Rep. Elijah Cummings, key figure in Trump investigations, dies at 68

CNN. com | 10/17/2019, 7:24 a.m.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a longtime Maryland Democrat and key figure leading investigations into President Donald Trump, has died at age ...
Rep. Elijah Cummings/CNN Twitter

Rep. Elijah Cummings, a longtime Maryland Democrat and key figure leading investigations into President Donald Trump, has died at age 68, his office announced early Thursday morning.

He died of "complications concerning longstanding health challenges," his office said in a statement.

The congressman, who had represented Maryland's 7th Congressional District since 1996, served as the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, one of the panels involved in the impeachment inquiry of Trump.

He oversaw a range of investigations into the Trump administration, from issues relating to the impeachment inquiry to the treatment of migrants at the southern border to the use of personal email for official use by White House officials to how a citizenship question was considered for the US census.

And it was his committee that grilled Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in a blockbuster hearing this past February.

It was not immediately clear who will succeed Cummings as chairman of the Oversight Committee or how his passing will affect the swirling impeachment investigation into Trump.

Cummings had been in failing health in recent weeks. He had been in and out of the hospital, missing votes and business in his committee. He was spotted several times with a breathing tube in his nose connected to oxygen while sitting on the House floor. When speaking to reporters, he would have to wait for 15 to 20 seconds or so to catch his breath before speaking. He would drive around on a motorized wheelchair through the Capitol and then walk in using a walker.

Although he was chairman of the Oversight Committee, he had not been in command of the investigations on his panel. His staff did a lion's share of the work and his staff has been helping lead the charge in the impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Elijah Cummings

Rep. Elijah Cummings

Prominent Trump critic

As he has led the investigative efforts, Cummings also clashed publicly with the President. Over the summer, Trump tweeted disparaging remarks toward Cummings and his Maryland district, which includes much of Baltimore, calling the majority black district a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess."

Responding to some of the President's tweets -- in which Trump suggested the congressman needed to spend more time fixing his district -- Cummings said on Twitter: "Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents."

Despite that high-profile feud, Trump and Cummings did not always disagree. More than two years prior, Cummings emerged from a White House meeting with Trump and told reporters that the two men had found common ground on their shared interest in lowering drug prices.

At the time, Cummings also said he urged the President to rethink his language on African American communities after Trump repeatedly painted a grim picture of inner-city life on the campaign trail.

"I want you to realize that all African American communities are not places of depression and where people are being harmed," Cummings told reporters, recalling his conversation with Trump. "When we hear those words about carnage and we are living in depressed situations, I told him it was very hurtful."