White House told federal health agency to classify coronavirus deliberations

The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government’s response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials.

The officials said that dozens of classified discussions about such topics as the scope of infections, quarantines and travel restrictions have been held since mid-January in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), a key player in the fight against the coronavirus.

Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the interagency meetings, which included video conference calls, the sources said.

“We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go,” one official said. “These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary.”

The sources said the National Security Council (NSC), which advises the president on security issues, ordered the classification.”This came directly from the White House,” one official said.

The White House insistence on secrecy at the nation’s premier public health organization, which has not been previously disclosed, has put a lid on certain information – and potentially delayed the response to the crisis. COVID19, the disease caused by the virus, has killed about 30 people in the United States and infected more than 1,000 people.

HHS oversees a broad range of health agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which among other things is responsible for tracking cases and providing guidance nationally on the outbreaks.

The administration officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said they could not describe the interactions in the meeting room because they were classified.

An NSC spokesman did not respond to questions about the meetings at HHS. But he defended the administration’s transparency across federal agencies and noted that meetings of the administration’s task force on the coronavirus all are unclassified. It was not immediately clear which meetings he was referring to.

“From day one of the response to the coronavirus, NSC has insisted on the principle of radical transparency,” said the spokesman, John Ullyot. He added that the administration “has cut red tape and set the global standard in protecting the American people under President Trump’s leadership.”

A spokeswoman for the HHS, Katherine McKeogh, issued a statement that did not address questions about classified meetings. Using language that echoed the NSC’s, the department said it that it agreed task-force meetings should be unclassified.

Critics have hammered the Trump administration for what they see as a delayed response to coronavirus outbreaks and a lack of transparency, including sidelining experts and providing misleading or incomplete information to the public. State and local officials also have complained of being kept in the dark about essential federal response information.

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, the administration’s point person on coronavirus, vowed on March 3 to offer “real-time information in a steady pace and be fully transparent.” The vice president, appointed by President Donald Trump in late February, is holding regular news briefings and also has pledged to rely on expert guidance.

The meetings at HHS were held in a secure area called a “Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility,” or SCIF, according to the administration officials.

SCIFs are usually reserved for intelligence and military operations. Ordinary cell phones and computers can’t be brought into the chambers. HHS has SCIFs because theoretically it would play a major role in biowarfare or chemical attacks.

A high-level former official who helped address public health outbreaks in the George W. Bush administration said “it’s not normal to classify discussions about a response to a public health crisis.”

Attendees at the meetings included HHS Secretary Alex Azar and his chief of staff Brian Harrison, the officials said. Azar and Harrison resisted the classification of the meetings, the sources said.

HHS did not make Azar or Harrison available for comment.

One of the administration officials told Reuters that when complex issues about a quarantine came up, a high-ranking HHS lawyer with expertise on the issue was not admitted because he did not have the proper security clearance. His input was delayed and offered at an unclassified meeting, the official said.

A fifth source familiar with the meetings said HHS staffers often weren’t informed about coronavirus developments because they didn’t have adequate clearance. He said he was told that the matters were classified “because it had to do with China.”

The coronavirus epidemic originated in China and the administration’s main focus to prevent spread early on was to restrict travel by non-U.S. citizens coming from China and to authorize the quarantine of people entering the United States who may have been exposed to the virus.

One of the administration officials suggested the security clearances for meetings at HHS were imposed not to protect national security but to keep the information within a tight circle, to prevent leaks.

“It seemed to be a tool for the White House – for the NSC – to keep participation in these meetings low,” the official said.

[Reuters]

White House Bans Filming At Coronavirus Briefing

The Trump White House faced widespread criticism on Tuesday after Vice President Mike Pence conducted a press briefing on the coronavirus outbreak, but members of the media were not allowed to record video or audio.

The administration ― which only last week vowed to be “aggressively transparent” with the public about the spread of the virus that has now killed nine people in the U.S. ― only allowed still photographs to be taken, CNN’s Jim Acosta and other journalists in attendance tweeted. 

“I asked Pence why the Coronavirus briefing is off camera today. He said he believes the briefing will be back on cam tomorrow,” Acosta later posted, noting “the closest thing to an explanation we got” was “when Pence said Trump was on camera a bunch today.”

