Democrats sue Barr, Ross for not complying with census subpoenas

The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday sued Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocrats rip Barr over IG statement: 'Mouthpiece' for Trump Comey in op-ed after IG report: 'Barr needs to stop acting like a Trump spokesperson' Graham: FBI investigation in 2016 turned into a 'criminal conspiracy' MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossPelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Space race is on: US can't afford congressional inaction in this critical economic sector Trump escalates fight over tax on tech giants MORE over their refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas in the panel's investigation of the aborted effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

“Since the Supreme Court ruled against them—and the House of Representatives held them in contempt for blocking the Committee’s investigation—Attorney General Barr and Commerce Secretary Ross have doubled down on their open defiance of the rule of law and refused to produce even a single additional document in response to our Committee’s bipartisan subpoenas," House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyWatchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe White House, Democrats strike tentative deal to create Space Force in exchange for federal parental leave benefits: report Democrats could introduce articles of impeachment next week MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

"President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space-Force deal House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence MORE and his aides are not above the law," Maloney added. "They cannot be allowed to disregard and degrade the authority of Congress to fulfill our core Constitutional legislative and oversight responsibilities.”

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In a statement, a Commerce Department spokesperson called Oversight lawmakers "overzealous" and said the lawsuit lacks merit.

"Moreover, the Department of Commerce has cooperated in good faith with the Committee," the spokesperson said. "After their first document request in January of 2019 on the Secretary’s decision to reinstate the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, the Department made over 2,000 documents available to the Committee, and submitted hundreds of pages of additional documents since the Supreme Court’s decision.

"At the same time, the Department allowed current and former officials to sit with representatives of the Committee for transcribed interviews, while the Secretary himself testified voluntarily in front of the full Committee for seven hours," the spokesperson added. "Together, they answered well over a thousand questions."

A DOJ spokeswoman did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

The Trump administration abandoned its effort to add a citizenship question to the census after the Supreme Court ruled in June that it hadn't adequately justified the move.

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It's been four months since the House voted to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt for refusing to hand over documents in response to the subpoenas, though the Justice Department has not acted on their request for prosecution.

President Trump has asserted that the documents are protected from subpoena by executive privilege.

In their complaint filed in federal district court in Washington, the Oversight Committee said that it had identified evidence of political meddling in the design of the census, and that the responsive documents would be key to the investigation and any effort to protect the 2020 census.

"Defendants are legally obligated to honor the Subpoenas and have identified no valid privilege that would justify their refusal to comply," the lawsuit reads. "Their unlawful withholding of information is injuring the Committee in carrying out two critical constitutional functions: conducting effective oversight of the Executive Branch and its officials, who have provided false testimony to Congress and misled Congress and the American public; and determining whether legislation is necessary, potentially on an emergency basis, to ensure the integrity of the 2020 Census."

Ross had testified to Congress that the decision to add a question about citizenship to the census was solely in response to a DOJ request for data to inform its efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

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But Democrats alleged that he had been committed to adding the question from early on in the administration and used voting rights as a pretext to justify a blatant political maneuver.

In June, the Supreme Court agreed with that theory and put a stop to the administration's plans. In an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, and joined by the four liberal justices, the court said that Ross' rationale "seems to have been contrived."

"Several points, taken together, reveal a significant mismatch between the Secretary’s decision and the rationale he provided," Roberts wrote. "The record shows that he began taking steps to reinstate the question a week into his tenure, but gives no hint that he was considering VRA enforcement."

The Democratic lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that the administration had its sights set on adding a citizenship question from the early days of Trump's term as part of an effort to make post-census legislative redistricting more favorable to Republicans.

According to evidence cited in the complaint, Ross and his aides conspired with DOJ officials to have their agency request more accurate citizenship data from the Commerce Department so that Ross would have a legal justification for the move.

The Oversight Committee also accused Ross of lying to Congress about the justification for the question and whether he had any communications with the White House about the effort.

"Secretary Ross provided false testimony under oath to multiple committees of Congress, mispresented to the American people the reasons for his attempt to add the citizenship questions, and then attempted to continue that false narrative when his actions were challenged in federal court," the panel wrote in its complaint. "The Committee has an undeniable interest in understanding the origins and extent of that dishonesty in order to redress the harm it has caused."

Updated at 2:30 p.m.