Trump follows through on threat to invoke executive privilege, defiant Cummings takes it up a notch

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Just as the House Oversight and Reform Committee prepared to meet Wednesday to vote on contempt charges against Attorney General William Barr, President Trump invoked executive privilege over all the documents the panel had subpoenaed.

Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings informed lawmakers Wednesday that the president had moved forward with what the Department of Justice had threatened to do if Wednesday’s meeting took place, saying “it appears to be another example of the administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’ mandated responsibilities.”

Cummings had fired back at Attorney General William Barr Tuesday after the Justice Department’s warning over subpoenaed documents. The Maryland Democrat criticized a DOJ letter sent to him earlier in the day on Tuesday, telling Barr that his committee would “not continue to delay our efforts due to your ongoing obstruction,” while offering a concession of sorts.

(File Photo: screenshot)

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd had threatened to ask President Trump to invoke executive privilege over subpoenaed documents if the House Oversight Committee went ahead with a vote to hold Barr in contempt, asking Cummings in a letter Tuesday to “hold the subpoenas in abeyance and delay any vote on whether to recommend a citation of contempt for noncompliance with subpoenas, pending the President’s determination of this question.”

The Committee moved last week to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt over documents related to a Trump administration plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The vote on the contempt charge was scheduled for Wednesday, but Cummings said in his letter to Barr that he was willing to delay it if Congress received certain documents.

The DOJ made “no commitments” to deliver certain documents and “no counter-offer with respect to these documents,” Cummings noted in his letter, noting that the Department’s letter “seems to make a threat.”

“In other words, without making any recognizable counter-offer with respect to the documents under subpoena, the Department appears to be indicating that it may stop producing responsive documents over which even the Department concedes no privilege exists—and that the Department may also withhold documents in other investigations,” the powerful Oversight Committee chairman wrote.

“The Committee cannot accept these terms. The Committee has a responsibility under the Constitution to conduct rigorous oversight of the Census, and we will not continue to delay our efforts due to your ongoing obstruction,” he added.

The request “for more time to consider executive privilege disregards the multiple, repeated warnings that the Committee would proceed with contempt if the Department of Justice and Department of Commerce continued to withhold the subpoenaed documents,” Cummings stated.

Both Boyd and Ross argued that the committee has already been given materials by their departments and officials have provided testimony, but Cummings countered in his letter that though they “have produced thousands of documents, many are heavily redacted, non-responsive, or already public.”

But the Democrat chairman offered to delay the vote Wednesday if key documents were received, including an unredacted note sent to John Gore, a top official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, by then-Commerce Department attorney James Uthmeier.

He also asked for “all drafts” of a DOJ letter to the Commerce Department in December 2017 formally asking to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census. Although federal judges have ruled against adding the citizenship  question to the 2020 census, the issue now rests with the Supreme Court.

The contempt vote for Ross would also be delayed, Cummings noted, if the Commerce Department provided the panel with unredacted copies of documents that were requested in the congressional subpoena.

Without any action or response from the Justice Department, Cummings went ahead with the meeting Wednesday morning.

Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Mark Meadows criticized the meeting over a violation of committee rules, as the vote was scheduled without proper notice being given to members. Though an attempt by the Republicans to reschedule the meeting was voted down, Cummings announced the panel would reconvene later Wednesday to move forward with the contempt votes.


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