Republican lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee slammed the panel’s Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings on Tuesday over his push to hold two prominent Trump Cabinet officials in contempt of Congress, accusing him of a double standard while calling the move “unnecessary” and designed to “advance partisan political goals.”
The panel voted last week, mostly along party lines, to hold both Attorney General Bill Barr and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in contempt—Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., a fierce Trump critic, voted with the Democrats. The contempt citation was for defying a committee-issued subpoena for documents related to reinstating a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
But Republicans issued a report on Tuesday arguing that Cummings, D-Md., had shifted his position on contempt, citing his criticism of GOP members in 2012 who held former Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to produce documents related to the committee’s Operation Fast and Furious investigation.
"Chairman Cummings’s position on holding executive branch officials in contempt of Congress has changed since the last time the Committee held an Attorney General in contempt of Congress," the report said.
The GOP report quoted Cummings in 2012 during debates on Holder’s contempt citation, saying, “There is something going on here that really should bother all of us, and that is that, you know, we do have an Attorney General who, just like we did, swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States” and, “we do have to respect the separation of powers here.”
“And so, you know, this whole idea, everybody, oh, what is he hiding? Well, I don’t think he is hiding a damn thing,” Cummings was quoted as saying in 2012.
The Republican report also accused Cummings of holding a contempt vote prematurely, noting the committee’s “fact-finding” is “active and ongoing.”
“The contempt citation was premature, unnecessary, and designed to advance a partisan goal of influencing ongoing litigation presently before the Supreme Court of the United States,” the minority report stated. “Because the Committee could obtain the information it seeks in future investigative steps, the Committee has not exhausted all avenues to obtaining the information such that contempt is appropriate at this time."
The Justice Department last week slammed Cummings for holding the contempt vote.
“Unfortunately, rather than allowing the Department to complete its document production, you have chosen to go forward with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote.
Cummings defended the committee move.
"Let me be very clear: this is one of the sadder days in my 23 years in Congress,” Cummings said at the time. “Never did I dream that we would be addressing the issue of contempt with regard to subpoenas and the Secretary of Commerce and Attorney General. ... We tried to work with Secretary Ross and Attorney General Barr. We found over and over again, delay, delay, delay.”
Republicans on the committee, in their latest report, also provided new witness testimony from senior Commerce and Justice Department officials, in an effort to debunk what they call a “conspiracy theory” that the White House and GOP operatives were leading the charge to get the census citizenship question reinstated.
Groups challenging the Trump administration over the census question reportedly found communications between the late GOP strategist Thomas Hofeller and Christa Jones, the now-chief of staff to the U.S. Census Bureau's director. Hofeller allegedly conducted a study in 2015 that found reinstating a citizenship question on the census would help Republicans and white communities, according to The Hill.
But in their report, GOP lawmakers shared testimony from three Trump administration officials, including senior Justice Department officials and senior Commerce Department counsel, saying they did not have any knowledge of Hofeller and did not communicate with him.
Meanwhile, Cummings on Tuesday afternoon sent a letter to Jones seeking a transcribed interview with her related to the newly discovered documents.
Republicans also pointed to Democrats' efforts to "tie former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former White House advisor Steven Bannon, and other senior Trump Administration officials to the effort to add a citizenship question to the census."
“The record before the Committee, however, does not support these charges," the report read.
Despite testimony from senior administration officials, Cummings said last week that the panel had "obtained evidence" to show that Ross was "aggressively pressing his staff to add the citizenship question months before any requests from the Justice Department in the spring of 2017."
Democrats say they want specific documents to determine why Ross added the citizenship question to the 2020 census. They say the Trump administration has declined to provide the documents despite repeated requests.
Republicans, though, argued that the contempt citation is an “unnecessary act of political theater,” saying the Supreme Court would be issuing its decision related to the census in the coming weeks, in turn settling “any controversy” around the question.
The Supreme Court is slated to decide whether the 2020 census can include a question about citizenship, after the Commerce Department said last May that the question would be added in response to a request made by the Justice Department in December 2017, when Jeff Sessions was serving as attorney general.
The census count is required by the Constitution, and its results are used to determine federal spending, as well as the number of congressional seats allocated to each state for the next decade and the number of electoral votes available from each state.
Republicans largely supported the additional census question as a logical step. Democrats say the inclusion of such a question amounts to an effort to intimidate immigrant communities and siphon money and electoral power away from them.
But last year, the Commerce Department pointed out that almost every decennial census between 1820 and 1950 “asked a question about citizenship in some form.” The department also said the citizenship question would be “the same as the one that it asked on the yearly American Community Service (ACS),” which is sent to a much smaller percentage of American homes than the actual census.
“The citizenship data provided to the [Department of Justice] will be more accurate with the question than without it,” Ross said last May. “Which is of greater importance than any adverse effect that may result from people violating their legal duty to respond.”
A vote by the full House would be required to hold Barr and Ross in contempt on the census issue.
Fox News' Alex Pappas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.