House Panel Approves Contempt Citations Against Barr, Ross

June 13, 2019 Updated: June 13, 2019

The Democrats on the House Oversight Committee voted on June 12 to recommend that the full House of Representatives find Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for defying congressional subpoenas related to the U.S. Census.

The Democrat-led panel voted 24–15, along party lines, to call on the House to find Barr and Ross in contempt for refusing to cooperate with an investigation of the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census.

In response to a request from Barr, President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege over documents tied to his administration’s plan to add a question about a person’s citizenship to the census.

Ahead of the vote, the Department of Justice (DOJ) criticized the move, calling it “unnecessary and premature.” The DOJ urged the chairman of the oversight committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), to postpone the contempt vote but was rejected.

“You offered the Department until 9:00 p.m. last night to agree to produce, by today, unredacted copies of the priority documents identified in items 1 and 2 of the schedules for the subpoenas,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a June 12 letter to Cummings.

“But the Department has explained to the Committee on several occasions that these identified documents consist of attorney-client communications, attorney work product, and deliberative communications, and a federal court has already held many of these documents to be privileged in litigation.”

The department said that it had made efforts to accommodate the committee, including making Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore available for an additional interview and giving the committee “tens of thousands of additional pages of documents we have identified as responsive to the subpoena.”

“By proceeding with today’s vote, you have abandoned the accommodation process,” Boyd wrote.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have previously voted to approve a similar resolution to recommend that the full House vote to hold Barr in contempt.

Barr is facing a barrage of criticism from Democrats as he investigates whether the Obama administration’s spying on the Trump campaign was properly predicated and free of political motives. The attorney general has said he expected to be attacked if he took the job.

Citizenship Question

Ross announced in 2018 plans to add a question to the census that would ask the person if they are a legal citizen of the United States. The question was on the census for more than a century before being removed for the majority of the country in 1960.

The results of the decennial census are used to allocate federal dollars and determine representation in Congress.

A federal judge ruled in February that the citizenship question was allowed on the census. A different judge blocked the question from being added, which prompted a review by the Supreme Court, which said in February it would do an expedited review of the ruling.

A ruling was expected in June.

Supreme Court justices indicated in April that they were split on adding the question to the census.

Liberal-leaning justices seemed opposed to including the question, including Obama-appointed Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

“For 65 years, every secretary of the Department of Commerce, every statistician, including this secretary’s statistician, recommended against adding the question,” Sotomayor said. “So it may be that 200 years of asking a citizenship question in other forms may be true, but not on the short survey. That’s what’s at issue here.”

Conservative-leaning justices appeared comfortable with the potential inclusion of the citizenship question.

“It’s not like this question, or anybody in the room is suggesting the question is improper to ask in some way, shape, or form,” Justice Neil Gorsuch, appointed by Trump, said.

Along the same lines, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the question was “very common” internationally and that federal law grants the Commerce Department “huge discretion” over how the census is carried out.

Epoch Times contributor Matthew Vadum and NTD reporter Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.

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