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Trump admin declines to prosecute Barr and Ross over House’s contempt vote, citing decades of legal opinions

'The Department will not bring the congressional contempt citations before a grand jury'

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Despite a recent vote brought by House Democrats, the Department of Justice says it won't take action to prosecute Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for contempt of Congress.

In a letter sent to speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday night, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that "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 cites precedent of non-prosecution of contempt votes against Bush and Obama administration officials from 2008 and 2012 as well as legal opinions from the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel going all the way back to the Reagan administration.

"Consistent with this long-standing position and uniform practice," Rosen's letter concludes, "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."

The House voted to hold the two Trump cabinet officials in contempt of Congress last week over complaints from House Democrats about their degree of cooperation with a House investigation into the attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — an effort that the administration is now pursuing by other means.

"House Democrats never sought to have a productive relationship with the Trump Administration," Ross said in response to the vote, "and today's PR stunt further demonstrates their unending quest to generate headlines instead of operating in good faith with our Department."

Contrary to the complaints, the administration said that it has been working through the proper administrative channels to work with Congress but hasn't been given adequate time to do so.

"By taking this action, the House is both unnecessarily undermining inter-branch comity and degrading the constitutional separation of powers and its own institutional integrity," Barr and Ross wrote to Pelosi about the contempt vote.

"The departments have already accommodated numerous Committee requests," Barr and Ross continued. "The key remaining issue is how the Departments and the Committee will address the material that is protected by privileges that have been reaffirmed by the courts."

The committee voted to hold Barr and Ross in contempt last month after being delayed a few hours over the news that the White House had asserted executive privilege over the subpoenaed materials. A DOJ statement later the same day said the committee's decision "defies logic" and "undermines Congress's credibility with the American people."

One last thing…
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