By Chris Strohm and Billy House / Bloomberg News
President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege over documents concerning plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, including material sought by House Democrats by subpoena, according to the Justice Department.
“These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter Wednesday to House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “In addition, the president has made a protective assertion of executive privilege over the remainder of the subpoenaed documents.”
The move is the latest to stymie and frustrate efforts by House Democrats to investigate actions by the Trump administration. It came as Cummings’s panel prepared to vote later Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt.
“The census is critical to our democracy and critical to every single one of our constituents,” Cummings said as the committee debated the issue on Wednesday morning. “The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility and the authority to make sure the census is working as it was intended to work. That includes making sure that it is used properly to allocate federal funds, apportion legislative districts, and for other purposes.”
At issue is the Oversight panel’s investigation into the origins of the administration’s efforts to include the citizenship question on the census. Ross has denied assertions that the citizenship question was inspired by efforts to suppress census participation by immigrants, including those in the country legally, who may tend to vote for Democrats. The underlying issue is now before the Supreme Court.
Trump told reporters at the White House that he feels strongly the Census should ask Americans whether they’re citizens.
“That doesn’t sound so good to me” if the question can’t be included, he said Wednesday during a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda. “It’s ridiculous, I think it’s totally ridiculous that we would have a census without asking.”
The Justice Department said the committee has abandoned the process for trying to reach an accommodation by choosing to go forward “with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote.”
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight committee, asked why Democrats don’t want to ask about citizenship even though many people think the question already is included in the census.
“Every person you ask will say, ‘yes we should do that,’ ” Jordan said. Referring to Democrats, he said, “Why don’t they want to know?”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., responded that she wanted to know why people like former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — “with a resume of voter suppression techniques in Kansas” — and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon “have their fingerprints all over the census.”
“I want to know about corruption. That’s what I want to know about — the racism and the very disturbing history that we are seeing here,” she said.
With assistance from Bloomberg’s Josh Wingrove.