House Dems Already Went Nuclear on Trump. Now What?

House Democrats are staring down a familiar foe: a president they believe is running roughshod over the rule of law by using his power to protect his allies from punishment.

They believe they were elected with a mandate to take that foe on. There’s just one problem: They already went nuclear on him. 

The fallout from the impeachment of President Trump had hardly even cleared when the coronavirus broke out, plunging the nation into an unprecedented crisis and instantly creating an enormous new frontier for congressional oversight. 

Amid that emergency, Attorney General William Barr has made dramatic moves to protect Trump’s allies, like former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, which have shocked Democrats and many veterans of the Department of Justice. 

And, as Congress enters a protracted period of disrupted operations thanks to the outbreak, Senate Republicans—egged on by Trump—are vowing to use their power to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation and may subpoena former Obama administration officials for testimony in order to do it. 

This strange, unprecedented confluence of events has left the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee—the tip of the party’s spear in holding the Trump administration accountable—with a familiar problem: figuring out how to investigate an administration that’s worked to make itself nearly impossible to investigate.

Impeachment, the most powerful tool at their disposal, has already been used. COVID-19 commands headlines and the lion’s share of Congress’ time. Against that backdrop, House Democrats appear increasingly constrained in their ability to conduct effective oversight of an increasingly emboldened administration.

When Barr announced on May 7 that Flynn’s prosecution would be dropped, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) tweeted that Barr’s move was “outrageous;” the next day, he sent a letter to the DOJ inspector general, Michael Horowitz, requesting he investigate. On May 13, Nadler told MSNBC that his priority was to get Barr before his committee on June 9, a make-up for a scheduled March hearing that was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. That date, or any date, has not yet been confirmed by DOJ.

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