President Donald Trump has asserted executive privilege over documents that address his administration’s plan to add a question about a person’s citizenship to the 2020 Census.
“These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege,” Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter June 12 to House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) published by the left-leaning Axios website.
“In addition, the president has made a protective assertion of executive privilege over the remainder of the subpoenaed documents.”
The department criticized the committee’s scheduled vote on holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt, calling it “unnecessary and premature.” It said that it requested Cummings to postpone the vote to “permit the accommodation process to continue,” but was told late Tuesday the request was rejected.
The vote was scheduled for Wednesday.
“You offered the department until 9 p.m. last night to agree to produce, by today, unredacted copies of the priority documents identified in items 1 and 2 of the schedules for the subpoenas,” Boyd wrote. “But the department has explained to the committee on several occasions that these identified documents consist of attorney-client communications, attorney work product, and deliberative communications, and a federal court has already held many of these documents to be privileged in litigation.”
The department said that it had made efforts to accommodate the committee, including making Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore available for an additional interview and giving the committee “tens of thousands of additional pages of documents we have identified as responsive to the subpoena.”
“By proceeding with today’s vote, you have abandoned the accommodation process,” Boyd wrote.
Barr had written a letter to the president on June 11 requesting that Trump assert executive privilege.
Ross announced in 2018 plans to add a question to the census that would ask the person if they were a legal citizen of the United States. The question was on the census for over a century before being removed in the mid-1900s.
A federal judge ruled in February that the citizenship question was allowed on the census. A different judge blocked the question from being added, which prompted a review by the Supreme Court, which said in February it would do an expedited review of the ruling.
A ruling was expected in June.
Supreme Court justices indicated in April that they were split on adding the question to the census.
Liberal-leaning justices seemed opposed to including the question, including Obama-appointed Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
“For 65 years, every secretary of the Department of Commerce, every statistician, including this secretary’s statistician, recommended against adding the question,” the justice said. “So it may be that 200 years of asking a citizenship question in other forms may be true, but not on the short survey. That’s what’s at issue here.”
Conservative-leaning justices appeared comfortable with the potential inclusion of the citizenship question.
“It’s not like this question, or anybody in the room is suggesting the question is improper to ask in some way, shape, or form,” Justice Neil Gorsuch, appointed by Trump, said.
Along the same lines, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the question was “very common” internationally and that federal law grants the Commerce Department “huge discretion” over how the census is carried out.