Where the Trump administration is thwarting House oversight

Since taking control of the House after the 2018 midterms, Democrats have sought to exert their oversight power over the Trump administration by opening up dozens of investigations and inquiries. The White House has pushed back, refusing to provide information and challenging Congressional subpoenas in court. Here’s where the most important oversight battles stand, and which House committee chairs are making the demands.

[‘A lack of urgency’: Democrats frustrated as House investigators struggle to unearth major revelations about Trump]

How oversight battles escalate

Refusal | The Trump administration has refused to turn over documents or appear for interviews, or has missed deadlines to respond.

Subpoena issued | The House has issued a subpoena for documents or testimony from the Trump administration.

Subpoena ignored | The Trump administration has exerted executive privilege over subpoenaed documents or directed that individuals not respond to subpoena requests.

Taken to Court | The House has gone to court seeking a ruling to enforce their subpoena, or the administration has gone to court to block a request.

Some ruling issued | The courts have issued a ruling in the case, which either side can appeal.

Investigations related to Russia and special counsel probe

McGahn testimony

Subpoena ignored Citing executive privilege, the White House has told former White House counsel Donald McGahn to ignore a House Judiciary Committee subpoena for documents and testimony pertaining to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller S. III’s investigation.

McGahn was a central witness in several of 10 instances of potential obstruction identified by Mueller. The panel is preparing to take McGahn to court to ask a judge to force his compliance. White House lawyers also blocked McGahn’s former chief of staff from answering many questions on the matter, although she did answer some questions in writing.Full story

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) Chair of Judiciary

Trump-Putin Russian meetings

Refusal The Trump administration declined to comply with requests for documents and communications related to Trump and President Vladimir Putin’s private discussions.

The Washington Post reported that Trump tried to conceal the contents of one discussion by taking possession of his own interpreter’s notes and instructing a linguist present not to discuss what had transpired. The White House has refused to say whether the translator’s notes even exist anymore. Democrats are arguing that the notes are federal records that must be preserved under record-keeping laws.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Investigations into Trump and his family

Mazars USA accounting firm

Some ruling issued Trump’s personal and Trump Organization attorneys are suing the House Oversight Committee and his accounting firm, Mazars USA, to quash a subpoena for his financial information.

The lawsuit cites an 1880s precedent that has been overturned and dormant for nearly 100 years. A federal judge upheld the subpoena, and an appeals court is reviewing the case.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Deutsche Bank and Capital One

Some ruling issued Trump’s personal attorneys and Trump Organization lawyers are suing to block his former lender and bank from handing over financial documents sought by congressional investigators scrutinizing the president's business and possible connections to Russian money-laundering.

A federal judge upheld the subpoena. An appeals court is reviewing the case, and has challenged the president's attempt to block Congress, warning of the implications if lawmakers could not investigate potential misconduct in a president’s private business dealings while in office.Full story

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) Chair of Intelligence

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) Chair of Financial Services

Trump tax returns

Taken to court The Trump administration is suing House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) and New York State officials to block any release of his state tax returns to the House under a state law passed in July.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has previously blocked Congress’s request for Trump’s tax returns, leading to the Ways and Means Committee filing its own suit on July 2. In June the Justice Department released its legal rationale for the refusal, arguing that House Democrats want to make the documents public, which “is not a legitimate legislative purpose.”Full story

Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) Chair of Ways and Means

Trump finances and emoluments

Subpoena issued Senate and House Democrats have filed 37 subpoenas for financial records and other documents from President Trump’s private entities as part of an ongoing lawsuit alleging that his businesses violate the Constitution’s ban on gifts or payments from foreign governments.

The July 8 subpoenas target information from a wide array of Trump’s businesses, including Trump Tower, his hotels in New York and Washington, and his Mar-a-Lago Club in South Florida, according to the Constitutional Accountability Center, the legal group representing the Democrats in the case.Full story

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) Chair of Judiciary

Trump obstruction of justice

Subpoena issued The committee has subpoenaed 12 people with connections to President Trump, including his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and former attorney general Jeff Sessions.

