Lawmakers fight for a piece of coronavirus ‘9/11 Commission’

A bipartisan traffic jam is forming to demand a painstaking investigation into the missteps and policy holes that led to a massive coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Lawmakers are circulating at least four proposals in the House intended to establish a coronavirus commission that delves deeply into the government decision-making that failed to prevent the mass illness and death now wracking the country — and to help guide preparations for any future pandemic.

It's a case study in crisis legislating. Though all four proposals are overwhelmingly similar — modeled after the 9/11 Commission that reviewed the failure to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — the backers are making competing cases for why their specific bills should advance. And the reactions they're generating have more to do with the identity of the sponsors than the substance of the measures, though Republican resistance could be an obstacle for any of the plans.

For example, a proposal by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — who President Donald Trump has fashioned as an archrival — drew instant derision from Republicans, who labeled it an effort meant to harm Trump and launch "another bogus impeachment." Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who helped lead Trump's impeachment defense, said it is too soon for Schiff to begin discussing a long-term lookback at what went wrong.

Yet Schiff's proposal is nearly identical to a measure offered by Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.), who have hailed it as a model of even-keeled bipartisanship.

"There's no room for politics during a pandemic," Murphy said in a phone interview. "I think having a bipartisan proposal is one of the key ways you can assure people you're not trying to make a political tool but rather that you're trying to get to real results and improved capabilities for the American people."

But the competing proposals arrive at a time of extreme distrust between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Though Congress passed three massive coronavirus relief bills with overwhelming bipartisan support last month, any hope of a moment of national unity has been dashed amid the rising tension of a presidential campaign and a freewheeling response to the crisis by President Donald Trump, who has lashed out at his rivals from a White House podium on a daily basis.

Any commission would also be in addition to the proposed House select committee responsible for real-time oversight of the emergency relief packages, as well as the various panels established by the $2 trillion CARES Act tasked with monitoring the funds.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Trump's meandering handling of the virus has cost lives, and her proposal for a select committee to oversee the administration's actions, helmed by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) met immediate resistance from Republicans who called it a thinly veiled effort to undermine Trump.

"It’s an open question as to whether we have our members participate in something like that. I’m not sure I would," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). "It’s so transparently political. This is just a committee to harass the president when he’s in the middle of dealing with a national crisis."

Clyburn, however, said Sunday that he didn't intend his panel to dwell on the past so much as ensure the response is handled properly going forward.

"We're not going to be looking back on what the president may or may not have done back before this crisis hit. The crisis is with us," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "The American people are now out of work, millions of them out of work. The question is whether or not the money that's appropriated will go to support them and their families, or whether or not this money will end up in the pockets of a few profiteers."

But the rapidly multiplying proposals for a forensic review of where the nation went wrong suggest the appetite for that kind of retrospective investigation is rising.

Under Schiff and Murphy's proposals, a 10-member commission would be evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats and the president would pick the chair. In each plan, the commission — armed with subpoena power – would likely begin its work after the 2020 election, an effort to insulate the panel from campaign season sniping and provide distance from the immediate coronavirus crisis as well.

A third proposal from Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), which also has bipartisan sponsors, is nearly identical as well. Under his plan, the chair of the 10-member commission would be selected jointly by the House speaker and Senate majority leader.

The three plans closely track the structure of the 9/11 commission, which was a 10-member panel, evenly divided among the political parties. Schiff and Murphy's proposal also borrow the 9/11 panel's powers: to issue subpoenas and refer any defiance for prosecution. They also require federal agencies to expedite security clearances to commission members and staff. Davis' proposal does not include these features.

House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, of Miss., listens as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf testifies before a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing on the coronavirus and the FY2021 budget, Tuesday, March 3, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The most distinct proposal comes from House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and the panel's other Democratic members. Their proposal features a 25-member commission selected entirely by the leaders of House and Senate committees. The panel would be required to begin an 18-month investigation within 45 days of the plan's passage.

Pelosi has voiced support for the concept of an "after-action" review but emphasized last week that she's more focused on the immediate crisis and would consider the structure of a commission later.

"It has to be bipartisan," she said at a Thursday news conference. "And, again, anything that affects this many people in our country, their health and affects our economy in such a major way, involves the allocation of so many trillions of dollars, we really do have to subject to an after‑action review, not to point fingers but to make sure that it doesn't happen again in the manner in which it happened, hopefully not at all."

