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Trump lashes out as Democrats open probes into his taxes, Russia ties

Written by Maritime First

…Donald Tusk says some Brexiteers deserve ‘special place in hell’***

Newly empowered House Democrats kicked off a barrage of investigations into President Donald Trump’s taxes, real estate business and Russia ties Thursday, raising the pressure on the White House after two years of insulation by a Republican majority.

Trump lashed out about “presidential harassment” as one House committee opened a hearing into forcing the release of his long-hidden tax returns, and another began questioning his controversial policy to separate immigrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

“The Dems and their committees are going ‘nuts,’” Trump tweeted.

“The Republicans never did this to President Obama, there would be no time left to run government,” he said.

Both sides were girding for tough legal clashes pitting congressional powers against those of the presidency.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler threatened Trump’s acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, with a subpoena if he did not turn over records of his communications with the White House in reference to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling.

And Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, laid out a plan to begin probing Trump’s business ties to Russia, citing fears of money laundering and of “foreign financial or other leverage over President Trump.”

Schiff’s committee is planning to hear testimony from the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who has already divulged to investigators inside information about the operations of the president’s real estate business, the Trump Organization and Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

“So now Congressman Adam Schiff announces, after having found zero Russian Collusion, that he is going to be looking at every aspect of my life, both financial and personal, even though there is no reason to be doing so. Never happened before!” Trump tweeted.

Probes heighten impeachment threat 
House Democrats have a long list of Trump-focused issues to probe after being stifled for two years by majority Republicans.

Winning control of the House in November allows them to open an investigative assault on the White House in the same way that — contrary to Trump’s claim — Republicans laid siege to former president Barack Obama.

A shortlist of topics include conflicts of interest and mismanagement by cabinet members; Trump’s benefits from family business while in the White House; and security lapses by Trump and his White House staff.

“We will not surrender our constitutional responsibility of oversight,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

The House probes would add to the legal and political burden facing the president from Mueller’s probe, and a parallel Justice Department investigation in New York into various activities of the campaign and Trump Organization.

Altogether, the probes elevate the chance that Trump could face impeachment if serious wrongdoing is found.

Thursday’s House Ways and Means hearing into Trump’s taxes would break what he declared in 2017 as a red line — that investigations should not touch his business and finances.

Unlike previous presidents, Trump has refused to release his tax records. His lawyers claim they have been under review by the Internal Revenue Service since 2002.

A 2016 New York Times analysis based on limited information concluded that Trump may have paid minimal or even no taxes each year since 1995.

Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell called on the committee to tap its seldom-used power to obtain and review Trump’s tax returns.

“If a president is cheating the system, or evading taxes, or otherwise violating the tax laws of our country, why should any citizen feel compelled to comply? No one is above the law,” he said.

“When we have cause for concerns over conflicts of interest or tax violations, we have every reason to use the authority given to this committee.”

Business ties to Russia 
Schiff’s Intelligence Committee is planning a deep-dive into Trump’s financial and business ties to Russia, suggesting that they could involve money laundering.

The committee wants to know “whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates,” Schiff said in a statement Wednesday.

“Congress has a duty to expose foreign interference, hold Russia to account, ensure that US officials -– including the President -– are serving the national interest and, if not, are held accountable,” he said.

In the meantime, a day before a critical meeting between the United Kingdom and the European Union on the future of their divorce agreement, the European Council president slammed those who encouraged Brexit without a plan on how to carry it out.

“I’ve been wondering what the special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it safely,” Donald Tusk said at a press conference with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Those were strong words from a man who has long expressed his desire to find common ground for an agreement and a close future relationship with Britain.

Since the vote to leave the E.U. in June 2016, leaders of the 28-member bloc have expressed hope that the U.K. will change its mind. Tusk admitted Wednesday that this no longer seemed possible.

“Today, there is no political force and no effective leadership for remain. I say this without satisfaction but you can’t argue with the facts,” he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is scheduled to meet with Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Thursday to discuss a way forward on the divorce agreement.

Last month, the deal she negotiated with the E.U. was crushed by members of Parliament, including more than one-third of lawmakers from her own Conservative Party.

One of the main objections to the deal is an insurance policy of sorts known as the Irish backstop. It aims to prevent the reintroduction of a physical border between the Irish Republic, which will remain in the E.U., and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. and will leave the bloc March 29.

For 30 years, starting in the late 1960s, the border was a frontline in a conflict known as “The Troubles” that killed 3,600 people. Some fear Britain’s plan to leave the E.U. could result in checkpoints being reintroduced there, which could potentially spur new violence.

European leaders, however, have been clear that the Brexit agreement is not up for renegotiation. Tusk said that he hoped May would come with “a realistic suggestion” on how to end the impasse.

With only 51 days to go until the U.K. leaves the bloc, Tusk said that the E.U.’s most important task now was to prepare for “a possible fiasco” in which Britain departs with no divorce agreement and no arrangements for future trade.

In a “no-deal” Brexit, the Bank of England has warned the country’s economy could shrink by as much as 8 percent in about a year.

Businesses, pharmaceutical companies and supermarkets have already started stockpiling goods. Supermarkets have also warned that fresh produce such as lettuce and tomatoes may be difficult to get in the event a deal isn’t reached, as much of their supply in March comes from the E.U.

Should any agreement not win enough support from lawmakers in Parliament, the U.K. could potentially request to delay Brexit — or even decide not to leave.

AFP wth additional report from NBC

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Maritime First