For the second time this week, a Trump administration official is declining to appear for a closed hearing with a Democratic-led House committee, potentially risking contempt charges.
John Gore, the principal deputy attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, will not appear for a deposition before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee that was scheduled for Thursday, according to a letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd dated Wednesday.
Gore received a subpoena from the committee April 2 to answer questions related to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the census, a move critics have said would lead to wary immigrants being undercounted. Ross says he decided to add the question in December 2017 after he learned that the Justice Department might want it included.
President Donald Trump has made it clear he doesn’t want his subordinates to respond to congressional requests he dismisses as politically motivated. House Democrats say they are doing their constitutional duty to oversee the executive branch, ramping up investigations of Trump’s behavior, businesses and associates.
“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country so far.”
At issue, Boyd wrote in his letter regarding Gore, is the decision from committee Chairman Elijah Cummings to prevent Justice Department lawyers from accompanying Gore.
“We are disappointed that the committee remains unwilling to permit department counsel to represent the interests of the executive branch in the deposition of a senior department official,” Boyd wrote. “Accordingly, Attorney General Barr’s determination that Mr. Gore will not appear at the committee’s deposition unless a department attorney may accompany him remains in effect.”
Refusing to let Gore be accompanied by a Justice Department lawyer and represent the Trump administration’s interests “would unconstitutionally infringe upon the prerogatives of the executive branch,” adds Boyd.
There was no immediate comment from a committee spokesman.
On Tuesday, Cummings said he intended to “consult with House counsel and committee members about scheduling a vote on contempt” after Trump administration lawyers convinced Carl Kline, the former director of White House personnel security, not to testify about granting security clearances.
Kline’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, said Cummings and the committee were refusing to let Justice Department lawyers accompany him for that deposition as well.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday: “In keeping with longstanding Department of Justice policy, neither Mr. Gore nor anyone else in the department will be forced to testify in their capacity as a DOJ official on DOJ matters without DOJ counsel.”