A Department of Justice (DOJ) official’s deposition was delayed on Thursday amid questions over whether he would comply with a congressional subpoena to testify on the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census
A House Oversight and Reform Committee spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore’s deposition had been delayed, and that a rescheduled date will be announced at a later time.
The committee served Gore, who works in the DOJ’s civil rights division, with a subpoena last week to testify about the citizenship question. But the department told the committee in a letter sent Tuesday that Gore would not comply with the order unless he was allowed to have a DOJ attorney with him.
Committee rules state that any witnesses giving a deposition may have a personal attorney with them, but cannot have a counsel from an agency under investigation, such as the Justice Department in this case.
But the DOJ argues that Gore was previously allowed to testify before the committee with a department attorney.
"House Oversight has provided no legitimate explanation why they need a Department of Justice employee, acting in his official capacity, to appear without agency counsel. The Department has made its position clear. It will not permit a Department employee, to sit for questioning about his or her official activity to appear without agency counsel," a DOJ spokesman told The Hill in a statement.
If Gore ultimately does not comply with the subpoena, the committee could vote to hold him in contempt, triggering a battle between the DOJ and Democratic lawmakers.
Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (D-Md.) told The Hill Wednesday that no decision has been made on whether the committee would schedule a vote to hold Gore in contempt, should he ultimately decide not to testify.
Cummings initially warned Gore against ignoring the subpoena, noting that the committee rules against having department attorneys present have been in place for a decade under leadership from both parties.
“Officials from the Department of Justice already know this and they certainly should not instruct this witness—or any witness—to violate the Committee’s order,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
The Department of Commerce announced last year that it would ask about citizenship status on the 2020 census, saying it would help the DOJ enforce the Voting Rights Act.
The announcement triggered a series of legal challenges to the question from critics who allege that asking about citizenship would deter some from responding to the census and lead to an undercount of the population. Census data is used to determine federal funding.
Three federal judges this year have blocked the question from being added to the survey, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments about the question later this month.
The oversight panel has also issued two other subpoenas related to the question: One is to the Commerce Department, which administers the census, and the other is also to the Justice Department, requesting communications about the addition of the question.