President Trump has asserted executive privilege over a host of documents related to the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Justice Department said Wednesday, thwarting Congressional Democrats’ attempts to subpoena the materials.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd alerted the House Oversight Committee of the move in a letter, saying Democrats had soured the chances for cooperation by moving to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress.
“By proceeding with today’s vote, you have abandoned the accommodation process with respect to your requests and subpoenas for documents concerning the secretary’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census,” Mr. Boyd said.
Democrats believe there were shenanigans behind the inclusion of the citizenship question, which they argue will scare illegal immigrants and even legal Hispanic residents from replying to the census.
The legality of adding the question to the 2020 count is currently being decided by the Supreme Court.
But Democrats are conducting their own investigation on Capitol Hill, and Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings issued a subpoena for documents from the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, and the Justice Department, which requested the citizenship question.
Frustrated at the slow process of getting the documents and what he felt was administration obstruction, Mr. Cummings had scheduled a vote to recommend holding Mr. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress.
As he kicked off the contempt proceedings Wednesday, Mr. Cummings said the administration “waited until the last minute” to assert privilege, which he called part of Mr. Trump’s “blanket defiance.”
“This does not appear to be an effort to engage in good faith negotiations or accommodations,” he said.
The escalation of the clash — both Mr. Cummings’ contempt proceedings and Mr. Trump’s privilege assertion — likely puts the documents even further out of reach of Mr. Cummings, at least for the time being.
In his letter, Mr. Boyd said the documents were either part of deliberations, attorney-client communications or attorney work product — all of which are protected by executive privilege.
“Regrettably, you have made these assertions necessary by your insistence upon scheduling a premature contempt vote,” he wrote.
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