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Trump Asserts Executive Privilege on Census Documents Ahead of House Committee Contempt Vote

WASHINGTON – President Trump on Wednesday invoked the executive's privilege to block Congress from obtaining documents on how a citizenship question was added to the 2020 Census, ahead of a House committee vote to recommend that two cabinet secretaries be held in contempt of the Congress over the

In a letter to the Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the Justice Department said that Mr. Trump had decided to invoke his secrecy powers because Mr. Cummings had "chosen to go forward with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote." The letter came just as Mr. Cummings was convening the panel to consider a contempt recommendation for Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr.

While Mr. Cummings put off the vote for several hours to allow lawmakers to review Mr. Trump's privilege of assertion, he made it clear that he did not intend to back down, escalating the latest battle between the House and the president over the constitution's separation of powers

"We must protect the integrity of the census, and we will stand for Congress's authority under the Constitution to conduct meaningful oversight, "Mr. Cummings said, calling the privilege claim "Another example of the administration's blanket defiance of Congress's constitutionally mandated responsibilities."

"This begs the question," Mr. Cummings added: "What is being hidden?"

At the White House, Mr. "When a census goes out, you should find out whether or not you have a right to ask if someone is a citizen of the United States," he said. (19659002) But in an Oversight Committee meeting on Capitol Hill, Democrats demanded to see the deliberations behind the question, and they pointed to Mr. Trump's statement months ago that he intended to defy all congressional subpoenas. In the census investigation, they said, the administration had provided little more than unresponsive documents and stamping the critical deposition requests.

"It is indeed ridiculous to say that the administration had cooperated with the panel," said Representative Stephen F. Lynch , Democrat of Massachusetts, brandishing a black-out page with no text visible as an example of the heavily redacted material the Commerce Department had sent. "We have reached our limit."

In separate letters from the Justice Department and the Department of Commerce, the administration officials maintained that they had already turned over many materials in response to the appeal, but that they had to keep certain confidential information to protect the internal and attorney-client deliberations. Still, both officials made it clear that the privilege of assertion was in retaliation for the panel's insistence on issuing contempt citations for Mr. Barr and Mr. Ross.

"The Department regrets that you have made this assertion necessary by your insistence on scheduling and premature contempt voting," the letter from the Commerce Department said

The fight over the census centers on liberals' suspicions that asking respondents say whether they are American citizens could be a deliberate ploy to tilt the every-10-year reappropriation of House seats, shortchanging areas with higher levels of immigrants. They fear that undocumented immigrants or members of their families would be afraid to turn in their questionnaires, resulting in a population undercount.

The Census Bureau has estimated that asking all American residents whether they are citizens may spark a 5.8 percent decline in response rates from noncitizens, which Democrats fear will skew the reapportion of House seats towards Republicans while depriving states of federal resources.

"I want to know why people like Kris Kobach, with a résumé of voter suppression techniques, have their fingerprints all over the most sensitive census operations that we have as a government, "Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said as a bitter debate over the contempt of citations unfolded between Republicans and Democrats on the panel. "This determines who is here. This determines who has power in the United States. "

In a sworn testimony before the Congress, Mr. Ross said he had decided to add the question "only" in response to a Justice Department request in December 2017 for data to help enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But emails disclosed during the litigation showed that Mr. Ross had begun discussing the addition of the question several months before that, and that Mr. Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state and architect of strict election identification laws, had discussed this during Mr. Trump's presidential campaign in 2016. Three federal trial judges have ruled that the evidence in the record shows that Mr. Ross was dissembling

New evidence from the computer files of a deceased Republican strategist suggests that the administration's actual reason was to collect information that would allow states to draw voting districts counting only eligible voters rather than, as is the current practice, all residents. That would, the strategist wrote, "be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites."

The Supreme Court has already considered whether adding a citizen's question to the census was lawful, and may hand over a ruling in coming weeks. Republicans argued that Democrats were rushing the contempt citations in an attempt to pre-empt the court and influence its ruling.

"You are so concerned with the Supreme Court's going to rule on that you have got to get done before that happens, "said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Republican ranking on the panel. "Why do not the Democrats want to know how many people are in the country?"

Barr and Mr. Ross in contempt would be the latest action by the Democrat-led House to intensify pressure on Mr.

Wednesday's actions in the Oversight Committee would mark the second time this year that a " committee has recommended members of Mr. Trump's cabinet be held in contempt of Congress. The Judiciary Committee has sought a contempt resolution against Mr. Barr for his refusal to provide the panel with an unrecended version of the Mueller report as well as the evidence that supported the special counsel's conclusions

Barr in contempt after the Justice Department began on Monday to share some of the special counsel's evidence with the committee. For the same reason, it is not clear whether the House Judiciary Committee will use its authority to file a lawsuit against him

In the Oursight Committee's appeal, members have protested Mr. Barr's instructions to a subordinate involved in the census to defy a request requiring him to appear for a deposition based on a longstanding House rule that government lawyers are not allowed to accompany a witness in the deposition room

The Trump administration on Tuesday disclosed and the memo department claiming that the House Rule is an unconstitutional intrusion of the President's power to make sure that subordinates do not disclose information that might be subject to the executive privilege

Democrats also complain that Mr.

Taken together, this week's action by committees and the full House are part of a strategy by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold off calls to quickly impeach Mr. Trump by demonstrating that there are other ways to hold him and his administration publicly accountable for misconduct

The House's vote Tuesday should expedite the process by which other committees embroiled in disputes with the Trump administration can seek to have the courts enforce their oversight powers

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