House panel steps up contempt threat against Barr, Ross over Census…


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The House Oversight Committee said on Wednesday it will move forward with a vote to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress if they do not comply with a subpoena for documents related to the Trump administration’s handling of the U.S. Census.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks during the Milken Institute’s 22nd annual Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The Oversight Committee issued subpoenas two months ago for unredacted documents related to the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, the panel said.

“We have been extremely patient in waiting for these documents, which were subpoenaed more than two months ago on a bipartisan basis,” Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the committee, said in a statement.

“If they are not produced by tomorrow, we will be forced to move forward with holding Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross in contempt of Congress,” Cummings said.

Asked for comment on the panel’s increase in pressure, a Commerce Department spokesman referred to a previous statement the department had issued on the dispute, which accused the committee of using “mere insinuations and conspiracy theories” to “desperately and improperly influence the Supreme Court.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After arguments in April, the conservative-majority Supreme Court appeared likely to accept the administration’s argument that the question would provide better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects eligible voters from discrimination.

Critics say the question will lead to an undercount by some 4.2 million people, costing communities federal aid and political representation. They say the question may deter immigrant and Latino households from filling out the forms out of fear the information will be shared with law enforcement.

Separately, after months, the Commerce Department agreed to permit three current and former department officials who were involved with the addition of the Census question to schedule interviews with the committee, the panel said.

Barr also faces a contempt vote next week by the full House of Representatives on whether he failed to comply with a subpoena seeking the unredacted report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott and James Dalgleish

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