The Justice Department warned Tuesday that it could retaliate against the House Oversight Committee should the panel vote this week to pursue contempt of Congress proceedings against Attorney General William P. Barr, saying it would sour what cooperation there has been.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd said the department has turned over thousands of pages of documents to the Oversight Committee but Chairman Elijah Cummings’ quick trigger finger on the contempt vote is ruining that.
“Should the committee take the unnecessary and counterproductive step of proceeding with a contempt vote, the department will be forced to reevaluate its current production efforts in ongoing matters,” Mr. Boyd wrote.
He also warned that Mr. Cummings’ vote won’t end up getting the congressman what he wants.
If the committee does pursue contempt, President Trump will assert a protective executive privilege over the documents Mr. Cummings is trying to get. That would effectively shield them all, while government lawyers look them over, Mr. Boyd suggested.
Mr. Cummings, in a reply letter Tuesday, said Republicans were making demands and issuing threats without offering any accommodations or promises that they will turn over documents if the committee delays its action.
“The committee cannot accept these terms,” he said. “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.”
Mr. Cummings suspects shenanigans behind the move to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census — a contention several federal judges have backed up with their findings in several court cases.
The legality of the citizenship question is now pending before the Supreme Court.
Republicans argue Mr. Cummings is trying to sway the justices by orchestrating the contempt vote.
Mr. Boyd said that when Congress demands documents from the administration there is supposed to be an accommodation, where both sides work through privileges and other issues that arise.
He said that didn’t happen in this case.
In particular, he said, Mr. Cummings refused to allow a Justice Department lawyer to attend a deposition of a top department official — leading Mr. Barr to order the official not to testify.
The department released a legal opinion last month justifying Mr. Barr’s stance, saying the Obama administration held the same position.
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