Obama-era White House chief photographer Pete Souza said he “can’t ever remember a time when a VP or POTUS spoke in the White House press briefing room and video/audio was prohibited.”

“It’s like they’re imploding,” added Walter Shaub, the former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

The Trump administration’s coronavirus response has been widely criticized as disorganized and slow. Trump himself has repeatedly sought to downplay the risks, sometimes with outright falsehoods.

[Huffington Post]

State Department Bars NPR Reporter from Flying with Pompeo

The State Department has denied a National Public Radio reporter a seat aboard Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s plane for an upcoming trip to Europe and Central Asia, the decision coming a few days after Pompeo lashed out at another NPR reporter.

NPR said in a statement Monday that correspondent Michele Kelemen wasn’t given a reason for being barred from the flight. The State Department declined to comment.

The State Department Correspondents’ Association said the decision to deny Kelemen a seat on Pompeo’s plane led it to conclude that “the State Department is retaliating” against NPR. The group asked the agency to reconsider and allow Kelemen to join Pompeo.

In an interview Friday, Pompeo responded testily when NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly asked him about Ukraine and, specifically, whether he defended or should have defended Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador in Kyiv whose ouster figured in President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

Kelly said that after the NPR interview she was taken to Pompeo’s private living room, where he shouted at her “for about the same amount of time as the interview itself” and cursed repeatedly.

Pompeo responded Saturday that Kelly had “lied” to him, and he called her conduct “shameful.” NPR said it stood by Kelly’s reporting.

In its statement Monday, the correspondents’ group said Kelemen “is a consummate professional who has covered the State Department for nearly two decades. We respectfully ask the State Department to reconsider and allow Michele to travel on the plane for this trip.”

Ben Wizner, director of the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement: “The State Department cannot retaliate against a news outlet because one of its reporters asked tough questions. It is the job of reporters to ask the tough questions, not be polite company.”

[Snopes]

Trump Wants to Keep Secret Service Travel Bill Out of Public View

The White House is desperately trying to keep President Donald Trump‘s exceptionally hefty Secret Service bill from being released in full to the public–at least not before the 2020 presidential election.

According to the Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is attempting to negotiate an embargo on that information. Congressional Democrats, however, are insisting that the total amount of money spent by the public on Trump’s travels be released.

Those fierce discussions are reportedly being held in the context of a draft bill that would return the Secret Service to the purview of the Treasury Department–the traditional umbrella agency for the aptly-named law enforcement and computer crimes organization tasked with guarding the president and his family as well as other high-profile members of the U.S. government.

Founded by infamously violent union-buster Allan Pinkerton in 1865, the Secret Service initially served to combat the counterfeiting of U.S. currency. In 2003, control over the agency was gifted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of the fallout from the September 11, 2001 attacks and the so-called “War on Terror.”

Mnuchin has been itching to return the Secret Service to its original home for some time and Democrats have been more than happy to oblige that request.

But congressional Democrats have one major condition: the Secret Service would have to disclose the full amount of taxpayer dollars spent on protecting Trump and his family–including his adult children Ivanka TrumpJared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.–during their frequent travels within 120 days of the bill’s passage.

Mnuchin has reportedly attempted to meet the Democrats in the middle and agreed to such disclosures on a relaxed timeline. The Mnuchin-supplied timeline, perhaps not entirely so curiously, would have the cost disclosure occur only after the 2020 election. The timing dust-up has been a point of serious contention.

Per the Post‘s report:

In a statement, the Treasury Department confirmed that Mnuchin has been working with Secret Service Director James Murray and congressional committees on a bill to transfer the Secret Service from the Department of Homeland Security to Treasury, but did not address the dispute about the reporting requirement.

“Conversations about the return of the Secret Service to the Treasury Department are ongoing, and we decline to comment on individual aspects of those conversations,”an anonymous Treasury official told the outlet.

But Democrats are said to be adamant and insist that the public has a right to know how much they’re paying for the Trump family’s repeat travels to their personally-owned hotels and golf resorts in Florida and New Jersey.

Why all the concern? Democrats likely view the information as an effective and useful political prize; the White House an onerous liability and embarrassment.

