Commerce officials to answer on census citizenship question amid contempt threat

Greg Nash

The House Oversight and Reform Committee said Wednesday that three Commerce Department officials have agreed to sit for voluntary interviews as committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) threatens a vote to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt.

The committee said in a statement that the Commerce Department agreed late Tuesday to let the committee conduct interviews with the three agency officials — general counsel Peter Davidson, deputy chief of staff and policy director Earl Comstock, and former senior adviser and counsel to the secretary James Uthmeier — after Cummings circulated a resolution to subpoena the men.

{mosads}That subpoena vote has now been delayed, according to the panel. The committee is seeking the current and former officials’ testimony as part of their investigation into the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The panel said Wednesday that it had first requested transcribed interviews with the officials on March 20 and sent letters requesting the interviews directly to the men on May 7.

Cummings on Wednesday also reiterated his threat to hold contempt votes within his committee for Barr and Ross if they fail to turn over certain documents on the citizenship question by Thursday.

“Our Committee has a constitutional responsibility to oversee the Census, and we will not relinquish this responsibility because of a coordinated effort to obstruct our investigation by the Trump Administration,” Cummings said in a statement. “If [the documents] are not produced by tomorrow, we will be forced to move forward with holding Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross in contempt of Congress.”

“These documents are critical to our oversight efforts, and we plan to use them in our interviews of top Administration officials in the coming weeks.”

Cummings first announced Monday that he was scheduling committee votes to hold Ross and Barr in contempt after they failed to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents about the citizenship question.

The announcement came on the heels of new evidence filed last week in a court case challenging the citizenship question’s addition to the 2020 census, alleging that a late GOP redistricting strategist played in a role in the question’s orchestration and that Trump officials obscured his involvement. The claims undercut the administration’s assertion that the question is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The Department of Justice sought to refute the claims in a court filing Monday, claiming that Trump officials involved in the question did not lie in their testimony and were unaware of a 2015 study the strategist, Thomas Hofeller, conducted showing that asking about citizenship would help Republicans in redistricting.

But the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the new allegations, said in a court filing late Tuesday that the Justice Department “does not deny that damning new evidence reveals hyper-partisan and racially discriminatory motives at the root of the citizenship question.”

A federal judge in New York will hold a hearing Wednesday afternoon on whether to impose sanctions on Trump officials in light of the new evidence.

The Supreme Court is also set to issue in the coming weeks its decision on whether the citizenship question will be allowed on the 2020 census.

Tags 2020 Census citizenship question Commerce Department Elijah Cummings Elijah Cummings Wilbur Ross William Barr
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