oversight committee’s top Democrat, asked at a hearing this past week. “The answer is obvious. The Republican frenzy is focused exclusively and obsessively on Secretary Clinton. And that is for political reasons.”

But senior Republicans on the panel said Trump has never held a government job or been elected to public office. Any alleged improprieties are the jurisdiction of state or federal agencies, not Congress.

The Oversight Committee operates in a “target-rich environment with lots of different investigative possibilities,” Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, acknowledged. Yet he said he’s unaware of anything Trump is alleged to have done that would trigger a probe by his panel.

“We’ll know it when we see it,” Chaffetz told The Associated Press. “Thus far, I don’t think there’s anything in that realm that has this clear federal nexus that would really compel us to pursue it.”

Chaffetz said an improper $25,000 check sent from Trump’s personal foundation to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is a matter for state authorities.

Other allegations swirling around Trump and his campaign, such his refusal to release his tax returns and disclose his foreign business investments, are matters for the American voters to decide, according to Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the Oversight Committee’s government operations panel.

“When we’re looking at government oversight, it really has to do with previous government actions,” Meadows said. Trump, he said, “wouldn’t qualify for that.”

The hands-off approach to Trump is in contrast to the Oversight Committee’s focus on Clinton, who served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

The FBI in July closed the agency’s yearlong investigation into whether Clinton and her top aides mishandled classified information that flowed through the private email server she used. FBI Director James Comey called Clinton’s actions “extremely careless,” but said his agents found no evidence to support criminal charges.

Angered by Comey’s decision, Republicans said Clinton lied to Congress about her handling of emails when she testified last October before a House panel investigating the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks. The GOP is pressing the Justice Department to open a new investigation into whether Clinton committed perjury as the Oversight Committee seeks to keep the matter in the spotlight leading up to the election.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate whether the 2013 donation to the group supporting Bondi violated federal bribery or tax laws. The $25,000 contribution came after her office said it was weighing legal action against Trump University. Bondi’s office never sued Trump, though she denies his donation played any role in that decision.

Trump later paid a $2,500 fine over the check from his foundation because it violated federal law barring charities from making political contributions.

The AP reported last month that a firm run by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, but Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, never disclosed the work under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The 1938 law requires lobbyists to register if they represent foreign leaders or their political parties, and to disclose details about their work, including how much money they spend and receive.

Manafort and Gates said the registration was not necessary, though Manafort resigned his position with the Trump campaign. Gates is the Trump campaign’s liaison to the Republican National Committee.

Trump’s apparent affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his call in July for Moscow to help find Clinton’s missing emails also have sparked concern. He later said he was being sarcastic when he said Russia should find Clinton’s emails.

The top Democrats on four key House committees have asked the FBI to expand an ongoing investigation of cyberattacks against Democratic organizations to determine whether connections between Trump campaign officials and “Russian interests” may have contributed to the breaches.

At a recent hearing on Clinton’s emails, Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee’s national security panel, lamented the zeal with which Republicans are pursuing Clinton. The hearing, Lynch said, was a “sad goddamned day” for the oversight committee.

But Lynch told the AP that he had no interest in a congressional probe of Trump. There are higher priorities, he said, and pursuing Trump would be seen as an attempt to drag down the Republican nominee.

“It’s bad enough what they’re doing with Secretary Clinton,” Lynch said. “I would not want to get into a quid pro quo type of thing. It’s beneath the committee.”


Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner

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