DOJ says it won't prosecute Barr, Ross after criminal contempt vote

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Wednesday that federal prosecutors will not prosecute Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham Barr DOJ says surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Page lacked evidence Senators press DHS over visa approval for Pensacola naval base shooter Democrats sharpen case on second day of arguments MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossDesperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Trump scheduled to attend Davos amid impeachment trial Let's remember the real gifts the president has given America MORE following a House vote to hold the officials in contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas.

“The Department of Justice’s long-standing position is that we will not prosecute an official for contempt of Congress for declining to provide information subject to a presidential assertion of executive privilege,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen wrote in a letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address MORE (D-Calif.).

The House had rebuked the Trump Cabinet members by passing a criminal contempt resolution earlier this month, largely along party lines. However, it was widely presumed that the Justice Department would not pursue a criminal referral against the top DOJ official.

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The full House vote came after the House Oversight and Reform Committee subpoenaed the Commerce and Justice departments earlier this year for documents relating to since-abandoned efforts to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The panel voted largely along party lines last month to hold Barr and Ross in contempt for failing to comply with those subpoenas. The agencies told lawmakers shortly before the vote was scheduled to be held that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE had asserted executive privilege over the requested documents.

Rosen pointed to Trump's assertion of executive privilege in his letter to Pelosi on Wednesday. And he highlighted DOJ declining to prosecute officials during previous administrations, such as former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderWisconsin governor rolls out proposal for redistricting committee End impeachment's government shutdown Parties to wage census battle with outside groups MORE after the House voted to hold him in contempt in 2012.

“Consistent with this long-standing position and uniform practice, the Department has determined that the responses by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Commerce to the subpoenas issued by the Committee on Oversight and Reform did not constitute a crime, and accordingly the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citations before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General or the Secretary,” Rosen wrote.

The Hill has reached out to the offices of House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsBaltimore unveils plaques for courthouse to be named after Elijah Cummings GOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts Pelosi taps Virginia Democrat for key post on economic panel MORE (D-Md.) and Pelosi for comment.

The announcement came on a busy news day, shortly after former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE wrapped up his highly anticipated testimony before a pair of House panels on Capitol Hill.

The Trump administration's efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census were long challenged by Democrats and advocacy groups, who argued that the question's addition would lead to an undercount of the population, particularly for immigrant and minority communities.

The matter was challenged in several federal courts, and the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last month that the question couldn’t be added to the census under the administration's rationale that it would help to enforce the Voting Rights Act, reasoning the high court called "contrived."

While Trump initially signaled that he would still try to get the question on next year’s census, he ultimately gave up the effort. He instead announced an executive order directing federal agencies to provide information on citizenship to the Commerce Department.