Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Even before Robert Mueller has delivered his final communiqué, Democrats have activated a new phase in the Trump-Russia wars that ultimately could prove more damaging to the president than the special counsel's investigation.
Why it matters: For Trump, this has been a behind-the-scenes probe, with sensational yet intermittent revelations. Now, it's about to become a persistent and very public process — at best, a nuisance; at worst, a threat to his office.
- What's new: Whether or not Mueller is sitting on a grand finale, Democrats are picking up the baton with a vast probe that already involves a half-dozen committees, and will include public hearings starring reluctant witnesses.
- What House Democrats are thinking after the public Cohen hearing, via an email to Axios from MSNBC analyst Matt Miller: "Incredible to start an investigation and have six months' worth of leads on the first day."
What Democrats are planning:
- They want to call Trump family members — with subpoenas, if necessary.
- The Democrats' investigation will touch Trump's businesses, foundation and presidency — and could extend into 2020, top Democrats tell me.
- Besides Russia, topics include conflicts of interest, money laundering, and Jared Kushner's security clearance and other White House clearances. (N.Y. Times scoop: "Trump Ordered Officials to Give Kushner a Security Clearance.")
- Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who's on the House Oversight Committee, tells Axios' Alayna Treene that committees are "zeroing in on the Moscow project, the Russia connection and the influence of other foreign actors like Saudi Arabia."
Democrats expect all that may serve as a Rosetta Stone to arguable "high crimes and misdemeanors," touching off an impeachment process.
- Well-wired Democrats tell us that even if the impeachment process doesn't lead to a showdown vote, so much energy in the party is invested in the idea that they see little chance of heading off at least the opening stages.
Coming attractions: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said the committee will hear from Felix Sater, a Russia-born executive who worked with Cohen on Trump Tower in Moscow, in an open hearing on March 14, per AP.
- The committee also plans to bring in longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg.
- "It will only be a matter of time before the Oversight Committee requests that Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner speak to congressional investigators about their meetings, conversations and plans for a Trump Tower project in Moscow."
- "The Trump Organization will receive requests for all emails, documents, notes and other evidence related to the internal deliberations about the project."