The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to compel them to comply with subpoenas issued as part of their investigation into the Trump administration’s push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
In the 85-page filing, the committee said the suit arises out of the secretaries’ “unlawful refusals to comply with duly authorized, issued, and served Committee subpoenas.” The committee opened an investigation earlier this year into the proposed census question, and in July, the House voted to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt over their noncompliance in the probe.
The filing states that although its investigation has already revealed a trove of information about the “true origins” of the push to include the citizenship question on the census next year, Barr and Ross “have refused to provide … critical documents and communications.”
“The Committee’s accommodation efforts included identifying a subset of priority documents for production, but the Defendants produced documents that are redacted, already in the public domain, not responsive, and/or missing attachments,” the lawsuit states.
In June, the Supreme Court blocked the question from being added to the census.
Asked for comment Tuesday, Department of Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec responded, “The Department of Justice worked for months to supply thousands of documents to accommodate Congress’s requests. Additionally, many document(s) at issue were held privileged by a federal court. This lawsuit is nothing more than a political stunt.”
A Commerce Department spokesman replied that “the Department of Commerce has cooperated in good faith with the Committee. After their first document request in January of 2019 on the Secretary’s decision to reinstate the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, the Department made over 2,000 documents available to the Committee, and submitted hundreds of pages of additional documents since the Supreme Court’s decision. At the same time, the Department allowed current and former officials to sit with representatives of the Committee for transcribed interviews, while the Secretary himself testified voluntarily in front of the full Committee for seven hours.”
The committee’s new chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, said in a statement on Tuesday that “Despite the Supreme Court ruling and the House contempt vote, Barr and Ross have continued to refuse to produce any additional documents in response to the subpoenas over the past four months.”
Maloney, who took over the committee after its former chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, died in October, said she was “filing this enforcement action today because the Trump Administration’s brazen obstruction of Congress must not stand.”
“Our beloved former Chairman Elijah Cummings launched this bipartisan investigation because he believed with all his heart that the Constitution requires Congress to ensure that the rapidly approaching Census is conducted in a professional manner that promotes accuracy, ensures integrity, and is free from partisan politics — and I couldn’t agree more.”
After the high court’s decision last summer, President Donald Trump created uncertainty over what would happen when he insisted that efforts to add the question were “absolutely moving forward” despite statements from both his Department of Justice and secretary of commerce that the administration was printing the census without the question. But the President later retreated, instead asking government agencies to provide records that could determine a head-count of citizens without polling census-takers directly.