House Oversight panel sues Barr, Ross over census documents

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Oversight Committee sued two top Trump administration officials Tuesday for refusing to produce documents related to a decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “have not produced a single additional document” since the Supreme Court blocked the administration's efforts to include the citizenship question last June. The House later voted to hold Barr and Ross in contempt of Congress.

Maloney, who was elected oversight chair last week, said the lawsuit follows the example set by the panel’s late chairman, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Cummings “believed with all his heart that the Constitution requires Congress to ensure that the rapidly approaching Census is conducted in a professional manner that promotes accuracy, ensures integrity and is free from partisan politics — and I couldn’t agree more,’’ Maloney said.

The lawsuit marks the latest action by Democrats to use their House majority to aggressively investigate the inner workings of the Trump administration, including an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

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Controversy over the 2020 census
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: People gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after several decisions were handed down on June 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. The high court blocked a citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census for now, and in another decision ruled that the Constitution does not bar partisan gerrymandering. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: People gather in in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as decisions are handed down on June 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. The high court blocked a citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census for now, and in another decision ruled that the Constitution does not bar partisan gerrymandering. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: People gather in in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as decisions are handed down on June 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. The high court blocked a citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census for now, and in another decision ruled that the Constitution does not bar partisan gerrymandering. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, testifies before a House Appropriations Subcommittee about preparations for the upcoming 2020 Census, on April 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. The 2020 census has caused controversy as the Trump administration is pushing to include a citizenship question. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Kevin Smith, Associate Director for Information Technology at the US Census Bureau, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, Robert Goldenkoff, strategic issues director at the Government Accountability Office and Nicholas Marinos, information technology and cybersecurity director at the GAO, testify before a House Appropriations Subcommittee about preparations for the upcoming 2020 Census, on April 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. The 2020 census has caused controversy as the Trump administration is pushing to include a citizenship question. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) questions Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, as he testifies before a House Appropriations Subcommittee about preparations for the upcoming 2020 Census, on April 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. The 2020 census has caused controversy as the Trump administration is pushing to include a citizenship question. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Robert Goldenkoff, strategic issues director at the Government Accountability Office, looks on as Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testifies before a House Appropriations Subcommittee about preparations for the upcoming 2020 Census, on April 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. The 2020 census has caused controversy as the Trump administration is pushing to include a citizenship question. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. - In March 2018, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced he was going to reintroduce for the 2020 census a question on citizenship abandoned more than 60 years ago. The decision sparked an uproar among Democrats and defenders of migrants -- who have come under repeated attack from an administration that has made clamping down on illegal migration a hallmark as President Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. - In March 2018, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced he was going to reintroduce for the 2020 census a question on citizenship abandoned more than 60 years ago. The decision sparked an uproar among Democrats and defenders of migrants -- who have come under repeated attack from an administration that has made clamping down on illegal migration a hallmark as President Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. - In March 2018, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced he was going to reintroduce for the 2020 census a question on citizenship abandoned more than 60 years ago. The decision sparked an uproar among Democrats and defenders of migrants -- who have come under repeated attack from an administration that has made clamping down on illegal migration a hallmark as President Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. - In March 2018, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced he was going to reintroduce for the 2020 census a question on citizenship abandoned more than 60 years ago. The decision sparked an uproar among Democrats and defenders of migrants -- who have come under repeated attack from an administration that has made clamping down on illegal migration a hallmark as President Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump abandoned the citizenship question last summer after the Supreme Court said the administration's justification for the question "seems to have been contrived." Trump directed agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.

The Justice and Commerce departments did not immediately comment on the lawsuit, although officials have previously said the documents Democrats are demanding are subject to executive privilege.

The administration has produced more than 31,000 pages of documents to the House regarding the census issue, and senior officials from both agencies, including Ross, have spoken on the record about the matter.

Maloney said the committee has continued its investigation and obtained new documents and information from other sources.

Lawmakers need the documents being withheld by Justice and Commerce, in part, to determine whether Congress should take emergency action to protect the census from partisan political interference, Maloney said.

The census is set to begin in Alaska in January and across the country in April 2020.

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