Politics By Other Means: Both Trump and Pelosi Suggest Using Investigations For Political Purposes

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the mutual threats from Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump to use investigations in a tit-for-tat struggle with the new Congress.  In his press conference after the election, Trump said that he is prepared to adopt the same “war-like” stance and “They can play that game, but we can play it better.”

This promises to be long and intense two years, but there does not appear to be much hope for actually addressing some of the important issues that divide this country.

Here is the column:

Voltaire once wryly observed that “the art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” In a divided Congress, with each party holding firm majorities in their respective chambers and only two years until the next election, the Democrats and Republicans are likely to do much to amuse the voters with subpoenas and investigations with little to address the underlying polarization across the country.

Both Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump have already suggested that they view investigations as a political tool for their own agendas. What is interesting is that Pelosi and Trump have not hesitated to reveal those agendas in statements that have made their supporters cringe. In the days before the election, Pelosi commented on how to get what she wanted: “Subpoena power is interesting, to use it or not to use it. It’s a great arrow to have in your quiver in terms of negotiating on other subjects.”

Congress has fought hard to protect its inherent powers against arguments that such investigations are little more than politics by other means. With the addition of new justice Brett Kavanaugh, who holds exceptionally favorable executive power views, such statements are both highly inappropriate and damaging for Congress. Just as Trump’s tweets are often used in court to undermine the case for the administration, Pelosi’s comments on subpoenas to coerce concessions on “other subjects” may lead to briefs seeking to quash such subpoenas.

Of course, Trump proceeded to respond in equally self defeating terms. He declared that “Pelosi says she’s going to mechanize the speakership and use it as a great negotiation with the president. That’s an illegal statement.” In fact, there is nothing unlawful in Pelosi’s statement. There is a difference between what is illegal and what is idiotic. Pelosi’s statement fell into the latter category. Trump, however, then followed Pelosi’s lead in revealing his own strategy in advance: “That alone takes two years to get it to the Supreme Court, that statement, before you do anything.” In other words, Trump has been assured that his counsel can tie up any subpoena fights for two years in the courts, running out the clock on investigations.

After the election, Trump went even further to make clear that he and Pelosi are following the same approach to the misuse of investigatory powers: “If the Democrats think they are going to waste taxpayer money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of classified information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!”

With his threat, Trump joined Pelosi in a race to the bottom, promising tit for tat use of investigations against his political opponents. That threat becomes more concerning given the role of his own Justice Department in the enforcing of subpoenas, particularly as Trump likely plans to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump’s irresistible impulse to counterpunch is the best hope for Democrats seeking impeachable acts.

Indeed, it is the response to the Democrats and not the “disease” they spread that is most likely to kill Trump. There is still no clear evidence of criminal obstruction or collusion against him. However, this is a disease that claims victims by the response of the patient. Democrats are hoping to prompt exactly the response that Trump promised, which is reacting to legislative investigations with abusive use of executive powers.

Time, however, remains of the essence. Even assuming special counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigation by the end of the year, any allegations of impeachable offenses are likely to still require investigation and the subpoenas that Pelosi so relishes as arrows in her quiver. Committees have to demand the information, and the White House is likely to offer some production, requiring review and further negotiations.

Once a committee subpoena is sought, the White House is likely to draw out compliance. If the committee still is not satisfied, any contempt sanction would require a vote of the entire House and then a referral to the Justice Department that routinely refuses to take legislative contempt charges to grand juries. Any direct fight over the subpoena authority would likely favor Congress, but it would have to work its way through three levels of judicial review in a process that could well take until 2020.

The impeachment calendar is little better. Even assuming Trump ends up wounding himself in 2019, that gives Democrats about a year to investigate, impeach, and remove. That would be a nascar pace. In the case of Bill Clinton, a lame duck Congress was able to start the process for impeachment because of the preexisting independent counsel investigation and extensive findings given to Congress. Clinton was impeached in December 1998, and then acquitted in February 1999. There will be no impeachment in this new lame duck Congress, and Democrats have indicated they will hold off on seeking impeachment at first, as opposed to investigating possible financial and corruption charges.

