President Trump on Wednesday asserted executive privilege to block lawmakers from accessing documents related to his administration’s plan to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
The Department of Justice announced the move just minutes ahead of a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in which Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross were expected to be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with the panel’s subpoenas.
“These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to Oversight and Reform Committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D., Md.). “Regrettably, you have made these assertions necessary by your insistence upon scheduling a premature contempt vote.”
Barr said Tuesday that he would ask the president to assert executive privilege over the documents if Cummings moved forward with the contempt vote.
Cummings said Wednesday morning that he would delay the scheduled contempt vote in order to give lawmakers the opportunity to read Boyd’s letter. He also cast Trump’s continued stonewalling as evidence of wrongdoing.
“This begs the question: What is being hidden?” Cummings said. “This does not appear to be an effort to engage in good-faith negotiations or accommodations. Instead, it appears to be another example of the administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated responsibilities.”
“Despite more than two months since we issued the subpoenas and more than a week since we told the agencies we were moving to contempt, the agencies have made no commitment or counter-offer regarding any of the critical documents in our subpoenas,” he added.
The requested documents relate to Ross’s March 2018 decision to add a citizenship question to the decennial national census, which is used to allocate federal funding and determine the number of House seats from each state.
Democrats in the lower chamber believe the documents will help determine whether Ross, who claims he was simply following Department of Justice instructions, was motivated by a desire to give Republicans an electoral advantage by identifying which Democratic-stronghold congressional districts were benefiting from the inclusion of illegal immigrants on the census.