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House oversight votes to hold Barr, Ross in contempt for defying subpoena

By Nicholas Sakelaris & Daniel Uria
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House oversight votes to hold Barr, Ross in contempt for defying subpoena
The House oversight committee found Attorney General William P. Barr and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress on Wednesday. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

June 12 (UPI) -- The House oversight committee on Wednesday voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena regarding the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The committee approved a contempt resolution, which also included citations for both civil and criminal contempt.

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Oversight committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he unsuccessfully offered to postpone the contempt votes for Barr and Ross if the administration releases a small batch of records from the case that the committee requested.

"Despite more than two months since we issued the subpoenas and more than a week since we told the agencies we were moving to contempt, the agencies have made no commitment or counter-offer regarding any of the critical documents in our subpoenas," he said.

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President Donald Trump acted earlier Wednesday to block the committee from seeing government documents that outline how his administration added the citizenship question to the census.

At the direction of the Justice Department, Trump invoked executive privilege to prevent the House oversight and reform committee from subpoenaing the documents. Executive privilege is a presidential power to resist subpoenas and other interventions that have the potential to hinder functions of the federal government.

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Democrats and immigration advocates say if the question is included, undocumented immigrants might be afraid to respond to the census and the result will be an inaccurate tally. The administration argues the question will help enforce voting rights. The issue has been taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may soon issue a ruling.

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"These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in a letter to Cummings. "Regrettably, you have made these assertions necessary by your insistence upon schedule a premature contempt vote."

The Democratically controlled committee wants to know the origins of the question.

Cummings said he's been asking the Commerce Department for the documents for more than a year.

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"That begs the question: what is being hidden?" he asked. "This does not appear to be an effort to engage in good faith negotiations or accommodations. Instead, it appears to be another example of the administration's blanket defiance of Congress' constitutionally mandated responsibilities."

Constitutionally, the census must count all persons living in the United States, regardless of their status as a citizen. The results each decade are used to create congressional districts and determine how many electoral votes states have in a presidential election.

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