As Law&Crime previously reported, President Trump’s extensive golf habit has already cost the public far in excess what former president Barack Obama’s did—and Trump accomplished that feat in a stunning three years compared to Obama’s eight.

As of 2020, Trump’s golf habit alone has cost taxpayers in the ballpark of some $115 million. During Obama’s presidency, the former first family spent roughly $114 million in public funds on travel total.

As noted, Obama golfed quite a bit as well—and was often taken to task for indulgence in the country club sport.

But the Secret Service travel tab for Trump is seen as particularly problematic because he was one of Obama’s biggest critics on the golf front—using it as an attack line during the 2016 presidential election—and insisted he’d largely abandon the game if elected.

“I love golf,” then-candidate Trump told a Florida crowd in 2016, “but if I were in the White House, I don’t think I’d ever see Turnberry again. I don’t ever think I’d see Doral again. I own Doral in Miami. I don’t think I’d ever see many of the places that I have. I don’t really ever think I’d see anything–I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off and make great deals.”

Now one of those would-be deals is an effort to keep his publicly-subsidized golf games on the down low.

[Law and Crime]

Republicans Block FEC From Publishing Rule On Foreign Election Interference

FEC Chair Ellen L Weintraub had to tweet out the entire FEC weekly digest after Republicans blocked her from publishing it because it contained a draft rule banning foreign election interference.

Weintraub tweeted:

Here is the summary of the draft rulethat Republicans blocked from publication, “The Federal Election Commission is summarizing its interpretation of the prohibition on foreign national contributions, donations, expenditures, and disbursements in connection with a federal, state, or local election, as well as the prohibition on soliciting, accepting, or receiving a contribution from a foreign national, under the Federal Election Campaign Act and Commission regulations.”

To summarize, a Republican FEC commissioner blocked the publication of the commission’s entire weekly digest, because he did not want the draft rule on banning foreign nationals from donating and candidates from accepting their donations and assistance to be printed.

Donald Trump isn’t the only Republican who is taking help from foreign nationals. At some point, the American people are going to find out that the Republican Party runs on illegal foreign money. 

It is becoming clear that Republicans might not be able to win elections without illegal foreign cash, and keep the money coming they will try to silence any elements big or small who try to enforce or educate about the law.

[Politics USA]

White House press secretary says daily briefings aren’t coming back any time soon

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Monday that she is not likely to conduct a White House press briefing anytime in the near future, deriding the once-regular sessions as an act of “theater” for reporters seeking “to get famous” during the televised news conferences.

“Not right now,” Grisham told the hosts of “Fox & Friends,” when asked whether the White House will resume its daily press briefing, a longstanding practice under President Donald Trump’s predecessors.

“I mean, ultimately, if the president decides that it’s something we should do, we can do that, but right now he’s doing just fine,” she continued. “And to be honest, the briefings have become a lot of theater. And I think that a lot of reporters were doing it to get famous. I mean, yeah, they’re writing books now. I mean, they’re all getting famous off of this presidency. And so, I think it’s great what we’re doing now.”

Grisham, who has rarely participated in on-camera interviews since becoming press secretary in June, praised her boss as “his own best spokesperson” and claimed he is “the most accessible president in history, as all of the media knows” — citing Trump’s frequent informal gaggles with the White House press corps.

Grisham also suggested that reporters’ criticisms of the president’s previous press secretaries, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, played a role in Trump’s decision to discontinue the briefings.

“I think that it’s so important that, you know, the spokesperson for the president can adequately speak to his policies and get his message out there, and I think the president saw that that’s not what was happening,” she said. “It had become, again, theater, and they weren’t being good to his people. And he doesn’t like that. He’s very loyal to his people, and he put a stop to it.”

Spicer was widely mocked for his combative and sometimes stumbling performances during the daily White House news briefings, which memorably became a subject of parody by actress Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live.”

Sanders oversaw the end of the daily briefings amid mounting questions from journalists regarding her credibility. She opted to develop a regular presence on cable news programs, especially “Fox & Friends,” where she would bludgeon the president’s detractors.

Grisham has been largely reluctant to advocate on-air for the administration’s priorities, but she weighed in Monday on the controversy surrounding Trump’s summer conversation with Ukraine’s president that is quickly consuming the White House and Capitol Hill.

