DOJ responds to committee's deadline for 2020 census information

Department tries to stave off contempt vote

By Laura Jarrett, CNN
Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee indicated Friday morning that he will proceed with a contempt vote against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over a dispute about documents regarding a potential citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The Department of Justice said on Thursday it was working to get the committee more documents in response to a subpoena for the information, but said some materials the panel has requested will continue to be withheld. Justice is also refusing to allow John Gore, a senior official in the civil rights division, to appear before the committee without department counsel in the room -- which the committee has thus far refused to allow.

House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, however, said that offer was insufficient.

"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, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement Friday morning. "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."

Cummings had said Monday he would postpone the contempt vote if the Commerce and the Justice departments produced the materials the committee had previously requested.

"The Committee's action is premature and we are disappointed by the Committee's mischaracterization of the Department's continued and ongoing efforts to accommodate the Committee's oversight interests," Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to Cummings on Thursday.

The census battle represents only one of several ongoing fights between the Trump administration and House Democrats over oversight requests, as a separate House panel -- the Judiciary Committee -- has already voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to provide the committee with the fully unredacted report and evidence from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

On Thursday, Boyd said the department had already produced more than 17,000 pages of documents and intends to "continue its substantial production of documents," but that certain materials, including a memo from a Commerce attorney to Gore will continue to be withheld.

Boyd also noted that last week another senior Justice official had spent "several hours answering all of the Committee's questions regarding reinstatement of the citizenship question," but the crux of the fight has been over Gore's testimony and other documents Cummings has demanded.

Critics of the proposed question say that asking respondents about citizenship could depress census participation rates among noncitizens, resulting in an undercount in areas with high immigrant populations and skewing congressional representation among the states.

CNN's Lauren Fox and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.

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