November 26, 2019 / 4:22 PM / 13 days ago

U.S. House panel sues Barr, Ross seeking to enforce Census probe subpoenas

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr at the "2019 Prison Reform Summit" in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Democrats filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday seeking to enforce subpoenas against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as part of their investigation into the Trump administration’s handling of the U.S. 2020 Census.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee in July held Barr and Ross in criminal contempt for defying the panel’s subpoenas as lawmakers probe the administration’s attempt to add a controversial citizenship question to the government’s population count.

Since then, Barr and Ross “have doubled down on their open defiance of the rule of law and refused to produce even a single additional document in response to our Committee’s bipartisan subpoenas,” Representative Carolyn Maloney, the panel’s chairwoman, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

House Democrats are investigating Trump’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the decennial census that critics said would discriminate against racial minorities. The survey, conducted every 10 years, is used to allocate federal funding and political representation, among other administrative actions.

Trump had planned to use an executive order to add the question to the census after the U.S. Supreme Court in June blocked his effort to add it, but he later dropped the idea.

A Commerce Department representative said in a statement that the lawsuit “lacks merit” and the department has “cooperated in good faith with the committee.”

The clash is one of several power struggles between Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, and the Republican president, who has vowed not to cooperate with congressional oversight.

The lawsuit comes one day after a federal judge rejected the Trump administration’s claim of broad immunity protecting current and former senior White House officials from being compelled to testify before Congress, saying no one is above the law.

House Democrats are leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s handling of Ukraine as well as other probes, including possible obstruction of the federal probe into Russian political interference in 2016, Trump’s finances and any potential conflicts of interest, and others.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler

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