“The president made it very clear he did absolutely nothing wrong. This is just another reason for Democrats and for the media to attack and look for things that just aren’t there,” she said.

The Wall Street Journal initially reported on Friday that Trump urged newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy roughly eight times during a July 25 phone call to work with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.

Trump confirmed Sunday that he discussed Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, during his call with Zelenskiy.

“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place,” he told reporters outside the White House. “Was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”

[Politico]

Trump sues Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance over subpoena for his tax returns

President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Thursday against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who subpoenaed Trump’s accounting firm for eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns earlier this month.

The subpoena stems from Vance’s criminal investigation into the Trump Organization about hush money payments made to two women who have alleged affairs with the president. Trump has strongly denied the affairs.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, names Vance and the president’s tax preparer, Mazars USA, as defendants. It argues that the Manhattan district attorney should not receive Trump’s tax returns because “‘[v]irtually all legal commenters agree’ that a sitting President of the United States is not ‘subject to the criminal process’ while he is in office.”

“The framers of our Constitution understood that state and local prosecutors would be tempted to criminally investigate the President to advance their own careers and to advance their political agendas,” the lawsuit adds. “And they likewise understood that having to defend against these actions would distract the President from his constitutional duties. That is why the Framers eliminated this possibility and assigned the task to supermajorities of Congress acting with the imprimatur of the nation as a whole.”

Jay Sekulow, the president’s lawyer, commented on the constitutionality of Vance’s probe in a statement Thursday, saying, “In response to the subpoenas issued by the New York County District Attorney, we have filed a lawsuit this morning in Federal Court on behalf of the President in order to address the significant constitutional issues at stake in this case.”

Vance’s spokesman Danny Frost said in response to the lawsuit,”We have received the plaintiff’s complaint and will respond as appropriate in court. We will have no further comment as this process unfolds in court.”

Vance’s office is probing hush money payments made during the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom have alleged affairs with Trump, which he has denied.

In addition to Trump’s company, Vance’s office has also subpoenaed the publisher of the National Enquirer, The New York Times has reported. The publication was involved in negotiations with adult Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Giffords, and paid $150,000 to silence McDougal, according to federal prosecutors.

The president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, admitted in August of last year to making an illegal $130,000 payment to Daniels in order to keep her quiet in the days ahead of the 2016 election. Cohen is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion, bank fraud, breaking campaign finance laws with the hush money payments, and lying to Congress.

Prior to his congressional testimony earlier this year, Cohen released copies of two checks with the president’s signature, which he said was used to reimburse him for his payment to Daniels. NBC News has previously reported that Cohen was cooperating with prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Last year, American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, entered into a nonprosecution agreement with federal prosecutors and admitted that it worked with the Trump campaign to buy the rights to the women’s stories in order to silence them. The practice, known in the industry as “catch-and-kill,” involves paying for the exclusive rights to stories with the intention of never actually publishing them.

At his sentencing last year, Cohen said that “time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up [Trump’s] dirty deeds.”

Trump tweeted after the sentencing that he “never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid.”

[NBC News]

Trump attacks actress Debra Messing after she pushed to out his donors

President Donald Trump on Thursday amplified accusations of McCarthyism leveled at actress Debra Messing after the “Will & Grace” star made a public plea for a list of Trump donors in Hollywood and disparaged black Trump voters. 

“Bad ‘actress’ Debra The Mess Messing is in hot water,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets, claiming Messing wants to create a “‘Blacklist’ of Trump supporters, & is being accused of McCarthyism.”

Last week, Messing stoked controversy when she reposted a news article about an upcoming Trump fundraiser in Beverly Hills, Calif., asking for a list of attendees. Her “Will & Grace” co-star Eric McCormack echoed the call, saying he wanted to be aware of who he no longer wants to work with. 

Amid backlash from both sides of the aisle who argued that the pair were unfairly targeting private individuals and promoting intolerance of different political views, Messing defended her plea earlier this week. 

Noting that political donations are public, she denied ever calling for a blacklist of Trump donors in Hollywood but argued that “I as a consumer want to know where MY Money is going when I pay for entertainment” and that Trump voters similarly are free to choose not to watch her show. 

