The House Oversight Committee is asking federal prosecutors in New York whether the Justice Department’s policy against indicting a sitting President played any role in the decision not to indict President Donald Trump for his role in directing Michael Cohen to arrange hush-money payments to women alleging affairs during the 2016 campaign.
House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, sent a letter to Deputy US Attorney Audrey Strauss Friday after the Southern District of New York revealed in a letter Thursday they had it had concluded its investigation into whether anyone else would be charged in the campaign finance scheme that Cohen pleaded guilty to last year, which was one part of Cohen’s three-year prison sentence he’s now serving.
Federal search warrants released Thursday detailed how Trump and his allies scrambled in the final weeks of the campaign to arrange hush-money payments. The documents are the first time that federal authorities have identified Trump by name and spelled out in his involvement in the hush-money scheme.
“If prosecutors identified evidence of criminal conduct by Donald Trump while serving as President — and did not bring charges as they would have for any other individual — this would be the second time the President has not been held accountable for his actions due to his position,” Cummings wrote. “The Office of the President should not be used as a shield for criminal conduct.”
An spokesman from the Southern District of New York declined to comment on the letter. Sources have previously told CNN that as a part of the Justice Department, its prosecutors follow department guidelines.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen declined to comment when asked Friday whether the Justice Department guidelines played a factor in the decision to conclude the investigation, or whether officials in Washington played a role. “The only thing I can say is that it was handled by experienced prosecutors who looked at the law and the facts and made their conclusions on the merits,” Rosen said.
Cummings’ letter comes one week before special counsel Robert Mueller, who said he followed DOJ guidelines for not indicting a sitting president as part of his obstruction investigation, testifies publicly before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. The more than 80 Democrats who have called for the House to begin an impeachment inquiry have pointed to both Mueller’s obstruction probe and the hush-money payments as reason for Congress to consider impeachment.
A spokesperson for Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the oversight committee, said Cohen should not be considered a reliable witness as someone convicted for lying to Congress.
“But still Chairman Cummings continues to use Cohen — the Chairman’s first announced witness this Congress — to attack the President for political gain,” the spokeperson said. “Democrats in Congress should be solving real problems instead of indulging their obsession with impeaching the President.”