In response to a planned contempt vote, the Justice Department informed the chair of the House Oversight Committee Tuesday that it had advised Donald Trump to invoke executive privilege over census documents the panel is seeking.
“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 subject to the Secretary of the Department of Commerce,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to House Oversight chair Elijah Cummings. The department requested that Cummings temporarily suspend the subpoenas and delay the vote until Trump makes a decision.
On Monday, Cummings announced a committee vote on holding both Attorney General William Barr and Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for failing to produce any subpoenaed documents related to the administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. In a statement, Cummings said Barr and Ross were “complicit” in the administration’s “cover-up,” and he was left with no choice but to hold a contempt vote.
The Justice Department, in turn, accused the committee of failing to abide by a “constitutionally mandated accommodation process” and making a “premature decision” on a contempt vote.
Unfortunately, the Justice Department doesn’t have a leg to stand on since it has effectively denied Congress any and every document requested right up until Monday, when the department finally agreed to hand over some subpoenaed materials to the House Judiciary Committee. The House Oversight Committee still hasn’t received a single requested document from the department.
The Justice Department letter said the department would “remain open to further discussions” if the Oversight Committee delays the scheduled contempt vote, but it also threatened to advise Trump to invoke privilege over both the subpoenaed materials and other documents related to the census if the vote proceeds.