Cummings threatens contempt for Barr, Ross after failure to comply with census subpoena

The deadline has passed for complying with the House Oversight demand for documents about adding a citizenship question.
Image: U.S. Atttorney General Barr speaks during farewell ceremony for Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein at the Justice Department in Washington
The House Oversight Committee will vote next week on whether to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt for failing cooperate with its investigation into adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.Leah Millis / Reuters file

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By Adam Edelman

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, said Friday that his panel would vote next week on whether to hold Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt after they failed to cooperate with a probe into adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

"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.

"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," he added.

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Cummings' committee had, in April, issued subpoenas for documents related to an investigation into the Trump’s administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The subpoena was for all 2017 documents, both from within the Department of Justice and with outside entities, regarding the administration's request to add a citizenship question to the census. That list included a memo from James Uthmeier, who served as an attorney to Ross, to John Gore, deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department in the fall of 2017.

The deadline to comply with subpoenas was Thursday.

But the Department of Justice said in a letter to Cummings on Thursday night that it would not meet the deadline and that his committee should not vote to hold Barr in contempt because the agency had been accommodating with some document requests and offering staff members to appear for transcribed interviews.

In the letter, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that a contempt vote would be "premature" and halt any ongoing cooperation with the committee.

Cummings, in his letter Friday, ripped Boyd's letter and rationale for not complying.

"The letters last night were case studies in double-speak. They claim that fighting witness interviews for months under threat of subpoena is evidence of a 'good faith accommodations process,' they suggest that Secretary Ross' refusal to meet demonstrates that the department 'is eager to continue its cooperation with the committee,' and they argue that withholding every single one of the key unredacted documents we subpoenaed somehow proves that 'there is no information to hide,'" Cummings wrote.

Charli Huddleston, spokesperson for Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told NBC News:

"The Departments of Justice and Commerce have produced tens of thousands of pages of documents since receiving the initial request from Democrats on February 12th. Numerous officials have appeared before the Committee for day-long deposition types of interviews with Committee staff. Both agencies have signaled a willingness to produce additional documents available after the Supreme Court delivers its decision in the coming weeks. The Committee is in the early stages of its fact-finding — Democrats are prematurely jumping to contempt, when it should be the last resort. Chairman Cummings's efforts here are a partisan show vote in an attempt to influence a Supreme Court decision."

Alex Moe and Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.