The Justice Department has declined to prosecute Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for allegedly stonewalling congressional probes into the Trump administration's efforts to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census, the agency said Wednesday.
The House last week voted mostly along party lines, 230-198, to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for defying congressional subpoenas, in a largely symbolic effort. House Democrats were seeking information about Trump's efforts to add the controversial question.
Trump asserted executive privilege and told Barr and Ross not to release certain documents in response to the subpoenas from the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
President Trump, joined by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, left, and Attorney General William Barr, speaks during an event about the census in the Rose Garden this month. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
"The Department of Justice's longstanding 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," Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a Wednesday letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Democrats have accused the Trump administration of lying about the origin of the citizenship question. Critics of the question have suggested it was intended to discourage immigrant participation in the census, affecting the population figures that determine legislative representation.
Neither Pelosi nor House Oversight and Reform Committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., immediately responded to Fox News for comment Wednesday.
Rosen said the DOJ has taken the same position across several administrations. He cited a 2008 case in which the agency declined to prosecute Joshua Bolten and Harriet Miers, two high-ranking Bush administration officials who refused to testify before a panel investigating the firing of several U.S. attorneys.
Bush directed Bolten, then the White House chief of staff, and Miers, White House counsel, not to release certain documents or to provide certain testimony related to a congressional subpoena.
The department took a similar position in 2012 when former President Barack Obama directed Attorney General Eric Holder to withhold certain documents related to the government gun-running project, dubbed Operation Fast and Furious.
In accordance with the policy, the department determined the responses by Barr and Ross to the subpoenas "did not constitute a crime," Rosen said.
The Supreme Court last month blocked the Commerce Department from adding the citizenship question.
Trump said earlier this month he would issue an executive order to get an accurate count of non-citizens and citizens in the U.S.