House Democrats likely to launch wide-ranging probes into Trump administration

WASHINGTON — Late last month, two new job listings appeared on a congressional bulletin for staffers to help Democrats conduct investigations into a variety of topics, from energy and the environment to cybersecurity.

The listings were a small but significant clue about Democrats’ strategy for the 116th Congress, which will be sworn in next January.

Last night’s election means that as the party in control of the House of Representatives, the Democrats will chair all 21 of that chamber’s committees. With that control comes the power to launch investigations.

Democrats — should they wish to do so — can investigate the president’s finances, his 2016 presidential campaign’s relationship with Russia and ethical transgressions by members of his cabinet. For the first time in the Trump era, the president’s opponents will have subpoena powers.

But these new powers could also be a trap, according to interviews with multiple Democratic staffers, former legislators and others familiar with the matters at hand. They fear that Trump’s staunchest critics could lead the Democrats to overplay their hand and squander their newfound investigative powers on partisan forays likely to yield little in the way of insight about the administration’s workings.

Democratic leaders could dig into Trump’s finances and his relationship with Russia, but those are matters already covered by the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Russia may be the least interesting thing the Democrats investigate,” said one congressional source.

RELATED: The least wealthy US politicians

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The least wealthy US politicians

10. Tim Scott

Net worth: -$600,000

Senator Tim Scott has been serving South Carolina since 2013. The Republican lawmaker previously represented the state in the House from 2011 to 2013, and he’s up for re-election in 2022.

Scott’s net worth was calculated based on assets that can help his net worth estimated at $200,000 and liabilities of $800,000. A current breakdown of his financial situation wasn’t available, but his 2015 financial disclosure report posted on OpenSecrets.org listed assets including two residential rental properties, insurance policies and annuities and several mutual funds. At the time, his liabilities stemmed primarily from three mortgages.

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9. Eliot L. Engel

Net worth: -$600,000

Representative Eliot Engel has been serving New York’s 16th district since 2013. The Democrat represented the state’s 17th district from 1993 to 2013 and its 19th district from 1989 to 1993. He’s up for re-election in 2018.

Engel’s net worth is based on assets estimated at $100,000 and liabilities of approximately $700,000. His assets include money in several bank accounts and multiple government bonds, according to his 2016 financial disclosure report posted on OpenSecrets.org. Two mortgages were listed as liabilities, along with $10,000 to $15,000 in credit card debt and a line of credit worth $100,001 to $250,000.

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8. Mike D. Rogers

Net worth: -$600,000

Representative Mike D. Rogers has been serving Alabama’s third district since 2003. The Republican is up for re-election in 2018, which could cause him to make influential political news headlines this year.

Rogers’ net worth is based on approximately $900,000 in assets and roughly $1.5 million in liabilities. A breakdown of his current financial situation isn’t available, but his 2015 financial disclosure report obtained by OpenSecrets.org revealed his assets are largely from checking, savings and retirement accounts. Two mortgages were listed as his sole liabilities.

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7. Dennis A. Ross

Net worth: -$600,000

Representative Dennis A. Ross served Florida’s 12th district from 2011 to 2013 and has served the state’s 15th district since 2013. The Republican is up for re-election in 2018, so expect to hear his name in election news coverage.

Despite representing a state without a lot of debt compared to others, Ross’ net worth is based on an estimated $1.5 million in assets and liabilities totaling approximately $2.1 million. His assets include a rental property and a capital gains loan worth $500,000 to $1 million, according to his 2016 financial disclosure report posted on OpenSecrets.org. Liabilities listed include two mortgages and four additional loans for a motor home, travel trailer, truck and tractor.

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6. Christopher Murphy

Net worth: -$700,000

Democrat Christopher Murphy has served as a Connecticut senator since 2013. Before that, he represented the state’s 5th district in the House from 2007 to 2013. He’s up for re-election in 2018.

Murphy’s net worth is based on assets estimated at $100,000 and liabilities of $800,000. A breakdown of his current financial situation isn’t available, but his 2014 financial disclosure report obtained by OpenSecrets.org revealed his assets were held in bank accounts, mutual funds and retirement accounts. His liabilities consisted of a mortgage and two student loans, valued at $15,001 to $50,000 each.

