House Holds Barr, Ross In Contempt For Resisting Census Probe Subpoenas

on March 22, 2018 in Washington, DC.
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. Ross was te... WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. Ross was testifying about the Trump Administration' tarriffs imposed on foreign steel and aluminum that are set to go into affect on Friday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS

The House voted 230-198 on Wednesday to hold Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for their failure to comply with subpoenas in lawmakers’ probe into the census citizenship question.

The vote was largely along party lines, with just Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) joining the Democrats in favor the vote. It marks the first time the full House has voted to hold members of the Trump administration in criminal contempt. The vote sets the stage for the House to go to court to get the census-related documents lawmakers seek.

The Trump administration lost the legal fight over adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census and is planning to collect citizenship data from existing government records.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier Thursday that the House will continue to “hold the administration accountable for the policy decision” to add the question.

The House Oversight Committee had subpoenaed John Gore — a Justice Department official who wrote the official justification for the question that the Supreme Court has since declared pretextual — for testimony. In a voluntary interview, he declined to answer several of the committee’s questions and the Justice Department blocked him from sitting for a compelled deposition after the committee refused to let DOJ counsel join Gore in the session.

The committee is also seeking several Commerce Department documents that have been withheld — both in the litigation over the question and in the congressional probe — having to do with officials’ efforts to get the Justice Department to request the question.

Among the documents requested are unredacted versions emails where Ross pressured his aides to find a way to get the question added, well before the formal DOJ request, as well as a memo a Commerce official shared with Gore as he was working on the request letter.

Wednesday’s vote authorizes the House to take the demands for documents and testimony to court, but its timeline for doing so is unclear.

So far, in their larger oversight battle with the Trump administration, Democrats have only proactively gone to court to obtain President Trump’s tax returns. They are also defending in court subpoenas for Trump’s financial records, in a case brought by private attorneys for Trump seeking to block subpoenas of his accounting firm and bank.

The House in June approved of going to court to enforce a subpoena of Don McGahn, the former White House counsel. However, that resolution did not explicitly hold Barr in contempt of Congress, as Wednesday’s resolution did. Democrats expect to file the lawsuit to enforce the McGahn subpoena by the end of this month, Politico reported. 

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