President Donald Trump spiked partisan tensions to new heights Wednesday, saying his administration will challenge “all the subpoenas” sent his way by congressional Democrats.
The president’s comment came the same day the Justice Department sent a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) stating it would not comply with a supboena demanding a department official testify in the committee’s investigation of the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
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The refusal was the latest clash in an increasingly hostile standoff between the White House and Congress. Since the publication last week of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Trump administration is aggressively responding to lawmakers’ efforts to push forward with probes into all aspects of the presidency.
Trump said Democrats’ ramped-up investigatory efforts — which this week have also included fights over subpoenas of the president’s financial records and former White House counsel Don McGahn — are a ploy to defeat him in 2020.
“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” the president said on the White House’s south lawn before departing for a summit on the opioid crisis in Atlanta.
The Justice Department’s refusal letter sent Wednesday to Cummings marks the second time the Trump administration has ignored a congressional subpoena this week. On Tuesday, the White House instructed former personnel security director Carl Kline not to answer questions for the House Oversight Committee’s investigation into the White House security clearance process.
Cummings said Tuesday he is moving toward a vote to hold Kline in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
On the citizenship question, Cummings seeks the testimony of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore, which was scheduled to take place Thursday. In response to Cummings’ subpoena, a DOJ official wrote that Gore would not appear because the committee would not allow a department attorney to accompany him during his testimony.
“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,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in the letter.
In early April, Boyd wrote to Cummings claiming Gore voluntarily answered “hundreds of questions” during an interview with the committee in March but refused to answer particular queries “that sought information concerning confidential Executive Branch deliberations that are protected under well-established law.”
In this letter, dated April 9, Boyd wrote that Gore would not comply with the subpoena unless accompanied by a department attorney. Barring DOJ counsel during compelled testimony “would unconstitutionally infringe upon the prerogatives of the Executive Branch,” Boyd wrote.
Cummings responded at the time denying the request but saying he would allow a DOJ attorney to be present in a separate room during Gore’s testimony.
This particular probe focuses on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire, a controversial addition that some have argued will drive down response rates among minority communities. The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments about the Trump administration’s decision to add the question and will rule on the matter by June 30.
Trump on Wednesday gave a fiery response to questions about Democratic efforts to pry information from his administration, claiming partisan motives spurred the slew of subpoenas.
“Look, these aren’t, like, impartial people,” he said. “The Democrats are trying to win 2020. They’re not going to win with the people that I see. And they aren’t going to win against me.”
He added that the only way Democrats could “luck out” is by “constantly going after me on nonsense.”