In the case of Richard Nixon, the Watergate investigation was well underway before the presidential election of 1972. In May 1973, Archibald Cox was appointed to investigate as special prosecutor. Thereafter, fights over tapes and other evidence in Congress took many months. In July 1974, the Supreme Court ruled against Nixon over the tapes and, soon thereafter, the House committee voted out articles of impeachment. Had Nixon not resigned from office and the House impeached had him, the process likely would have continued all the way to the end of 1974.

Putting aside the longer period of investigation in the Nixon case, it seems unlikely that an impeachment trial would be held, let alone be successful, before the end of Trump’s first term. Obviously, mistakes by Trump can speed this process along with abuses of power. Frankly, Trump needs only to control himself and watch the calendar to frustrate these efforts. For his staff, however, that is a strategy based on hope over experience.

In the meantime, Trump has the benefit of an unassailable majority in the Senate. The new members are largely in his debt and were elected to defend his legacy and policies. Senators like Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska just became more marginal influences on outcomes. Moreover, Trump now can deliver on a strong conservative nominee on abortion if another seat opens up. Finally, any impeachment will collide with a Senate solidly in control of the White House. It is highly unlikely that, even if an impeachment could be launched in time, a two thirds vote could be marshaled by Democrats in an actual Senate trial.

What is left is entirely visceral. The Democrats have a strategy with the markings of a campaign to wound but not to kill. Thus, little work is expected to get done as both sides engage in spasms of investigation and recrimination. Voltaire is in the House, as the art of politics will be to amuse each base while the disease cures itself in the 2020 election.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

157 thoughts on “Politics By Other Means: Both Trump and Pelosi Suggest Using Investigations For Political Purposes”

  1. The determining fact of whether or not a politician should remain in office is the purpose of his or her actions. In America, today, the determining facts are almost entirely focused on gaining and/or remaining in power. The public are more often than not removed from the equation. Listen to a Trump rally and there is next to nothing said regarding the condition of the people in attendance. Almost all if not all of the moment is focused on how great Trump says he is and how bad anyone who disagrees with him is. This is the core of the politician to public rapport, on both sides.

    In the short run, coupled with lies, a few shekels, and constant attacks on his opposition, Trump and the Republicans may succeed. However, if the Democrats do not stop returning in kind and stray from the facts and concerns of the public, they will appear to the same extent, no different. The dupes that are susceptible to the carnival antics of Trump are lost causes. The left is the left and the right is the right. The future of America is sourced from the center. If this country is to make headway, it must rule from the center, left or right. To do otherwise is utter foolishness and stupidity.

    The determining factors on who should lead must be the issues, not the trash talk. The ultimate master of trash talk is Donald Trump. Those that prefer this are his dupes.

    1. Apparently Issac you have never listened to Trump’s speeches or you are incapable of understanding them. If you wish a serious dialogue about them I am sure you can find a transcript of one and I can help you to better understand the clear language he uses. When he says the GDP is up and unemployement is down that is very clear and pertains to all individuals listening.

  2. President Trump should just start issuing executive orders like the irrefutably ineligible Barry Soetoro and “proclamations” like the

    completely aconstitutional “Crazy Abe” Lincoln.

  3. Turley, I believe your analysis is too far ahead of the publicly known facts to be accurate.

    It is too early in the process to know how Congress will act because Mueller’s report, as well as Democratic investigations, have not been completed.

    Since you don’t know what facts they have uncovered, speculation about how Congress acts in reaction to them is baseless at this point.

    For over a year, Republicans have insisted no crimes have been found by the Mueller probe despite no report clearing him of wrongdoing.

    When evidence of money laundering for Russian criminals comes to light, I believe a substantial number of Republicans will turn against Trump.

  4. democrats have descended into madness to the point they are crazed with violent hate filled rage, hell bent on revenge and suffering from lustful delusions of grandeur where in their sick minds they enslave and unilaterally rule over 320,000,00 people with absolute power. Their psychotic break from reality is so complete that they are starting the process of setting The House on fire with themselves inside.

