Update: This story has been updated to include a comment from the Commerce Department.
The House Oversight Committee will vote to hold Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in civil contempt for their defiance of subpoenas in the committee’s Census citizenship question investigation.
Chairman Elijah Cummings sent Barr and Ross letters Monday informing them the committee was scheduling the contempt vote.
The letters give the two officials one last chance to, by June 6, produce the documents the committee demanded.
The committee in April issued subpoenas for 11 key documents related to the decision to add the question. It also sought the testimony from Justice Department official John Gore, who was involved in writing a Justice Department request that the question be added. Gore sat down for a voluntary interview with the committee earlier this year but declined to answer certain questions on the instruction of the DOJ lawyer. The committee subpoenaed him for the full testimony, but he did not show up for the deposition on the instructions of the Department, which objected to the committee’s refusal to let a DOJ attorney sit in on the deposition.
Voting with the committee’s Democrats to issue the subpoenas was Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).
The letters reference new evidence unveiled last week by the groups who are legally challenging the question — evidence that further contradicts the administration’s official rationale for adding the question. Ross has said that he added it in response to a Justice Department request, authored by Gore, which claimed that it would enhance the department’s Voting Rights Act (VRA) enforcement. Internal documents released in the litigation revealed that Ross had been seeking the question well before the Justice Department’s official request, and last week the challengers put forward additional evidence that the VRA rationale was was not the administration’s true reason for adding the question.
According to the new evidence, Gore had received a draft of the request that was partially ghostwritten by a GOP gerrymandering guru who had previously studied how asking the question could facilitate a redistricting overhaul that would boost Republicans’ electoral advantage. Gore had admitted to receiving the draft in the committee interview, but declined to answer additional questions about it. The role the gerrymandering expert, who is now deceased, played in writing the draft was unknown until the challengers made it public last week.
A Commerce spokesperson issued a statement in response to the committee’s move:
The Department of Commerce has worked in good faith with the Committee and has delivered nearly 14,000 pages of documents responsive to the Committee’s extensive request. The Secretary himself voluntarily testified for nearly seven hours before the Committee. The Committee has taken this extraordinary step to compel production of documents protected by longstanding and well-settled privileges, including the government’s right to protect confidential attorney-client and deliberative communications, which has been upheld in court. To any objective observer, it is abundantly clear that the Committee’s intent is not to find facts, but to desperately and improperly influence the Supreme Court with mere insinuations and conspiracy theories.
Read the letters below: