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Democrats launch sweeping probe targeting dozens in Trump orbit

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In this file photo taken on Feb 4, 2019 Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Lara Trump, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr and Tiffany Trump look on during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC. The House Judiciary Committee launched a sprawling new probe on March 4, 2019 into Donald Trump's inner circle and alleged abuses of power, demanding documents from dozens of individuals including the president's sons Donald Jr and Eric and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

[WASHINGTON] US Democratic lawmakers on Monday launched their most ambitious investigation yet into alleged obstruction of justice and abuse of office by Donald Trump, targeting dozens of individuals in the president's inner circle.

With controversies swirling around Mr Trump, the powerful House Judiciary Committee's chairman sent strongly worded letters to family members of the president - including sons Don Jr and Eric - as well as political confidantes and related entities.

The letters demanded documents that could shed light on possible wrongdoing by the administration and Trump himself.

Son-in-law Jared Kushner and the Trump Organization's long-time chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, were among the 81 people and organisations, such as the National Rifle Association, that received letters from the panel's Democratic chairman Jerry Nadler.

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They also include White House ex-aides Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks, current Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, former attorney general Jeff Sessions, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The request is the most serious overt ramp-up of investigations into Mr Trump since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in early January, and seeks to uncover whether Mr Trump or his administration have participated in obstruction of justice or public corruption - potentially impeachable offenses.

"This is a critical time for our nation, and we have a responsibility to investigate these matters and hold hearings for the public to have all the facts," Mr Nadler said in a statement.

"Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms," he added.

"Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress."

'POLITICAL HOAX'? 

Mr Trump himself swatted away the probe as a "political hoax," but said he would cooperate with the probe.

"I cooperate all the time with everybody," he said at a White House event.

He later hardened his reaction, tweeting that any effort by Democrats to probe new avenues of possible wrongdoing "will never work."

Mr Nadler has given the recipients of his requests two weeks to respond.

Conspicuously absent among his 81 targets is the president's eldest daughter Ivanka Trump, who is a senior White House advisor and is married to Mr Kushner.

The chairmen of three other House panels also joined the fray on Monday, demanding the White House produce details of communications between Mr Trump and Mr Putin, after reports that such information was destroyed or hidden in the aftermath of their 2017 Helsinki summit.

The US intelligence community has concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, and that Mr Putin ordered the influence campaign as a way to help elect Mr Trump. The US president has repeatedly cast doubt on the findings.

Mr Nadler's broad investigation is focused on Mr Trump's business dealings and obstruction of justice allegations, along with possible Russian collusion.

It also will address accusations of campaign finance law violations and potential violations of the US Constitution's ban on foreign emoluments.

Mr Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, in explosive congressional testimony last week, implicated the president in illegal activities, including a scheme shortly before the 2016 election to pay hush money to two women who say they had affairs with Mr Trump.

One of the women reportedly received the payoffs through American Media Inc, a company run by a longtime Trump ally, David Pecker.

Mr Pecker and AMI both received letters from Mr Nadler demanding information about their involvement.

Letters to other key players include requests for information on the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower attended by Mr Kushner, Mr Trump Jr, now-jailed former campaign manager Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer reportedly close to the Kremlin, and documents surrounding the termination of FBI director James Comey.

The expansive new probe suggests the potential for laying the groundwork for possible impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump.

But Democratic congressional leaders including Nadler and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been reticent about pushing for the president's impeachment.

Mr Nadler told ABC on Sunday that such action would be "a long way down the road."

But in the same interview, he said that "it's very clear that the president obstructed justice."

In addition to the NRA, Mr Nadler also sought documents from the White House, the Trump Organization, Mr Trump's charity, the FBI and Cambridge Analytica, a data company that worked with the Trump campaign and has been investigated by Congress in connection with Russia's election interference efforts.

AFP