DOJ, Commerce slam House Dems contempt vote as 'political stunt'

DOJ, Commerce slam House Dems contempt vote as 'political stunt'
© Greg Nash

The Departments of Justice and Commerce blasted House Democrats on Wednesday for voting to hold Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrTrump: Giuliani to deliver report on Ukraine trip to Congress, Barr 'Project Guardian' is the effective gun law change we need Supreme Court denies Trump request to immediately resume federal executions MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossSpace race is on: US can't afford congressional inaction in this critical economic sector Trump escalates fight over tax on tech giants The Hill's Morning Report - Intel panel readies to hand off impeachment baton MORE in criminal contempt, labelling the move as a “political stunt.”

In a statement released after the House vote, Ross alleged that “House Democrats never sought to have a productive relationship with the Trump Administration, and today’s PR stunt further demonstrates their unending quest to generate headlines instead of operating in good faith with our department.”

“It is an unfortunate fact that there are some who would like nothing more than to see this Administration fail whatever the cost to the country may be,” the secretary said. “Preferring to play political games rather than help lead the country, they have made every attempt to ascribe evil motivations to everyday functions of government.”

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Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement that voting to hold Barr in contempt “marks a new low for Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi’s [(D-Calif.)]House of Representatives.”

“This vote is nothing more than a political stunt,” Kupec said. “While the House plays games, the Department will continue its critical work of pursuing justice and ensuring safety for all Americans.”

The House voted largely along party lines to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents relating to the census citizenship question.

Four Democrats sided with Republicans in the 230-198 vote.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee initially issued the subpoenas earlier this year for information on the question’s addition to the 2020 census. The committee advanced the contempt resolution last month, largely along party lines.

The question's addition to the survey was the subject of several legal challenges, with opponents citing studies that said including it on the census would lead to an undercount of the population, particularly for Hispanic and immigrant communities.

The Supreme Court ruled against the question in a 5-4 decision last month, finding the rationale for its addition to be “contrived,” and President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE announced last week that he would drop his efforts to include the question on the population survey.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsImpeachment can't wait Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings Tucker Carlson calls Trump 'full-blown BS artist' in segment defending him from media coverage MORE (D-Md.) said on the House floor ahead of the vote that holding officials in contempt “is a serious and somber matter — one that I have done everything in my power to avoid.”

“But in this case, the attorney general and Secretary Ross have blatantly obstructed our ability to do congressional oversight into the real reason Secretary Ross was trying — for the first time in 70 years — to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census,” Cummings said.

House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting The Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ohio) blasted the move.

"Secretary Ross and Attorney General Barr are doing their jobs, so what's their reward? Democrats are going to hold them in contempt," Jordan said ahead of the vote.

The federal agencies claimed that they had been working to comply with the subpoenas, and that they had already handed over documents and made officials available for testimony.

But Cummings and other Democrats disputed that characterization.

Barr and Ross had also urged Pelosi not to hold the vote, in a letter sent shortly before it began.