The July 11 subpoenas are part of an ongoing investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice during Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, or otherwise abused his office.Full story

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) Chair of Judiciary

Kushner Saudi trip

Refusal Congress has asked for documents and information related to a February trip taken by Kushner to Saudi Arabia, where he reportedly met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA has concluded was responsible for the murder of Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, reportedly met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to the committee, which has asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to brief the panel on the purpose of the trip, U.S. Embassy diplomats were left out of the meetings.Full story

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) Chair of Foreign Affairs

Lease for the Trump International Hotel

Refusal The Trump administration has been slow to turn over information regarding a federal agency’s decision to allow the president to keep his lease for the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The hotel rents the historic Old Post Office Pavilion. Democrats say they have only received what they called a “partial” response for documents as part of the investigation.Full story

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure

Michael Cohen’s hush-money payments

Refusal Democrats are demanding more information about payments made by the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to an adult-film actress who said she had an affair with Trump. A separate New York investigation on the matter recently concluded, with unsealed documents showing that then-candidate Donald Trump communicated repeatedly with Cohen amid the election-year scramble to keep the allegations quiet.

The White House allowed the committee to review some documents in person, but Democrats are continuing to demand the full records.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) Chair of Judiciary

Inquiries into White House practices

Conway violation of Hatch Act

Subpoena ignored Kellyanne Conway said she plans to ignore a House subpoena to testify on a government watchdog’s findings that she violated the Hatch Act — the law that forbids federal government employees from engaging in certain campaign activities

Conway told Fox News that she is shielded from testifying in her role as a presidential adviser, and described her decision as “taking one for the team.” Cummings has said that if Conway does not honor his committee’s subpoena before July 25, he would vote to hold her in contempt of Congress.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

White House use of private email

Subpoena issued Only July 25, the Overight Committee voted to authorize subpoeanas for all White House work communications sent via personal email and cellphones as part of investigation into allegations that White House officials, including Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump have conducted work on private email.

The panel expanded its investigation earlier in July, formally requesting the materials before escalating to a subpoeana. The committee said the step was necessary “after six months of White House stonewalling” on the matter.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Fast-tracked security clearances

Refusal The White House has refused to answer most of the House Oversight Committee’s questions and document demands related to its security clearance process, which critics have assailed.

Trump leaned on then-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to grant his son-in-law Jared Kushner a security clearance despite concerns from intelligence officials. Kushner was among more than 20 people whose security clearances were approved despite objections raised by national security officials, according to staffer Tricia Newbold. The White House initially directed Carl Kline to ignore a subpoena on the topic, but then allowed him to answer some questions on the matter.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

House oversight of policy decisions

Citizenship question

Subpoena ignored Democratic lawmakers have accused the Trump administration of stonewalling their efforts to investigate Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s March 2018 decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The House voted in July to hold Ross and Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt for not complying with a subpoena, and continues to investigate the decision.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Cummings has also criticized the administration for blocking Justice Department official John Gore from testifying over the matter.

After a protracted legal and political battle, the Supreme Court ruled against the question in June. The Trump administration announced on July 11 it would drop its efforts to add it to the decennial survey. Opponents of the question had said it would suppress response to the census in immigrant communities, resulting in an undercount in the areas where they live and skewing funding and Congressional apportionment in favor of Republicans and non-Hispanic whites. The government had argued it needed the question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd has said that some of what lawmakers wanted was protected by attorney-client privilege or because it involves internal executive branch deliberations, and that Gore was blocked from testifying only because lawmakers would not let him do so with the help of a Justice Department lawyer.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Family separation

Subpoena issued Congress has subpoenaed documents related to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on migrants entering the country illegally, which led to the separation of thousands of children from their parents in 2018.

