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House Oversight holds AG Barr, Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress

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WASHINGTON — The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted Wednesday to hold Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas relating to the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 United States Census, ramping up pressure on more Trump administration officials who are refusing to cooperate with investigations.

Barr had already been the subject of a civil contempt resolution that passed the House on Tuesday and Ross marks another cabinet level official to be reprimanded by House Democrats.

The committee voted 24-15, with Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan as the sole Republican vote in favor of holding Barr and Ross in contempt.

Read more: The Mueller probe is over, but here are 6 active congressional investigations into Trump

The next steps include a full vote on the House floor. Unlike the civil contempt vote for Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn that passed on Tuesday, the resolution from the oversight committee includes both civil and criminal contempt.

If the Trump administration wants to avoid the criminal contempt for two cabinet level officials, they could try to strike a deal with the committee.

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the chairman of the Oversight Committee, said in a Monday statement the contempt resolution for Barr and Ross were necessary because the administration has been in engaging in a “cover-up.”

“I did not want this to happen. I asked Secretary Ross to meet with me personally to try to resolve this impasse, but he refused,” Cummings said. “Both Secretary Ross and Attorney General Barr are refusing to comply with duly authorized subpoenas from Congress.

“Because they are in contempt of Congress, on Wednesday, the Committee will vote to move forward to enforce our bipartisan subpoenas,” he added. “I continue to hope that they will change course and begin producing the information we need to do our job under the Constitution.”

Read more: The House just voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn in civil contempt

Wednesday’s move comes as Congress faces an unprecedented level of stonewalling from the White House and other executive branch entities.

In addition to Barr, Ross, and McGahn, the White House has also instructed former White House communications director Hope Hicks and former McGahn aide Annie Donaldson not to comply with subpoenas for documents and testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

The oversight committee, meanwhile, is in the midst of a court fight with Trump over a subpoena to his accounting firm, Mazars USA, for financial records dating back years. A federal judge ruled last month to allow the subpoena to move forward, prompting the president’s lawyers to appeal the ruling.

The Trump Organization is also fighting a joint subpoena to Deutsche Bank from the House intelligence and financial services committees. And the House Ways and Means Committee is currently engaged in a tug-of-war with the US Treasury Department in an effort to obtain Trump’s tax returns. Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin refused to hand over the records to Congress, and the move will likely prompt another court fight.

Read more: Republican Rep. Justin Amash steps down from the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus after calling for Trump’s impeachment

White House counsel Pat Cipollone also recently told the House Judiciary Committee the White House will not comply with a sprawling investigation into various aspects of Trump’s dealings — including his campaign, administration, inaugural committee, businesses, and personal finances — because it views the inquiry as an attempt to “harass” the president.

But the Justice Department has caved somewhat to mounting political and public pressure. Earlier this month, it agreed to begin turning over 12 categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence documents to the House Intelligence Committee related to the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

And on Monday, the department agreed to turn over some of the key evidence underlying Mueller’s obstruction case to the House Judiciary Committee. The Daily Beast reported, however, that the White House will get to review the evidence first and decide what the committee gets to see.

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