House Oversight panel sues Barr, Ross over census documents

Attorney General William Barr is shown during May testimony on Capitol Hill. / Source: C-SPAN via MGN
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Oversight Committee sued two top Trump administration officials Tuesday for refusing to produce documents related to a decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The panel's chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross "have not produced a single additional document" since the Supreme Court blocked the administration's efforts to include the citizenship question last June. The House later voted to hold Barr and Ross in contempt of Congress.

Maloney, who was elected oversight chair last week, said the lawsuit follows the example set by the panel's late chairman, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Cummings "believed with all his heart that the Constitution requires Congress to ensure that the rapidly approaching Census is conducted in a professional manner that promotes accuracy, ensures integrity and is free from partisan politics — and I couldn't agree more,'' Maloney said.

The lawsuit marks the latest action by Democrats to use their House majority to aggressively investigate the inner workings of the Trump administration, including an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

Trump abandoned the citizenship question last summer after the Supreme Court said the administration's justification for the question "seems to have been contrived." Trump directed agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.

The Justice and Commerce departments did not immediately comment on the lawsuit, although officials have previously said the documents Democrats are demanding are subject to executive privilege.

The administration has produced more than 31,000 pages of documents to the House regarding the census issue, and senior officials from both agencies, including Ross, have spoken on the record about the matter.

Maloney said the committee has continued its investigation and obtained new documents and information from other sources.

Lawmakers need the documents being withheld by Justice and Commerce, in part, to determine whether Congress should take emergency action to protect the census from partisan political interference, Maloney said.

The census is set to begin in Alaska in January and across the country in April 2020.

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