Democrats Start Investigative Gears, but Slowly

After seething over Republican use of the House Intelligence Committee to turn an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election into an attempt to discredit the president’s investigators, Democrats plan to quickly flip the lens back on to Mr. Trump and his campaign itself. But the panel’s leaders have cautioned that their approach will be narrower than once predicted.

“We are conscious of the fact that the Senate continues to do their work, Mueller continues to do his work, and at this point in the game, I would not expect the committee to announce an omnibus investigation,” Mr. Himes said. “The time has passed for that.”

Instead, Democrats will initially pursue at least two questions — one discreet, the other potentially very complicated — that Republicans in control of the committee would not touch. The panel’s new chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, said it was initiating a request for phone records of the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to clarify whom he called while arranging a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan between members of the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer. Phone records already in the hands of congressional investigators show a call was placed to a blocked number, and Donald Trump Jr. told investigators that he did not remember who he had called. Democrats believe the blocked number may have belonged to his father, and could prove that the president had prior knowledge of the Russian offer to share dirt on his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The committee would also like to request financial records related to Mr. Trump’s dealings with Russia and other foreign powers. Intelligence Committee Democrats appear to be circling around two well-known but still mysterious transactions: Mr. Trump’s sale of a Palm Beach, Fla., mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008 and loans to the Trump Organization from Deutsche Bank.

In the real estate case, Mr. Trump bought a Palm Beach estate for $41 million in 2004 and, only four years later, amid a national housing crisis, sold it to the Russian billionaire, Dmitry Rybolovlev, for $95 million. Democrats say the deal stinks of potential money laundering. Loans from Deutsche Bank — hundreds of millions of dollars extended by a bank later accused in an unrelated case of laundering Russian money during a time when few other major banks would lend to Mr. Trump’s businesses — also raise concerns that Russia could have financial leverage over the president.

Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee, under Representative Maxine Waters of California, have also been asking questions about the Deutsche loans since early 2017, and plan to press their investigation ahead with the full powers of the majority.

Democrats are prepared to subpoena the records if necessary. Mr. Schiff said staff had already begun informal conversations with institutions, potential witnesses and their lawyers about records requests, but because the panel has not technically been appointed yet, formal requests must wait — most likely until the end of January.

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