Schiff and Thompson told POLITICO they've spoken to Pelosi about their plans but declined to characterize her response. They also indicated they've had conversations with each other about convening all of the commission sponsors to "harmonize" their plans and agree on a path forward.

Schiff said despite his reputation as a bogeyman to Republicans, he's confident he can lead a bipartisan push. He noted that even during Trump's impeachment trial, while Schiff was leading the prosecution on the Senate floor, he helped drive a bipartisan House effort to recognize the Armenian genocide.

"I can't worry about what the Republicans who view this from a partisan point of view are going to do," Schiff said, contending that most of his GOP colleagues would "support good policy, notwithstanding the fact that Fox demonizes me."

"I'm certainly doing whatever I can do to make the structure of this something that can be embraced by both parties,” he added.

Schiff said he's been conferring with Tim Roemer, a former architect of the 9/11 Commission, to structure his proposal. Murphy, on the other hand, cites her experience as a national security official, who joined the Pentagon after the Sept. 11 attacks and focused on strategic planning. Murphy, a leader of the House's moderate Blue Dog Democrats, has warned her caucus against appearing too partisan in their responses to coronavirus.

"Both parties can share some responsibility for having played a little bit of politics on this issue," she said.

Thompson said the goal of a commission would be distinct from the multiple layers of oversight that Congress has approved to monitor the ongoing coronavirus response, including the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars to shore up the economy amid the pandemic.

The recently passed $2 trillion CARES Act included a congressional commission to oversee the Trump administration's handling of the funds, a special inspector general to review the funding decisions and a committee of federal watchdogs to oversee the entire implementation of the law.

"I think it's not too soon to start thinking about how can we guarantee the American people that if something like this would happen again, there is a doable plan in place that can be executed," Thompson said. "I don't think there's any question about [whether] this helter-skelter response to this pandemic is orderly, transparent or effective."

"I just think the interest of the American public would be better served," Thompson continued, "if we can look back on this pandemic and make America stronger."

Sarah Ferris contributed reporting to this story.

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House Judiciary Committee postpones March 31 Barr hearing

House Democrats had billed Attorney General Bill Barr’s March 31 testimony as a crucial opportunity to unearth answers about President Donald Trump’s efforts to influence Justice Department decisions related to two former associates. Now the Judiciary Committee has postponed it indefinitely.

The hearing is the latest to succumb to the lockdown on Capitol Hill, where only the Senate remains in session attempting to hammer out a massive coronavirus relief package. All matters not related to coronavirus have been effectively shelved.

But the hearing with Barr, which had remained on the books despite clear indications that coronavirus concerns would force its postponement, had been viewed as a crisis-level moment for lawmakers until the pandemic swept the globe.

Barr hadn’t appeared before the House Judiciary Committee in his 14-month stint as attorney general, and Democrats on the panel had pent-up questions about his handling of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller, as well as his role in the decision-making pertaining to the handling of a whistleblower report that set the stage for Trump’s impeachment for pressing Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals. And most recently, Barr had voiced exasperation at Trump over the president’s Twitter attack on prosecutors for recommending a harsh sentence for Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate convicted for impeding the congressional investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

“Due to overwhelming health and safety concerns, the @HouseJudiciary will postpone our March 31st oversight hearing with Attorney General Barr,” the panel’s chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), tweeted on Monday afternoon. “DOJ has made a commitment to rescheduling the hearing for when the crisis abates and the Committee is able to reconvene.”

A Justice Department spokesman confirmed that the department had committed to rescheduling the hearing at a later date.

The decision underscores the fact that nearly all inquiries and investigations led by Congress are on pause amid the coronavirus response, which has superseded nearly everything else in American life.

The hearing was announced on Feb. 12, just a week after the Senate acquitted Trump of two articles of impeachment accusing him of abuse of power and obstructing congressional investigations. Trump quickly embarked on an effort to push out of his orbit officials he viewed as having provided damaging information to lawmakers or those deemed insufficiently loyal to the president. That included the removal of the former U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., Jessie Liu, whom Trump nominated to a senior Treasury post, a nomination he subsequently withdrew.

In a subsequent letter to the Justice Department, Nadler requested reams of documents and access to high-level witnesses that he said could speak to Trump’s influence on department decisions and whether politics had seeped into prosecutorial decisions. Nadler sought interviews with four Justice Department prosecutors who quit the Stone case after Barr overruled their decision to seek a sentence of more than seven years and suggested that the judge consider a lower penalty. Barr’s decision came just hours after Trump attacked the prosecutors in the case.

