House holds AG William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt

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Back in early June, the House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn in civil contempt:

The 229-191 vote fell straight along party lines. The resolution required only a simple majority and needed to be passed in only one chamber of Congress. It came after the House Judiciary Committee hammered out the details of the contempt resolution in a marathon hearing.

Democrats on the committee had issued a subpoena for Barr to hand over a full, unredacted copy of the special counsel report detailing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as the underlying evidence. But Barr refused to comply with the committee’s demands.

In McGahn’s case, the White House instructed him to not testify before the committee, angering Democrats clamoring to haul in the central figure in Mueller’s obstruction case and the one official named more times than anyone else in Mueller’s report.

A civil-contempt resolution is different from criminal contempt of Congress, which can result in lofty fines and even jail time.

Today, the House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt over census dispute:

The House voted Wednesday evening to hold Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for their refusal to turn over key documents related to the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The citations for two cabinet officials, approved on [a party-line vote] of 230-198, will breathe new life into a dispute that has touched all three branches of government over why Trump administration officials pushed to ask census respondents if they were American citizens and what that question’s impact would be.

Democrats investigating the issue believe that the documents and testimony being shielded would confirm that the administration’s long-stated rationale for collecting the data — to better enforce the Voting Rights Act — was merely a cover for a politically motivated attempt to eliminate noncitizens from population statistics used to allocate political representation, diminishing Democratic power.

The Supreme Court hinted at that theory last month when it rejected the administration’s stated reason for adding the question as “contrived” in the court’s ruling on a lawsuit challenging the question. And in an unusual twist, President Trump himself all but confirmed those suspicions earlier this month when he said of the citizenship question, “You need it for Congress, for districting.” Last week he announced his government would give up the effort in light of the high court’s decision.

Democrats said Wednesday that their investigation would continue regardless, in an effort to vindicate Congress’s oversight authority and potentially neuter future attempts to discourage participation by noncitizens in the census.

“It is bigger than the census. It is about protecting the integrity of the Congress of the United States of America,” Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the Oversight Committee chairman, said as he whipped up support on the House floor. “We need to understand how and why the Trump administration tried to add a question based on pretext so that we can consider reforms to ensure that this never happens again.”

To that end, Wednesday’s contempt vote formally authorized the committee to take Mr. Barr and Mr. Ross to federal court to seek judicial enforcement of subpoenas for the material in question. A lawsuit is expected in the coming weeks, and the administration has maintained it is on firm legal footing in its position.

It also levelled a stinging personal rebuke to Mr. Barr and Mr. Ross by formally referring them to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. There is no real risk the department will pursue the case — Mr. Barr is the head of the Justice Department — but only once before has Congress held in contempt a sitting member of a presidential cabinet: Eric H. Holder Jr., President Barack Obama’s first attorney general.

In related developments,  a New York federal judge has issued an order definitively blocking the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census in any form, despite the administration’s insistence it has abandoned plans to add a question on the census. Federal judge permanently blocks Trump admin from adding citizenship question to 2020 census:

Judge Jesse Furman, in his two-page order, also indicated the seriousness with which the court will continue to monitor this controversial issue, saying,”The Court will retain jurisdiction in this case to enforce the terms of this Order until the 2020 census results are processed and sent to the President by December 31, 2020.”

A second federal judge has issued an order permanently blocking the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census in any form, despite the Trump administration’s insistence it has abandoned plans to add the question on the census. 2nd federal judge blocks Trump admin from adding citizenship question to census:

The latest order is from Judge George Hazel who is overseeing a case in federal court in Maryland. New York federal judge Jesse Furman issued a nearly identical order Tuesday.

Both judges will also continue to monitor the controversial issue, saying they will both retain jurisdiction in the case until the 2020 census results are processed.

Plaintiffs in the New York case have asked the judge for additional discovery and to consider sanctions against administration officials if the judge ultimately determines they were untruthful in recounting the motivation behind adding a citizenship question. Census plaintiffs seek sanctions against Trump administration for trial ‘fraud’:

Civil rights groups who successfully blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census are seeking sanctions against government officials, saying they brazenly hid the truth about the inquiry’s origins during trial.

In court papers filed on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union asked New York federal Judge Jesse Furman to grant new discovery into the alleged misconduct, as well as monetary sanctions for the government’s “concerted campaign of delay and obfuscation” during trial last November.

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They cited on Tuesday a laundry list of “false or misleading” testimonies that amounted to “fraud on the court,” perpetrated by U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Chief of Staff Earl Comstock, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore, Commerce attorney James Uthmeier, and U.S. Census Bureau official Christa Jones, among others.

GOP Redistricting Strategist Played Role In Push For Census Citizenship Question:

Thomas Hofeller, who died last August, concluded in a 2015 report that adding the question would produce the data needed to redraw political maps that would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” according to a court filing filed in the New York lawsuit. Hofeller later ghostwrote an early draft of the administration’s request for the question and helped form a reason for adding the question to forms for the national head count.

Hofeller’s documents uncovered through a separate lawsuit suggest administration officials were aware that including the question “would not benefit Latino voters, but rather would facilitate significantly reducing their political power,” argue attorneys with the law firm Arnold & Porter, the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union in a letter to U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and his staff insisted the DOJ had requested a citizenship question to help enforce the federal Voting Rights Act. But evidence at trial showed Ross and other top officials wanted to add the question to benefit Republicans during the next round of redistricting, the ACLU said. (tinyurl.com/y6z7rrj9)

In fact, it was Ross who asked the DOJ to make the request containing the voting rights rationale.

The ACLU also took issue with the government’s steadfast denial of discriminatory motives for adding the question, when evidence discovered after trial proved that late Republican redistricting strategist Thomas Hofeller had hatched the plan as early as 2015 to benefit Republicans during redistricting.

There seems to be a solid case for sanctions in this case.




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