House Dems sue Barr, Ross for noncompliance with subpoenas

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform announced Tuesday that it is suing Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over their refusal to comply with an investigation about the Trump administration's since-abandoned effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The Supreme Court ruled against the move to add a question about citizenship to the decennial count of every person in the United States in June, saying that while the Trump administration technically had the authority to add the query, it had not provided a valid explanation for why it was doing so. Then, in July, the House voted to hold Ross and Barr in contempt of Congress for ignoring subpoenas related to the Oversight Committee's investigation, led by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., into the process and reasoning behind the administration's push to add the citizenship question.

"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," new Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said about the legal action.

BARR SAYS HE'D TAKE FIGHT TO RESTART FEDERAL EXECUTIONS TO SUPREME COURT IF NEEDED

The lawsuit seeks to force Barr and Ross to turn over documents related to the drive to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Critics of the move said the question could drive down response rates to the survey among immigrant-heavy communities, leading to a skewed distribution of federal money and unfair apportionment of Congressional districts between states. Trump's allies claimed the question was necessary to know who is in the country and consistent with past practice in the Census Bureau, including on the American Community Survey, which asks Americans about their citizenship status every year.

While the Oversight Committee plays games, the Department will continue its critical work of pursuing justice and ensuring safety for all Americans

— Kerri Kupec, Department of Justice Spokeswoman

Department of Justice Spokeswoman Kerri Kupec hit back at the House's lawsuit Tuesday, saying the lawsuit had no substance.

"The Department of Justice worked for months to supply thousands of documents to accommodate Congress’s requests," she said. "Additionally, many document[s] at issue were held privileged by a federal court. This lawsuit is nothing more than a political stunt. While the Oversight Committee plays games, the Department will continue its critical work of pursuing justice and ensuring safety for all Americans."

Maloney, however, said the action was a matter of the rule of law.

"I am filing this enforcement action today because the Trump Administration’s brazen obstruction of Congress must not stand," Maloney continued. "President Trump and his aides are not above the law. 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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The lawsuit is Maloney's first official action at the helm of the committee after she was elected to the post last week.

Barr and Ross have not complied with the subpoenas because Trump asserted executive privilege and told the officials not to release certain documents in response to the subpoenas from the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

"The Department of Justice's longstanding position is that we will not prosecute an official for contempt of Congress for declining to provide information subject to a presidential assertion of executive privilege," Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a July letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, explaining that the DOJ would not take action against Barr or Ross following the House's contempt vote.

Fox News' Louis Casiano and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.