The House Oversight and Reform Committee plans to vote next week on holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt after they missed a subpoena deadline to produce documents the panel was seeking as it investigates why a question about citizenship was added to the 2020 census, Chairman Elijah E. Cummings said Friday.
The Maryland Democrat, in a statement, called the two departments’ reasons for not producing documents by Thursday “case studies in double-speak,” and said the administration has consistently resisted the panel's probe into the addition of the question to next year's census.
Cummings argued that “rather than cooperate, they have decided that they would rather be held in contempt of Congress.”
Administration officials have slow-walked the investigation for months, Cummings argued, producing documents and witnesses only under threat of subpoena. He noted Ross refused to testify at all.
Earlier in the week, the committee canceled a planned subpoena vote for a trio of current and former administration officials after they agreed to sit for closed-door interviews. In April, Justice Department attorney John Gore defied a committee subpoena over a spat about whether he could bring along government counsel to his testimony.
The Justice and Commerce Departments have claimed that the committee’s subpoenas seek protected documents, such as internal communications, and stressed they have already produced tens of thousands of documents as part of the probe.
Democrats’ investigation, the administration argued, is meant to interfere with the Supreme Court’s consideration of a case challenging the citizenship question, with a decision expected by the end of June.
According to Democrats, the official argument for the addition of the question — enforcement of the Voting Rights Act — is a smokescreen for suppressing noncitizen census participation and gathering data to draw Republican-favored congressional maps.
They’ve pointed to recently revealed documents that advocates are seeking to enter into the citizenship question litigation which point to a deceased conservative gerrymandering expert as the potential source of the question.
The Republican side of the committee criticized Cummings’ decision to hold a contempt vote next week, noting in a statement from spokeswoman Charli Huddleston that the administration has produced thousands of documents over the last few months.
“The Committee is in the early stages of its fact-finding — Democrats are prematurely jumping to contempt, when it should be the last resort. Chairman Cummings’s efforts here are a partisan show vote in an attempt to influence a Supreme Court decision,” Huddleston said.
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