Committee Votes on Bipartisan Basis to Hold Barr and Ross in Contempt

Jun 12, 2019
Press Release
President Claims Broad “Protective” Executive Privilege Over All Subpoenaed Documents

Justice and Commerce Refuse to Comply with Bipartisan Subpoenas for Census Documents

Washington, D.C. (June 12, 2019)—Today, the Committee on Oversight and Reform voted on a bipartisan basis to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with bipartisan subpoenas relating to the Trump Administration’s secret efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.  

The vote was 24-15 with Rep. Justin Amash joining all Committee Democrats.

Chairman Cummings issued the following statement:

“The Census is one of our most basic and critical functions of government, set forth in the Constitution as part of the bedrock of our democracy.  It helps us determine how to appropriate federal funds for government programs on behalf of our constituents, and it is used to determine our congressional districts. 

“The Census should be run by nonpartisan experts based on their professional experience—not manipulated by political appointees as part of a political influence and interference operation.

“Today’s contempt vote was the last thing I wanted to do.  I bent over backwards to try to work with the Administration, but they delayed, dissembled, and degraded our Committee’s efforts to conduct this investigation and fulfill our responsibilities under the Constitution.  I asked Secretary Ross weeks ago to meet with me personally to try to resolve this impasse, but he refused.  We even offered to narrow our requests to just a small subset of documents, but both Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross refused to provide them.  Instead, this morning President Trump made extremely broad assertions of ‘protective’ executive privilege to withhold all of the documents required by our bipartisan subpoenas. 

“This is clearly part of a strategy—led by the President—to obstruct congressional investigations across the board, and it begs the question:  what else is being hidden from the American people?”

For months, the Trump Administration had been claiming that the decision to add the citizenship question was “made at the department level” rather than at the White House.  However, new evidence obtained by the Committee shows that White House officials were directly and personally involved, including Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and the President himself.

This morning, President Trump made broad claims of “protective” executive privilege to block the production of all documents required by the Committee’s subpoenas, including over documents that even the Departments would concede are not covered by executive privilege. 

The Committee rejected these assertions and voted to hold both Barr and Ross in contempt of Congress.

Since the subpoenas were issued on April 2, 2019, the Departments of Justice and Commerce refused to produce any of the key unredacted documents identified by the Committee, made no commitments to produce those key documents, and made no counter-offers relating to those key documents.  The key documents include:

  • Secret Memo from Commerce to DOJ.  John Gore, who drafted DOJ’s December 2017 letter requesting a citizenship question, told Committee staff that a lawyer at the Department of Commerce, James Uthmeier, provided him with a memo on the citizenship question before DOJ issued its official request.  That memo, which was hand-delivered with a personal note instead of being emailed, may shed light on how the Administration orchestrated this process. 
  • Drafts of DOJ’s December 2017 Request.  DOJ’s letter to Commerce asserted that the citizenship question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, but the evidence shows that this was a pretext.  Drafts of the letter could shed light on the rationales considered. 
  • Unredacted Emails from Ross and His Staff.  Secretary Ross testified repeatedly that he was adding the citizenship question “solely” at the request of DOJ to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.  But emails obtained by the Committee show that Ross began pushing to add a citizenship question within days of taking office in early 2017 and engineered a request from DOJ.  Unfortunately, many of these emails are redacted.

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116th Congress