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 BarrBill BarrOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Key impeachment witness retires | Duckworth presses for information | Subpanel advances defense measure | Democrats press for end to military transgender ban DOJ to resume executions next week for first time in 15 years Tim Scott says he's talking with House Democrats about reviving police reform bill MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report Research finds Uighurs targeted by Chinese spyware as part of surveillance campaign 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 PelosiSupreme Court expands religious rights with trio of rulings Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits Democrats see victory in Trump culture war 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 TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad 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 HolderTrump official criticizes ex-Clinton spokesman over defunding police tweet Obama to speak about George Floyd in virtual town hall GOP group launches redistricting site 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 CummingsFacial recognition tools under fresh scrutiny amid police protests The sad spectacle of Trump's enablers Democrat Kweisi Mfume wins House primary in Maryland MORE (D-Md.) and Pelosi for comment.

The announcement came on a busy news day, shortly after former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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.