Cummings offers to delay contempt vote for Wednesday deadline on subpoenaed census docs

Cummings offers to delay contempt vote for Wednesday deadline on subpoenaed census docs
© Greg Nash

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question White House to block Conway from testifying over alleged Hatch Act violations MORE (D-Md.) said Tuesday that he would hold off on his committee’s contempt votes for Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question The Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations EXCLUSIVE: Trump declines to say he has confidence in FBI director MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossDemocrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question Apple in front lines of Trump trade war Supreme Court set to deliver ruling on census citizenship question MORE if officials provided certain documents to Congress by Wednesday.

In a letter sent to Barr on Tuesday evening, Cummings was critical of a Department of Justice (DOJ) letter sent earlier in the day that warned that the department would ask President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE to assert executive privilege over the documents on the census citizenship question subpoenaed by the committee over the contempt vote, scheduled for Wednesday morning.

ADVERTISEMENT

“In other words, without making any recognizable counter-offer with respect to the documents under subpoena, the Department appears to be indicating that it may stop producing responsive documents over which even the Department concedes no privilege exists—and that the Department may also withhold documents in other investigations,” Cummings wrote.

“The Committee cannot accept these terms. The Committee has a responsibility under the Constitution to conduct rigorous oversight of the Census, and we will not continue to delay our efforts due to your ongoing obstruction,” he added.

While he wrote that the DOJ had made “no commitments” to hand over certain documents and “no counter-offer with respect to these documents,” Cummings said he would be willing to delay the contempt vote if he received certain key documents by Wednesday.

The chairman asked that the DOJ hand over an unredacted memo and note sent by then-Commerce Department attorney James Uthmeier to John Gore, a top official in the DOJ’s civil rights division.

He also requested that the DOJ provide “all drafts” of a department letter sent to the Commerce Department in December 2017. That letter was the Justice Department’s formal request to Commerce officials that a citizenship question be added to the 2020 census.

Cummings also said in the letter on Tuesday that he would delay the contempt vote for Ross if Commerce handed over unredacted copies of documents also requested in the congressional subpoena.

He asked the Justice Department to respond by 9 p.m.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice and Commerce departments for comment.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd requested in a letter to Cummings earlier Tuesday that he delay the contempt vote scheduled for Wednesday as Trump weighed whether to assert executive privilege over the materials.

But Cummings wrote in this new letter that the request “for more time to consider executive privilege disregards the multiple, repeated warnings that the Committee would proceed with contempt if the Department of Justice and Department of Commerce continued to withhold the subpoenaed documents.”

The powerful Oversight Committee chairman is overseeing the congressional probe over the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which critics say will lead to an inaccurate population count.

The Trump administration has argued that the question is needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Three federal judges have ruled against the question, blocking it from appearing on the 2020 census.

But the Supreme Court is currently considering whether to allow the question, and the court’s conservative majority seems poised to rule in favor of Trump officials.

If Wednesday's contempt vote is held, it will take place just hours after the House voted to give committee chairs the authority to pursue court action to enforce their subpoenas.

At a press conference following the vote, Cummings referenced the census citizenship question probe as falling under the Trump administration's "campaign to stonewall investigations across the board."

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the fight for the soul of our democracy," he said. "And we will use every tool available to us to hold this administration accountable for its actions and ensure the government is working effectively and efficiently on behalf of all the people."