Trump Administration Expands Obstruction Campaign Beyond White House Staff to Agency Officials
Washington, D.C. (Apr. 24, 2019)— Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued the following statement after Attorney General William Barr ordered John Gore, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, to defy a bipartisan subpoena to appear at a deposition tomorrow relating to the Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census:
“This is a massive, unprecedented, and growing pattern of obstruction. Yesterday, President Trump declared to the entire country that he would obstruct Congress and order all White House officials to defy lawful subpoenas from Congress. Today, the Trump Administration went even further by expanding this policy to employees at federal agencies—even when the subpoenas are bipartisan and supported by Republican Members of Congress.
“The subpoena that was issued to Mr. Gore was adopted by our Committee on a bipartisan basis. Neither the White House nor the Department of Justice has asserted any privilege that would relieve Mr. Gore of his legal duty to comply.
“Both President Trump and Attorney General Barr are now openly ordering federal employees to ignore congressional subpoenas and simply not show up—without any assertion of a valid legal privilege. These employees and their personal attorneys should think very carefully about their own legal interests rather than being swept up in the obstruction schemes of the Trump Administration.
“As an officer of the court and a senior lawyer in a position of public trust at the Department of Justice, Mr. Gore should be well aware of his constitutional, legal, and ethical obligations to comply with a duly authorized subpoena from Congress. Those obligations have not been erased by the Attorney General or the President.
“Committee investigators will gather tomorrow morning for this deposition—as scheduled—and we hope Mr. Gore will fulfill his legal and ethical responsibilities and appear as ordered.”
On February 14, 2019, Cummings requested a voluntary interview with Gore regarding his role in the Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
On March 7, 2019, Committee staff conducted the interview, but Gore refused to answer more than 150 questions at the direction of Department of Justice (DOJ) counsel.
Neither DOJ nor Gore asserted any valid privilege, but instead claimed that Gore could not answer due to separate ongoing litigation—an argument that has been thoroughly debunked. As the Supreme Court has stated, “surely a congressional committee which is engaged in a legitimate legislative investigation need not grind to a halt whenever responses to its inquiries might potentially be harmful to a witness in some distinct proceeding.”
On March 7, 2019, as an accommodation, Committee staff proposed that Gore return to answer a more limited set of 18 key questions that he refused to answer during his interview. DOJ refused.
On April 2, 2019, the Committee authorized a subpoena for Gore’s deposition on a bipartisan basis, with all Democrats and one Republican voting in favor. Cummings issued the subpoena the same day.
On April 9, 2019, DOJ wrote to the Committee that Attorney General Barr had “determined that Mr. Gore will not appear” at the deposition “unless a Department representative may accompany him.”
On April 10, 2019, Cummings responded by explaining that Committee Rules have prohibited agency counsel in depositions for many years under multiple Republican and Democratic Committee Chairmen and providing numerous examples of agency officials who have been deposed under these rules.
On April 24, 2019, DOJ sent a letter notifying the Committee that Attorney General Barr ordered Gore not to appear at the deposition, but the letter included no assertion of any legally valid privilege.