These standoffs get at the heart of the definition of American democracy: one branch’s ability to check another. Here is the latest on eight battles to watch.
1. Getting the unredacted Mueller report: House Democrats want all members of Congress to see the full report by now-former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Attorney General William P. Barr refused to hand it over, so the Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress, making Barr just the second sitting attorney general to be found in contempt of Congress. The full House voted in early June to allow the Judiciary Committee to take Barr to court to enforce a subpoena against him.
This could escalate further, but it has ratcheted down a bit. Barr’s Justice Department came to an agreement with the Judiciary and the Intelligence committees last month to let them see a number of documents from the underlying Mueller report. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) described the documents as “key evidence” in whether Trump obstructed justice. It’s a start to getting the full Mueller report, Democrats hope.
2. Talking to Trump’s former White House counsel: The House committee that could launch impeachment proceedings subpoenaed one of the key players in the Mueller investigation, former White House counsel Donald McGahn. But in May, McGahn, under pressure from Trump, who said his conversations with McGahn were executive privilege, didn’t show. Some legal experts argue that Trump lost his ability to exert executive privilege the day he decided not to use it when McGahn (and other aides) testified to Mueller.
How this could escalate: The House voted in June to allow the Judiciary Committee to take McGahn to court to enforce its subpoena. Nadler has not ruled out voting to hold McGahn in contempt, either. All these contempt votes are symbolic — no one thinks the Justice Department under Trump would jail the president’s former White House lawyer. But it’s still a serious escalation.
3. Getting Mueller to testify: Mueller has said he doesn’t want to testify to Congress and that his 400-page report about Russia and Trump is testimony enough. But Democrats want him in the hot seat, if only for the theatrics it would provide.
How this could escalate: The Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Mueller, and he’ll appear before Congress on July 17.
On Trump’s finances
4. Did Trump inflate his assets? Trump sued a member of Congress and Trump’s own accounting firm to try to prevent that firm from handing over a decade’s worth of his financial statements. The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether Trump inflated his assets or deflated them to get loans or avoid real estate taxes — which could constitute possible bank fraud. He lost the first round after a judge expressed astonishment at his team’s legal argument.
How this could escalate: The accounting firm is willing to hand over the documents. But could the ensuing appeals fight take so long that Trump or key members of Congress are out of office by the time it is settled? House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) has already had to postpone his subpoena to the Mazars accounting firm while he waits for the courts.
5. Does Trump or his business have any money-laundering ties? House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) wants to know this. The House Financial Services Committee is also looking into potentially sketchy financial deals by the Trump Organization and his son-in-law’s former company. They’ve subpoenaed bank and lending records from Deutsche Bank and Capitol One, but Trump sued to try to stop this.
How this could escalate: Trump lost that lawsuit. But could his lawyers appeal and drag this fight out to run out the clock?
6. Getting Trump’s tax records: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin decided he would not let the Internal Revenue Service hand over Trump’s tax records to the House Ways and Means Committee, which is looking at how the IRS audits presidents. Trump has refused to publicize his tax returns, even though other presidents have. In May, New York lawmakers passed a bill that would allow Congress to get the president’s state tax returns.
How this could escalate: House Democrats sued Mnuchin on Tuesday to hand over the tax returns. This case could go to the Supreme Court and take years to resolve.
On Trump’s other actions as president
7. Understanding Trump’s security clearance process: The same House Oversight Committee looking into Trump’s finances is investigating whether the White House gave top-secret security clearances to people who may have had drug, criminal or financial problems. This investigation has the potential to catch Trump in a lie about whether he overrode security clearance experts to give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, access to the nation’s biggest secrets.
How this could escalate: Congress is working with a whistleblower and wants to talk to her former boss at the White House, Carl Kline. It subpoenaed Kline, but the White House told him to ignore the subpoena. So Kline didn’t show up for a hearing. Now the House Oversight Committee is considering voting to hold Kline in contempt, which could lead to daily fines or the threat of jail time until he agrees to talk to lawmakers.
8. How did the Trump administration decide to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census? The Supreme Court nixed the Trump administration’s decision to add this question to the 2020 Census, but the House Oversight Committee has subpoenaed the Justice and Commerce departments to learn more about the decision. Democrats and immigration activists worry that adding this question to the census could discourage immigrant communities from answering and thus hurt their representation in Congress.
How this could escalate: In June, the House Oversight Committee voted to hold the heads of the Justice and Commerce departments, Barr and Wilbur Ross, in contempt for not complying with the subpoenas. But Barr said he’ll just tell Trump to exert executive privilege over the information. It’s not clear what Congress could do from there.