President Donald Trump has exerted executive privilege over a trove of documents requested by House Democrats detailing how and when his administration sought to add a question about citizenship to the upcoming 2020 Census.
The president’s move to deny lawmakers access to the material comes the same day as the House Oversight Committee is set to vote on holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to comply with a congressional subpoena to turn over the documents.
“These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in a Tuesday evening letter to House Oversight Committee chairman Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings.
“Regrettably, you have made these assertions necessary by your insistence upon scheduling a premature contempt vote,” Boyd added, claiming the committee “has failed to abide by the constitutionally mandated accommodation process” during its negotiations with the administration over the material.
The question of citizenship has not been a part of the Census for more than six decades, and has raised alarms from lawmakers and civil rights groups worried that its inclusion will disenfranchise people of color as part of a larger GOP effort to manipulate voting districts in their favor, rather than provide an accurate picture of the American population.
As part of a federal lawsuit against the citizenship question’s inclusion, lawyers for the ACLU provided documents from the late former Republican National Committee redistricting chairman-turned gerrymandering consultant Dr. Thomas Hofeller, which showed the clearest look to date at the GOP’s racist effort to use the Census to skew elections to their advantage.
“Without a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire,” Hofeller wrote in the file obtained by the ACLU, “the use of citizen voting age population is functionally unworkable.”
And, he concluded, that the effect of a citizenship question on reworking election district maps would be “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”
Subsequently, parts of Hofeller’s documents were reportedly included “word-for-word” in a Department of Justice letter to the Census Bureau over including a citizenship question the census.
Responding to the president’s assertion of executive privilege on Wednesday, Cummings stated the obvious: “It appears to be another example of the administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated responsibilities,” he continued.
The president’s decision comes one day after the House voted to allow committees to pursue enforcement of unfulfilled subpoenas in federal court.
Following Tuesday’s vote, Cummings blasted the administration as engaging in “one of the most unprecedented cover-ups since Watergate,” adding that “it is not just about Russia. This cover-up spans across numerous investigations.”
Nevertheless, Cummings has said he will postpone Wednesday’s contempt vote to allow committee members to review the president’s privilege assertion.