Democrats Threaten Contempt for Trump’s Defiance of Subpoenas

April 25, 2019 by Tom Ramstack

Democratic members of Congress threatened a contempt citation Wednesday against a Trump administration official who refused to testify this week on an immigration question for the 2020 Census.

John Gore, an assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, was subpoenaed to appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee Thursday.

Democrats are concerned a proposed question to ask the citizenship status of all U.S. residents would result in an undercount of the population.

They say the question is likely to discourage illegal immigrants from participating in the census out of fear of being deported. The result could mean states with large numbers of immigrants lack the representation in Congress they are due by their population counts.

The Trump administration defends the question as part of its constitutional authorization to track population trends.

Instead of appearing for the congressional hearing, the Justice Department announced Wednesday Gore would defy the subpoena.

“In keeping with longstanding Department of Justice policy, neither Mr. Gore nor anyone else in the Department will be forced to testify in their capacity as a DOJ official on DOJ matters without DOJ counsel,” a Justice Department statement said.

The same congressional committee subpoenaed White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline for a hearing Tuesday on questionable authorizations for security clearances. He also refused to appear.

Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., accused the White House of trying to “stonewall” Congress.

“The White House and Mr. Kline now stand in open defiance of a duly authorized congressional subpoena with no assertion of any privilege of any kind by President Trump,” Cummings said in a statement this week. “Based on these actions, it appears that the president believes that the Constitution does not apply to his White House, that he may order officials at will to violate their legal obligations and that he may obstruct attempts by Congress to conduct oversight.”

He said he is investigating further enforcement action in response to the defiance of the subpoenas by Kline and Gore.

Similar heated rhetoric ran through a U.S. Supreme Court hearing Tuesday when Justice Department attorneys argued in favor of including the immigration question on the 2020 Census, which is scheduled to be delivered to households nationwide next April.

The Trump administration attorneys say an immigration question is needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. By knowing the residences of immigrants, the government can better protect the voting rights of new citizens, according to the attorneys.

The argument was rejected by three federal courts before reaching an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

Conservative Supreme Court justices did not say much during the hearing, perhaps indicating they had few disagreements with the Trump administration’s immigration question. Liberal justices asked questions about the risk of an undercount.

President Donald Trump has dismissed the court challenges and congressional hearings into the census as politically-motivated rather than a judicial question.

He also left no doubt that he endorses the refusal of his subordinates to testify before Congress.

“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Trump told the news media outside the White House on Wednesday. “Look, these are not like impartial people.”

He added, “I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country so far.”

Justice Department officials said one of the most vexing parts of the subpoena for assistant attorney general Gore was the demand by Congress that he appear unaccompanied by counsel.

“We are disappointed that the committee remains unwilling to permit department counsel to represent the interests of the executive branch in the deposition of a senior department official,” the Justice Department statement said. “Accordingly, Attorney General Barr’s determination that Mr. Gore will not appear at the committee’s deposition unless a department attorney may accompany him remains in effect.”

Justice Department officials said a refusal to testify to Congress was a matter of discretion for the executive branch of government.

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