      1. I think Dawn’s statement “democrats have descended into madness to the point they are crazed with violent hate filled rage” represents a significant part of those strongly supporting the left. Anonymous is probably waiting for Antifa to show their masks.

        1. Allan, they won the election with the specific promise to investigate the Trump administration.

          The fact they won is reality, not a delusion.

          They would not have been given a mandate to conduct these investigations if the public disagreed.

          There are no “delusions of grandeur”, only the realities of winning the House election by close to 10%.

          1. Marry, I think you delude yourself. Yes, there are crazies that think after 2 years of investigations with nothing found that eventually something of importance will arrise, but those are the crazies. Maybe his tax returns will be released and his accountant’s name as well so the rest of us can run and hire his accountant. Maybe Trump will be found to be not as rich as he is and a whole bunch of people leasing high end cars will shudder in their boots because people might discover they aren’t as rich as they seem either. Maybe they will discover that for most of his life he was a Democrat and that even today he isn’t a classic Republican. That might rock a few knuckleheads.

            Time to grow up Marry and focus on the more important things.

            1. NOTHING FOUND, ALLAN..???

              24 indictments sounds like something to anyone outside the right-wing media bubble.

              1. Peter, you are hung up on meaningless numbers. No wonder it seems that no matter how fast you run you always seem to get nowhere.

                Where is Trump’s Presidency involved?
                What is the meaning of the other indictments? Process crimes and foreigners that will never come to to the US? Crimes that occurred before Trump was even around.

                You seem not to be able to focus. You grab any garbage you can and throw it out even though it is unrelated to the Trump Presidency. Do you think repeating the number 24 makes you look smart? It doesn’t. It makes you look quite the opposite.

              2. usually we look for convictions as lawyers not indictments

                the reason for that is the presumption of innocence

                that usually matters to Americans. does it matter to you peter?

            2. The administration hasn’t been investigated thoroughly by Congress. There could be 5 separate investigations into Trump’s relationship with Russia — just as there was with the Benghazi attacks, which hurt Clinton’s chances in 2016.

                1. Donald Trump’s administration giving a federal lease to a Trump Hotel chain is something that happened to, which hasn’t been investigated.

                  Nor have the payments to his business from foreign lobbyists through his hotel chain.

                  Nor have the emoluments Trump’s real estate properties has received from Russian business interests.

                  All of these are things that have happened.

                  1. No one should be able to profit off of their government position. I’m all for investigating everyone, including the President, to ensure they are not going from rags to riches by selling their seat for personal profit.

                    Bring it on!

                    1. What she needs to do is provide the actions that are criminal instead of making things up.

                    2. What she needs to do is provide the actions that are criminal instead of making things up.

                      How in the world do you find the criminal acts without first conducting an investigation? No, the way it all works today is; allege a crime and then empower an investigation to find it.

                    3. Olly, I think we are saying pretty much the same thing. Before an investigation one has to have a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity occurred.

                      I want Marry to state the action she is troubled by and state why she thinks it is criminal. I don’t require that she be correct, only that she is able to state them so that reasonable discussion can take place.

                    4. We are Allan. If the motivation for Marry was for justice to reign and eliminating corruption in politics, then that is likely a net Marry wouldn’t want to cast. But that’s not what this is about. This is nothing more than political lawfare. Our side is the enemy, their side is righteous.

                    5. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-25/trump-must-face-emoluments-lawsuit-over-d-c-hotel-profits

                      A judge has ruled for a second time that President Donald Trump must face a lawsuit accusing him of improperly profiting from his posh downtown Washington hotel.

                      U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte’s decision Wednesday denied the president’s dismissal request and pushes forward a lawsuit by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia. It may open the door to a searching examination of just how much money Trump has made from his hotel.

              1. Pure foolishness. Some people support Congress investigating one’s political enemies without cause while others prefer Congress spending its time running the nation. I’m in the latter camp but if there is a charge I want that charge spelled out.

