Fact Check: Congress Can And Should Continue Investigations While Executive Branch Investigations Are Ongoing

May 22, 2017

MYTH: The appointment of a special prosecutor “severely limits” the ability of Congress to investigate Russian interference in the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. 

FACT: During the past three administrations – Democratic and Republican – Congress and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Justice and the FBI, have simultaneously conducted both fact-finding and criminal investigations.   Congressional investigations have a different purpose than Justice Department investigations; only the DOJ is empowered to prosecute criminal activity, and only Congress is empowered to conduct oversight and make appropriate legislative and policy changes as a result. 

BACKGROUND: During the Obama administration, Republicans in Congress frequently conducted parallel congressional investigations into matters also subject to criminal law enforcement investigations, including the treatment of political action groups by the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Energy loan guarantees to Solyndra, and the General Services Administration’s misuse of taxpayer funds for conferences.

EVEN REPUBLICANS SAY THE INVESTIGATIONS CAN MOVE FORWARD:

  • Senator Marco Rubio [R-FL]: "The counterintelligence matter moves forward, and it is my hope that they will not be in conflict with one another, and I do not believe that they need to be in conflict with one another," Rubio said.” [Washington Examiner, 5/18/17]
  • Senator Marco Rubio [R-FL]: “I think virtually everyone has full confidence that he [Mueller]'s going to conduct a thorough and fair investigation and a look at all of these things and give answers. And we're now going to look at it and continue to look at it from a counter-intelligence perspective. And that's our job.” [CBS Face the Nation, 5/21/17]
  • Senator Marco Rubio [R-FL]: “And that is, irrespective of all those reports, Director Mueller is going to do his thing with regards to the work that he now has. The Intelligence Committee is going to continue to do its work. You will have now at least two separate places that I hope will reach conclusions based on facts that people can trust. [CNN State of the Union, 5/21/17]
  • Senator Susan Collins [R-ME]: "We still have an extremely important role to play. Our investigation is really important because it is, it will be in public. His won't. And we need a far broader set of the facts to come out.” [The Hill, 5/18/17]
  • Intelligence Committee Chairman Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Warner (D-VA): “The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will continue its own investigation and to the extent any deconfliction is required, we will engage with Director Mueller and our expectation is that he will engage with the Committee as well.” [Joint Statement, 5/17/17]
  • Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX):  “I believe it is our duty--and this would be the case no matter who was in the White House--to get the facts and to conduct our legitimate oversight investigation here but in a way that cooperates with or certainly at least coordinates and deconflicts with the Department of Justice's investigation under the auspices of Director Mueller. In the meantime, I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee on a broad bipartisan basis to conduct the kind of investigation that is entirely appropriate so we can get to the bottom of this matter. The American people, of course, deserve nothing less.” [Floor Remarks, 5/18/17]
  • Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): “But we still have to move forward with the investigation of what the Russians did and how we can counter it.” [MSNBC Morning Joe, 5/18/17]

RECENT EXAMPLES OF CONCURRENT INVESTIGATIONS

Below is a list of 12 examples when Congress and federal law enforcement agencies concurrently conducted both fact-finding and criminal investigations.

  1. Abramoff Indian gaming corruption scandal  - concurrently investigated by the FBI, DOJ, the DOI IG and Senate Indian Affairs committee [WaPo, 8/28/05; DOJ, 6/26/07]
  2. Robert Hanssen Russian espionage case – concurrently investigated by the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence [Senate Intelligence Committee, 3/7/01; NYT, 2/21/01]
  3. Murder of 13 people at Fort Hood military base by soldier turned terrorist – concurrently investigated by the Army Criminal investigation command and Senate HSGAC committee.[WaPo, 2/3/11; CNN, 11/12/09]
  4. Wells Fargo creation of fake bank accounts – concurrently investigated by DOJ and the House Financial services committee [CNBC, 9/16/16; CNBC, 10/20/16]
  5. Toyota concealment of safety defects – concurrently investigated by DOJ, SEC and various congressional committees including Senate Commerce. [Fox News, 2/23/10; McClatchy, 2/23/10]\
  6. GM faulty ignition switch recall scandal and cover up – concurrently investigated by the DOJ and Senate commerce committee. [Newsweek, 4/2/14]
  7. HSBC money laundering – concurrently investigated by DOJ and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations [Economist, 7/21/12; Reuters, 12/11/12]
  8. Takata fatal airbag defects – concurrently investigated by DOJ and the Senate Commerce Committee [DOJ, 1/13/17; The Hill, 6/1/16]
  9. Enron scandal – concurrently investigated by DOJ, SEC and the Senate Permanent subcommittee on investigations (among others). [CNN Money, 1/9/02]
  10. Solyndra DOE loans/bankruptcy – concurrently investigated by the FBI, the DOE IG and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. [LA Times, 9/14/11]
  11. IRS targeting of tea party groups -  concurrently investigated by DOJ, FBI and the House oversight committee. [House Oversight committee, 12/23/14; Law360, 12/4/13]
  12. GSA use of taxpayer funds for lavish Vegas conferences – concurrently investigated by the DOJ and various House and Senate committees. [CNN, 5/25/12; Boston Globe, 4/17/12]