Trump clamps lid on doc­u­ments

He as­serts ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege to keep cen­sus records se­cret

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Bart Jansen

WASH­ING­TON – Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as­serted ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege Wed­nes­day to keep se­cret the doc­u­ments re­lated to adding a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion to the cen­sus as a House panel voted to hold two Cab­i­net mem­bers in con­tempt for defying sub­poe­nas for the doc­u­ments.

In a further es­ca­la­tion of con­flicts be­tween Congress and the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Over­sight and Re­form Com­mit­tee voted 24-15 to hold At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr and Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross in con­tempt for defying sub­poe­nas for doc­u­ments about how a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion was added to the 2020 cen­sus.

The Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee found Barr in con­tempt for defying a sub­poena for the full re­port from spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, who in­ves­ti­gated Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

The Con­sti­tu­tion calls for the cen­sus to count ev­ery­one in the country every decade. The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to ask peo­ple whether they are cit­i­zens in 2020 has been con­tentious be­cause

of Demo­cratic con­cerns it could dis­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Repub­li­cans said the cen­sus included a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion from 1820 to 1950, and the ques­tion ap­peared on more de­tailed ques­tion­naires in re­cent decades.

As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Stephen Boyd told Over­sight Com­mit­tee Chair­man Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md., in a let­ter Wed­nes­day that Trump as­serted ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege to pre­vent the re­lease of doc­u­ments listed in the sub­poena, in­clud­ing a Dec. 12, 2017, let­ter to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau. Trump pro­tec­tively as­serted ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege over the rest of the sub­poe­naed doc­u­ments while of­fi­cials de­ter­mine whether they should be kept se­cret.

“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,” Boyd said.

Trump de­clined to discuss the as­ser­tion of ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege Wed­nes­day dur­ing a joint ap­pear­ance at the White House with the pres­i­dent of Poland, but he de­fended the ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion.

“I think when you have a cen­sus, and you’re not al­lowed to talk about whether or not some­body is a cit­i­zen or not, that doesn’t sound so good to me,” Trump said. “So I don’t want to get you into this bat­tle, but it’s ridicu­lous.”

Cum­mings said the com­mit­tee needed to act be­cause the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­fused to pro­vide doc­u­ments for mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing the sub­poe­nas about the cen­sus that were sub­mit­ted two months ago.

“It ap­pears to be an­other ex­am­ple of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s blanket de­fi­ance,” Cum­mings said. “This begs the ques­tion: What is be­ing hid­den?”

Rep. Jim Jor­dan of Ohio, the top Repub­li­can on the com­mit­tee, said Democrats were mov­ing ur­gently on the con­tempt vote in an at­tempt to in­flu­ence the Supreme Court, which is con­sid­er­ing a case deal­ing with the cen­sus ques­tion.

“This is just an­other at­tempt to muddy the waters,” Jor­dan said. “It’s not what we should be doing.”

The cen­sus counts the pop­u­la­tion once a decade to ap­por­tion seats in Congress, pro­vid­ing fig­ures to map House dis­tricts and con­tribut­ing to en­force­ment of the Vot­ing Rights Act by show­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment where mi­nori­ties live. The pop­u­la­tion fig­ures are used through­out gov­ern­ment to divide bil­lions in fed­eral spend­ing each year.

The Supreme Court, which called the cen­sus “the linch­pin of the fed­eral sta­tis­ti­cal sys­tem,” heard a case about the ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion in April, and a rul­ing is likely by the end of June. The court will de­cide whether Ross had am­ple rea­son to ask about ci­ti­zen­ship, fol­lowed ac­cept­able pro­ce­dures and acted within the bounds of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Cum­mings said Tues­day that the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­fused to pro­vide doc­u­ments for a va­ri­ety of in­quiries deal­ing with hur­ri­cane re­cov­ery in Puerto Rico, White House se­cu­rity clear­ances and tech­nol­ogy trans­fers to Saudi Ara­bia.

He said en­forc­ing the sub­poe­nas is critical to an­swer­ing why Ross added the ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion, which Democrats fear will be used to in­tim­i­date mi­nori­ties from re­spond­ing to the on­cea-decade count of the pop­u­la­tion.

“This is a broad, co­or­di­nated cam­paign to stonewall in­ves­ti­ga­tions across the board – and it is be­ing di­rected from the very top,” Cum­mings said.

Trump said he will defy sub­poe­nas be­cause the mul­ti­ple House in­quiries amount to pres­i­den­tial ha­rass­ment. House Repub­li­cans ar­gued that Democrats are mov­ing too hastily to find of­fi­cials in con­tempt and to file fed­eral law­suits, rather than spend­ing more time ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Jus­tice Depart­ment for con­tested doc­u­ments.

“The record be­fore the com­mit­tee does not sup­port con­tempt of Congress at this time,” Jor­dan said Tues­day in a let­ter to Cum­mings. “If you were se­ri­ous about getting to the facts on the Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to re­in­sti­tute a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion on the 2020 Cen­sus, you should at­tempt to ob­tain the in­for­ma­tion from other sources be­fore rush­ing to con­tempt of Congress.”

The cen­sus fight fol­lowed a House vote Tues­day to au­tho­rize law­suits to en­force sub­poe­nas against Barr for the full Mueller re­port.

“This is a broad, co­or­di­nated cam­paign to stonewall in­ves­ti­ga­tions across the board – and it is be­ing di­rected from the very top.”

Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md.


Eli­jah Cum­mings, top, leads the com­mit­tee that voted to hold Wil­liam Barr, cen­ter, and Wil­bur Ross in con­tempt.


Rep. Jim Jor­dan, R-Ohio, ac­cuses House Over­sight Com­mit­tee Chair­man Eli­jah Cum­mings, right, of “rush­ing to con­tempt of Congress.”

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