Washington, Jul 17 (EFE).- The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to hold Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to hand over documents explaining why they wanted to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
In a 230-198 vote, with all Republican lawmakers voting against the measure, the House approved a resolution pushed by the Democrats, who control the chamber, against the two members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
However, the vote was largely symbolic because opening judicial proceedings against either Barr or Ross would have to be undertaken by federal judicial authorities in the District of Columbia or by the Department of Justice itself, and that is extremely unlikely.
It is not expected that the Justice Department would agree to investigate its top official, but the measure certainly serves to express the indignation of Democrats with the attempts by the White House to add the question on citizenship to the Census, a move that was denied by the US Supreme Court.
The White House called the vote “ridiculous,” saying it was just another “illegal” attempt to harass Trump and his administration.
Nevertheless, the vote puts a black mark on the Trump administration, since it is the first time since 2012 that the full House has held a serving attorney general in contempt and called for his prosecution and the first time ever that the chamber has held a commerce secretary in contempt.
Before the vote, Barr and Ross had sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which they asked that the measure not be pushed forward, saying that the move was “unreasonable, counterproductive and contrary” to the normal workings of congressional oversight.
“By taking this action, the House is both unnecessarily undermining inter-branch comity and degrading the constitutional separation of powers and its own institutional integrity,” the pair of Cabinet officials wrote. “We strongly disagree with any suggestion that our departments have obstructed this investigation.”
The criminal contempt citations, if followed through on and if Barr and Ross were to be found guilty, are punishable by a year in jail and up to $100,000 in fines.
Trump has resorted to claiming “executive privilege” as a means to protect documents on the Census as well as to block lawmakers’ requests for the release of the unredacted version of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, completed in April, into Russian interference in the 2016 election that put the New York mogul in the White House.