The Justice and Commerce departments denied an order from a House committee for more documents about the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, all but ensuring that the House will hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress.
In a letter to Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., on Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the agency had tried to be accommodating to the panel, and described as "premature" a vote on contempt over the department's refusal to comply with this demand.
The Justice Department said that certain documents the Democrats subpoenaed are protected by attorney-client privilege and therefore cannot be released. Cummings had given the agency until 5 p.m. Thursday to produce them or he would schedule a vote to hold Barr in contempt.
The Commerce Department later said that it was also rejecting the committee's demands and accused the committee of "playing politics," according to a statement obtained by Politico.
Several weeks ago, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt for refusing to release special counsel Robert Mueller III's report in full and without redactions.
Boyd wrote that the department already gave the committee 17,000 pages of documents and has made witnesses available.
The census question is the focus of one of the many House investigations into President Donald Trump and his administration. The White House has said it will not comply with committee subpoenas.
Democrats have accused the administration of adding the citizenship question to scare immigrants away from responding to the decennial survey, the results of which are used to guide congressional redistricting and the number of representatives a state gets in Congress.
Despite Trump administration officials' denials, evidence revealed last week suggests that the question was added as a way to give an electoral advantage to Republicans and white voters.
A consortium of states, cities and civil rights groups sued over the citizenship question, and three federal judges struck it down.
The Supreme Court heard the case in April.
Boyd cited the ongoing litigation as an added challenge.
In addition to the documents it wanted, the Oversight panel also subpoenaed Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore to testify.
In March, Gore met with the Oversight Committee, but Cummings said he refused to answer more than 150 questions, citing the litigation over the census question. Boyd said the Justice Department has offered to make Gore available to the committee again if counsel from the agency also can attend.
This article was written by Colby Itkowitz, a reporter for The Washington Post.