The Justice Department informed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday that it will not prosecute Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for defying congressional subpoenas.
Last week, the House voted to hold both men in criminal contempt of Congress for failing to provide a number of requested documents related to the Trump administration’s desire to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen wrote in a letter to Pelosi (D-Calif.) that the president had exerted executive privilege over certain documents. The White House has also cited executive privilege to deny Congress key witnesses in their various investigations of Trump-related issues.
“The Department of Justice’s long-standing 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,” Rosen wrote.
The secretaries’ actions “did not constitute a crime,” he said.
Democrats have accused the administration of impeding its investigations. On the census issue, Democrats have accused the administration of political motives, saying that adding a citizenship question to the decennial survey could benefit Republicans in redistricting decisions by causing an undercount of Latinos and scaring immigrants from filling out the census.
The administration has argued that the question is needed to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.
Trump was forced to abandon his effort this month after the Supreme Court blocked his administration from adding the question to the 2020 Census, calling his rationale for such a move “contrived.” The president said he would instead instruct all federal agencies to compile any data they have on people’s citizenship to create a database.
The decision by the Justice Department not to prosecute Barr and Ross was not unexpected, which is why Republicans accused Democrats of holding the vote for show.
But in 2012, the GOP-led House voted to hold President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., in contempt of Congress for not releasing subpoenaed documents. The Justice Department did not move to prosecute Holder.