                Spell out each and every claim or be silent. Will the next thing you claim be that Kavanaugh needs to be investigated and impeached?

              2. She hurt her own chances in Benghazi, by wrongfully interfering with a sovereign state, Libya, by consorting with terrorists seeking to overthrow the legitimate head of state Quadaffi, and by failing to provide adequate security to the ambassador who was killed by insurgents that our very own government was encouraging.

                we havent lost an ambassador to violence since Cyprus in 74 or so. Hillary screwed that up badly all on her own. the Democrats (and a lot of Republican war haws too) are completely disingenuous about what a disaster the Libya intervention was and has become.

            3. Again, he was a registered Republican from 1969 to 1985. He’s been back and forth since that time between Republican, non-partisan, and Democratic since then.

              1. He’s a businessman. I don’t think his ideology fits along the classic lines we are used to dealing with.

          2. It looks like the GOP picked up 4 Senate seats, and the House will have a thin Democratic majority.
            Relative to expectations, the Democrats won the number of House seats toward the lower end of expectations.
            And the GOP appears to have picked up more than a couple of Senate seats….4 additional seats was beyond the range of most estimates.
            I don’t see a significant change in the “political balance of power” based on the outcome of this 2018 mid-term election.

    1. They won the election, Dawn, partly on promises to investigate the Trump administration. That is REALITY, not delusion.

      Democrats will do what they were elected to do and hold the White House accountable.

      As much you try to spin it, the House of Representatives has a mandate to govern this process as they won over 30 new seats fuelled by high turnout amongst women and minorities.

      1. “Democrats will do what they were elected to do and hold the White House accountable.”

        They were actually elected to govern. If they don’t then Trump will take the White House in 2020 along with the Senate and the House. It is my hope that both parties will work together to make America a greater place then it already is.

        1. Democrats were elected with specific promises in advance to investigate the Trump administration. They even won seats in deep red areas like Utah and Oklahoma.

          Ignore this new reality at your own peril.

          1. Fine, let the Democrats do nothing but investigate Trump while he Makes America Greater Again. You realize that while the press was following your advice Trump was busy ridding the nation of Obama’s executive orders and regulations. I think the trade off was fantastic. I’ll bet you watched every piece investigating Trump falling into the toilet. The nation is better off with your type of focus.

            1. Adam Schiff may now be in line to chair the House Intelligence Committee.
              Let’s hope that we’ll see more of him in TV interviews; previously, I don’t think he showed up more than 100 times a year on TV.
              Just by flipping through channels, I thought Shiff and Avenatti had their own series on multiple networks.😊

    1. To mespo.

      This is one of the ways in which our wars come home to haunt us.


      From the article:

      “Mass Shooters in the United States Are Disproportionately Veterans, According to Several Studies”

      “As Hugh Gusterson, professor of international affairs at George Washington University notes to The New York Times, veterans account for 13 percent of the population, “but more than a third of the adult perpetrators of the 43 worst mass killings since 1984 had been in the United States military.” An NBC News timeline of mass shootings carried out by veterans since 2009 shows the extent of this truth.”

      1. Don’t forget MacVeigh

        i think this will get a lot worse going forwards and there is not a lick of anything gun control can do to stop it. a lot of these vets know all about IEDs, far more than even MacVeigh apparently did, given the wide use of them by opposing forced in Iraq and Afghanistan…. and we should be glad they’re not moving on to those wicked instruments of even more indiscriminate destruction. i hesitate to even breath the notion.

        1. Mr. Kurtz wrote: “i think this will get a lot worse going forwards and there is not a lick of anything gun control can do to stop it.”


          We’re in deep trouble.

  5. The usual crap from the programmers committee of the left can be disregarded I see the phony patriotic pro constitutionalist love the founding fathers garbage from Pelosi’s speech last about five seconds so the revolution from their stand leftist ideology stand point and he counter revolution from the Constitutionalist centrist position continues uninterrupted.

    Trump’s move. Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.

