House holds William Barr, Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress

Source: Politico | July 17, 2019 | Andrew Desiderio

It’s only the second time in U.S. history that Congress held a sitting Cabinet official in contempt of Congress

The House voted on Wednesday to ask the Justice Department to prosecute Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for defying congressional subpoenas, an escalation in House Democrats’ ongoing oversight battle with the Trump administration.

The 230-198 vote to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt of Congress is largely symbolic, as President Donald Trump’s DOJ will not act on the request.

But it reflects House Democrats’ frustration over the administration’s defiance of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpoenas seeking information about failed efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

“I do not take this decision lightly,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the Oversight Committee. “Holding any secretary in criminal contempt of Congress is a serious and sober matter, one that I have done everything in my power to avoid.”

“But in the case of the attorney general and Secretary Ross, they 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,” Cummings added.

Wednesday’s vote was the first time Trump administration officials have been held in criminal contempt of Congress since Democrats took control of the chamber in January and launched investigations into the president’s personal conduct, finances, policies and more. Just four Democrats joined all Republicans in voting against the resolution.

It also represents only the second time in U.S. history that Congress held a sitting Cabinet official in contempt of Congress. In 2012, former Attorney General Eric Holder became the first after the Republican-led House voted to hold him in contempt for not providing documents on the Operation Fast and Furious gun running investigation.

President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege over the subpoenaed documents just minutes before the Oversight panel voted to hold Barr and Ross in contempt. The Justice Department had said it could not legally turn over the documents, citing “the deliberative process” and “attorney-client communications.”

In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Barr and Ross decried Democrats’ move to hold them in criminal contempt.

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