The threat of committee contempt votes did not push the Trump administration into fully cooperating with House Democrats’ investigation into the addition of the census citizenship question.
On Thursday evening, both the Commerce Department and the Justice Department told the House Oversight Committee they would not turn over the documents the committee had demanded in subpoenas that even got the support of a committee Republican.
Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) earlier this week had given the agencies one final chance to turn over the documents by Thursday before the committee moved forward with contempt votes for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General Bill Barr.
The requested documents include unredacted versions of communications at Commerce, as Ross was pressuring his staff to get a citizenship question added, as well as drafts of the formal request for the question written by DOJ official John Gore. Additionally, the committee is seeking answers from Gore on specific questions he declined to respond to, per the direction of a DOJ attorney, in a voluntary interview earlier this year. The Department has refused to let him sit for another interview unless he can again be accompanied by a DOJ attorney.
On Thursday, the Justice Department claimed that the Gore documents the committee was demanding were protected by various privileges, while continuing to insist that he would not be made available for an interview unless a DOJ attorney was allowed to sit in.
Likewise, the Commerce Department said that the redacted information it to was withholding was protected by certain privileges that had already been backed by a judge in one of the legal challenges the administration is facing over the question.
“There is no information to hide; there is institutional integrity to preserve,” Commerce official Charles Kolo Rathbum said in the letter.
The Oversight Committee in a statement Friday morning denied that the agencies had legitimate reasons to refuse to turn over the documents.
“We gave Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross every opportunity to produce the documents the Committee needs for our investigation, but rather than cooperate, they have decided that they would rather be held in contempt of Congress,” Cummings said in the statement. “They produced none of the documents we asked for, they made no counter-offers regarding these documents, and they seem determined to continue the Trump Administration’s cover-up.”
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