Contempt Vote for Barr, Ross Set for Withholding Documents in Census Investigation

Contempt Vote for Barr, Ross Set for Withholding Documents in Census Investigation


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md), on Monday sent letters notifying Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that the committee is moving forward to hold them in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with bipartisan subpoenas issued more than two months ago for documents relating to the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

“Unfortunately, your actions are part of a pattern. The Trump Administration has been engaged in one of the most unprecedented cover-ups since Watergate, extending from the White House to multiple federal agencies and departments of the government and across numerous investigations,” Cummings wrote. “The tactics of this cover-up are now clear. The Administration has been challenging Congress’ core authority to conduct oversight under the Constitution, questioning the legislative bases for congressional inquiries, objecting to committee rules and precedents that have been in place for decades under both Republican and Democratic leadership, and making baseless legal arguments to avoid producing documents and testimony.

“This cover-up is being directed from the top. Several weeks ago, President Trump vowed publicly, ‘We’re fighting all the subpoenas.’  Since then, he has refused to work on legislative priorities, such as infrastructure, until Congress halts all oversight and investigations of his Administration,” the chairman added. “Although he has suggested that all subpoenas from Congress are partisan and somehow related to the Russia probe, neither claim is true. The subpoenas in this investigation were adopted on a bipartisan basis, and this investigation has nothing to do with Russia.”

Cummings sent the letters in the wake of new documents unearthed last week suggesting that the real reason the Trump administration sought to add the citizenship question was not to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, as administration officials have claimed, but rather to gerrymander legislative districts in overtly racist, partisan, and unconstitutional ways.

These documents include a secret study authored a year before the 2016 election by Thomas Hofeller, a Republican gerrymandering expert who is now deceased. One of the principle conclusions of this study is that counting voting-age citizens in legislative districts—rather than counting all persons—“would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” 

The committee has been engaged in extensive efforts to obtain key documents from the Justice and Commerce departments for many months, including through multiple letters, phone calls, and meetings, but both agencies have withheld unredacted copies of high priority documents.

More than two months ago—on April 2, 2019—the committee voted on a bipartisan basis to issue subpoenas for these documents, but despite repeated efforts by the committee to resolve this impasse, both agencies are still refusing to fully comply, according to Cummings.

The committee is giving Barr and Ross until Thursday to produce unredacted copies of the documents they are withholding in order to avoid a contempt vote, which would initiate the process of bringing a civil enforcement action to obtain compliance with the subpoenas.

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