    Worse Bloody Chuck Schumer has said nothing having been marginalized again.
    He’s planning something but hasn’t the votes. Pelosi’s planning something but hasn’t the votes. So it’s just as matter of when they want something make a deal but require they perform their side first. They can’t be trusted – at all.

    What price will Schumer and Pelosi and NY and CA pay? Infrastructure priorities is one. But worse is the embarrasment of having control of a house and being unable to do anything that is unacceptable plus seeing tlheir titular leader of their party go into investigation and probable indictment mode something still facing Feinstein over that unauthorized disclosure business.

    Two parallel sets of investigation but one with a direct pipeline to the new justice department;. The left will waste time investigating everything that’s already been investigated so give them the millions of documents until they have no room for desk and chairs.

    Here’s the chain of power at present.

    Pelosi gets to have budget bills ready on time. First one is due in March.For TY20. They have some plans for other stuff but it’s not acceptable the following will occur.

    1. Senate will vote No present their version and refuse to negotiate or conference. or they will pass it which at this point is really bad for Pelosi and Schumer. They own it.

    2. Vetoed by the President

    3. Not nearly enough votes for a 2/3rds over ride so DOA becomes Dead in fact.
    Meanwhile the major portion of the budget goes through on automatic pilot.

    4. Government slowdown (not a shutdown with 70% still working.)

    Think about it This means lay offs and it doesn’t mean park attendants and other useful people. Politically appointed by prior administrations comes to mind. Go home and plan on not coming back your job has been selected for a slim down sizing of government for budget balancing purposes.

    BUT for those who are nearing a retirement say from the Bush era and for any the Department leadership deems truly critical in writing we’ll make an exemption.

    The rest of can get some kind of preferential rehiring status according to union rules but….. in third place behind ‘required specific skill’ and the military veterans who come first.

    All completely legal and above board.

    Or just require their resignations en masse for the same reasons.

    See how popular you are then Pelosi and Schumer.

    No over rides, no come backs, all the responsibility, and the disdain and loss of control in their own party.

    And that’s just one advantage.

    The next is in todays news.

    RBG’s replacement. Instead of 6 to 3 suddenly 7-2 or even 6-2.

    No requirement for immediate nomination doesn’t exist. The record is 700 plus days. No requirement for committee interviews. That’s a Senate rule. For now. Can be done away with – nuked same with the 60 for cloture. Just vote on it.

    With two major RINOs gone the Constitutionalists gained two advantages.

    Oh yes and one more. back to the veto over ride? rs takes 290. 146 to block but the Constitutional Republic Party has 196 so far.

    Read it and weep. Got rid of the misery and it’s all belongs to the left.

    Oh yes the wall. 1.6 billion every year for three years so far and it can go up without consent of any one except one individual. . How? DOHS and DOD are the two biggest budgets. Flexible due to current need. Drugs can be declared a weapon of mass destruction which is true. So? Comes under the Patriot Act for terrorist activities at that point.

    How does it feel to be suddenly powerless even with that razor thin majority in the Representatives. Assuming you don’t start shedding numbers to the Independent Democrat Constitutionalist faction. Caucus with the Constitutional Republic Party and get to keep seniority, committee assignments everything..

    Sucks to be a winner but end up once again … losers.

    That Pelosi is an example of checks and balances.

    1. Michael Aarethun – Ginburg is in the hospital with 3 broken ribs from a fall in her office.

        1. HK – Styx thinks it may be the first signs of dementia and he may be right. At her age it will take longer to heal and I am not so sure she might finally decide the die has been cast and she is never going see a Democratic Senate, so she will retire.

  6. While Professor Turley spins the investigation threats from all sides, this is what is really happening.

    A Mob Showed Up Outside Tucker Carlson’s House And Ordered Him To ‘Leave Town’

    A left-wing mob showed up outside Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s house Wednesday evening, posted pictures of his address online and demanded that he flee the city of Washington, D.C.

    Carlson, a co-founder of The Daily Caller and host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” was at the Fox News studio when the angry crowd showed up outside of his house.

    At least one of the protesters went all the way up to Carlson’s front door, where they left a sign with his family’s home address written on it and rang his doorbell.

