WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee ordered homeland security officials on Wednesday to hand over records related to reported offers by President Trump to pardon aides willing to break the law to carry out his immigration policies.
With a subpoena addressed to the department’s acting secretary, Kevin K. McAleenan, House Democrats indicated that they were continuing to expand the scope of their investigation into whether to impeach the president beyond the special counsel’s core findings on Russian election interference and possible presidential obstruction of justice.
A president who knowingly directed government officials to break the law and dangled pardons to appease them would constitute an abuse of power, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, said on Wednesday. He promised hearings on the matter in the coming weeks, linking it to other potential abuses under investigation by Democrats.
“Such a troubling pattern of obstruction of justice would represent a continuation of the misconduct identified in the Mueller report,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement. “The framers did not envision the use of the presidential pardon power to encourage criminal acts at the president’s direction.”
Democrats abhor many of Mr. Trump’s hard-line immigration and border policies, arguing that they have caused the abuse of children and cruelly perverted long-held American values. But they view some of Mr. Trump’s reported attempts to press reluctant homeland security officials to carry out his more drastic policies as a potentially clearer case of wrongdoing.
In one such episode this spring recounted by people briefed on the conversation, the president told Mr. McAleenan, then the chief border enforcement official, that he should close the southwestern border to migrants and that if he encountered any legal problems, Mr. Trump would just issue a pardon. Mr. McAleenan never took any such action.
Last week, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that in an effort to speedily construct parts of his border barrier before the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Trump has told aides that they should seize private land and disregard environmental rules. When some raised concerns about the legality of such steps, the president told them he would pardon them if any laws were broken.
Mr. Trump had denied some of the reports, calling The Post’s reporting “another totally Fake story” that was fabricated “only in order to demean and disparage.” And a senior administration official insisted to The New York Times that Mr. Trump’s comments were a joke.
The Department of Homeland Security and the White House did not immediately reply to requests for comment on Wednesday.
The House subpoena directed Mr. McAleenan to turn over by Sept. 17 any notes, memos or communications related to the discussions, including a meeting he had with the president in the spring and another, earlier meeting between Mr. Trump and the secretary of homeland security at the time, Kirstjen Nielsen, on a similar topic.
What the subpoena will yield is hard to predict, and it could end up in court. The White House has repeatedly challenged subpoenas coming from the House, arguing that lawmakers there either have no legitimate justification for their requests or that the president’s executive authorities allow the executive branch to shield the material in question from Congress.
Either way, the demands come at a critical time for Congress and the president on possible impeachment proceedings. Mr. Nadler has said that he intends to crank up his committee’s work tempo this fall and intends to decide by the end of the year whether to draft and vote on articles of impeachment.
In addition to the possible pardons and obstruction of justice, the committee is also preparing to use its fall session to newly scrutinize two additional topics in the context of impeachment. One is Mr. Trump’s role in an illegal scheme during the 2016 campaign to buy the silence of two women claiming to have had affairs with him. The other is possible violations of the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses by illegally profiting from his business while in office.