Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Wednesday sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi imploring her not to move forward with a congressional criminal contempt vote.
“By taking this action, the House is both unnecessarily undermining inter-branch comity and degrading the constitutional separation of powers and its own institutional integrity,” the two Cabinet officials wrote.
The House is scheduled to hold both officials in criminal contempt of Congress over the administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The vote stems from the officials’ failures to comply with subpoenas issued from the House Oversight and Reform Committee for documents regarding the decision making process behind the citizenship question.
But Mr. Barr and Mr. Ross say they have been cooperative. The two claimed they’ve turned over more than 30,000 pages of documents to the House Oversight Committee as well as made witnesses available. And additional information was on the way, they said.
“Before the committee abruptly and prematurely terminated the accommodation process last month, the Department of Justice intended to provide a significant number of additional documents indented as responsive to the committee’s subpoena,” they wrote.
Mr. Barr and Mr. Ross say the documents that have been withheld are because they are protected by executive privilege.
“There is no information to hide; there are institutional integrities to preserve,” they wrote in a letter to Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.
Democrats say the vote was a chance to assert Congress’ authority in the face of defiance from the executive branch.
“In the case of the the attorney general and the secretary, Secretary Ross, they blatantly obstructed our ability to do Congressional oversight,” House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said.
“This is not an easy decision, but there comes a time when the Congress must speak up for the Congress,” Mr. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, added.
Republicans pushed back on the resolution calling it a blatant political showboat maneuver.
Rep. James Comer, Kentucky Republican, defended Mr. Barr, Mr. Ross and the rest of the administration, arguing they’ve done enough to comply with Congress’ requests.
“This contempt citation is a misuse of the most powerful tool available to this body,” he said. “If the Democrats can’t impeach President Trump, they will instead hold his cabinet in contempt of Congress. This is just another episode of political theater.”
Democrats have taken to holding members of the president’s administration in contempt in an ongoing effort to push back against resistance from officials and the White House in Congressional investigations.
This is Mr. Barr’s third time being held in contempt by Congress, and second by a vote of the whole House.
Democrats have also held former White House counsel Don McGahn in contempt, and are eyeing a citation for presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway as well.
Wednesday’s vote goes further than previous contempt motions in this Congress so far because it’s elevated to the level of criminal contempt, which would typically refer the matter to the Justice Department.
However, the motion is mostly symbolic as the DOJ, headed up by Mr. Barr, is unlikely to take any action against the attorney general or Mr. Ross.
Wednesday’s contempt citation follows quickly on the heels of the House vote to formally condemn controversial comments made by President Trump directed four freshman congresswomen, and Rep. Al Green’s attempt to force a vote on impeachment.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said Democrats are wasting their time and their majority by pursuing the president.
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