Also See: The Most Expensive Races in the 2018 Elections

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5. Emanuel Cleaver

Net worth: -$800,000

Representative Emanuel Cleaver has been serving Missouri’s 5th district since 2005. The Democrat is up for re-election in 2018.

Cleaver’s net worth is based on an estimated $500,000 in assets and $1.3 million in liabilities. His assets include a mix of bonds, mutual funds, insurance policies and annuities, according to his 2016 financial disclosure report posted on OpenSecrets.org. Liabilities listed consist of a mortgage, student loan, installment loan and a personal liability with a minimum value of $1 million.

Don’t Miss: What’s Keeping Past Presidents and Vice Presidents Wealthy?

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4. Todd Young

Net worth: -$800,000

Republican Todd Young has been an Indiana senator since 2017. He previously served the state’s 9th district in the House from 2011 to 2017. Young will be up for re-election in 2022.

His net worth includes an estimated $100,000 in assets and $900,000 in liabilities. His assets consist of college savings plans — he has four children — a retirement fund and bank accounts, according to his 2015 financial disclosure report posted on OpenSecrets.org. Liabilities include a mortgage and debt on two credit cards totaling $15,001 to $50,000 each.

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3. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Net worth: -$1.2 million

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been serving Florida’s 23rd district since 2013. The Democrat previously represented the state’s 20th district from 2005 to 2013. She’s up for re-election in 2018.

Her net worth is based on estimated assets of $100,000 and approximately $1.3 million in liabilities. A breakdown of her current financial situation is not available, but her 2015 financial disclosure report — posted on OpenSecrets.org — revealed the bulk of her assets consist of stocks and savings plans for her three children. Liabilities include multiple mortgages, lines of credit, credit card accounts and a home improvement loan.

Find Out: The Money Behind Donald Trump’s Cabinet and Advisors

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2. Alcee Hastings

Net worth: -$2.4 million

Democrat Alcee Hastings has represented Florida’s 20th district in the House since 2013. He previously served the state’s 23rd district from 1993 to 2013. Hastings is up for re-election in 2018.

His net worth was calculated based on zero assets and $2.4 million in liabilities. One of the poorest members of Congress, his liabilities include a mortgage estimated at $100,001 to $250,000 and the rest in legal fees, according to his 2015 financial disclosure report, which was obtained by OpenSecrets.org.

Previously a U.S. District Judge in Florida, Hastings was convicted of bribery and impeached in 1989. This caused him to rack up more than $2.5 million in attorneys’ fees, according to a 1993 article in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

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1. David Valadao

Net worth: -$17.5 million

Republican David Valadao was elected to serve California’s 21st Congressional District in 2012. He’s been at work representing the district since 2013, and he’s up for re-election in 2018.

Of all the members of Congress, Valadao is the poorest. His net worth is based on assets of $2 million and $19.5 million in liabilities.

Also a dairy farmer, his assets include a $2 million stake in the family farm, according to his 2016 financial disclosure report, which was posted on OpenSecrets.org. His extensive liabilities were caused by financing for feed, equipment and land for the business.

Click through to discover the financial perks you get if you become president.

Unless otherwise noted, financial data was provided by Roll Call. Data is based on filings by U.S. senators and members of the House before beginning their service in the 115th Congress on Jan. 3, 2017.

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As the Democrats prepare to launch a bevy of investigations into the Trump administration, the staffer said a single question must guide their endeavors: “Where are we going to have maximum effectiveness?”

The most complex matter of all will be the Russia investigation, which falls under the purview of the House Intelligence Committee, whose chairman will almost certainly be Adam Schiff, D-Calif. Schiff has publicly chastised the leadership of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.  — a Trump ally — calling his investigation of Russia’s potential involvement in the 2016 election woefully inadequate.

At the same time, House Democrats will have to make sure they’re not working at cross-purposes with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has taken a bipartisan approach. Its chairman, Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and ranking member, Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, have generally agreed on the importance and scope of an investigation into Russian interference. And they appear to see little reason for the House of Representatives to duplicate those efforts. It is not clear just how much a change in leadership would change that.

