Washington: The U.S. Justice Department will not pursue criminal charges against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, after Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to hold them in contempt in a dispute over documents concerning whether to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
In a letter on Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that responses Barr and Ross made in response to congressional subpoenas over the Census issue “did not constitute a crime.”
“Accordingly, the department will not bring the congressional contempt citations before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General or the Secretary,” he added.
Lawmakers never expected the Justice Department to prosecute its own leader and another cabinet official, but Rosen’s letter represented the department’s formal response to a House vote that, in effect, referred Barr and Ross for criminal prosecution.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee subpoenaed both departments earlier this year as part of its investigation into the origins of efforts to add a citizenship question to the census. The Justice and Commerce departments refused to provide the documents requested, and President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege to block the release of those materials.
“The Department of Justice’s long-standing position is that we will not prosecute an official for contempt of Congress for declining to provide information subject to a presidential assertion of executive privilege,” Rosen wrote in his two-page letter to Pelosi.
It remains unclear if the House will go to court to enforce the Oversight Committee’s subpoenas.
The Supreme Court last month blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and Trump ultimately backed down from the effort after flirting with an executive order.