WASHINGTON — As disgraced lawyer Michael Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee about how his former client, President Donald J. Trump, was a racist, conman and a cheat, U.S. Rep. Ed Case was crafting his own questions for the commander-in-chief.

“I was doing my job,” Case said. “I was not glued to a TV.”

Cohen appeared before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 27 in what was considered a blockbuster hearing by Capitol Hill standards. The president’s personal lawyer was there to dish on everything from paying off a porn star to his past preparations to lie to Congress.

Case, meanwhile, had his own oversight hearing to attend to as a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case says it’s Congress’s job to be a co-equal branch of government so that it can serve as a check and balance on the Trump administration. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Trump declared a national emergency so he could shift $3.6 billion away from planned military construction projects to fund construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. That decision put more than $311 million worth of Hawaii projects at risk.

Democrats on the Appropriations Committee — including Case — wanted answers from some of Trump’s top defense officials as to what that might mean for military readiness.

The timing couldn’t have been more prescient.

The following day a 42-inch water main burst near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Replacing the 65-year-old Navy pipeline was on the list of projects threatened by Trump’s emergency.

By the weekend Case was on the ground in Honolulu to inspect the damage and use the crisis to reiterate his opposition to proposed diversion of military funds.

Congress 2.0

Now that Democrats have retaken control of the House, accountability reigns.

2019 is expected to be the year of the investigation, as House committee chairs launch inquiries into everything from Trump’s tax returns to his dealings with Russians to the administration’s family separation policy at the border.

Case, who sits on the money committee, sees his role as a financial watchdog.

No Pass For The Executive Branch

He said it’s Congress’s job — not the president’s — to decide where and how the government allocates money, whether it’s to defense, crime-fighting or conservation.

“My responsibility is to ask whether the executive branch is doing a good job or not, and whether it is fulfilling its responsibilities,” Case said.

“My responsibility is not to give the executive branch a pass, no matter who the president is. That was my responsibility the last time I was here. And even if there’s a Democratic president in the future that’s still my responsibility.”

Case also serves as a check to the executive branch on the House Natural Resources Committee.

In January, during the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history, Case questioned a series of witnesses about the Interior Department’s decision to keep processing oil and gas drilling permits while other seemingly essential services — such as park safety — were unfunded.

He told Civil Beat that he found the administration’s perspective to be troubling, especially for someone coming from Hawaii, a place that values its natural resources.

“Is there something essential of oil and gas permitting? Of course not,” Case said.

“I’m clearly concerned about the misuse of our public lands. I think this administration has a very cavalier approach to our public lands and doesn’t take conservation seriously. It doesn’t have a conservation ethic. It’s too focused on extraction to the detriment of the environment.”

“I think oversight was completely lacking for the first two years of the Trump administration so we’re playing catch-up.”  — Rep. Ed Case

The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, has already taken aim at the Trump administration’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.

He said he plans to investigate both Ryan Zinke, the ethically challenged former secretary of the Interior, and David Bernhardt, his nominated replacement, who is a former oil lobbyist.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s office did not respond to a Civil Beat request for comment.

Congressman Ed Case, in the aloha shirt, inspects a Navy water main break near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. U.S. Rep. Ed Case

The Hawaii congresswoman, who’s running for president as a Democrat, sits on both the House Armed Services Committee and the Financial Services Committee, which is chaired by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California.

While Case says he takes his oversight duties seriously, he worries that some Democrats might go too far in their pursuit of Trump.

Subpoena power is a right granted to Congress, and Case said the executive branch has a duty to turn over nearly every record that he and his colleagues request.

The danger is when that oversight authority extends beyond being a co-equal branch of government and becomes politicized to the point that it’s just about taking down the president.

“I have no problem with using subpoena authority,” Case said. “I do have a problem with it if it’s simply designed to harass and harangue and to drive the president from office.”

Republicans in both the House and Senate took that type of posture, Case said, while Barack Obama was commander in chief. If Democrats do the same, he said, it will tarnish their credibility with American voters.

And while tensions are high on the Hill, Case said, he doesn’t feel like House Democrats have crossed that imaginary line, one that he admits is easy to describe but hard to pinpoint.

“I think oversight was completely lacking for the first two years of the Trump administration so we’re playing catch-up,” he said.

‘The Ultimate Check And Balance’

So what about impeachment?

Case said that when he ran to represent Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District he met with some constituents who pressed him for his willingness to remove a sitting president.

Case called impeachment “the ultimate check and balance,” and as such said he is cautious when considering it as an option.

So far, only two Democrats, U.S. Reps. Brad Sherman of California and Al Green of Texas, have signed on to an impeachment resolution.

Case says that’s a good indication of just how unpopular it is among his colleagues.

That could change, he said, should new information come to the fore about Trump participating in criminal activity.

Case said it would have to be something that was “categorically illegal” to make him support impeachment. Proven obstruction of justice, he said, might be an example.

“There’s a temptation sometimes when you don’t like a president to go in that direction, which could cause immeasurable damage to the country over time if you impeach prematurely or for the wrong reasons,” Case said. “It would start a ball rolling that would be very hard to stop.”

Like many others, Case is looking forward to reading special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s final report on his investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

He said that report should be made public and not be “censored” by the U.S. attorney general.

Public opinion should also play a role in determining Congress’s actions when it comes to impeaching Trump, Case said. But even then he said he still has a responsibility to make a decision when the time comes, even if it’s unpopular.

“I’m certainly going to listen to my constituents about what they think,” Case said. “But like any other issue there are going to be times that you disagree with your constituents.”

He reserves the right to impeach, he said. “It’s my obligation.”

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