Barr later told a television interviewer that he wished Trump would stop tweeting about Justice Department matters, a request that Trump repeatedly ignored in subsequent days.

Democrats also raised questions about Barr’s decision to tap U.S. attorneys across the country for special assignments related to some of the matters of particular interest to Trump. For example, they asked the Justice Department to interview John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, who is leading a wide-ranging investigation into the origin of the FBI’s 2016 Trump-Russia investigation.

It’s unclear whether the department provided documents at Nadler’s request. But those issues quickly faded as coronavirus became the nation’s foremost concern, sidelining all other public policy matters and congressional inquiries.

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Judiciary Committee says McGahn ruling leaves only extreme options — such as arrests — to get White House info

House lawyers argued Friday that an appeals court ruling blocking lawmakers from suing to obtain information from the executive branch would leave Congress with little choice but to exercise extreme options — such as arresting “current and former high-level” officials to get answers to its subpoenas.

“The House could direct its sergeant at arms to arrest current and former high-level executive branch officials for failing to respond to subpoenas, after which the legal issues dividing the branches would then be litigated through habeas actions,” House lawyers wrote in a filing seeking a rehearing of the matter by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. “But arrest and detention should not be a prerequisite to obtaining judicial resolution of the enforceability of a congressional subpoena.”

The filing comes a week after an appeals court panel ruled 2-1 that the House may not ask judges to force the White House to make former counsel Don McGahn available for testimony. The panel determined that courts have no place intervening in disputes between Congress and the executive branch, a ruling that would remake the balance of power between the two branches of government if it stands.

The judges in that ruling worried that allowing the House to turn to the courts to resolve a subpoena dispute with the White House would lead to a flood of litigation. Though two of the three judges doubted the White House’s argument that McGahn is “absolutely immune” from testifying to Congress, the opinion said the House lawsuit failed altogether because the courts don’t have a say.

House lawyers said these arguments were bogus and left lawmakers with a menu of unpalatable options to obtain information the White House doesn’t want to provide. In addition to arresting people, the House could “use its appropriations power to shut down the government in response to executive stonewalling.”

“The panel’s belief that Congress can use ‘political tools to bring the Executive Branch to heel’ is sorely misguided,” House Counsel Doug Letter wrote in the filing. “Use of the appropriations process to grind the Government to a halt over a subpoena dispute would be extraordinary and immensely damaging to the whole Nation. Appealing to the public in the next election does not aid this Committee in its urgent inquiries. Impeachment is not an appropriate means to obtain information — indeed, President Trump ordered all subpoenaed documents withheld from Congress during the House’s impeachment inquiry.”

“Nor is referring the matter to DOJ for a contempt prosecution — a referral that DOJ has made clear it would not pursue ... a proper substitute for judicial enforcement of subpoenas,” Letter added.

House counsel also noted that in the 2-1 ruling, the judges said impeachment is an option to force the production of information — a position that directly contradicts the argument made by White House lawyers during the impeachment trial that ended last month.

“[T]he panel did not acknowledge that, while this case was pending, President Trump’s White House counsel argued to the Senate that the president could not be impeached for obstruction of Congress because the House had not first sought judicial enforcement of its subpoenas,” the House noted, “a route that the panel has now held would have been futile, at the urging of President Trump’s DOJ.”

Letter also denied that allowing the House to sue for McGahn’s testimony would unleash a tsunami of litigation by Congress, and in fact denying the effort would ensure more stonewalling by Trump or future administrations.

“As this case has proven, such cases may take months or years to resolve; accommodation, wherever possible, is far preferable,” he argued. But without even the possibility of judicial enforcement, “[f]uture Presidents may direct widescale noncompliance with lawful Congressional inquiries, secure in the knowledge that Congress can do little to enforce a subpoena short of directing a Sergeant at Arms to physically arrest an Executive Branch officer ... By encouraging Presidential stonewalling, the court effectively dismantles the accommodation process.”

McGahn was a central witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election — and whether President Donald Trump criminally obstructed the probe. He testified that Trump ordered him more than once to end the investigation and produce a false record about his efforts.

The House sought McGahn’s testimony last May, but the White House asserted that he was “absolutely immune” from complying with a congressional investigation and ordered him not to appear. McGahn complied with that order even though he had left the White House months earlier.

