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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.

Be smart ... Kurt Bardella, a Republican former senior adviser for House Oversight, writing in USA Today:

  • "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."

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1 dead, 14 injured in shooting at Kroger grocery store near Memphis

One person was killed and 14 others were injured Thursday in a shooting at a Kroger grocery store in Collierville, Tenn., near Memphis, the town's spokesperson Jennifer Casey said, per CNN.

What they're saying: "I've been involved in [police work] for 34 years and I have never seen anything like [this]," Police Chief Dale Lane said at a press conference.

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CDC panel recommends Pfizer boosters for high-risk individuals, people 65 and up

Photo: Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A key panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shots for people 65 years old and older, as well as those at high risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: The approval is the near-final step in making the booster shots available to tens of millions of Americans, and comes a day after the FDA approved Pfizer boosters for the two groups. CDC director Rochelle Walensky is expected to announce her recommendation soon.

DHS temporarily suspends use of horse patrol in Del Rio

U.S. Border Patrol agents watch as Haitian immigrant families cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into Del Rio, Texas on Sept. 23, 2021. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday temporarily suspended the use of horse patrol in Del Rio, Texas a DHS spokesperson confirmed.

Why it matters: The suspension comes after images showing border patrol agents whipping at and charging their horses at migrants surfaced earlier in the week, prompting widespread criticism of the Biden administration's handling of the crisis at the border.