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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."

Go deeper:

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Go deeper

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.