    Video the group, “Smash Racism DC,” posted to Twitter shows one of the mob’s ringleaders leading the crowd in chants of “racist scumbag, leave town!” and “Tucker Carlson, we will fight! We know where you sleep at night!”

    “No borders! No walls! No USA at all!” the protesters chanted in another video posted to Twitter.

    The group posted a picture of the sign with the Carlson family’s address on it to Twitter. (RELATED: GOP Office Set On Fire Less Than Two Days After Opening)

    “Tucker Carlson, you cannot hide from the people you hurt with your rhetoric, your lies, and your hate,” the group wrote on Twitter, adding the hashtag #KnockKnockTucker.”

    Tucker Carlson speaks onstage during Politicon 2018 at Los Angeles Convention Center on Oct. 21, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Politicon )
    Twitter removed the videos and tweet with Carlson’s address Wednesday night after an inquiry from The Daily Caller News Foundation.

    The left-wing group’s Twitter account was suspended shortly after midnight on Thursday.

    NBC’s Megyn Kelly denounced the mob tactics towards Carlson.

    “This has to stop. Who are we? What are we becoming? @TuckerCarlson is tough & can handle a lot, but he does not deserve this,” Kelly, a former Fox News host, wrote on Twitter.

    “His family does not deserve this. It’s stomach-turning,” Kelly added.

    This has to stop. Who are we? What are we becoming? @TuckerCarlson is tough & can handle a lot, but he does not deserve this. His family does not deserve this. It’s stomach-turning.

    — Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) 8:29 PM – Nov 7, 2018
    “Smash Racism DC” previously chased Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife out of a restaurant during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

    The group later posted a message warning Cruz that he’s “not safe.”

    Peter Hasson

    1. Would it make you feel better if they had AR-15’s strapped on their shoulders and yelling and holding signs about 2nd amendments solutions?

      1. Fishwings, we have crazies on both sides of the aisle. The only difference is that too many Democrats support too many of the crazies. Take note of prior Democratic support of Antifa. Republicans in general resist that type of support. Some of those claimed to be on the right that are quite objectionable support programs that are typically leftist programs so be careful how you label all these extemist groups. Farakhan is on the left. He agrees with the Iranian leaders that call for death of America and calls Jews termites. We see many on the left sucking up to him. We even have pictures of Obama with Farakhan. I am sure that as a sensible individual you object to both Farakhan and those that suck up to him.

        I don’t support Nazi’s threatening individuals. Can you say the same about Antifa?

        The House was lost by Republicans. Have you seen violence and screaming from that side of the aisle? No. But, look at what happened at Tucker’s house.

        By the way, can you tell us of any group that went to a private citizens house with AR-15’s strapped to their shoulders doing what you claimed? Was that statement an example of your vivid immagination?

        1. How about those right-wing “Proud Boys,” Allan?

          “The only difference is that too many Democrats support too many of the crazies.” Says Allan.

          Another ridiculous claim by Allanucklehead. Pure Allanonsense.

          1. If the Proud Boys attack someone arrest them and do the same for Antifa. The problem is some on this blog support Antifa when it acts violently. We have seen the debates on this blog so the only one that can be accused of being a knucklehead is you.

  7. I’m all for investigations. My only proviso would be that if you call for one and it shows nothing, you reimburse the taxpayer for the costs from your campaign funds.

    1. So, when can we expect the money from the countless investigations of the Clintons. The rethuglicans owe the country 100s of millions though I am sure you were satisfied with their waste.

  8. “With his threat, Trump joined Pelosi in a race to the bottom, promising tit for tat use of investigations against his political opponents.”

    If one were to read only this column one would assume that both were chomping at the bit to investigate the other. I don’t think that is true because both seem to recognize a type of MAD situation that would occur. However, right after it was clear that the House was won by the Democrats, multiple democrats played the investigation game. Trump was reactive as was Pelosi, but Professor Turley would rather place more of the problem on Trump than on those members of the House that immediately gleefully announced their intentions.

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