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Second House committee moves to hold AG Barr in contempt

Justin Amash joined with committee Democrats to support the resolution.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House Oversight Committee voted Wednesday afternoon to pass a resolution in favor of holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress over subpoenas sent by the committee back in April.

The final tally was 24-15 in favor of the contempt resolution. All Democrats present voted in favor of the resolution, and one Republican joined them — Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.)

Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) scheduled the contempt vote against Barr and Ross in regard to their agencies' responses to congressional subpoenas issued in April about a citizenship question to be added to the 2020 Census.

The Department of Commerce announced in March 2018 that the U.S. census would reinstate a question on citizenship status for the 2020 population survey. California sued to block the move, and a federal judge blocked it. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the question.

Wednesday's vote was originally scheduled for the morning but was delayed by a few hours following a letter from the Department of Justice informing the committee that the president had invoked executive privilege over the requested information.

"This letter is to advise you that the President has asserted executive privilege over certain subpoenaed documents identified by the Committee in its June 3, 2019 letters to the Attorney General and the Secretary," the letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd stated. "These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney — client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege. In addition, the President has made a protective assertion of executive privilege over the remainder of the subpoenaed documents."

The DOJ insists that they've been working with Congress in "good faith" but aren't being given enough time to produce the protected documents.

"The Committee's attempt to define the Department of Justice's good-faith cooperation as 'contempt' defies logic," DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement. "Today's action by Chairman Cummings and his Committee undermines Congress's credibility with the American people. ... Despite the Committee's political games, the Department will remain focused on its critical work safeguarding the American people and upholding the rule of law."

A statement from Committee ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said the vote marked a "sad day in this committee's history" and was a "misuse of the committee's contempt authority."

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