DOJ warns Cummings: Back off on Barr or Trump will invoke executive privilege over subpoenaed docs

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Department of Justice warned the House Oversight Committee that it would move to ask President Trump to invoke executive privilege over subpoenaed documents.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings on Tuesday, threatening to involve the president if the panel went ahead and voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt.

(File Photo: screenshot)

Boyd told Cummings 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 House Oversight and Reform Committee moved last week to hold Attorney General William 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. A vote on the contempt charge is scheduled for Wednesday, according to Cummings.

“Both Secretary Ross and Attorney General Barr are refusing to comply with duly authorized subpoenas from Congress. Because they are in contempt of Congress, on Wednesday, the Committee will vote to move forward to enforce our bipartisan subpoenas,” Cummings said in a statement Monday, The Hill reported.

But Boyd argued that the committee has already been given materials and officials have provided testimony.

“After the Committee served the Attorney General with a subpoena on April 2, 2019 for much of the same material, the Department continued to engage in good-father efforts to satisfy the committee’s legislative needs,” he wrote in the letter to Cummings. “To date, the Department has made eight document submissions totaling more than 17,000 pages. In addition, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department’s Civil Rights Division, John Gore, voluntarily appeared for a transcribed interview to answer the committee’s questions, as did Counselor to the Attorney General.”

“Rather than seriously engage in an accommodation process, the committee has now scheduled a vote to recommend that the attorney general be held in contempt for his purported failure to comply with the committee’s subpoena,” Boyd wrote.

He told Cummings that in “the face of this threatened contempt vote, the Attorney General is now compelled to request that the president invoke executive privilege” over the subpoenaed documents the panel is requesting from the DOJ and the Commerce Department.

Ross, who announced last year that the citizenship question would be included in the 2020 census, also pushed back, citing cooperation by the Commerce Department with the Oversight Committee.

“The committee has demonstrated its contempt for the Constitution by its chronic refusal to engage in the constitutionally-mandated accommodation process, which is far more serious than the empty stunt the committee has planned for Wednesday,” Ross said in a statement Monday.

Boyd warned that if the panel moved forward with the voting on Wednesday, “the Department will be obliged to advise that the President assert executive privilege with respect to certain of the subpoenaed documents, and to make a protective assertion of executive privilege over the remainder of the documents, which undoubtedly include material covered by executive privilege, while the Department continues to review them.”

He further asked Cummings to respond by the end of business on Tuesday, adding that his department was “open to further discussions with the committee, and we hope that the committee does not make it necessary for the president to take these steps.”

Responding to Barr on Tuesday evening, Cummings criticized the earlier letter but said he would be willing to delay the contempt vote if certain documents were handed over to Congress by Wednesday.

“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 wrote in a letter to Barr.

Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, also wrote to Cummings, citing a violation of committee rules as the vote was scheduled without proper notice being given to members.

“I write to alert you that in your haste to manufacture a controversy around the citizenship question, you have violated committee rules and called into question the legal sufficiency of your contempt proceeding,” the Ohio Republican wrote.

“I urge you to reconsider your rushed approach to the very serious matter of contempt of Congress when the committee’s fact-finding remains ongoing,” Jordan wrote. “I hope that your obsessions with the Trump administration and your desperation to score political points will not affect your commitment to operating the committee’s business by the book.”


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