Wednesday the DOJ said that President Trump is asserting executive privilege over documents related his administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, as House Democrats weigh a contempt resolution against Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross over the controversy.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the panel will move ahead with plans Wednesday to vote on holding Barr and Ross in contempt, accusing them of withholding documents. But he said a vote would be postponed until the afternoon, so lawmakers could digest the letter from the Justice Department about Trump invoking executive privilege.
Stephen E. Boyd, the assistant attorney general, in a letter to Cummings on Wednesday cited the “president’s determination of an assertion of executive privilege.” He wrote that the Justice Department has “engaged in good-faith efforts to satisfy the legislative needs of the committee,” but said they are unable to “produce these privileged materials” because of the invocation of executive privilege.
“Unfortunately, rather than allowing the Department to complete its document production, you have chosen to go forward with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote,” Boyd wrote.
During the hearing, Cummings blasted the Trump administration’s move to ask census respondents about whether they are citizens, saying, “We’ve obtained evidence showing that Secretary Ross was aggressively pressing his staff to add the citizenship question months before any requests from the Justice Department in the spring of 2017.”
Republicans condemned the move by committee Democrats. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member of the committee, called the Democratic probe a “partisan investigation.”
“Why don’t the Democrats want to know how many citizens are in the country?” Jordan said.
As for the Oversight Committee, Democrats say they want specific documents to determine why Ross added the citizenship question to the 2020 census. They say the Trump administration has declined to provide the documents despite repeated requests.
Ross told the committee the decision in March 2018 to add the question was based on a Justice Department request to help it enforce the Voting Rights Act.
But Democrats say Ross considered adding the citizenship question from his first days in the administration in 2017. They fear the question will reduce census participation in immigrant-heavy communities, harming representation and access to federal dollars.
A spokesman for Ross said the Commerce Department has worked in good faith with the committee and delivered nearly 14,000 pages of documents. Ross testified for nearly seven hours earlier this year.
The Supreme Court is considering the citizenship question in a ruling expected later this year.
A contempt vote by the committee would be an escalation of Democratic efforts to use their majority to aggressively investigate the inner workings of President Donald Trump’s administration.
In a party-line 229-191 vote over efforts to obtain documents related to the Russia investigation, House Democrats on Tuesday passed a civil enforcement resolution against Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn that some lawmakers likened to contempt, though that word did not appear in the measure. This came just a day after a key Democrat-led committee postponed its own contempt vote and said the Justice Department was cooperating with its Russia-related investigation.
A vote by the full House would be required to hold Barr and Ross in contempt on the census issue. Such a finding would be a political blow but would not result in real punishment since the men are unlikely to go to jail or be arrested.