The Department of Justice has decline to bring criminal charges against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
The news comes following the House of Representatives’ vote to hold the two in criminal contempt.
The House’s Oversight Committee, along with the Government Reform Committee, authorized subpoenas in April demanding further information on President Trump’s plans on including a citizenship question on the 2020 census. Both Barr and Ross refused to comply with the documents, and the president asserted executive privilege over the census documents. Barr and Ross’s refusal resulted in a party line vote in the Oversight Committee to hold the men in contempt. The vote was sent to the House (which is currently Democrat held), which voted last month to uphold the Committee’s vote to hold Barr and Ross in contempt.
The Supreme Court ultimately killed President Trump’s plans to include a citizenship question on the census. In response, Trump opted to instead sign an executive order enabling him to collect citizenship information from various government institutions.
The Justice Department was not expected to bring charges against the Attorney General. In a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Deputy Attorney General Jeffery Rosen wrote that the Department of Justice has “consistently adhered to the position that ‘the contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an Executive Branch official who asserts the President’s claim of executive privilege”, citing multiple examples of the DOJ taking a similar stance during the administrations of Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
“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 reiterated. As Trump had passed an executive order allowing him access to citizenship status through different avenues, he is considered by the Justice Department to have been “asserting executive privilege”—making the requests for subpoenas effectively moot, as the Supreme Court shot down plans to include a citizenship question on the census.
If the subpoenas are moot, the Justice Department reasons, there is no reason to hold Attorney General Barr and Commerce Secretary Ross in contempt-they have, effectively, done nothing wrong.
It was expected that the Justice Department would decline to press charges against the Attorney General, who oversees the department, and Secretary Ross.
A representative for the Oversight Committee declined to offer comment.