Trump also seized on a separate tweet from Messing that sparked a firestorm this week, one in which she applauded a sign in front of an Alabama church suggesting black voters who supported the president had mental illnesses. Messing on Wednesday apologized, tweeting that she regrets “recklessly” sharing the sign.

Her apology came as #RacistDebraMessing trended on Twitter. “The use of the term ‘mentally ill’ was wrong & hurtful,” she wrote of the church sign, though she doubled down on her criticism of incendiary rhetoric from Trump and his supporters. Trump on Thursday slammed the “terrible things she said about blacks and mental illness.”

The president also complained Wednesday that there was a double standard at play, invoking actress Roseanne Barr, a vocal supporter of the president who was fired from her eponymous sitcom reboot last year for making racist comments about a former Obama aide.

“If Roseanne Barr said what she did, even being on a much higher rated show, she would have been thrown off television,” Trump contended, noting Barr’s firing and asking whether “Fake News NBC allow a McCarthy style Racist to continue?”

[Politico]

Reality

Donald Trump promised his supporters greater transparency, but when actresses Debra Messing suggested releasing the names of his donors at a private Beverly Hills fundraiser filled with the same elites he claims to be against, he attacked Messing.

Trump administration invokes privilege again, blocks intel committee from classified Mueller docs

The Trump administration has been quietly engaged in an escalating tug-of-war with the House and Senate intelligence committees over sensitive documents from the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, the latest in a series of attempts to stymie Congress, including with claims of executive privilege, sources have told ABC News.

“The scope of confidentiality interests being asserted by the executive branch is breathtaking,” said Andrew M. Wright, an expert on executive privilege who served as a congressional investigator and as a White House attorney in two Democratic administrations. As is “the lack of accommodation and compromise,” he added.

Members of the Senate intelligence committee sent a letter in mid-April to the CIA and other covert agencies asking them to share copies of all the materials they had provided to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over the course of their 22-month investigation, according to sources familiar with the request. The requests were referred by the intelligence agencies to the Department of Justice, which has custody of all of the records gathered as part of the Mueller probe.

Though Mueller’s report does not discuss the classified intelligence gathered during the investigation, congressional investigators believe the team was given access to a range of materials that could include intercepts, secretive source interviews, and material shared by the spy agencies of other foreign governments.

More than three months later, the attorney general’s office has still not produced them. Sources told ABC News that Justice Department officials have argued that they are, for now, shielded by the same blanket privilege they initially asserted in response to a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee for the entire trove of special counsel records.

Trump administration attorneys declined to comment on the matter, and the Department of Justice has not responded to questions. Experts said the response was part of a pattern.

A spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee said the DOJ did produce a subset of underlying documents related to the special counsel’s investigation to their members for review, “although it has failed in recent weeks, despite repeated requests, to produce key materials central to the Committee’s oversight work.”

The House committee said Justice Department lawyers did not invoke privilege with them when refusing the requests. “None would be warranted given the Committee’s jurisdiction,” a committee spokesman said. “The Committee remains engaged with DOJ to ensure it complies fully and completely with the Committee’s duly authorized subpoena.”

Experts have been monitoring the conflict between branches as it has escalated.

“The way the administration has been using executive privilege has been extraordinary,” said Steven Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall Law School and a co-founder and co-editor of the Constitutional Law Prof Blog. “It’s a level of non-cooperation with Congress that has been striking. We’ve never seen it to this degree.”

Congress and the White House have been locked in a range of disputes over records and testimony that the administration has withheld – covering a variety of subjects that includes the president’s personal finances, his tax returns and the administration’s policy on the census. Just Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt over their refusal to produce documents concerning the addition of a citizenship question to the census.

In May, the Trump administration invoked executive privilege for the first time in response to the request from Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, for the un-redacted Mueller report and the entire trove of investigative documents.

“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the attorney general’s request, the president has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,” then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the time that members of Congress were exercising their proper authority to review the Mueller material on behalf of their constituents.

“This is not about Congress or any committee of Congress,” Pelosi told ABC News at the time. “It’s about the American people and their right to know and their election that is at stake and that a foreign government intervened in our election and the president thinks it is a laughing matter.”

