House Republicans rejected an attempt by Democrats on Thursday to demand that the State Department turn over records related to President Donald Trump’s secretive one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On a party-line vote, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee objected to a resolution that would have insisted on obtaining “copies of every document, record, communication, transcript, summary, note, memorandum, and read-ahead” that could shed light on the president’s interactions and agreements with Putin.
The so-called “resolution of inquiry” is a procedural mechanism that has gained favor among House Democrats, who are largely powerless to exert their will in a GOP-controlled Congress. The resolutions require committee action within 14 legislative days of their introduction, or else backers can force a vote on the House floor. Democrats, especially those on the House Judiciary Committee, have turned to the tactic to force GOP lawmakers to reckon with thorny issues like the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
The measures have all failed along partisan lines, but they have forced dozens of GOP lawmakers to take positions on difficult issues ahead of the 2018 congressional elections. But Thursday’s resolution — introduced by Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.) just ahead of the House’s August recess — is another indication of the avenues of investigation that Democrats could pursue if they retake the majority in January.
“When they went into a room together — no staff, no advisors — just the two of them and interpreters — alarm bells went off all over Washington, DC and around the world,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “Now, two months later, the alarm is still going off because the American people still have no idea what was discussed in that meeting. We need to know.”
Other Democrats used the debate as a chance to highlight Trump’s puzzling relationship with Putin, calling his posture toward the Russian leader “bizarre” and suggesting that he may have made closed-door agreements with Putin that implicate sensitive national security matters.
Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the resolution would set a “dangerous and harmful precedent” for the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy. He also said attempting to demand documents could lead to years of litigation that would ultimately be fruitless.
Royce emphasized that he “strongly disagreed” with Trump’s posture toward Putin in the Helsinki meeting.
“Vladimir Putin is not our friend,” Royce said, adding, “Helsinki was a squandered opportunity to challenge Vladimir Putin’s false narratives on Ukraine, Syria and Russia’s ongoing interference in our democracy.”
But, the demand for documents “is not a wise approach to oversight,” he said.
Trump met Putin in Helsinki in mid-July, amid raging controversy about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The meeting came just days after the Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russians for hacking Democratic Party emails as part of the scheme.
Trump emerged from the meeting and appeared to downplay Putin’s role in election interference and dismiss the intelligence community’s findings on the issue. The display led to a furor in the United States and Trump tepidly walked back his comments, though he continued to suggest that “other people,” not just Russia, may have been behind the interference effort.