The House Judiciary Committee plans to launch an investigation this fall into President Trump's alleged role in hush-money payments his former attorney made to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, adding to a host of Democrat-led investigations into the president, Fox News has confirmed.
The Washington Post first reported that as soon as next month, the committee is prepared to hold hearings and call witnesses involved in the payments by former attorney Michael Cohen to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels.
It is a part of a range of investigations covering everything from Trump's tax returns to alleged obstruction of justice, which dovetails with what some lawmakers already describe as an ongoing impeachment inquiry. Though Trump has denied the affairs and denied directing illegal payments, the new investigation could fuel those impeachment efforts -- which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has yet to publicly endorse.
Cohen pleaded guilty to two campaign finance charges last year and said under oath that Trump ordered the payments. He is serving jail time for those charges, as well as for tax evasion and lying to Congress about Trump's past business dealings in Russia.
Democrats told The Post they believe there is enough evidence to name Trump as a co-conspirator. Federal prosecutors investigated Trump’s alleged role but did not charge him. The Post reports that the inquiry will ask whether he would have been charged if not for Justice Department opinions that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
The push is politically risky territory for Democrats, with Trump and fellow Republicans likely to present them as pursuing a protracted vendetta against him in the wake of the Russia election-meddling probe while ignoring kitchen-table issues including health care, infrastructure and the economy. It could also pit committee members against Democratic House leaders, who have also urged lawmakers to focus on those core issues.
Pelosi recently sent out a memo imploring Democrats to “own August” by discussing health care and economic issues. Perhaps more importantly, the summer recess has allowed Democrats to avoid daily questions about impeachment and the investigations of Trump, though the issues did emerge at some lawmakers' town hall meetings in their districts.
Last month, Pelosi herself was heckled by protesters unhappy at her stance on impeachment while at a dinner in San Francisco: “Nancy Pelosi, do your job,” they chanted.
While more than half of all House Democrats now support impeachment or some sort of an impeachment inquiry, they are a far cry from having the votes to take such action against Trump.