- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2019

President Trump claimed executive privilege to prevent Congress from getting its hands on documents detailing the decision to add a citizenship question into the 2020 census, and the House Oversight Committee retaliated Wednesday, voting to initiate contempt proceedings against two Cabinet officials.

The Justice Department said Mr. Trump was left with no choice but to flex his powers as the committee rushed to contempt. The department said the president’s move was protective, and allows him to more thoroughly review the documents to see what should be shielded.

And the administration warned that Democrats are squandering chances for future cooperation by taking a combative approach in moving to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. in contempt.

The committee voted 24-15, with one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash, joining Democrats to recommend citing the two officials. The matter now moves to the whole House floor.

Democrats said they were at their wits’ end and, while reluctant to pursue contempt, felt they had no choice.

“I bent over backwards to try to work with the administration, but they delayed, dissembled, and degraded our committee’s efforts to conduct this investigation,” said Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat.

The investigation in question is a probe into how and why the administration added the citizenship question into the 2020 census.

The legality of that move is being decided by the Supreme Court, but Democrats are convinced political mischief was afoot.

The full census regularly asked about citizenship up through 1950, the “long form” asked about it through 2000, and the American Community Survey — an annual census form that replaced the long form after 2000 — still asks about it.

But Democrats said adding it back into the full census is an attempt to scare immigrants, both those living in the U.S. legally and illegally into not complying, thus skewing the census’s results.

“It has to be seen in the context — the context of an anti-immigrant policy coming out of this White House. And it’s designed to intimidate,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, Virginia Democrat.

Mr. Trump, speaking at the White House, said he’s “not overly involved” in the fight, but dismissed complaints about asking about citizenship, saying it’s critical data the government should have.

“I think it’s totally ridiculous that we would have a census without asking,” he said.

Trump opponents have accused the administration of hiding key evidence showing political motives for adding the question in. They’ve even asked a federal judge to impose sanctions on high-ranking administration officials over the allegations.

Those accusations have whetted Democrats’ appetites for documents.

Mr. Cummings says he’s been stonewalled, getting nothing of value so far.

The two departments, though, say they’ve turned over thousands of pages of documents, and have made witnesses available — including one Commerce Department staffer who sat for a six-hour interview just this week.

Mr. Ross called Wednesday’s vote “shameless,” saying it was proof Democrats would rather fight than work to reach accommodations.

“The committee is taking this action despite the fact that a federal district court has already upheld the department’s confidentiality assertions,” he said.

The Justice Department also insisted it’s made “good faith” efforts, just as it did in striking deals with two other committees on access to documents in other probes.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, in announcing Mr. Trump’s new claim of executive privilege, said providing the documents may tread on the president’s rights over deliberative materials, attorney-client communications or attorney work product.

The privilege assertions and contempt vote likely mean the matter will end up in the courts for refereeing.

A similar battle over documents the GOP-led House sought from the Obama Justice Department was only settled last month, suggesting it could be years before any resolution is reached on the latest impasse.

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