The House sued to force McGahn’s testimony last August and won an initial ruling at the District Court level. The 2-1 appeals court decision reversed that opinion, and now the House is seeking full “en banc” appeals court review to try to wrest back the upper hand.

In its earlier arguments, the House said it needed McGahn’s testimony as part of its impeachment push against Trump, noting that McGahn could speak to a “pattern” of obstructive behavior by the president. Letter even indicated the House could seek McGahn’s testimony during the impeachment trial in order to garner new evidence.

Letter’s latest filing acknowledges the end of the impeachment trial last month, which resulted in a near-party-line acquittal on charges that Trump abused his power and obstructed congressional investigations. But the House counsel indicates that the House still wants McGahn’s testimony in order to consider potential legislation governing the president’s relationship with the Justice Department.

He also says impeachment could be back on the table if McGahn’s testimony reveals evidence of criminal obstruction of justice or other potential high crimes.

“The Committee would have to consider whether to recommend new articles of impeachment,” he wrote.

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Dems tread cautiously on Trump investigations after impeachment

The House's investigations of President Donald Trump have gone underground.

Since Trump's Feb. 5 acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial, the Democrats who led the prosecution have taken no public steps to reignite the probe that threatened Trump's presidency — his effort to get Ukraine to investigate his political adversaries — despite arguing at trial that there were reams of evidence yet to emerge.

They've issued no new subpoenas or requests for witness interviews and documents, and they've made no new efforts to go to court to pry loose evidence blocked by the White House. Separate efforts to access Trump's financial records and other potentially damaging evidence about his conduct have been bottled up in courts for months.

As a result, the investigations that animated the House's Trump-focused oversight work since taking the majority in 2019 has gone relatively quiet — just as Trump has embarked on a government-wide retribution campaign and appeared less restrained than ever before.

The change in posture is an acknowledgment, House Democrats say, that in a world where Senate Republicans are bear-hugging Trump, and the courts are declining to operate at the speed of the congressional calendar, there are very few options that a single chamber of Congress can pursue short of withholding funds for agencies like the Justice Department — particularly when impeachment is no longer in their election-year arsenal.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 12:  Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) questions witnesses during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee's Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee members questioned corporate leaders and other experts testified about the

"There is nothing that Donald Trump can do that would cause [Senate Republicans] to convict him of high crimes and misdemeanors," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who serves on the House Judiciary Committee. "So that has caused everybody in the House to take a deep breath and figure out what our next steps are."

"That leaves us legislative and political answers," Raskin added.

In other words, the end of the impeachment process has become the advent of a new, narrower focus on what Democrats say is a crucial theme revealed by their efforts: Trump's indifference to, or even encouragement of, foreign interference in the 2020 election. It's a throughline, they say, of Trump's behavior toward Russia, his treatment of Ukraine and his public comments on whether he would reject foreign help in future elections.

Now, rather than revive the smashmouth impeachment approach that they adopted throughout the fall and winter, Democrats say they intend to use their investigative weapons to highlight these election security themes and keep pressure on Republicans who chided Trump for his behavior in Ukraine but ultimately acquitted him for it.

"I would argue that impeachment actually served its purpose. It highlighted for people what we're dealing with here and what the stakes are," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). "I would say it set the table for people to take a good hard look at what I think impeachment helped to remind us of, what a threat that represents, and conveniently for us his behavior subsequently has only made our case for us."

Democrats are pondering whether to pass new election security measures, putting them in the Senate's court as the primary gets underway. And they're planning to drive a consistent election security message as the nation's focus shifts toward the November election.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced a March 10 intelligence community briefing for lawmakers, and she's slammed Trump for what she says is politicizing the intelligence community, in part by installing Richard Grenell, a loyalist ambassador, as the acting director of national intelligence. News reports that Russia is already interfering in the upcoming election have returned the issue to the fore.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 24: House impeachment manager Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) walks outside the Senate chamber after impeachment trial proceedings against President Donald Trump adjourned for the day at the U.S. Capitol on January 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. House Democrats wrapped up opening arguments at day 4 of the Senate impeachment trial. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Separately, Democrats on Friday dusted off their Trump oversight tools and took the first steps to confront the president's campaign of post-acquittal retribution. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) requested testimony from a slew of high-profile Justice Department officials about political interference in criminal cases — including four career prosecutors who quit the case of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone earlier this month after the president intervened in his sentencing.

