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House oversight committee has no Trump-related probes planned

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier listens at left as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with pharmaceutical industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier listens at left as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with pharmaceutical industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
By Tom Hamburger Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Despite pleas from Democrats, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee agenda for the next two years includes no planned inquiries into the Trump organization’s global entanglements and the potential for conflicts of interest.

Instead, the 43 items listed in a proposed agenda for the GOP-led panel includes a look at District of Columbia spending, cyber security policy at federal agencies and reform at the Office of Government Ethics, which had previously been critical of Trump’s failure to divest himself of potential conflicts.

The committee’s chair, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said the panel considered investigative priorities from Democrats and adopted many of them.

Democrats proposed several Trump-related investigations in different formats, they said. But so far, they said Chaffetz has expressed more interest in non-Trump inquiries, including a recent letter to the FBI asking for more detail about Hillary Clinton’s email operations. Another asked about the conduct of the director of the Office of Government Ethics, who was critical of Trump’s decision not to divest his personal holdings.

“There is great irony here,” said ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “The very first letter to come out of our Committee regarding the Trump Administration’s conflicts of interest was the Chairman’s letter attacking the head of the Office of Government ethics for raising concerns about the presiden’t refusal to divest.”

The partisan differences over the agenda of the Oversight Committee – the House’s main investigative body – are expected to emerge publicly Tuesday at a hearing to discuss priorities in the 115th Congress.

In the agenda distributed Monday, Republicans proposed investigations into health care and entitlement programs, federal grantmaking and the operation of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Democrats are expected to reiterate their interest in three areas related to the Trump administration they proposed to Republicans on Monday.

First, they suggested the committee probe foreign funds or other benefits received by any businesses owned by the president to protect against violations of the “Emoluments Clause” of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids presidents from obtaining any benefit from foreign government entities without the consent of Congress.

Second, Democrats asked that the panel examine reports of funding or other benefits received by the president and his businesses from Russian individuals or entities. The proposal, provided to The Post by the committee’s Democratic staff, specifically calls for review of “communications between Russian officials or entities and the President’s advisors and associates,” including contacts with Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Finally, the Democrats want the panel to review the president’s “apparent breach of his company’s lease with the General Services Administration” for the Trump Hotel in the Old Post Office Building. The lease prohibits elected officials from being a party to the transaction.

Last week, Cummings reminded his colleagues that he often joined with Republicans to investigate the Obama administration, signing 740 letters with Republicans to pursue such probes. “We conducted bipartisan investigation of the Secret Service, law enforcement agencies, monitoring the cell phones of American citizens, sexual misconduct at the National Park Service, and leadership problems at the Chemical Safety Board.”

“I know Republicans are not going to investigate President Trump with the same urgency that they investigated President Obama and Secretary Clinton for the past eight years. But our oversight cannot be non-existent.”

Chaffetz said in a statement provided to The Post that his team has listened to Democrats’ concerns and adopted many of them. “We exercised a high level of flexibility when incorporating the priorities of members on both sides of the aisle into our oversight plan. Over the last two years we’ve earned a reputation of working with Democrats and will continue to do so moving forward.”

That’s not Cumming’s view. “Unfortunately, I have been extremely saddened by what we have seen since the election,’ he said.

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