House Judiciary Democrats revealed plans on Monday to hold public hearings this fall examining President Donald Trump’s role in arranging hush-money payments to women he allegedly had affairs with. Unless Democrats have new information to share with the American people, these proceedings will amount to little more than a waste of time — and time is something that is increasingly precious in the run-up to the 2020 election.
Instead of trying to get Republicans to care about Trump’s personal life, Democrats should be taking advantage of a much more legitimate and obvious investigative opportunity that is literally starring them in the face. Indeed, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have delivered the perfect investigative target with their frequent visits, on the taxpayers’ dime, to Trump-owned properties and resorts.
At the end of August, the president suggested that the next G-7 summit of world leaders should be held at his allegedly bedbug-infested resort in Doral, Florida. (Trump has denied there were ever bedbugs at his resort, although the property has racked up 524 health-code violations from 2013 to 2018.)
In the wake of another mass-shooting and as the nation continues to deal with the devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian, Trump spent his 295th day at a Trump-owned property, according to NBC News’ tracking data.
Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr just booked a $30,000 holiday party at Trump’s D.C. hotel.
And then there was the revelation that during his taxpayer-funded trip to Ireland, Pence changed his schedule to stay at a Trump property that was 150 miles away from his official meetings in Dublin and that required taxpayer-funded air travel.
The reality is, hearings into Trump’s efforts to circumvent campaign finance laws by paying off his mistresses, while possessing a Jerry Springer-esque attraction, leave Democrats vulnerable to accusations that they are using their oversight power to turn congressional hearings into sleaze TV, complete with tabloid publisher David Pecker and currently imprisoned felon Michael Cohen — with outspoken porn star Stormy Daniels as the star witness. This is the kind of unpredictable spectacle that could derail the entire credibility of Democrats’ oversight agenda. A lineup like this has all the makings for a full-blown circus. (Daniels, for her part, said she's more than willing to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.)
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Meanwhile, corruption in broad daylight is unfolding before our very eyes. Taxpayer dollars are being spent at numerous Trump-owned properties, meaning those dollars will eventually make their way into Trump’s bank account — or at least, his family’s account. Every hotel room used by the Secret Service, every golf cart used by White House staff, every meal purchased at a Trump property are absorbed by taxpayers for the financial gain of Donald Trump and his family.
Why aren’t Democrats having huge hearings about the costs of these weekly visits to Trump-owned properties? Why aren’t Democrats leading a daily drumbeat demanding that the White House release full receipts of how much taxpayer dollars are being spent per visit? Why aren’t Democrats pressuring the administration to disclose the decision-making process that goes into selecting a Trump-owned property for an official meeting or trip?
I spent five years working at the House Oversight Committee, during the Obama years. Before every proceeding, the committee chairs would read a “mission statement” that began, “Americans have a right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. … Our solemn responsibility is to hold government accountable to taxpayers.”
Trump’s greedy effort to use his office to enrich himself is the kind of abuse of power that should be anathema to his base in middle America. The president's political persona has been built on the fiction that the elites in Washington have abandoned working-class Americans and that he alone can change that. That somehow, despite being a self-proclaimed billionaire, he has more in common with the struggling farmer than the politicians in Washington who have rigged the game against the people standing on the middle and bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.
Democrats have an opportunity to show the American people that Trump is the living embodiment of elitism who, more than anyone, has benefitted from an uneven playing field. While corporate America has benefitted from his policies, the rest of us have been left behind. Say what you want about his rash policy decisions, bizarre rants and irresponsible deal-making: We know for a fact that he is taking our hard-earned money and putting it in his already deep pockets.
At the end of the day, who Donald Trump sleeps with is morally abhorrent if politically trivial; what he’s doing with our hard-earned money isn’t.