Since the near-party-line Senate acquittal vote, Trump has embarked on a government-wide effort to oust perceived opponents and install loyalists in senior national security roles. Trump also almost daily has assailed the judge and jury in Stone’s case as he seeks a new trial but faces a 40-month jail term for lying to House investigators. And Trump recently insinuated that New York state should drop investigations of him and his administration in order to receive more favorable treatment on national security matters, a comment one of the House's impeachment prosecutors said proved Trump was "expanding his abuse of power to blackmailing U.S. states."

Still, the absence of a focus on Ukraine, along with some Democrats' urging to leave the president's fate to the voters, is a shift from House Democrats' forceful argument during the impeachment process that their focus on the issue must continue even in the event of a Senate acquittal. During the Senate trial, Democrats insisted that if Trump were acquitted, the integrity of the 2020 election — and indeed American democracy itself — would be at risk at the hands of a president thirsty for vengeance and believing himself free of accountability.

"For precisely this reason, the president's misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the House's top impeachment prosecutor, argued on the Senate floor.

The House Intelligence Committee is declining to discuss the status of its Ukraine probe — or any others that may have begun since the impeachment trial — leaving open to prospect that its Trump-related work is continuing even though it has taken no public steps. That includes any actions to confront a series of loose ends.

“While we won’t specifically comment on any ongoing or new investigations that have not been publicly announced, the committee is continuing to pursue a number of investigations, along with the committee’s important oversight work focused on ensuring that our intelligence community is protecting the nation and our upcoming elections are free and fair," said Patrick Boland, a spokesman for the Intelligence Committee.

Six Democrats, including two Intelligence Committee members, on Wednesday wrote to the World Bank head David Malpass about a trip he took to Ukraine in late August, while military aid was on hold and Trump's allies continued to press Ukraine for politically motivated investigations.

But there are other indications that the Ukraine matter has moved off the frontburner.

When one witness to the Ukraine scandal, White House budget chief Russ Vought, came before the House Budget Committee earlier this month, no Democrats asked him about why millions of dollars in aid were withheld from Ukraine, even though he had defied a House Intelligence Committee subpoena to testify in November. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faced questions from the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday about coronavirus and the administration handling of Iran policy, but no Democrats inquired about Ukraine, despite Pompeo defying demands for documents from House impeachment investigators last year.

In recent days, three of the House's top lawyers leading the impeachment drive — Judiciary Committee lawyers Barry Berke and Norm Eisen, as well as Intelligence Committee counsel Dan Goldman – have left their posts to return to the private sector. All three helped drive the House's Ukraine investigation and impeachment strategy and know the intricate details of the case.

Similarly, though Democrats focused the bulk of the Senate trial on convincing Republicans to call former national security adviser John Bolton as a witness, the House has taken no post-trial action to force Bolton's testimony on their side, even as the ex-Trump aide has spent recent days giving public speeches. During Trump’s impeachment trial, the New York Times reported that Bolton wrote in his unpublished manuscript that the president told him that aid to Ukraine would remain frozen until the country helped with investigations into his political rivals.

One reason, Democrats say, is Bolton has made clear he would resist any such demands for his testimony from the Democrat-led House even though he said he’d testify to the Senate if subpoenaed, likely leading to a lengthy court battle that would extend well past the 2020 election. Bolton is slated to publish his book next month on his tenure in the White House, and Democrats have indicated the notes he took while working at Trump's side could be valuable new evidence.

And Democrats absorbed a huge body blow to renewing its Mueller-related investigation Friday when a federal appeals court rejected its effort to compel testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn, a star witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In the 2-1 ruling, the court rejected the suggestion that Congress can sue to resolve this type of dispute with the Executive Branch, suggesting instead that Congress turn to its other tools: withholding appropriations, blocking nominations, censure, marshaling public opinion — and even impeachment. It's unclear if the House will appeal that decision.

Another ruling is expected any day on the House's suit to force the Justice Department to turn over Mueller's grand jury material to congressional investigators.

In both cases, the House has argued that they need the testimony because they could form the basis of additional articles of impeachment against Trump, including for obstruction of justice. In fact, House lawyers had initially suggested that McGahn could have been made to testify during the Senate impeachment trial to provide evidence of a pattern of efforts by Trump to obstruct probes of his conduct.

