House Votes to Hold Top Trump Officials in Criminal Contempt for Withholding Census Documents

Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross could now be subject to a court order or even prosecution.

President Donald Trump, joined by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, left, and Attorney General William Barr, speaks about the census in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 11. Carolyn Kaster/AP

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The House of Representatives voted 230 to 198 Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over key documents about the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. It’s the first time the full House has voted to hold members of the administration in contempt.

Although the administration dropped its push for the citizenship question last week, House Democrats are attempting to hold Trump officials accountable for stonewalling an investigation by the House Oversight Committee, which last month voted to hold Barr and Ross in contempt. (On Tuesday, the ACLU also asked a federal court to sanction top officials at the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, and the Justice Department for falsely claiming the question was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.) Before the vote on Wednesday, Barr and Ross sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that asked to postpone, though their effort was unsuccessful.

The House vote authorizes civil and criminal action to enforce subpoenas authorized by the Oversight Committee in April. That could lead a federal court to force the administration to turn over key documents about the origins of the citizenship question. It also allows the US attorney in Washington to bring criminal charges against Barr and Ross, although the Trump-led Justice Department is almost certain not to pursue such charges.

Although the citizenship question has been blocked from appearing on the 2020 census, the broader fight over the census is not over. The administration is still collecting citizenship data that GOP states could use during the next redistricting cycle to draw legislative maps that favor Republicans.

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