Trump Escalates Standoff With House, Claims Executive Privilege Over Census Records

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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President Donald Trump is claiming executive privilege over administration documents regarding the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census form, as House Democrats prepare to hold two cabinet secretaries in contempt over the dispute.

The move comes after Attorney General William Barr warned that Trump would assert privilege over the census records if the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee proceeded with plans to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt.

“The [Department of Justice] has explained to the committee on several occasions that these identified documents consist of attorney-client communications, attorney work product, and deliberative communications, and a federal court has already held many of these documents to be privileged in litigation,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Elijah Cummings in a Wednesday letter.

“By proceeding with today’s vote, you have abandoned the accommodation process with respect to your requests and subpoenas for documents concerning the secretary’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census,” Boyd added.

The committee’s vote, which was delayed following issuance of the letter, will need to be ratified by the full House before Cummings can ask a federal court to enforce the subpoenas against Barr and Ross. The Commerce Department supervises the Census Bureau. That outcome could be averted if the Justice Department strikes a deal with the House committee on the scope of document production.

Boyd indicated in Wednesday’s letter that DOJ hopes to reach a reasonable accommodation with the panel and accused Democrats of mischaracterizing the extent of the administration’s cooperation with Congress’s request. (RELATED: DCNF Defeats FBI’s Bid To Shield Docs Surrounding Comey Ally)

“We must protect the integrity of the census and stand up for Congress’ authority under the Constitution to conduct meaningful oversight,” Cummings said after Wednesday’s letter.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) speaks to the press on June 11, 2019 on Capitol Hill. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) speaks to the press on June 11, 2019 on Capitol Hill. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The privilege invocation is the latest in a series of disclosure fights in which the White House has declined to produce documents and witnesses in response to a Democratic subpoena. In recent months the administration has directed former senior aides Don McGahn, Hope Hicks, and Annie Donaldson not to cooperate with subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee.

The president is pursuing an aggressive campaign of non-cooperation with congressional subpoenas, and is fighting attempts to procure his tax and accounting records in court. Democrats have scored initial victories in those court battles, though appeals are pending.

Wednesday’s dispute comes as the Supreme Court is considering whether to allow the citizenship question on the census form. Democrats and civil rights groups say the question will reduce minority participation in the census. Three federal trial judges ordered the administration to remove the question from the census questionnaire in early 2019. Subsequent to those decisions, the plaintiffs claimed to discover evidence that the citizenship question is part of a partisan campaign to help Republicans during the decennial redistricting process.

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