Congrats To William Barr And Wilbur Ross, Who Were Held In Criminal Contempt On Wednesday

The White House isn’t happy.

“[This is] ridiculous and yet another lawless attempt to harass the president and his administration”, a statement issued on Wednesday evening reads.

The problem: The House voted to hold William Barr and Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt over their refusal to produce documents related to the president’s ill-fated effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The vote was 230-198. At issue is Barr and Ross’s obstinance in the face of subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee. In addition to refusing document requests, Barr instructed a subordinate at the Justice Department not to testify. You know, just your standard, run-of-the- mill obstruction on the part of the Trump administration. Nothing anybody should get all worked up about.

Four Democrats voted against the resolution. Justin Amash – who is quickly becoming Republicans’ least favorite person other than AOC – voted for it, just like he voted for Tuesday’s resolution condemning Trump’s controversial weekend tweets.

The White House is right about one thing – the move is largely “ridiculous” because the Justice Department isn’t going to sue Barr. And that just underscores the notion that the administration is, for all intents and purposes, above the law. The checks and balances have virtually no meaning. Consider this, for instance, from a 2017 report by the Congressional Research Service:

Congress faces a number of obstacles in any attempt to enforce a subpoena issued against an executive branch official through the criminal contempt statute. Although the courts have reaffirmed Congress’s constitutional authority to issue and enforce subpoenas, efforts to punish an executive branch official for non-compliance with a subpoena through criminal contempt will likely prove unavailing in many, if not most circumstances.

Wednesday’s proceedings mark the first time the full chamber has voted on criminal contempt for administration officials since the midterms flipped the House.

As for Ross, he woke up long enough to call the vote “a PR stunt”. The Commerce secretary spent some of Wednesday’s waking hours refuting “rumors” that Trump is on the verge of ousting him following the census debacle. Ross’s exit has been in the rumor mill for months, so don’t be surprised to see Trump thanking Wilbur for his services on Twitter sometime soon.

Ahead of the vote, Barr and Ross wrote Nancy Pelosi a letter. “The Departments have made significant efforts to accommodate requests from the Committee concerning the Census matter”, the not-so-dynamic duo said. “We strongly disagree with any suggestion that our Departments have obstructed this investigation”.

The White House elaborated a bit further on Wednesday evening. “[We’ve] produced more than 31,000 pages of documents to the House regarding the census issue”, the statement referenced here at the outset reads. “House Democrats know they have no legal right to these documents, but their shameful and cynical politics know no bounds”.

That, coming from an administration (and, by association, a party) which has spent the last 48 hours defending public statements calling on four women of color to abandon their seats in Congress and “go back to the crime-infested countries from which they came”.

Somehow, it just doesn’t seem accurate to say that Democrats are the party whose “shameful and cynical politics know no bounds”.


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