Cummings says vote to hold Barr, Ross in contempt will proceed despite Justice Department threat

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 25: House Oversight Committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) speaks to reporters about U.S. President Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn April 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. Chaffetz and Cummings said they have seen no evidence that Flynn complied with U.S. law for receiving permission for foreign payments from Russia or for reporting those payments. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings said a vote on holding two Trump administration officials in contempt of Congress would proceed Wednesday as planned despite a threat of retaliation from the Justice Department.

Earlier Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd sent a letter warning Cummings that the department would advise Donald Trump to invoke executive privilege over the census documents in question if the panel didn’t back off its contempt vote. The panel has been seeking certain documents related to the potential addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and both Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have refused to provide them. The Justice Department is also refusing to allow a key agency official to be interviewed by the committee unless a department lawyer is present.

Cummings declined to postpone, noting that the department hadn’t committed to providing “any portion of the critical documents” the committee had subpoenaed.  

“The Committee cannot accept these terms,” Cummings said in a statement late Tuesday. “The Committee has a responsibility under the Constitution to conduct rigorous oversight of the Census, and we will not delay our efforts due to your ongoing obstruction.” Cummings left open the possibility of postponing the vote, scheduled for 10:00 AM Wednesday, if the department agreed to turn over the requested materials.

The standoff is following a path similar to that of one between the Justice Department and the Judiciary Committee last month. When the committee sought the unredacted Mueller report, Attorney General William Barr advised Trump to assert executive privilege over the remaining portions of the report. The committee then voted to send a contempt vote on Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn to the full House for consideration. But Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler put that vote on hold this week after the Justice Department agreed to begin turning over at least some of the subpoenaed documents. The House Intelligence Committee won similar concessions from the Justice Department last month in exchange for dropping a contempt vote against Barr.

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