Attorney General William Barr is now at risk of being arrested after the U.S. House of Representatives voted along mostly partisan lines Wednesday to hold him in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas regarding the Trump administration’s prior push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The move to hold the nation’s top law enforcement chief in criminal contempt, rather than civil contempt further escalated tensions between the Democratic-led House and the administration, which has repeatedly directed current and former officials to not cooperate with congressional probes due to claims of White House privilege.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who had been subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee to provide testimony and documents, along with Barr, regarding the origins of adding the citizenship question, was also held in criminal contempt.
“I do not take this decision lightly,” Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said on the House floor. “Holding any secretary in criminal contempt of Congress is a serious and sober matter, one that I have done everything in my power to avoid. But in the case of the attorney general and the secretary, they blatantly obstructed our ability to do Congressional oversight.”
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Barr and Ross called the contempt vote “unjustified.”
The White House in a statement said the contempt vote was “another attempt to harass the President and his Administration.”
Should a criminal contempt violation be enforced, and the person found guilty could then face a fine of up to $100,000 and a year in prison.
So, the question remains: what happens next?
Once criminal contempt citations are issued, the matter would shift to the control of the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. Or, in other words, an office that is overseen by the U.S. attorney general, the man who himself was held in criminal contempt.
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