Similarly, several House attempts to access Trump's personal financial records are pending before the Supreme Court. The House filed a brief in that matter Wednesday but is unlikely to see a ruling until June.

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Nadler seeks interviews with prosecutors who quit Roger Stone case

House Democrats are seeking interviews with the four career prosecutors who quit the case of Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, after Trump and Justice Department leaders intervened to demand a lighter jail sentence.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) requested the interviews in a Friday letter to Attorney General William Barr that also included broader demands for documents and testimony about allegations of political interference by Trump in the work of the Justice Department.

In the letter, Nadler seeks access to a long list of Justice Department officials who oversaw matters involving associates of the president — like former Trump campaign national security adviser Michael Flynn — or who were tapped by Barr to review cases Trump has openly criticized.

"These circumstances are deeply troubling," Nadler wrote. "Although you serve at the President’s pleasure, you are also charged with the impartial administration of our laws. In turn, the House Judiciary Committee is charged with holding you to that responsibility."

Among the officials Nadler is seeking to interview are John Durham, the U.S. attorney from Connecticut who was picked by Barr to review the origins of the FBI's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election; Jeff Jensen, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, who Barr selected to review Flynn's case; Robert Khuzami, the former New York-based prosecutor who oversaw the case against Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen; and Richard Donoghue, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who Barr picked to review all matters related to the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump's impeachment in the House last year.

But the most notable names on the list are four Stone prosecutors: Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando and Jonathan Kravis. Nadler's request for access to the career line prosecutors is an unusual step intended to circumvent the Justice Department's political leadership — and one that has been viewed with caution even by Trump critics.

It's the latest indication that House Democrats see career employees as crucial sources of information in an era in which Trump has directed his top political appointees to ignore House demands for information.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: Former advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump, Roger Stone, arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, on February 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. Stone is due to be sentenced today after he was found guilty on seven felony counts of obstructing a congressional investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Democrats similarly turned to career State Department and national security officials during their impeachment investigation as central witnesses to Trump's handling of Ukraine policy. Their testimony helped form the basis of the House's charge that Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine to aid his reelection by investigating Democrats.

Nadler has asked for Barr to respond to his requests by March 13, and Barr himself is slated to testify to the committee on March 31. It's unlikely Barr will acquiesce to many of the committee's demands, and Nadler indicated he'd be willing to negotiate terms of any of his desired interviews to allay any concerns the Justice Department might have about making its officials available to the committee.

Republicans slammed Nadler's new investigative push, noting that it occurred just two days after Democrats canceled a meeting on renewing pieces of a soon-to-expire surveillance program amid internal policy disagreements.

"The Democrats’ request today is yet another attempt to distract from the job they’ve failed to do, which is reform FISA and finally address the abuse that has plagued our nation over the last three years," said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. "The only political interference our committee should be examining is the FBI’s unlawful surveillance of Carter Page and the Trump campaign."

Zelinsky and Jed were members of special counsel Robert Mueller's team of prosecutors who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as Trump's efforts to thwart the probe. Marando and Kravis, two veteran Justice Department prosecutors, joined them in the prosecution of Stone, who was convicted last year on charges of lying to congressional investigators and threatening a witness.

The four prosecutors had recommended Stone serve a seven- to nine-year jail sentence, a steep penalty that they attributed to the national security implications of his lies to Congress.

Within hours, Trump weighed in to assail the recommended punishment, and the next day, Justice Department leaders intervened to suggest that the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, issue a lighter sentence. Amid the turmoil, all four prosecutors quit the case, and Kravis resigned his position altogether. Jackson ultimately sentenced Stone to three years and four months, and she grilled the replacement prosecutors about the chaotic departure of the original trial team.

In his letter to Barr, Nadler is also seeking to interview Jessie Liu, the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who oversaw the Stone case, as well as all the prosecutions that stemmed from Mueller's probe. Liu left her position recently and had been tapped by Trump to fill a senior Treasury Department role. But her nomination was withdrawn abruptly within days of Trump's acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial earlier this month. Her successor, interim U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea, is on Nadler's list as well.

The others include: U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott Brady, who Barr tapped to accept information collected by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has been working with ousted Ukrainian prosecutors — seen widely as corrupt — to level corruption charges against former Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber, who was appointed by Barr's predecessor Jeff Sessions to review the FBI's handling of the case against Hillary Clinton that was ultimately dropped; and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch, who was tapped by Sessions to facilitate providing sensitive Mueller-related documents to the GOP-led Congress in 2017 and 2018.

