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Trump to be investigated by Congress over use of state powers to target media

Tom Embury-Dennis

Donald Trump is set to be investigated by Congress over whether he used “the instruments of state power” to punish media outlets, a senior Democrat has said.

Adam Schiff, who is expected to chair the House intelligence committee next year, said Democrats plan to probe the Trump administration on two fronts following his party’s gains in the midterm elections.

First, they intend to find out if the president attempted to punish Amazon by pressuring the US Post Office to hike shipping prices for the world’s biggest online retailer.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, owns The Washington Post – a newspaper Mr Trump considers a foe and has regularly branded the “Amazon Washington Post”.

"It is very squarely within our responsibility to find out," Mr Schiff told Axios in an interview that aired on Sunday on HBO.

He said Mr Trump "was secretly meeting with the postmaster (general) in an effort to browbeat the postmaster into raising postal rates on Amazon ... This appears to be an effort by the president to use the instruments of state power to punish Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post," Mr Schiff said.

Mr Trump has repeatedly complained Amazon does not pay the US postal service a fair rate for package delivery. He has said, without providing evidence, this costs US taxpayers billions of dollars, and has threatened to raise the company's postal rates.

The House is also set to investigate the Trump administration’s attempt to block AT&T Inc from acquiring Time Warner, which owns CNN, Mr Schiff said.

Mr Trump has reserved his most strident criticism for the US cable news network, and last week revoked the press pass of its chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

The Justice Department is appealing a federal judge's approval of the $85.4 billion (£66.47bn) AT&T acquisition of Time Warner. Mr Trump opposed the AT&T-Time Warner merger as a candidate.

It is not clear which committees may probe the corporate issues, since Mr Schiff's intelligence committee would not have oversight. A Schiff spokesperson declined further comment.

AT&T and Amazon both declined to comment on Sunday. The White House did not immediately comment.

Representative Elijah Cummings, the likely incoming chairman of the House oversight and government reform committee, also said his committee "may want to look into" if the White House retaliated against Amazon and AT&T.

An aide to the same committee said on Sunday it has "already been investigating these matters, but the Trump Administration to date has not complied with our requests. We fully expect that to change now that we are in the majority”.

Mr Cummings added, on ABC's "This Week", that he intends to investigate whether Mr Trump killed plans to relocate the new headquarters of the FBI because moving it could harm his business interests in the Trump Hotel across the street.

In September, Mr Cummings asked the White House and the Trump Organization for documents about Mr Trump's "failure to accurately report debts and payments" to his personal attorney Michael Cohen "for silencing women who alleged extramarital affairs before the election”.

Since winning control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections last week, Democrats have vowed to launch investigations on a wide range of topics involving the Trump administration.

But with a split decision in last week's congressional elections, Democrats plan a cautious approach. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told CBS's "Face the Nation" that Democrats will not conduct "any investigation for a political purpose, but to seek the truth".

Mr Cummings vowed a "methodical" approach in approaching investigations. "I'm not going to be handing out subpoenas like somebody’s handing out candy on Halloween," he said.

Additional reporting by agencies