A side battle over former President Trump’s indictment is emerging in Congress, where House Republicans fiercely condemning the probe have launched an investigation into Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) and his office.
The new investigation, added on top of a pile of aggressive House GOP probes into the Biden administration and beyond, has prompted pushback from Bragg and congressional Democrats. They warn not only that it could interfere in an ongoing legal matter, but also question whether congressional committees have jurisdiction to look into a state-level case.
Those criticisms have prompted direct pushback from House Republicans, particularly in wake of Trump’s arrest and arraignment on 34 felony charges of falsifying business records related to a hush money scheme. The former president pleaded not guilty.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calf.), who promised a congressional probe into the D.A.’s office after Trump took to social media last month to announce he would soon be arrested in connection with the case, defended the House GOP actions in a tweet following Trump’s arraignment on Tuesday.
“Alvin Bragg is attempting to interfere in our democratic process by invoking federal law to bring politicized charges against President Trump, admittedly using federal funds, while at the same time arguing that the peoples’ representatives in Congress lack jurisdiction to investigate this farce,” McCarthy tweeted. “Not so. Bragg’s weaponization of the federal justice process will be held accountable by Congress.”
The issue is likely to drag on through the rest of this year, as Trump’s next in-person court appearance is set for Dec. 4.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said Wednesday on Fox News that he, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and McCarthy would hold a call later this week to talk about next steps in their investigation.
When asked about the possibility of subpoenaing Bragg, Jordan said in a separate Fox News interview Wednesday that “everything is on the table.”
Bragg “may contest” their request to speak to the House investigators, Jordan said. “It may have to go to court. We’ll see.”
An initial sweeping request from Jordan, Comer, and House Administration Committee Chair Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) asked Bragg to turn over all internal communications about the case while demanding he sit for testimony before the panels.
Bragg’s office warned that their request “treads into territory very clearly reserved to the states,” and argued that Congress’s investigative jurisdiction “is derived from and limited by its power to legislate concerning federal matters.”
Congressional Democrats took a similar stance, with House Oversight ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) charging at the time that the House GOP move “represents an astonishing and unprecedented abuse of power as they attempt to use congressional resources to interfere in an ongoing criminal investigation at another level of government.”
House Judiciary ranking member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement after Trump’s arraignment that Republicans are trying to “obstruct the process,” chalking the requests for information up to “political stunts.”
But the three chairman vigorously defended their authority in a response to Bragg, saying the Trump indictment “implicates substantial federal interests” and could inform creation of federal legislation to “insulate current and former presidents from such improper state and local prosecutions.”
Like McCarthy, the three GOP committee chairs in recent days have been defending their jurisdictional basis, arguing the matter touches on how federal funds are used, coordination between state and federal authorities, and oversight of federal elections and matters related to campaign finance law.
In a second response to the House chairmen, Bragg’s office said that around $5,000 in federal funds was spent on investigations of Trump or the Trump Organization by Bragg’s predecessor between October 2019 and August 2021, mostly on Supreme Court litigation that paved the way for the conviction of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. The office also listed hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants that it uses for other matters.
That admission energized Republicans.
“We do know that he has conceded that he used federal funds,” Jordan said on Fox News on Wednesday. “We knew that this investigation grew out of the special counsel Mueller investigation. That, [of] course, is a federal statute. And we know that this is all about, in our judgment, election interference.”
Steil said on Fox News over the weekend that they want to know more about any coordination between Bragg and the Department of Justice, which declined to pursue campaign finance charges against Trump over the hush money probe.
“Is he usurping federal power over campaign finance law?” Steil said.
Jeff Robbins, an attorney now in private practice who has served as both a federal prosecutor and investigative counsel for Senate Democrats, said GOP lawmakers have little authority to stand on in launching an investigation into Bragg.
He called the $5,000 spent by the office previously on other Trump organization cases “sub de minimis,” but said the bigger issue is that Congress is exceeding its authority.
In fact, it was a case launched by Trump that aided in limiting lawmakers’ subpoena power as he sought to block House Democrats from accessing his tax records from the firm Mazars, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
“The power of Congress to subpoena is not unlimited. It is limited, and it has gotten actually somewhat more limited over the course of the last several years,” Robbins said.
“Any congressional subpoena is limited by the requirement … to have a legitimate legislative purpose or an oversight purpose. They don’t have oversight over the Manhattan D.A.’s office, and there is no legitimate legislative purpose for targeting the D.A.’s office because they don’t like the fact that the D.A.’s office has indicted Donald Trump. And they won’t be able to demonstrate any such legislative purpose,” he added.
Republicans, of course, disagree, and have suggested legislation they could pursue in order to back up their requests.
“When we look at federal government taxpayer dollars going to district attorneys across the United States, in particular progressive D.A.s that are not enforcing the rule of law on their streets, do we need to rewrite how these grants are being written?” Steil said on Fox News.
If the committees subpoena Bragg, he could ignore the subpoena, forcing the House to hold a contempt of Congress vote, or Bragg could challenge the subpoena’s validity in court.
“Whichever way that goes, the congressional committee will lose,” Robbins said.
House Republicans’ broad request represents another legal problem for Bragg, who has an obligation to protect the right to a fair trial.
“These confidentiality provisions exist to protect the interests of the various participants in the criminal process,” Bragg wrote in his first letter to the GOP leaders, including “the defendant.”
Some of the information the GOP committees are seeking will be turned over to Trump’s attorneys in short order through a process known as discovery.
But prosecutors during Trump’s arraignment on Tuesday noted concerns about how such information might be used by the former president, noting they are working on an agreement with Trump’s attorney’s that would block Trump from releasing any of it publicly.
“The people believe, especially in light of the defendant’s public comments, that a protective order is vital to insure the sanctity of the proceedings as well as the sanctity of the discovery materials,” said Catherine McCaw, a prosecutor on the case, adding that the agreement would only allow Trump to review materials in his attorney’s office and would bar him from sharing any evidence with reporters or on social media.