The Justice Department on Thursday denied a House committee's demand for more documents related to the Trump administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which likely will lead to another contempt-of-Congress citation for Attorney General William Barr.
In a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the documents that the Democrat-led committee subpoenaed could not be released because they were protected by “the attorney-client privilege, deliberative process privilege, and/or the attorney work product doctrine.”
“Given the ongoing accommodation efforts by the Department, we believe that a vote on contempt would be entirely premature,” the letter stated, citing “eight submissions to the Committee in its ongoing, rolling document production totaling more than 17,000 pages,” since the DOJ received the committee’s February document request and the subpoena that followed two months later.
Boyd noted that “The Department has also identified tens of thousands more responsive pages that it is in the process of producing” and made two senior officials available for interviews.
Cummings, D-Md., had said the panel would vote soon on contempt measures for Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross unless specific documents were received by Thursday.
A Commerce Department spokesperson, in an email, called holding the Secretary in contempt an “empty stunt” and pointed out that the department had delivered about 14,000 pages of documents. The spokesperson said repeated requests for the committee to explain its needs for this specific information were never met.
Ross also testified before the committee for nearly seven hours earlier this year, the spokesperson said, adding that the department was planning to make three of its senior officials available for interviews in the next three weeks.
"In its zeal to influence the Supreme Court’s decision, the Committee is poised to hold Secretary Ross in contempt,” the spokesperson said.
“Apparently it will do so simply because he stands on time-tested privileges that courts - even the lower courts in the census litigation - have each recognized and protected.”
In a statement sent to Fox News, House Committee on Oversight & Reform Press Secretary Charli Huddleston said, “Both agencies have signaled a willingness to produce additional documents available after the Supreme Court delivers it’s [sic] decision in the coming weeks.”
“The Committee is in the early stages of its fact-finding — Democrats are prematurely jumping to contempt, when it should be the last resort,” Huddleston added.
A representative for Cummings did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment but in a statement earlier this month said that the failure of Barr and Ross to respond to the Oversight subpoenas was “part of a pattern” by the administration to engage in a “cover-up” and challenge the authority of Congress to conduct constitutionally required oversight.
“This cover-up is being directed from the top,” Cummings said, pointing out that Trump has vowed to fight all subpoenas issued by Congress and refused to work on legislative priorities, such as infrastructure, until Congress stopped the investigations of his administration.
The House Judiciary Committee voted last month to hold Barr in contempt of Congress as part of a separate legal battle with the Trump administration over access to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
A vote by the full House would be needed to hold Barr and Ross in contempt on the census issue.
The Supreme Court is considering the citizenship question in a ruling expected later this year.
The committee approved the subpoenas on the census issue in April. Democrats said they wanted specific documents to try finding out why Ross added the citizenship question to the 2020 census and said the Trump administration had refused to provide the documents despite repeated requests.
Ross told the committee the decision to add the question was based on a Justice Department request to help it enforce the Voting Rights Act.
Cummings disputed that, citing documents discovered last month suggesting that the real reason the administration wanted to add the citizenship question was to help officials gerrymander legislative districts in overtly partisan and racist ways.
Democrats have claimed the citizenship question could reduce census participation in immigrant-heavy communities, which in turn would harm representation and access to federal dollars.
Fox News' Jake Gibson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.