Explainer: Democratic win of House would put Trump under microscope

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If Democrats win control of the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate in the Nov. 6 elections, nearly every aspect of Republican Donald Trump’s presidency could face swift examination – from his long-elusive tax returns to possible business ties with Russia and conflicts of interest.

The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

Polls show Democrats likely to win control of the House with Republicans likely to retain their majority in the Senate. Here is what to expect, based on interviews with more than a half-dozen congressional aides:

The investigative committees will ramp up.

The majority party in the House or Senate receives more money and staff for investigations than the minority party. Control of key House panels, such as the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Judiciary Committee, the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is expected to shift to top Democrats. There is no plan for a special temporary committee to centralize the Trump investigations. The committees would spend January organizing and hiring staff, with investigations cranking up as soon as February.

The scope and sequencing of investigations will be set.

Democratic House leaders and prospective committee chairs already have been discussing the scope and sequencing of investigations they will launch if they win control. They will move swiftly to energize an oversight process they believe has stalled. Representative Adam Schiff, currently the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed that Democrats must “restore Congress as an equal branch and check the ambition of an imperial and erratic president.”

Impeachment is not on the agenda - for now.

Democratic leaders have made clear they will not pursue Trump’s impeachment – at least until the outcome of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections and possible Trump campaign collusion with Moscow.

Obtaining Trump’s tax returns is a top priority.

Trump has refused to release his tax returns, bucking the custom of recent U.S. presidents. The Ways and Means Committee would use its authority to request Trump’s tax returns from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The judiciary and intelligence committees could then use the returns to dig into whether Trump got anything of value from foreigners or had business ties to Russia.

The Oversight Committee will take a ‘two-lane’ approach.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has the broadest oversight jurisdiction and can examine any federal agency, person or company. Representative Elijah Cummings, currently the panel’s top Democrat, is expected to chair the committee.

Cummings told Reuters he would take a “two-lane” approach, examining Trump’s businesses and potential conflicts of interests, while also probing “day-to-day” issues such as prescription drug pricing, voter suppression and questions about citizenship added to the 2020 U.S. Census.

During Trump’s presidency, Oversight Democrats sought 64 subpoenas that Republican committee members denied, which offers an indication of their intentions. Top priorities are examining Trump’s handling of security clearances and top aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s use of a private email system.

Democrats will keep 2020 in mind.

Democrats will aim for some bipartisan cooperation in conducting their investigations, lest their push seem too overtly political ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Reuters there is a risk the Democratic investigations run the risk of being “reminiscent of the late 1990s when we thought it was a good idea politically to impeach Bill Clinton and the public got mad at us, and felt sorry for him.”

Reporting By Amanda Becker, Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Amanda Becker; Editing by Bill Trott