The White House has repeatedly rebuffed House Democrats’ oversight demands, from requests for President Donald Trump’s taxes to testimony from the former White House counsel. Democrats have gone so far as to issue subpoenas in some cases, but Trump has vowed to fight each one, prompting committees to hold various officials in contempt of Congress.
Here are the major battles being waged and where they stand:
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Democratic demand: The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report and all underlying evidence.
White House pushback: The Justice Department has refused, citing laws blocking the disclosure of grand jury information. Democrats issued a subpoena for the report on April 19 and the Justice Department defied a May 1 deadline, citing efforts to work with Congress to provide a largely unredacted report to a select group of senior lawmakers. The committee voted on May 8 to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for not providing the unredacted report. But in early June, the Justice Department began allowing Judiciary Committee members to view some of Mueller’s “key evidence.”
Accessing the unredacted report is a crucial part of Democrats’ oversight agenda — not just because it could contain damaging details about Trump, but because Democrats have spent months attempting to retrace Mueller’s steps on their own.
Democratic demand: The House Judiciary Committee is seeking testimony from Mueller.
White House pushback: In May, Trump stated that Mueller “should not testify” — despite Barr saying he has no problem with Mueller testifying. Democrats were privately working on the logistics with the Justice Department but never reached a deal before Mueller formally left the government. Negotiations have continued with Mueller as a private citizen, but Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has said that Mueller refuses to answer lawmakers’ questions in public, instead preferring to do so in private. Nadler has indicated that he’s willing to issue a subpoena to Mueller if necessary. Mueller himself said publicly in May that he doesn’t want to speak before Congress, adding that the report “is my testimony.”
Democrats see Mueller’s testimony as the linchpin of their investigative efforts, the moment when he will help crystallize for the country the import of the evidence he gathered on Russia’s effort to support Trump’s election and Trump’s effort to obstruct his investigation. It’s also a chance for Democrats to pit Mueller against Barr, who had pointed disagreements with Mueller’s legal theories.
Don McGahn’s Role
Democratic demand: The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for documents and testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn.
White House pushback: McGahn defied a committee request to provide documents by a May 7 deadline, and he refused to show up for his May 21 testimony after the White House asserted executive privilege. McGahn delivered some of the most damning testimony Mueller received implicating Trump in potential obstruction of justice. His testimony, combined with notes from his deputy Annie Donaldson, portrayed a White House in chaos and a president fuming at the special counsel’s investigation and repeatedly attempting to disrupt the probe — including asking McGahn to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller.
The White House on May 7 intervened in the dispute, urging the Judiciary Committee to stop requesting files directly from McGahn and to approach the White House instead, since the administration may want to invoke executive privilege. Democrats say the privilege has already been waived, since Trump allowed McGahn to speak to Mueller and share documents. Nadler is expected to soon go to court to enforce his subpoena against McGahn — a power he was given after the full House voted to allow all committee chairs to sue the Trump administration to enforce their subpoenas.
Since then, Donaldson and Hope Hicks — the former White House communications director — have also adhered to Trump’s broad claims of executive privilege. But Hicks is set to testify in private before the committee on June 19, centering on her tenure as a senior aide on the Trump campaign.
Chats with Putin
Democratic demand: The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees asked the White House and State Department to turn over “all documents and communications, regardless of form and classification, that refer or relate to any communications between President Trump and President Putin, including in-person meetings and telephone calls.”
White House pushback: The White House said it would not provide the documents, citing longstanding precedents that protect the privacy of presidents’ conversations with world leaders. It remains unclear whether House Democrats will issue a subpoena for the documents.
Democrats have long been suspicious of Trump’s one-on-one meetings with the Russian leader, especially in Helsinki last year when the president publicly bucked his intelligence agencies and appeared to side with Putin’s denials of election interference.
Accounting firm’s Trump docs
Democratic demand: The House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena to accounting firm Mazars USA seeking eight years of Trump’s financial documents.
