Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Susan Glasser at The New Yorker has an interesting article on Representative Eliot Engel of New York, who is now the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Quite surprisingly, as least to me, Engel is going to turn what has traditionally been a policy shop into more of an investigatory committee.

As often happens when a new chairman takes over in Congress, Engel is reorganizing the subcommittees on Foreign Affairs. He’s eliminating the committee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and replacing it with a panel that will devote all its time looking into Donald Trump. We don’t yet know who will chair this subcommittee, but we do have some idea of what will be on their agenda.

I asked for a list of what Engel proposed to investigate. It was long, although, he assured me, by no means exhaustive, since the subcommittee’s chair and membership have not yet been finalized. No matter who holds the gavel, the investigation is certain to start with the question of what, exactly, Trump agreed to at his private meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, last summer. “It’s been many months since Helsinki, and we still don’t know what Putin and Trump talked about,” Engel said. He also pledged to look at “the business interests of the President” and the extent to which Trump’s financial dealings with places such as Russia and the Middle East have “affected what he’s done in foreign policy.”

…From there, the list of Foreign Affairs’ priorities includes North Korea and the matter of Trump’s falling “in love” with dictator Kim Jong Un; the killing of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Trump family’s close ties with the Saudi crown prince, whose aides appear to have carried out his execution; and the wild gyrations in Trump’s policy toward the long-running civil war in Syria, where Trump’s abrupt order, in December, to immediately withdraw the two thousand U.S. forces supporting the anti-regime Kurdish fighters led to the resignation of the Defense Secretary, James Mattis.

“It’s the first time in American history that a Secretary of Defense resigned in protest,” Engel reminded me.

Chairman Engel is willing to fight other committees for the jurisdiction to investigate these matters. The traditional investigatory committees are Judiciary, Intelligence, and Oversight & Government Reform, although many committees do maintain oversight subcommittees. In some ways, the Intelligence Committee is better armed to look into foreign affairs because they and their staff have preexisting clearances and protocols for dealing with classified materials. To do this job correctly, Engel will need to transform the Foreign Affairs Committee into something it has has never been in the past.

If freshman Democrat Tom Malinowski of New Jersey is correct, Engel’s vision for the committee is very ambitious.

For Engel and the other newly empowered Democrats in the House of Representatives, it’s a moment to show whether they can do more than assert their relevance. Will all the investigations and subpoenas amount to more than political posturing against the President? “We’re the only check left,” Tom Malinowski, a newly sworn-in Democratic congressman from New Jersey, told me the other day. Malinowski, a former Assistant Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, hopes to land a seat on Engel’s Foreign Affairs Committee. He is bullish on the Democrats’ chance to create a sort of “alt-State Department” for the remainder of Trump’s term.

Engel clearly thinks our president is compromised by foreign powers, and not necessarily only Russia. He thinks it’s a crisis of the highest order. And he’s going to investigate.

C-SPAN is going to have some seriously high ratings this year.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at