Trump uses executive privilege to block House access to census documents

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Tuesday on the South Lawn of the White House before a trip to Iowa. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI

June 12 (UPI) — President Donald Trump acted Wednesday to block lawmakers from seeing government documents that outline how his administration added a highly controversial question about citizenship to the 2020 Census.

At the direction of the Justice Department, Trump invoked executive privilege to prevent the House oversight and reform committees from subpoenaing the documents. Executive privilege is a presidential power to resist subpoenas and other interventions that have potential to hinder functions of the federal government.

Many Democratic lawmakers and activists have opposed the question’s addition to the census next year, fearing it would produce an inaccurate count. The administration argues the question will help enforce voting rights. The issue has been taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may soon issue a ruling.

“These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in a letter to oversight committee chairman Elijah Cummings. “Regrettably, you have made these assertions necessary by your insistence upon schedule a premature contempt vote.”

The Democratically controlled committee wants to know the origins of the question. Opponents have also argued it’s part of a strategy to increase the Republican vote and dismiss undocumented migrants, who tend to vote Democratic.

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Boyd sent the letter Wednesday just two minutes after the committee hearing started Wednesday. The committee is expected to vote to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress.

Cummings said he’s been asking the Commerce Department for the documents for more than a year.

“That begs the question: what is being hidden?” he asked. “This does not appear to be an effort to engage in good faith negotiations or accommodations. Instead, it appears to be another example of the administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’ constitutionally mandated responsibilities.”

Cummings said he unsuccessfully offered to postpone the contempt votes for Barr and Ross if the administration releases a small batch of the requested records.

“Despite more than two months since we issued the subpoenas and more than a week since we told the agencies we were moving to contempt, the agencies have made no commitment or counter-offer regarding any of the critical documents in our subpoenas,” he said.

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