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. As Democrats begin an impeachment inquiry, here is where the most important oversight battles stand, and which House committee chairs are making the demands.

[Live updates: Intelligence Committee members to work during recess, Trump presses for Schiff’s resignation]

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.

Complied | The Trump administration has turned over documents at the request of Congressional committees.

Investigations related to Russia and special counsel probe

McGahn testimony

Taken to court House Democrats are suing former White House counsel Donald McGahn over his refusal to testify about what he told former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The administration asserted executive privilege over McGahn, instructing him to to ignore a House Judiciary Committee subpoena.

McGahn was a central witness in several of 10 instances of potential obstruction identified by Mueller. The panel is asking a judge to compel 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

Mueller grand jury information

Taken to court House Democrats are suing Attorney General William P. Barr for refusing to turn over grand jury information and underlying evidence from Mueller’s report.

Democrats held Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn the information over. A federal judge was hearing arguments on the case in October.Full story

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

Investigations into Trump and his family

Trump finances and emoluments

Subpoena issued Senate and House Democrats have filed dozens of 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. In August, a federal judge effectively paused the pretrial fact-finding period in which the Democrats wanted to serve the subpoenas on Trump businesses.

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

undefined The committee voted to authorize subpoenas for 12 people with connections to President Trump, including his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and former attorney general Jeff Sessions. Three were issued and the White House blocked two of those officials from testifying.

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. Only three were issued. Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified in early September. But the White House blocked former White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn and former White House staff secretary Rob Porter from answering compulsory summons for their own testimony.Full story

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

Trump tax returns

Some ruling issued A federal judge ruled in October that New York prosecutors can see President Trump’s tax returns in an investigation related to hush money and adult-film star Stormy Daniels. President Trump’s lawyers have appealed the ruling. Meanwhile, an IRS whistleblower has come forward and raised concerns that at least one Treasury Department official might have interfered in the audit process for Trump’s tax filings. Treasury’s inspector general is reviewing how the agency has handled a request from Democrats to furnish the tax returns.

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

Mazars USA accounting firm

Some ruling issued A federal judge and appeals court sided with House Democrats after Trump’s personal and Trump Organization attorneys sued the House Oversight Committee and his accounting firm, Mazars USA, to quash a subpoena for his financial information. Trump is expected to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

The lawsuit cites an 1880s precedent that has been overturned and dormant for nearly 100 years.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 said Oct. 10 that Deutsche Bank does not have possession of Trump's personal tax returns.

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

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

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 Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sent a letter on Oct. 1 again requesting documents.

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 concluded in July, 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 ignored 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. House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) delayed a planned vote in July to hold Conway in contempt of Congress amid talks with the White House.

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.”Full story

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

White House use of private email

Subpoena issued On July 25, the Oversight Committee voted to authorize subpoenas 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 subpoena. 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

State Department and Giuliani in Ukraine

Subpoena ignored The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have issued subpoenas to the White House, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, seeking records to flesh out whether Trump withheld promised security assistance and diplomatic engagement from Ukraine to pressure its government into investigating the Biden family. The administration and Giuliani to date have ignored those summonses, issuing statements instead that they object to the premise of the House’s inquiry — though the deadline for each order has not passed.

The committees have also failed in their efforts to interview other State Department officials, save for former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Yovanovitch, but have yet to issue subpoenas to those individuals — other than Sondland — who refused to testify. The panels also have yet to issue subpoenas to three Soviet-born associates of Giuliani, two of whom were arrested Wednesday in connection with campaign finance charges from federal prosecutors in New York, despite their previous refusal to meet with the panels as part of the impeachment inquiry.Full story

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

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

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

Citizenship question

Subpoena ignored Democratic lawmakers have accused the Trump administration of stonewalling their efforts to investigate Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s March 2018 attempt 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. Neither the Department of Justice nor the Department of Commerce has produced any documents in response to the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpoenas in the months since the Supreme Court issued its decision.

Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, 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 subpoenas 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, have not received full responsesFull 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 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

Military stays at Trump resort

Refusal The Trump Administration has refused to turn over documents pertaining to military stays at Trump hotels as well as Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to reside at Trump resorts abroad.

The House Oversight Committee in September threatened to subpoena Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for refusing to respond to a June request for information non all military stays at Trump’s resorts. Over the summer, POLITICO reported that military officials stayed at Trump’s Turnberry golf resort in Scotland – stays on the taxpayer dime that Democrats called an “apparent violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.” The committee has also sought information from the White House, Pence’s office, Secret Service and the Trump Organization about Pence’s decision to stay at Trump’s hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland about 180 mils from his official meetings with Irish officials in Dublin.Full story

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

Veterans Affairs oversight

Refusal The Department of Veterans Affairs has either refused or delayed nine 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 several 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 with a department official who was overseeing the very programs the inspector general’s office investigates. The Education Department has provided some, but not all, of the documents requested. Lawmakers also have asked for information about the agency’s failure to process more than 210,000 applications for student debt relief.

While a department official testified about the backlog, lawmakers have not received all the documents they requested.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

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

Whistleblower complaint

Complied The Trump administration sent the congressional intelligence committees a copy of the whistleblower complaint that raised alarm bells about the president's July 25 phone conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump’s decision came days after members in the House and Senate, mostly Democrats, called for the release of the document. The Senate, by unanimous consent, voted on Sept. 24 for a non-binding resolution to release the material. The House Intelligence Committee released the whistleblower’s report on Sept. 26.

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

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, Moriah Balingit, Jason Bernert, Paige Winfield Cunningham, Ann E. Marimow, Seung Min Kim, Laura Meckler, Lisa Rein and Missy Ryan contributed to this report.


Originally published July 23, 2019.