Washington, D.C. July 17, 2019—Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for defying bipartisan subpoenas authorized by the Committee on Oversight and Reform and withholding key documents regarding the Trump Administration’s illegal pretext for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
Since the Committee issued bipartisan subpoenas on April 2, 2019, the Departments of Justice and Commerce have refused to produce key unredacted documents.
The Administration originally claimed that it would not produce documents while the Supreme Court was considering this case—a baseless argument that was rejected by the Committee.
But now, the Administration is still refusing to produce the documents even though the Supreme Court ruled last month that the Administration’s actions were illegal—and that its “voting rights” claim was a “pretext,” “contrived,” and “incongruent with what the record reveals.”
Below is a statement from Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, as prepared for delivery on the House floor:
Floor Statement of Chairman Elijah E. Cummings
Committee on Oversight and Reform
Debate on the Contempt Resolution for
Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross
July 17, 2019
I support this bipartisan resolution to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress because it is necessary to preserve the integrity of this body and of the Census.
The Constitution mandates that we conduct a Census every ten years, and that that Census count every person. A full, fair, and accurate count is critical to ensuring that we properly allocate federal funding and congressional apportionment.
I do not take this decision lightly. Holding any Cabinet Secretary in criminal contempt of congress is a serious and somber matter—one that I have done everything in my power to avoid.
But in this case, the Attorney General and Secretary Ross have blatantly obstructed our ability to do congressional oversight into the real reason Secretary Ross was trying—for the first time in 70 years—to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
Secretary Ross testified under oath that he added a citizenship question “solely” to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act. But we now know that claim was nothing but a pretext.
Our Committee’s investigation uncovered evidence that Secretary Ross launched a secret campaign to add the citizenship question within days of assuming his post.
We learned that Secretary Ross ignored warnings from experts inside and outside the Census Bureau—including the Bureau’s Chief Scientist—that adding a citizenship question would be costly and harm the accuracy of the Census.
Our investigation also revealed that Secretary Ross spoke with Attorney General Sessions, Steve Bannon, and Kris Kobach. Contrary to his testimony to Congress, the Commerce Department conjured up the voting rights rationale to hide these interactions.
Committee Democrats first asked for documents from the Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice when we were in the minority—in April and May 2018. Both Departments ignored us.
When I became Chairman, I renewed these requests on behalf of the Committee. Since then, the Administration has engaged in purposeful efforts to obstruct our investigation.
The Departments have refused to provide key unredacted documents that we need to understand the truth about why they really made this decision. Instead, they produced thousands of pages that were largely nonresponsive, heavily redacted, or publicly available.
When they let us interview witnesses, they ordered the witnesses not to answer more than 500 of our questions. Secretary Ross even refused my request to meet to try and work this out.
As a result, on April 2, more than three months ago—after a bipartisan vote—the Committee subpoenaed these key documents, including a secret memo that the Department of Commerce wrote about the citizenship question and then gave to the Department of Justice. The Departments have admitted to us that this memo exists, but they refuse to produce this document and many others.
Last month, in light of this obstruction, the Oversight Committee passed a resolution to hold Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross in contempt of Congress. That vote was also bipartisan.
However, many of our Republican colleagues apparently support the Trump Administration’s refusal to comply with duly authorized congressional subpoenas. They claimed that we were interfering with the Supreme Court’s decision on this issue.
That argument never made sense since we launched our investigation in 2018, more than ten months before the Supreme Court took up the case. But even if you accept that misguided argument, the Supreme Court case is now over. So that argument is gone.
The President announced last week that he would no longer pursue adding a citizenship question to the Census. However, in that same speech, the President admitted that he wanted citizenship data to implement partisan gerrymandering.
The President’s statements directly contradict Secretary Ross’ sworn testimony that the only reason the Trump Administration wanted this data was to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act.
The Departments of Justice and Commerce have been engaged in a campaign to subvert our laws and the processes Congress put in place to maintain the integrity of the Census. The resolution before us today is about protecting our democracy. We need to understand how and why the Trump Administration tried to add a question based on pretext so that we can consider reforms to ensure that this does not happen again.
I urge my colleagues on both side of the aisle to support our resolution to hold Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross in Contempt of Congress.