In addition to the interview requests, Nadler is seeking details about Justice Department decisions to soften its sentencing demand for Flynn and its decision to overrule a decision to relocate former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort – who is serving a prison sentence for multiple financial crimes — to Riker's Island.

Nadler also indicated he has questions for DOJ about its intervention in antitrust matters that Trump has weighed in on, including a proposed Time Warner-AT&T merger and a proposed Sprint-T-Mobile deal. Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Antitrust Division, is also on Nadler's interview wishlist.

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Top Intel lawyer says Bolton subpoena decision likely coming in ‘next couple of weeks’

A top lawyer on the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday that a decision about whether to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton will probably be made "over the next couple of weeks."

Daniel Goldman, the veteran prosecutor who questioned witnesses in the committee's public impeachment hearings in November, said “I suspect that there will be some resolution to that over the next couple of weeks.” He spoke during a Thursday morning interview with former federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, who now hosts the podcast "Stay Tuned with Preet."

Bolton is a central witness to allegations that President Donald Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals. That allegation formed the basis of the House's decision to impeach Trump in December, which resulted in last week's acquittal by the Senate. But a forthcoming book by Bolton is expected to describe interactions with Trump in which Bolton claims the president told him he was withholding military aid from Ukraine until the country assisted with the politically motivated probes.

House leaders have given little indication they intend to continue pursuing the Ukraine matter now that the Senate has voted to acquit Trump, almost entirely along party lines. Goldman emphasized that he wasn't sure what the outcome of the Bolton discussions would be, but his comments suggest the question is still under active consideration and could be resolved in short order.

Democrats, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), have been skeptical about seeking Bolton's testimony because he has already refused multiple opportunities to tell his story to investigators and had previously indicated he would fight a House subpoena in court. Bolton did say he would testify during the Senate’s impeachment trial if subpoenaed, but Senate Republicans ultimately decided against calling witnesses.

Goldman's interview also undercut suggestions by Trump's critics that the record of his July 25 call with Ukraine's president — a central piece of evidence in the House's case — was incomplete or omitted damaging information.

"I think that's been overblown a little bit," Goldman said, noting that witnesses described the call summary as nearly entirely accurate. One omission was of the word "Burisma," the Ukrainian energy company where former Vice President Joe Biden's son sat on the board, which the House contended was code for Trump's demand to investigate his presidential rival. The second, Goldman noted, was a minor reference to a video.

Some Democrats suggested much more had been left out, noting that the 30-minute duration of the call didn't appear to match up with the length of the transcript. But Goldman suggested that too was unconcerning.

"Remember that you've got translations going back and forth. So, Zelensky spoke primarily in Ukrainian, so there was a fair amount of translation," Goldman said.

"It doubles the time?" Bharara replied

"It doubles the time, exactly," Goldman said.

Goldman spent much of the interview describing his personal recollection of the Ukraine investigation — from his vantage point when Republicans stormed the House's secure hearing room causing an hours-long delay in one of the witness depositions, to the superstitious haircut he got before the impeachment trial.

Goldman also offered a window into some of the strategy House prosecutors deployed in the Senate impeachment trial. He said the House managers opted to use 21 hours of time to lay out their case in part because many senators were "popping in, popping out" of the chamber so would likely need refreshers.

"We obviously didn't need that much time if we were speaking to a captive jury that was sitting there, forced to sit there and listened to everything," he said.

"The other part is that we wanted to tell the story in multiple different ways," Goldman said, adding, " Chairman Schiff had an introduction of about two hours' long, which was a short summary of the case, relatively short. We did a factual narrative or a chronological argument, I should say, explaining how the story unfolded and at every step of the way ... Then, we attacked the analysis, the argument where why was this an abuse of power and what were the aspects of it that were an abuse of power? Most importantly, we took on a lot of the defenses in the context of making the argument."

Goldman also said he expected Chief Justice John Roberts to play more of a role in the trial than he did. He said House prosecutors raised early concerns during the trial that Trump's team might introduce evidence into the trial that the House had subpoenaed for but never received.

"There was no real mechanism as there is in court to limit it so we wanted to get out in front of it and we teed it up through the parliamentarian just to say this might come up, just so he's prepared," Goldman said. "I think he was prepared to respond if that came about. For the most part, I think that there's very little role for the Chief Justice to play in an impeachment trial because the Senate can overrule everything."

