Barr and Ross Must Produce Census Documents by Tomorrow to Avoid Contempt

Jun 5, 2019
Press Release
Commerce Relents on Interviews of Officials After Committee Threatens Subpoenas


Washington, DC (June 5, 2019)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced that the Committee plans to move forward next week with a vote to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress if they do not produce unredacted copies of key documents required by bipartisan subpoenas issued more than two months ago relating to the Trump Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.  The documents are due by close of business on Thursday.

In addition, late last night, the Commerce Department—under threat of subpoena—finally relented to demands to schedule transcribed interviews for three current and former Department officials who were involved with adding the citizenship question, avoiding a public vote on the subpoenas this morning. These requests had been outstanding for months.

“Our Committee has a constitutional responsibility to oversee the Census, and we will not relinquish this responsibility because of a coordinated effort to obstruct our investigation by the Trump Administration,” Cummings said.  “We have been extremely patient in waiting for these documents, which were subpoenaed more than two months ago on a bipartisan basis.  If they are not produced by tomorrow, we will be forced to move forward with holding Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross in contempt of Congress.  These documents are critical to our oversight efforts, and we plan to use them in our interviews of top Administration officials in the coming weeks.”

On Monday,  the Committee sent letters notifying Barr and Ross that it would vote to hold them in contempt of Congress if they do not produce key documents  required by the Committee’s bipartisan subpoenas issued on April 2, 2019.  Some of these high-priority documents include:


  • A secret memo from Commerce to Justice.  John Gore, who drafted DOJ’s letter to Commerce in 2017 requesting the citizenship question, told Committee staff that a Commerce Department lawyer, James Uthmeier, provided him with a memo on the citizenship question before DOJ issued its official request letter.  That memo, which was hand-delivered along with a personal note, may shed light on how the Administration orchestrated DOJ’s pretextual request letter.  The Committee is scheduled to interview Uthmeier next week.


  • Drafts of DOJ’s letter requesting the citizenship question.  DOJ’s letter to Commerce asserted that the citizenship question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, but this was a pretext.  Recent reporting also suggests that a Republican gerrymandering expert may have influenced the letter.  Drafts of the letter could shed light on the sources used to draft it and other rationales considered. 


  • Unredacted emails from Ross and his staff.  Ross testified that he added the citizenship question “solely” at the request of DOJ to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, but emails show that he began pushing to add for the citizenship question as soon as he took office in 2017 and engineered the request from DOJ.  Unfortunately, many of these emails are heavily redacted. 

In addition to demanding these documents, Cummings circulated a subpoena resolution yesterday that would have compelled testimony from three current and former Department of Commerce officials who have refused for months to come in for voluntary interviews:  former Senior Advisor and Counsel to the Secretary James Uthmeier, General Counsel Peter Davidson, and Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Earl Comstock.


The Committee first requested transcribed interviews with these three officials on March 20, 2019, but the Department refused to make them available.  On May 7, 2019, the Committee sent request letters directly to the witnesses, but the Department still did not comply.


Late last night, Commerce officials finally agreed to schedule voluntary interviews with all three current and former officials, and the Committee postponed its subpoena vote accordingly.


116th Congress