White House pushback: Trump filed a lawsuit — in his personal capacity — against the committee in an attempt to invalidate the subpoena. A federal judge ruled in Democrats’ favor, but Trump has filed a formal appeal.
The committee said it needed the documents in order to corroborate a number of claims made by Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who alleged that Trump artificially inflated and deflated the value of his assets as he sought loans and a reduction in his overall tax burden.
Banks’ Trump docs
Democratic demand: The House Intelligence and Financial Services committees issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Capital One for Trump’s financial records.
White House pushback: Trump filed another lawsuit to block the subpoenas, with his lawyers contending that the subpoenas were only issued to “harass” the president and damage his re-election prospects. A federal judge sided with House Democrats on this suit, too, and Trump has already filed an appeal.
The committees say they need the documents as part of their joint investigations into potential foreign influence on the U.S. political process and abuse of the U.S. financial system for illicit purposes.
Democratic demand: The House Ways and Means Committee has issued a subpoena for six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns.
White House pushback: The Treasury Department rejected the committee’s demand, setting the stage for a court battle. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) that the committee’s request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.” Democrats say the purpose of the request is to ensure that the Internal Revenue Service is enforcing all relevant tax laws.
White House security clearances
Democratic demand: The House Oversight Committee is conducting a wide-ranging investigation centering on alleged abuses with the White House security clearance system. The panel has requested documents and witness testimony from the White House.
White House pushback: The White House has rejected virtually all of the committee’s demands. Democrats say the White House hasn’t turned over a single document related to the security clearance process, and it instructed Carl Kline, the former personnel security director, to defy the committee’s subpoena for his testimony. Kline eventually agreed to appear before the panel for a transcribed interview, during which he confirmed allegations from a whistleblower that he overruled some clearance applications that were initially denied. But he also said nobody at the White House directed him to do so.
Reports emerged earlier this year that the president himself intervened to ensure that his senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was granted a full security clearance, despite recommendations to the contrary from career national security officials.
Broad corruption and obstruction inquiry
Democratic demand: The House Judiciary Committee in early March sent letters to 81 Trump-connected individuals and entities seeking records and testimony from the White House, Trump’s businesses, charity and family, as part of a broad inquiry into potential obstruction of justice and corruption.
White House pushback: The response from the recipients has been mixed. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler later said that his committee received “a large number” of responses from the individuals and entities as well as “tens of thousands” of documents.
It remains unclear if all recipients have responded to the request or provided documents, though longtime Trump confidant Thomas Barrack and former top White House adviser Stephen Bannon have confirmed they turned over documents. Others have refused to comply, with some asking for a so-called “friendly subpoena” to secure their compliance and others stating that they do not possess the documents requested.
Democratic demand: The House Oversight Committee has asked for documents and witness testimony related to the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
White House pushback: The Justice and Commerce departments have provided thousands of documents to the committee in response to a subpoena, but they’ve refused to turn over specific documents showing how the citizenship question was added to the census. The committee voted on June 13 to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress, citing their refusal to cooperate.
The contempt citation, which follows a subpoena for documents and testimony from officials involved in the census, was the culmination of months of skirmishes with the Trump administration seeking to determine whether partisan politics drove the administration’s efforts on the citizenship question. Among those skirmishes was an effort to question former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an immigration hardliner who advised the White House on the matter.
The White House moved to block Kobach’s cooperation, arguing that even outside advisers like him are subject to executive privilege because presidents should be able to offer confidentiality to experts who provide advice on sensitive subjects. Trump’s legal counsels cited a 2007 Justice Department opinion on the subject, but it marked a dramatic escalation in the administration’s sweeping claims of privilege intended to block cooperation with congressional inquiries.
Democrats have alleged that the citizenship question was added in order to boost Republicans’ electoral prospects beyond 2020, but the administration has claimed it was only added in order to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. Recent evidence emerged showing that a now-deceased GOP gerrymandering expert had urged officials to add the citizenship question because it would force the re-drawing of congressional districts in ways that help Republicans.