House Judiciary Committee hires two outside counsels

The attorneys will be tasked with reviewing issues that could be at the heart of an impeachment case against the president.
Image: Jerrold Nadler
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.Alex Wong / Getty Images

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By Mike Memoli and Alex Moe

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee is building out its legal team with an eye toward an aggressive oversight agenda, tasking new outside attorneys with a review of issues that could be at the heart of an impeachment case against President Donald Trump.

The Democratic-led panel on Tuesday received approval to hire two “special oversight counsels” — Norm Eisen, a former ethics official in the Obama administration, and Barry Berke, a New York-based defense attorney.

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Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the committee's chairman, said the two would will “consult on oversight matters related to the Department of Justice, including the Department’s review of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, and other oversight and policy issues within the Committee’s jurisdiction.”

“The House Judiciary Committee is determined to ask critical questions, gather all the information, judiciously assess the evidence, and make sure that the facts are not hidden from the American people,” Nadler said in a statement. “I am glad to have such valuable resources available to help us ensure that this Administration is held accountable to our laws and to the American public.”

Committee officials stress that the new hires should not be seen as the precursor to impeachment. But the issues they will be focused on — abuses of power, the rule of law and obstruction of justice — could well produce threads that lawmakers could use to lay the groundwork for that.

Eisen and Berke will get to work on what the committee says will be a “robust oversight agenda.” Their immediate job will center on requests for documents from the administration on areas of interest, requests that may well prompt legal challenges by the White House and potential executive privilege claims.

The committee will also hold a series of public hearings on these issues.

Eisen is the co-founder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, a prominent watchdog group. The committee describes Berke as a leading trial lawyer and an expert on federal criminal law, including public corruption.