The Justice Department on Tuesday advised President Donald Trump to invoke executive privilege to block House Democrats access to documents about efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
In a letter to House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd threatened the blanket assertion of privilege if the panel proceeds with a scheduled vote on Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress, calling such proceedings premature.
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In the face of this threatened contempt vote, the attorney general is now compelled to request that the president invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials subject to the subpoena to the attorney general and the subpoena to the secretary of the department of commerce, Boyd wrote.
Later Tuesday night, Cummings declared in a letter to Barr that he cannot accept the terms outlined by the Justice Department, adding: 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.
Cummings said he would postpone Wednesdays contempt votes for Barr and Ross if they agree to provide specific documents by 9 p.m. Tuesday night.
Last week, the Justice and Commerce departments rejected House Democrats subpoenas for additional documents about the addition of a citizenship question, prompting Cummings to schedule a full committee vote to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt of Congress.
The Justice Department employed a similar tactic on the eve of the House Judiciary Committees vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for defying that panels subpoena for special counsel Robert Muellers unredacted report and all underlying evidence. The Judiciary Committee proceeded with its contempt vote against Barr, prompting Trump to assert executive privilege over the full Mueller report and all of its contents.
If the committee decides to proceed in spite of this request, however, 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, Boyd wrote on Tuesday, adding that the subpoenaed information is already protected by attorney-client privilege.
The committee has been investigating the Trump administrations decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, with Democrats arguing that the question was added to trigger newly drawn congressional districts that would boost Republicans electorally.
Republicans have said the contempt proceedings against Barr and Ross are premature, citing ongoing Supreme Court litigation over the census issue.