White House Asserts Executive Privilege in Census Fight

WASHINGTON (AP) -
citizenship census
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., joined at left by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the ranking member, considers whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt, Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Donald Trump has asserted executive privilege over documents that were subpoenaed by Congress related to the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The claim comes as the House Oversight Committee considers whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to turn over the subpoenaed documents.

In a letter to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the Justice Department asserted that the Trump administration has “engaged in good-faith efforts” to satisfy the committee’s oversight needs and said the planned contempt vote was premature.

Democrats fear the question will reduce census participation in immigrant-heavy communities. They say they want specific documents to determine why Ross added the citizenship question to the 2020 census and contend the Trump administration has declined to provide them despite repeated requests.

The administration has turned over more than 17,000 of pages of documents and Ross testified for nearly seven hours . The Justice Department has said two senior officials also sat for interviews with committee staff members, and it was working to produce tens of thousands of additional pages of relevant documents.

Cummings disputed the Justice Department’s account and said most of the documents turned over to the committee had already been made public.

The administration’s refusal to turn over requested documents “does not appear to be an effort to engage in good faith efforts to comply” with congressional oversight, Cummings said. “Instead it appears to be part of a policy of defiance of congressional authority.”

Trump has vowed to “fight all the subpoenas” issued by Congress and has vowed to refuse to work on legislative priorities, such as infrastructure, until Congress halts investigations of his administration.

“The census is critical to our democracy and it is critical to every single one of our constituents,” Cummings said.

Cummings postponed a planned vote Wednesday morning to allow lawmakers time to read the Justice Department letters.

Ross told the committee that the decision in March 2018 to add the question was based on a Justice Department request to help it enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Cummings disputed that, citing documents unearthed last week suggesting that the real reason the administration sought to add the citizenship question was to help officials gerrymander legislative districts in overtly partisan and racist ways.

The Supreme Court is considering the citizenship question in a ruling expected by the end of the month.

Some of the documents the committee is seeking are protected by attorney-client privileges and other confidential processes, Boyd said, adding that the president has made a “protective assertion” of executive privilege so the administration can fully review all of the documents.

“The president, the Department of Justice, has every right to do that,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on MSNBC. “They’re asking for documents that are privileged and I would hope that they can continue to negotiate and speak about what is appropriate and what is not, but the world is watching. This country sees that they’d rather continue to investigate than legislate.”

Democrats have accused the Trump administration of failing to comply with subpoenas in an effort to stonewall Congress’ oversight power.

The House Judiciary Committee voted last month to hold Barr in contempt of Congress after the department didn’t immediately comply with a subpoena to turn over an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia probe and underlying investigative documents.

Republicans have criticized such hearings as a waste of time and have called for Democrats to move on.