DOJ official ignores House subpoena to testify on census citizenship question

DOJ official ignores House subpoena to testify on census citizenship question
© Greg Nash

A Department of Justice (DOJ) official on Thursday made good on the agency's promise that he would not comply with a congressional subpoena to testify about the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, setting the stage for House Democrats to potentially hold him in contempt.

John Gore, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, did not appear for his scheduled deposition with investigators on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, a panel spokeswoman confirmed to The Hill.

The DOJ had told Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsLawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens House poised to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer MORE (D-Md.) on Wednesday that Gore would not comply with the subpoena issued earlier this month after Cummings said committee rules would not permit the official to have an agency lawyer with him during the deposition.

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The agency warned it would not comply with the subpoena if Gore was not permitted to have a DOJ lawyer present, first in an April 9 letter and then again on Wednesday. The Justice Department argues that prohibiting agency counsel from representing an official before the committee is unprecedented, noting Gore has previously testified in the presence of a DOJ lawyer.

Cummings warned Gore against failing to appear before the committee in a strongly worded statement Wednesday, arguing that the Trump administration was engaging in “a massive, unprecedented, and growing pattern of obstruction.”

The chairman now has the option to schedule a committee vote on whether to hold Gore in contempt. Cummings has already said he will consult with other Democratic lawmakers on the panel about scheduling such a vote for former security clearance official Carl Kline, who did not appear for his own testimony with the Oversight and Reform Committee this week at the request of the White House.

A committee spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Cummings would consider scheduling a contempt vote for Gore.

In addition to issuing a subpoena for Gore, the committee also subpoenaed DOJ's communications on the census question with the White House, the Republican National Committee, the Trump campaign and congressional lawmakers. It also sought unredacted internal communications and documents on the decision from Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei Judge signs order permanently blocking citizenship question from 2020 census Lawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei MORE.

The Department of Commerce announced the addition of the citizenship question last year, prompting fierce opposition from Democrats and a slew of legal challenges.

The Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this week over the question’s addition, and the court’s conservative majority appeared willing to allow the query to appear on the census.

Gore’s failure to comply with the subpoena is the latest move in the battle between the administration and House Democrats. Democrats launched a bevy of probes into Trump, his administration and his private businesses shortly after they took control of the House in January.

The president has attacked lawmakers over the investigations and on Wednesday declared that he would fight “all the subpoenas.”

Trump has gone to court to fight at least one subpoena issued by Cummings, asking a federal judge to block an accountant from handing over financial records tied to him and his private businesses.