House Democrats and the Department of Justice made a last-minute attempt to hold off contempt proceedings against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, but the efforts were again rendered useless as they seemed to face yet another deadlock before Wednesday’s committee vote.
They exchanged letters late on Tuesday following the DOJ’s warning that it would advise the President to invoke executive privilege and block the House Oversight and Reform Committee from obtaining documents pertaining to efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd threatened in a letter to committee Chairman Elijah Cummings a blanket assertion of privilege should the panel refuse to forgo the planned vote to hold Barr and Ross in contempt of Congress for not providing subpoenaed documents, Politico reports.
“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 to the secretary of the department of commerce,” Boyd wrote.
In a letter sent by Cummings to Barr, the chairman said that he could not accept the Justice Department’s terms, arguing that his committee had “a responsibility under the Constitution to conduct rigorous oversight of the Census, and we will not continue to delay our efforts due to your ongoing obstruction.”
Cummings had previously agreed to postpone the Wednesday vote in exchange for specific documents that were to be provided by 9 p.m. Tuesday night. The Trump administration has claimed it cannot hand over additional documents regarding the addition of a citizenship question, prompting Cummings to schedule a full committee vote to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt of Congress.
The Justice Department made a similar threat of executive privilege when the House Judiciary Committee was preparing to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for defying its subpoena for Robert Mueller’s unredacted report and the underlying evidence. The panel held the vote and President Donald Trump asserted blanket privilege over the report.
“If the committee decides to proceed in spite of this request, however, the department will be obliged to advise that the president assert executive privilege with respect to certain of the subpoenaed documents, and to make a protective assertion of executive privilege over the remainder of the documents,” Boyd wrote on Tuesday, maintaining attorney-client privilege over the subpoenaed information.