- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2019

House Democrats on Monday scheduled the first full votes to hold Trump officials in contempt of Congress, targeting Attorney General William P. Barr and former top White House attorney Don McGahn.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the House will vote next week. The vote will authorize the Judiciary Committee to go to court to try to force Mr. Barr to turn over the full special counsel’s report and supporting evidence, and to force Mr. McGahn to testify and to turn over his notes of interactions with President Trump.

The resolution will also be proactive, empowering other committees to go to court when they end up in disputes with officials in other investigations.

The vote could help let off some of the steam from rank-and-file Democrats itching to begin impeachment proceedings.

“This administration’s systematic refusal to provide Congress with answers and cooperate with congressional subpoenas is the biggest cover-up in American history, and Congress has a responsibility to provide oversight on behalf of the American people,” Mr. Hoyer said in announcing the move.

Yet for all the tough talk, the move Mr. Hoyer described is one of the milder options available to Congress.

It taps the civil contempt proceedings of the federal courts, which essentially ropes judges into playing referee in deciding the validity of administration claims of privileges to shield information from lawmakers.

That stops short of the inherent contempt powers some committee chairs had agitated for last month. Inherent contempt would involve Congress authorizing the arrest of, or fining against, officials who have refused to cooperate.

Should the contempt resolution pass — a virtual certainty given Democrats’ majority and their anti-Trump mood — there is likely to be no shortage of targets against whom committee chairs can flex the new powers.

On Monday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and Oversight and Reform Committee chairman, said he is planning a contempt vote in his panel against Mr. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, accusing them of stonewalling his efforts to get information about the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

In letters to both Cabinet officials, he offered an ultimatum: Deliver the documents by Thursday, or else.

“This cover-up is being directed from the top,” Mr. Cummings said.

Mr. Trump vowed to resist “all” House subpoenas and accused Democrats of presidential harassment.

But behind the scenes, administration officials say they have been far more cooperative, sharing documents when they deem it permissible and even seeking ways to make extra information available.

Mr. Barr, for example, made a less-redacted version of the special counsel’s report available to a small group of lawmakers, shielding only information gleaned from a grand jury. He says to release that information — one of the demands in the Judiciary Committee’s subpoena — would be breaking the law.

The Commerce Department on Monday said it has already released nearly 14,000 pages of documents to Mr. Cummings’ committee and Mr. Ross has voluntarily testified. The department called that evidence it has “worked in good faith.”

What Mr. Cummings is seeking now, though, is shielded by attorney-client and deliberative process protections, the department said.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the oversight committee, said Mr. Cummings’ contempt announcement was really a move to poison an ongoing case at the Supreme Court where the justices are trying to decide whether adding the citizenship question to the census was done legally.

“The Democrats’ desperation to affect the outcome of the case raises the question: Why don’t they want to know how many American citizens are in the United States of America?” Mr. Jordan said.

Mr. Cummings issued his demand as civil liberties groups go to court this week to ask a judge to punish the Trump administration for lying.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it uncovered evidence that a Republican strategist helped orchestrate the addition of the citizenship question, after conducting research that suggested it would help maximize Republican votes at the expense of minorities and Democrats.

The Justice Department said the Republican strategist, now-deceased Thomas Hofeller, wasn’t a key figure in the decision-making, and disputed attempts to connect a 2017 letter Hofeller wrote to the eventual request to add a question to the census.

Mr. Cummings, though, cited the ACLU’s new information in his letters to the two Cabinet officials Monday, saying it heightens the urgency of his own investigation.

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