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US House Democrats target Trump-Putin talks, obstruction

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Panel demands documents from 81 people, organisations related to US President

WASHINGTON US Democratic lawmakers on Monday launched their most ambitious investigation yet into alleged obstruction of justice and abuse of office by Mr Donald Trump, targeting dozens of individuals in the president's inner circle.

With controversies swirling around Mr Trump, the powerful House Judiciary Committee's chairman sent strongly worded letters to family members of the president - including sons Don Jr and Eric - as well as political confidantes and related entities.

The letters demanded documents that could shed light on possible wrongdoing by the administration and Mr Trump himself.

Son-in-law Jared Kushner and the Trump Organisation's long-time chief financial officer, Mr Allen Weisselberg, were among the 81 people and organisations, such as the National Rifle Association, that received letters from the panel's Democratic chairman Jerry Nadler.

They also include White House ex-aides Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks, current Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, former attorney general Jeff Sessions, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The request is the most serious overt ramp-up of investigations into Mr Trump since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in early January, and they seek to uncover whether Mr Trump or his administration have participated in obstruction of justice or public corruption - potentially impeachable offences.

"This is a critical time for our nation, and we have a responsibility to investigate these matters and hold hearings for the public to have all the facts," Mr Nadler said in a statement.

"Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms," he added.

"Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress."

Mr Trump swatted away the probe as a "political hoax," but said he would cooperate with the probe. "I cooperate all the time with everybody," he said at a White House event.

He later hardened his reaction, tweeting that any effort by Democrats to probe new avenues of possible wrongdoing "will never work."

Mr Nadler has given the recipients of his requests two weeks to respond.

Conspicuously absent among his 81 targets is the president's eldest daughter Ivanka Trump, a senior White House advisor who is married to Mr Kushner.

The chairmen of three other House panels also joined the fray on Monday, demanding the White House produce details of communications between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, after reports that such information was destroyed or hidden in the aftermath of their 2017 Helsinki summit.

The US intelligence community has concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, and that Mr Putin ordered the influence campaign as a way to help elect Mr Trump.

Mr Nadler's broad investigation is focused on Mr Trump's business dealings and obstruction of justice allegations, along with possible Russian collusion.

It will also address accusations of campaign finance law violations and potential violations of the US Constitution's ban on foreign emoluments.

Mr Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, in explosive congressional testimony last week, implicated the president in illegal activities, including a scheme shortly before the 2016 election to pay hush money to two women who say they had affairs with Mr Trump.

One of the women reportedly received the payoffs through American Media Inc, run by long-time Trump ally David Pecker. Mr Pecker and the company received letters from Nadler demanding information about their involvement. - AFP