This latest stalemate – over sensitive materials gathered in connection with the 2016 elections — has frustrated leaders on the intelligence committees, sources told ABC News. In part, that is because the committees have sweeping oversight powers when it comes to the secretive agencies. The National Security Act says “congressional intelligence committees [must] be kept fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.”

The congressional committees have invoked such powers during a range of sensitive probes. Congress fought for and received intelligence documents during its investigation into the Iran-Contra affair during the late 1980s. And more recently, the senate prevailed during a review of allegations that the agencies engaged in torture during the interrogation of terror suspects. After a protracted fight, the senate received the documents and drafted its scathing report.

One Trump administration source familiar with the matter told ABC News that the stand-off is temporary – with the response to the intelligence committee on hold until the Department of Justice finishes releasing Mueller-related materials to the Judiciary Committee.

In early June, the DOJ and House Judiciary Committee reached an agreement allowing committee members access to some of the documents that underpinned Mueller’s investigation of possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. Members and some committee staff were also allowed to see a less-redacted version of the full Mueller report, with the exception of grand jury material that was included.

The DOJ is in the midst of reviewing the special counsel documents, and under an agreement with the Judiciary Committee, has pledged to turn over documents they believe do not run afoul of their assertions of privilege.

As the review process for the House Judiciary Committee grinds forward, an administration official familiar with the effort said that may free up some of the documents in the subset of materials requested by the intelligence committees. But, the source said, the intelligence request will have to wait until the negotiations with Judiciary are resolved.

Congressional sources told ABC News they believe Justice Department officials have no grounds to hold the intelligence records, and are merely stalling.

Experts said the stand-offs between branches of government may ultimately force the third branch of government – the judiciary – to get involved.

“A lot of it is going to get resolved in court,” said Wright, the expert on executive privilege who served in two Democratic administrations. “But some may only get resolved at the ballot box.”

[ABC News]

Trump asserts executive privilege over subpoenaed census docs

President Trump has asserted executive privilege over congressionally subpoenaed documents on the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

The announcement comes as the House Oversight and Reform Committee is set to vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas for the documents.

“By proceeding with today’s vote, you have abandoned the accommodation process with respect to your requests and subpoenas for documents concerning the secretary’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

“The executive branch has engaged in good-faith efforts to satisfy the legislative needs of the committee. Moreover, until the committee’s abrupt decision to seek a contempt resolution, the department was prepared to provide a significant number of additional documents responsive to the committee’s April 2, 2019 subpoena.” 

“Unfortunately, rather than allowing the department to complete its document production, you have chosen to go forward with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote.”

Boyd wrote that Trump has asserted executive privilege over some of the subpoenaed documents, including drafts of a letter sent from the Justice Department to Commerce Department officials requesting that the citizenship question be added to the 2020 census.

Cummings blasted the administration over the assertion, saying that he has been asking for the documents at hand for more than a year and questioning why the departments didn’t send their letters until moments before the vote was scheduled to be held.

“This does not appear to be an effort to engage in good faith negotiations or accommodations,” he said.

The chairman said that he would delay the contempt vote until this afternoon to allow members to review the letters on executive privilege.

The announcement came one day after Boyd sent a separate letter to Cummings, warning that executive privilege would be invoked if the House panel moved forward with the contempt votes for Barr and Ross. The Justice Department official also asked Cummings to delay the vote as Trump weighs whether the documents fall under the scope of executive privilege.

“As I indicated in my letter to you yesterday, this protective assertion ensures the president’s ability to make a final decision whether to assert privilege following a full review of these materials,” Boyd wrote Wednesday.

The Commerce Department on Wednesday also sent Cummings a letter notifying him that Trump has asserted executive privilege over some of the documents subpoenaed from that agency.

“The department regrets that you have made this assertion necessary by your insistence upon scheduling a premature contempt vote,” wrote Charles Rathburn, the acting assistant secretary for legislative and intergovernmental affairs at the Commerce Department.

In a letter sent Tuesday night, Cummings offered to delay the contempt vote if the two agencies handed over unredacted copies of certain documents requested by the lawmakers.

Boyd wrote in the letter Wednesday that 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.”

Wednesday’s move is the latest effort by the White House to assert executive privilege over documents sought by Democrats investigating Trump and his administration.

[The Hill]

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