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Is President Trump Using The White House For Personal Gain?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Democrats are now in charge of the House Judiciary Committee, and they're letting everyone know it. The committee launched a sprawling investigation Monday, demanding documents from 81 people and businesses affiliated with President Trump - among them the president's sons Donald Jr. and Eric Trump and the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the investigation, quote, "disgraceful and abusive" and said Democrats are embarking on a fishing expedition. Democrat Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania was just elected to Congress in November and now sits on the House Judiciary Committee. She joins us now.

Thanks so much for being with us.

MADELEINE DEAN: It's my pleasure. Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: Is this a part of why you ran for Congress in the first place - to investigate President Trump?

DEAN: You know what? That's interesting. Part of why I ran was I had hopes of being on the judiciary committee for two reasons - because of the substantive work that the judiciary committee does, like the gun legislation of last week, and for the important oversight work as you saw yesterday. Chairman Nadler and our committee announced that 81 people, organizations and entities have been offered - issued letters of request for documents. I think we have an obligation to do both.

MARTIN: What is the plan? I mean, this is an immense amount of information that the committee is seeking. How are you going to apportion that information up?

DEAN: I think the No. 1 thing is to gather the evidence, the data, the facts and the truth for the American people. We have a terrific committee. We've also brought on two new counsel. And - but the idea is ask for these documents, get them within the next two weeks because the American people have waited for two years for any kind of oversight into this administration. So we're ready to gather the facts and the data and see where those facts and data take us.

MARTIN: But - I mean, it is so sprawling. How do you combat the criticism that it is a fishing expedition?

DEAN: I don't buy that at all. What we're looking at is possibilities of obstruction of justice, public corruption, abuse of power by this administration in these documents, most of which have already been requested by other entities, whether it was the Mueller commission or others. These documents will either reveal that there are things wrong, or they might reveal there's nothing to see here.

MARTIN: But you reference Robert Mueller and the special counsel investigation. Isn't this within that purview? I mean, why do you feel the need for redundancy?

DEAN: There will be some redundancy, some overlap. And we certainly look forward to the full disclosure of the Mueller report and investigation. But remember; the Mueller report is limited in scope. Mueller is investigating links and coordination between the Russian government and President Trump and his campaign. Our search is for something much broader than that.

MARTIN: Although when they have come across things that were no longer within that purview, they've referred them - for example, to the Southern District of New York.

DEAN: Yes. And you know that our committee let the Southern District know as well as the Mueller investigating committee know what we were doing.

MARTIN: Can the committee even get through all this information within this Congress?

DEAN: I believe so. I think we're very much capable of taking a look and assessing this information. We're staffed up. We're ready to go. And this is a robust committee of people who are really earnestly committed to doing our job of oversight, to finding out what actually has happened here because after all, you know there have been tremendous accusations. But there are also been observable actions by this administration, by this president that are deeply troubling.

MARTIN: If all these entities - these 81 people and businesses, affiliates - do not respond in time, what happens?

DEAN: Well, you know, our committee does have the power of subpoena. So I think, No. 1, we're asking for voluntary disclosure of that which most of them have already disclosed. And then we have other tools in our toolbox to commend - to command the information as we need it.

MARTIN: Is there a specific question that you need answered for your constituents who sent you to Congress in November?

DEAN: I think the global, broader question is - has this administration operated in the best interest of the American people, or has it operated for self-interest of this president or those he associates with? You know, the American people - when I ran for office, the No. 1 thing that they asked of me was, will you go and serve with decency? Will you go and not be subjects of conflicts of interest? There are deeply troubling questions around this administration about decency and about conflicts of interest. And so that's what our job is to do. We have a constitutional obligation for oversight.

MARTIN: Representative Madeleine Dean is a freshman Democrat from Pennsylvania. She sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

Thank you for your time.

DEAN: Thank you.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has been listening in to that conversation.

Tamara, what did you hear in there?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, she is trying to make the case that Democrats on this committee need to make, which is that this is a serious investigation that is looking at serious things and is not, you know, a fishing expedition or just a scattershot look at every aspect of President Trump's life. The White House, as you mentioned, has been pushing back. Saying that - in a statement last night, Sarah Sanders said, the Democrats are not after the truth; they are after the president. And that's what the White House needs to do. They need to portray these congressional investigations as, quote, "presidential harassment." They need to make it not about what the president or people around him may have done but about the investigation itself.

MARTIN: Do we know just how many of these 81 entities have have responded yet?

KEITH: We do not know. We do know that the White House is pushing back pretty hard. But a lot of those entities aren't actually in the White House. They - typically, the way these things work is those deadlines push or there are negotiations that start happening. It isn't typical that you just suddenly have a large package of information placed on the desk of the committee.

MARTIN: Right. So as optimistic as the congresswoman was about the timeline and their being able to get through this within this Congress, this this could go on a long time.

KEITH: This is going to be a defining thing for the next two years.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith - thanks so much, Tamara.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.