The subpoeneas were issued by the Judiciary Committee on July 11. The Department of Health and Human Services has partially responded to House Energy and Commerce Committee demands for documents and communications related to the policy. Other committees, including Appropriations, Homeland Security and Oversight panels, have not recieved full responses.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) Chair of Appropriations

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) Chair of Judiciary

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) Chair of Energy and Commerce

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) Chair of Homeland Security

Saudi nuclear technology transfer

Refusal The White House has refused to answer questions or document requests on a proposal to transfer highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

The committee released a 24-page report on the issue in February, based on internal White House documents and the accounts of unnamed whistleblowers who raised concerns that the plan violated laws that prevent the transfer of nuclear technology that could support a weapons program.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Puerto Rico hurricane response

Refusal Congress has revived an investigation into the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria. Trump’s critics have accused him of making the situation in Puerto Rico worse by not prioritizing a government response as the administration did when hurricanes hit Texas and Florida during the same season.

Only July 2, Democrats demanded that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney deliver information related to the Trump administration’s handling of the 2017 hurricanes, following up on a May letter.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Decision to undercut the Affordable Care Act

Refusal The Trump administration has refused to discuss its decision to no longer defend the Affordable Care Act against court challenges.

The committees demanding the information only received a confirmation that the administration had received their letters. The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on July 10 designed to highlight the issue.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) Chair of Judiciary

Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) Chair of Ways and Means

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) Chair of Energy and Commerce

Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) Chair of Education and Labor

Pentagon oversight

Refusal Senior lawmakers have expressed concern in recent months about what they say is Pentagon officials’ decreased responsiveness to their requests for information.

After The Washington Post reported in May on an internal Defense Department memo that outlined new restrictions on sharing operational information with Congress, lawmakers including Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, pushed back, saying it was lawmakers’ purview, not that of Pentagon bureaucrats, to determine what information is subject to congressional oversight.

Lawmakers have also complained that the Pentagon has failed to promptly update them on critical matters of national security, for example the recent intelligence that officials have said constitutes an increased threat from Iran.

On July 16, Reed raised lawmakers’ visibility into what goes on at the Pentagon with Mark Esper, President Trump's nominee to become the next defense secretary. “Any effort to withhold or curtail information necessary to fulfill the committee’s oversight mandate is unacceptable,” he said. Full story

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) Senior Republican on Armed Services

National emergency declaration

Refusal The White House has ignored inquiries into Trump’s emergency declaration aimed at building a wall on the southern border, which both the House and Senate voted to block.

Trump declared the state of emergency on the border after a 35-day shutdown failed to result in a deal giving him billions for his proposed wall, which he had repeatedly promised would be paid for by Mexico. Administration officials refused to appear at oversight hearings on the topic.Full story

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) Chair of Judiciary

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) Chair of Budget

Veterans Affairs oversight

Refusal The Department of Veterans Affairs has either refused or delayed document requests from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on the role of unofficial Trump advisers at the president’s Mar-A-Lago Club in Florida, as well as on key technology and other contracts, the committee says.

The agency also has declined to send witnesses to testify at five hearings in recent months. VA officials said they will refuse to attend hearings where the agency is asked to testify with officials from other government agencies. The committee also said it sent staff to five medical centers across the country to monitor the rollout of the MISSION Act, which provides more private health care for veterans, but was blocked from full access to staff operations.Full story

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) Chair of Veterans Affairs

Education oversight

Refusal Several committees have sought documents regarding Secretary Betsy DeVos’s effort to replace the agency’s acting inspector general. They also have asked for information about the agency’s failure to process more than 140,000 applications for student debt relief.

The department has not said how many claims have been approved or denied, and Democrats suspect the agency is simply refusing to act on any of them, despite a court order to do so.Full story

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) Chair of Oversight and Reform

Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) Chair of Education and Labor

Matthew Callahan

Matt Callahan is a design editor at The Washington Post. Previously he has worked at the Tampa Bay Times.

Reuben Fischer-Baum

Reuben Fischer-Baum is an assignment editor on the graphics team of The Washington Post. He previously worked at FiveThirtyEight and Deadspin. He joined The Post in 2017.

Rachael Bade, Tara Bahrampour, Jason Bernert, Paige Winfield Cunningham, Seung Min Kim, Laura Meckler, Lisa Rein and Missy Ryan contributed to this report.


Originally published July 23, 2019.