Attorney General William Barr is asking President Donald Trump to assert executive privilege to shield documents from the administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census as Democratic lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee proceed toward holding Barr in contempt, the Justice Department revealed in a letter Tuesday.
The revelation came on the eve of an expected Oversight Committee vote on holding Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to turn over documents that lawmakers had subpoenaed and for stopping a witness from testifying without a Justice Department lawyer. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that the decision to schedule the vote was "premature," and he accused lawmakers of refusing to negotiate with the department to get at least some of what they wanted.
"In the face of this threatened contempt vote, the Attorney General is now compelled to request that the President invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials subject to the subpoena to the Attorney General and the subpoena to the Secretary of the Department of Commerce," Boyd wrote. "I hereby request that the Committee hold the subpoenas in abeyance and delay any vote on whether to recommend a citation of contempt for noncompliance with the subpoenas, pending the President's determination of this question."
Boyd added that if the committee rejected the request, then the department would "be forced to re-evaluate its current production efforts in ongoing matters." He requested that the committee respond by 4 p.m. Tuesday and noted the president had not yet asserted executive privilege to protect the documents.
Later Tuesday, Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., responded in a letter, saying that because the department had made "no commitments to provide any portion of the critical documents required by the subpoena," he would not postpone the contempt vote.
"The Committee cannot accept these terms," Cummings wrote, adding that he was still willing to delay if the department turned over certain materials. "The Committee has a responsibility under the Constitution to conduct rigorous oversight of the Census, and we will not delay our efforts due to your ongoing obstruction."
Lawmakers are seeking to understand the administration's decision to add a citizenship question -- which they allege could scare immigrants away from responding to the survey.
The results of the census are used in congressional redistricting and in calculating the number of representatives each state gets in Congress. Lower immigrant response rates could give an advantage to white and Republican voters, critics of the question say.
Cummings has accused the administration of not complying with a subpoena for documents about the matter, as well as of blocking Justice Department official John Gore from testifying.
A Section on 06/12/2019
Print Headline: Trump's help sought in census-file dispute