Goldman also downplayed the House's long, slow march toward impeachment that began with the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report in April.

Though top House Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schiff did not embrace the prospect of an impeachment inquiry based on Mueller's findings — primarily that Trump repeatedly attempted to obstruct his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election — well more than half of House Democrats were seeking an impeachment inquiry by early September based on Mueller's report and July 24 public testimony, and before the Ukraine scandal erupted. Pelosi authorized the Judiciary Committee to go to court to sue for documents and testimony as part of an "impeachment investigation" based on the Mueller findings as well.

But Goldman said there was little energy for impeachment before the Ukraine news broke into the open.

"Fair to say there was no great momentum in favor of impeachment based on the Mueller report," Bharara said.

"That was clear," Goldman responded.

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Republicans boycott House Intel hearing

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee boycotted a hearing Wednesday on emerging technology and national security, calling it a “distraction” and contending that the panel should be focused on “urgent and critical concerns” like a recent watchdog report identifying errors and abuses in the FBI’s domestic surveillance program.

Republicans outlined their concerns in a letter to the committee’s chairman, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and the GOP side of the dais sat empty as the hearing began.

“Given the committee’s access to highly sensitive information, it is concerning that you prioritize publicity events rather than the more productive work that occurs in the committee’s classified spaces,” they wrote, in a missive led by ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and signed by the panel’s eight other Republicans.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who chaired Wednesday’s hearing, called the GOP boycott a “sad and dangerous” break from the committee’s long history of “compartmentalizing” politically charged feuds to handle the nuts and bolts of intelligence work.

“That Rubicon has been crossed,” he said, calling the GOP’s letter “as wrong-headed as it is mendacious.”

Himes attributed the GOP gambit to bitterness over the House’s impeachment effort, which the Intelligence Committee led throughout the fall. Schiff engineered a process that led to 17 top White House, State Department and Pentagon officials testifying about Trump's effort to press Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals. The committee's final report on the matter included phone records that indicated Nunes had been in touch with Trump associates involved in the Ukraine effort.

Schiff has previously indicated that his panel would continue the Ukraine probe in the aftermath of impeachment, but after last week’s acquittal by the Senate, the panel has yet to take any public moves to indicate the probe is continuing.

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DOJ reviews allegation that Erik Prince misled Congress in Russia probe

The Justice Department has begun reviewing a 10-month-old allegation by the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), that Erik Prince, an ally of President Donald Trump, repeatedly misled lawmakers during the panel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a Feb. 4 letter to Schiff from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, obtained on Tuesday by POLITICO, Boyd expressed regret for the lengthy delay in responding to the chairman’s April 30, 2019, request.

“We apologize for the delay in responding to your letter,” Boyd wrote, adding, “[T]he Department acknowledges receipt of your letter and will refer your request for investigation to the proper investigative agency or component for review.”

Schiff initially referred Prince to the Justice Department and sought “prompt” action for what he described as a series of “manifest and substantial falsehoods.” In that letter, delivered to Attorney General William Barr, Schiff said that Prince, the billionaire founder of a military contracting firm, intentionally misled the House Intelligence Committee and impaired its investigation of Russian links to the 2016 Trump campaign.

It’s unclear what led the Justice Department to return to Schiff’s request 10 months later on the eve of the Senate’s decision to acquit Trump on two impeachment charges. The department and a Prince attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. U.S. Attorney John Durham has been tasked by Barr with reviewing the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which later morphed into special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the election.

In his April 30 letter, Schiff highlighted six instances in which information revealed about Prince in Mueller’s report diverged from his testimony in November 2017 before the committee. He homed in on Prince’s meeting, in the Seychelles in January 2017, with a Russian banker who is reportedly close to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, an encounter Prince later told congressional officials took place purely by chance.

Prince told Schiff’s committee in late 2017 that he had no “official or, really, unofficial role” with the Trump campaign. He said he wrote unsolicited policy papers that he forwarded to Trump adviser Steve Bannon, attended some fundraisers and contributed to Trump’s campaign.

“So there was no other formal communications or contact with the campaign?” then-Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) asked.

“Correct,” Prince replied.

But a succession of news reports indicated that Prince’s relationship with the campaign was deeper than he let on. According to a New York Times report last May, Prince helped facilitate meetings for high-level Trump campaign staff.

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