Five of the seven members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation sit on committees that will play a key role as the House pursues an impeachment inquiry against President Trump.
Calls from Dem lawmakers to begin the process of removing Trump from office reignited this week after reports he pressured the newly elected president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his family and a whistleblower alleged administration officials tried to cover it up.
While House committees have been investigating Trump for months, Speaker Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday called for the House to move forward with an “impeachment inquiry.” That is not a formal process, but the California Dem’s statement marked a shift in the attitude of House Dem leadership from skeptical of a process they reportedly thought to be unwise and politically divisive to full-fledged support.
“I’m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry,” Pelosi said in a televised statement Tuesday night after caucusing with House Dems.
Each of the six committees — Judiciary, Intelligence, Ways and Means, Financial Services, Oversight and Foreign Affairs — had previously been pursuing investigations into separate segments of Trump’s presidency, business practices and past. And all but the Intelligence Committee feature at least one Wisconsin lawmaker.
The Judiciary Committee — which outgoing U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, has sat on for the duration of his 40-year congressional career and chaired from 2001 through 2007 — will play perhaps the largest role as the panel with jurisdiction over articles of impeachment.
The committee began investigating Trump in March, just two months after Dems took back the majority, with a focus on allegations of corruption and abuses of power.
The scope of that probe widened a month later to include Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that documented several incidents Dems charge have the potential to represent obstruction of justice. Among them: a directive from Trump to his then-White House Counsel, Don McGahn, to fire Mueller and shut down his investigation.
But Sensenbrenner has dismissed the Dem-backed allegations against Trump stemming from the Russia probe, saying Mueller found “insufficient evidence to prove that the President or his staff engaged in criminal conspiracy” and called on Dems to “move on.”
Sensenbrenner also sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, one of the six that falls under Pelosi’s impeachment “umbrella.” That panel has launched a joint probe of Trump’s interaction with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky along with the House Intelligence and Oversight committees.
The Menomonee Falls Republican told the Journal Sentinel early this week that a memo detailing Trump’s conversation with Zelensky was “really nothing” and accused Dems of putting “the cart before the horse” by announcing an impeachment inquiry.
But U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, who has long backed impeachment and sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, had a different take -away from the memo of Trump’s conversations with Zelensky. The Milwaukee Dem said she welcomed “Speaker Pelosi’s decision to begin an impeachment inquiry.”
“His recent calls urging Ukraine’s president to investigate his political opponent is the latest example of Trump’s lawlessness,” she said. “The administration’s mishandling of the whistleblower complaint also illustrates the persuasiveness of their corruption.”
Impeachment skeptic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind also sits on panel but has largely steered away from the investigations into Trump. While he said the Mueller Report displayed “an unprecedented level” of interference in 2016 election, he did not explicitly call for impeachment.
Asked by WisPolitics.com on Tuesday about where he stands on an impeachment inquiry, the La Crosse Dem sidestepped the question and instead called on Trump to release the “extremely concerning” whistleblower complaint.
That complaint was on Thursday made public, revealing allegations that intelligence officials were told to “lock down” all records of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky on an isolated computer system.
But Kind and Moore’s work on impeachment as members of the Ways and Means Committee will focus on a different area: Trump’s tax returns.
The panel invoked a statute of Internal Revenue Code that authorizes certain congressional committees to access the tax returns of American citizens to request Trump’s tax documents from the IRS in April.
But the committee was shot down by the Treasury Department in a move Moore called “yet another affront to democracy.” The panel in July sued the Trump administration to get the documents, but proceedings are still tied up in court.
“Congress has the right and obligation to perform oversight including the right to request the President’s tax returns,” Moore said in a July statement. “Let me be clear, by failing to comply, the President is thwarting Congress’sCongress’s exercise of its legislative responsibilities.”
Kind has stayed silent on the Ways and Means committee’s sparring with the administration on Trump’s tax returns, and a spokeswoman did not respond to an interview request.
Taxes are not the only aspect of Trump’s financial past to fall under the purview of congressional investigators. Freshman U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil sits on the House Financial Services Committee, which is probing Trump’s personal and business financial records to determine whether he helped Russians and other foreign buyers launder money through his properties.
The panel in April subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and Capital One. Deutsche Bank during an appeals case stemming from that subpoena confirmed it had some of Trump’s tax returns, giving Dems another path to obtain long-sought-after documents. But much like the Ways and Means investigation, the pursuit of Trump’s tax returns by the Financial Services Committee is tied up in court.
Steil has not commented publicly on the Financial Services investigation, and a spokeswoman for the Janesville Republican did not respond to an interview request. But he tweeted from his campaign account on Wednesday calling for Congress to “address real issues, not endless investigations!”
“Rather than focusing on issues important to Americans, many of my Democrat colleagues are pushing impeachment with another attack against @realdonaldtrump,” he wrote.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee is also probing Trump’s financial history but is seeking accounting records to corroborate allegations the president committed fraud by misrepresenting his net worth to get loans or to dodge real estate taxes.
Those allegations stem from testimony given before Congress in February by Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, who is currently serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty last year to multiple crimes.
The panel — which U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, sits on — has asked the president’s long-time accounting firm Mazars USA to turn over 10 years of Trump Organization records. Committee Chair U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told reporters in April the firm asked the committee for a “friendly” subpoena to formalize the process of complying with the panel’s request.
But like the Ways and Means and Financial Services investigations, the Oversight probe is tied up in court after the president and his legal team sued in order to curb efforts to obtain the documents.
For his part, Grothman has not publicly commented on the Oversight investigation. But he did knock Dem leadership’s decision to press forward with an impeachment inquiry.
In a statement, the Glenbeulah Republican said he believed the communication between Trump and Zelensky was “certainly appropriate, considering the amount of foreign aid Ukraine receives.
“This action by the Democrats is particularly bothersome when we should be focusing on the important business that is before the House,” he added.