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Trump Asserts Executive Privilege on Census Documents Ahead of House Committee Contempt Vote




WASHINGTON — President Trump claimed executive privilege to block Congress’ access to documents about how a citizenship question was added to the 2020 census ahead of a House committee vote to recommend two cabinet secretaries be held in contempt of Congress over the matter.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee was expected to vote on Wednesday to recommend that the House hold Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. in contempt over their refusal to cooperate with the panel’s investigation into the citizenship question.

The chairman, Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, postponed the vote until Wednesday afternoon in light of the blanket assertion of executive privilege.

“We must protect the integrity of the census, and we will stand up for Congress’ authority under the Constitution to conduct meaningful oversight,” Mr. Cummings said. Administration officials, he said, “have made clear, very clear that they will not produce key documents that we have identified as priorities.”

He called the move “another example of the administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’ constitutionally mandated responsibilities.”

“This begs the question,” Mr. Cummings added. “What is being hidden?”

The vote would be the latest action by the Democratic-led House to intensify pressure on Mr. Trump and his inner circle to furnish critical witnesses, documents and other information that would fuel an array of investigations the House has launched into the president’s conduct and policies. The House voted on Tuesday to authorize the Judiciary Committee to go to court to enforce two subpoenas related to Robert S. Mueller III’s inquiry — threatening to open a new legal front in the Democrats’ investigative efforts.


Wednesday’s actions in the Oversight Committee would mark the second time this year that a committee has recommended members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet be held in contempt of Congress. The Judiciary Committee had sought a contempt resolution against Mr. Barr for his refusal to provide the panel an unredacted version of the Mueller report as well as the evidence that supported the special counsel’s conclusions. The House ultimately decided against a criminal contempt resolution after the Justice Department began on Monday to share some of the special counsel’s evidence with the committee.

In the Oversight Committee’s case, members have protested Mr. Barr’s instructions to a subordinate involved in the census to defy a subpoena requiring him to appear for a deposition. They also say Mr. Ross has blockaded the committee’s requests for information from his department, which houses the Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau has estimated that asking all U.S. residents whether they are citizens may spark a 5.8-percent decline in response rates from noncitizens, which Democrats fear will skew the reapportionment of House seats toward Republicans while depriving states of federal resources. The legality of the Trump administration’s decision to add the citizenship question is the subject of a lawsuit that should be decided by the Supreme Court this month.

Republicans protested the committee action and tried unsuccessfully to block it from going forward, arguing that Democrats had rushed the action in an attempt to influence the Supreme Court before it rules. The Trump administration has called the Oversight investigation an attempt to meddle in the legal fight. Democrats first tried to launch the probe last year, when they were in the minority, but majority Republicans refused to pursue it. In January, when Democrats assumed the majority in the House, Mr. Cummings said he would make the investigation a priority.

Taken together, this week’s action by committees and the full House are part of a strategy by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold off calls to quickly impeach Mr. Trump by demonstrating that there are other ways to hold him and his administration publicly accountable for misconduct.

The House’s vote Tuesday should expedite the process by which other committees embroiled in disputes with the Trump administration can seek to have the courts enforce their oversight powers.

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