President Donald Trump, facing a newly installed Democratic House majority with the power to hold oversight hearings on the executive branch, vented on Twitter that he was subject to a double standard in congressional investigations — “unlimited presidential harassment,” as he called it.
In a pair of tweets on Feb. 7, 2019, Trump teed off on Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff has announced the committee will look at connections between the Trump campaign and Russia:
“So now Congressman Adam Schiff announces, after having found zero Russian Collusion, that he is going to be looking at every aspect of my life, both financial and personal, even though there is no reason to be doing so. Never happened before! Unlimited Presidential Harassment. The Dems and their committees are going ‘nuts.’ The Republicans never did this to President (Barack) Obama, there would be no time left to run government. I hear other committee heads will do the same thing. Even stealing people who work at White House! A continuation of Witch Hunt!”
In this article, we will look at whether Republican-led congressional committees “never did this to President Obama.”
Short answer: They certainly did investigate Obama, though the subjects were different.
The White House did not respond to an inquiry for this article.
A look back
During the Obama years — as in previous presidencies — Congress regularly asserted its right to conduct oversight on the executive branch. This oversight can be particularly aggressive when at least one chamber of Congress is controlled by the opposite party of the one holding the White House.
For the final six years of Obama’s presidency — 2011 to 2017 — Republicans controlled at least one chamber of Congress. Not all congressional committee investigations are identical — some target in-the-weeds concerns deep within executive branch departments, far from the higher echelons of the White House.
But others quickly take on a partisan cast, with the findings reflecting on the president, his top aides, or his core agenda.
We’re not aware of any congressional investigations into Obama’s personal finances, as could happen to Trump, whose business and real estate holdings are much more extensive than Obama’s. One possible Democratic effort, to obtain Trump’s tax returns, wasn’t needed under Obama because Obama released his voluntarily, as had all presidents going back to Richard Nixon.
But while the nature of the controversies were different, we found at least five examples of congressional investigations in which congressional Republicans used the investigation process to put Obama on the political hot seat:
• Loans to the solar company Solyndra. The company collapsed after taking a $535 million federal loan guarantee, and Republicans noted that a campaign bundler for Obama was a key investor.
The loan default prompted an investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
• Alleged political bias at the Internal Revenue Service. This controversy involved charges that IRS officials were unfairly targeting conservative groups for unusual scrutiny in applications to become a tax-exempt organization.
This attracted an investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee.
• The Benghazi consulate terrorist attack in 2012, in which four Americans died, including the U.S. ambassador.
The circumstances surrounding the attack were investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, several House panels led by the House Intelligence Committee, and a specially created House Benghazi committee. In 2015, the specially created committee called Hillary Clinton — who had been secretary of state during the attack and who was widely expected to run for president — for a full day of televised testimony. (The two Senate investigations were actually conducted by a Democratic majority of a Democratic president.)
• The “gun-walking” program known as Fast & Furious, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, partly during Obama’s presidency, allowed guns to be sold to Mexican nationals in the hopes of tracking down drug cartel leaders.
The program was investigated jointly by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
• The botched 2014 launch of the Affordable Care Act website, healthcare.gov. At first, the website was largely inoperable, though the government was eventually able to fix it.
The rollout was the subject of hearings by the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, the Senate Finance Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
It’s worth noting that prior to becoming president, Trump himself tweeted actively about these five controversies, mostly to cheer on the probes or to criticize the Obama administration.
According to searches through the Trump Twitter Archive, Trump tweeted 15 times on Solyndra, 13 times on Fast & Furious, three times about the IRS bias controversy, 58 times on Benghazi, and 28 times about the problems of the Affordable Care Act website.
Trump tweeted, “The Dems and their committees are going ‘nuts.’ The Republicans never did this to President Obama.”
Obama didn’t face the types of investigations of his personal and financial life the Trump did, partly because Obama was more transparent about his holdings and his personal finances were less complicated.
Still, the Republican-led House and Senate actively pursued several investigations in which Obama and his administration were put through a ringer. The topics included Solyndra, Fast & Furious, alleged IRS bias, Benghazi and the Affordable Care Act website. To one degree or another, the Republican-led probes — often conducted by overlapping committees in one or both chambers — were a mix of legitimate governmental oversight and partisan warfare.
We rate the statement Mostly False.