Because it doesn’t technically have the authority to do so under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the House Intelligence Committee will be unable to subpoena the records of Silicon Valley technology companies, and privacy restrictions may keep Democrats from obtaining all the financial records they seek, making that line of investigative inquiry a better task for the Financial Services Committee. The chair of that committee will likely be Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., one of Trump’s most vociferous critics in Congress.

“We have to make the case for what this means to our national security,” said a Democratic staffer experienced in working on investigations. “House Republicans have refused to pursue the full extent and magnitude of the threat Russia poses to our nation.” The staffer suggested it would be more useful to make any Russia-related investigation about election security, as opposed to focusing on Trump himself.

Henry Waxman, the former Democratic congressman from California who sat on the House Oversight Committee for 12 years, from 1997 until 2009 — the last two years as chairman — warns against probes that would be regarded as attempts to personally damage Trump. “Use oversight powers to examine what his administration has been doing,” he counsels.

He noted, in particular, the rollback of regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, as well as what has been described as Trump’s attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, the signature legislative accomplishment of former President Barack Obama.

Waxman also cautions against attempting to investigate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who many Democrats believe lied to Congress during his confirmation proceedings over the summer. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, has indicated a willingness to investigate Kavanaugh, and some liberals hope to impeach the justice, who was accused of sexual impropriety. “I don’t know what would be accomplished” by a Kavanaugh investigation, he said. “It would look very, very partisan.”

The senior Democratic staffer said that Democrats should pursue “oversight in a bipartisan way and starting where we have agreement.” The staffer noted, for example, the Oversight Committee’s outgoing chairman — Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, who is retiring from Congress — and Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, the committee’s current ranking member, sent joint letters to the White House about security clearances given to high-ranking officials like Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

That investigation would have to be taken up by Cummings, who has expressed interest in the matter. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he would become one of the most powerful Democrats in the entire Congress, with broad powers to investigate the Trump administration. “My aim is to do what I swore to do — uphold the constitution,” Cummings said in a statement provided to Yahoo News. “We are required to be a check and balance over the executive branch. We haven’t been doing that because Republicans have been aiders and abetters.”

According to a Cummings staffer, he will seek to investigate the cost of prescription drugs; the controversial placement of a citizenship question on the U.S. Census, which some believe is a Republican strategy intended to ultimately influence congressional redistricting, funding for means to combat opioid abuse and funding for the U.S. Postal Service.

The staffer said Cummings will also pursue some of the most controversial actions of the Trump administration, including the president’s practice of separating families of asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Cummings will also look at Trump’s potential violations the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents him from using the presidency for profit and personal gain.

The environment is another potentially fruitful line of investigations, which could focus on Scott Pruitt, who in July resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ryan Zinke, the embattled Department of Interior chief, who faces more than a dozen investigations of his own. Both men have run afoul of personal ethics laws and have faced criticisms from scientists and conservationists for suppressing science, in particular work affirming the reality and danger of global warming.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., who stands to become chairman of the Natural Resources Committee in January, said he was particularly interested in looking at “the dumbing down of science within the Department of Interior.” A staffer for Grijalva said that while it was important to focus on Zinke’s personal transgressions, there were more important matters at hand, such as Zinke’s shrinking of national monuments and giveaways of federally managed land. “Our job is to oversee the department, not just the secretary,” the staffer said. “Our priority is the policies.”

Similarly, a staffer for Don Beyer, D-Va., said that the congressman, who is on the Natural Resources Committee, wants to investigate Andrew Wheeler, who replaced Pruitt as EPA chief. Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist, and though he has faced fewer personal scandals, he has kept the EPA on the same regulation-averse course as Pruitt.

Beyer, who is from northern Virginia, will also likely investigate Trump’s involvement in stopping the construction of a new FBI headquarters, which would have potentially been located in northern Virginia. Trump wants the FBI to remain in its current location, almost right across Pennsylvania Avenue from his Trump International Hotel.

The staffer cautioned that attempting to serve senior Trump officials with subpoenas will likely lead to intervention by lawyers and months of inevitable delay because of Trump’s “penchant for stonewalling.”

For Cummings, the likely House Oversight chairman, investigations by Democrats could restore the political norms Trump has violated. “I believe that with President Trump we are in the middle of a storm,” he said in a statement email by his office. “The question is not whether the storm will end. The question is, ‘Where will we be after the storm?’”

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