House Democratic leaders plan to move forward with criminal contempt proceedings against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for defying congressional subpoenas for documents related to the 2020 census, senior Democratic aides said Monday.
Being held in contempt by Congress will be an embarrassment for the Trump administration officials but it won’t lead to many tangible consequences.
The Justice Department is almost certainly not going to charge the attorney general or another cabinet secretary with a crime. In fact, DOJ has urged officials not to comply with the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpoenas, which seek information related to the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
Last month, the committee formally reported its contempt report for Barr and Ross to the full House, citing them for both criminal and civil contempt after the Democrat-led panel voted to authorize the actions. It remains unclear whether the House will go to court to enforce the subpoenas.
But in a letter to colleagues on Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will take action “soon” on contempt.
Democrats have spoken out uniformly against the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, claiming it’s part of an effort to boost Republicans’ electoral fortunes by under-counting minority communities.
Pelosi on Monday said the Trump administration was seeking to “make America white again,” and Democrats have accused Ross of lying to Congress about the origins of the citizenship question.
The Supreme Court blocked the addition of the citizenship question late last month, and the Commerce Department said it would begin printing the census forms without the controversial question. But President Donald Trump appeared to reverse that position in a tweet last week, claiming he was exploring executive actions to pursue the citizenship question despite the court’s ruling.
Barr said earlier Monday that the administration will decide this week on its next steps, adding that he has been in “constant discussions” with Trump on the issue.
Republicans have dismissed Democrats’ efforts to explore the backstory of the citizenship question. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, said the panel’s contempt vote was a “misuse of the committee's contempt authority” and “another act of political theater.”
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