House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) was once a big defender of executive privilege, that is until President Donald Trump was elected.
Cummings vote Wednesday to hold Justice Department Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress is a major turn around the lawmaker, who previously supported the use of executive privilege during the Obama Administration.
Despite months of cooperation with Cummings committee, he targeted Barr and Ross for failing to comply with subpoenas seeking information on the administration’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
The issue is now before the Supreme Court. On Thursday special interest groups, supportive of immigrant rights, asked the court to postpone ruling on their legal challenge to the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 census, according to Fox News. They argued that they need to resolve allegations regarding the query, which they say was intended “to bolster Republican political advantages and can be heard by a lower court.”
Here’s what Cummings Said Wednesday
“For months, the Trump Administration has claimed that the decision to add the citizenship question was made at the Department level rather than at the White House,” said Cummings during the hearing. “But now the president is asserting executive privilege over all of these documents. This begs the question—what is being hidden?”
Well, for Cummings it appears that “what is being hidden” only matters selectively.
He didn’t seem to mind when the Obama Administration used its executive authority to not turn over documents in the Fast and Furious operation that led to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. To me those documents and the oversight that was impeded by former Attorney General Eric Holder, at the time, was a far more significant an issue. After all, a Border Patrol agent was killed.
The Wednesday contempt vote appears, however, to be a way for Democrats to attempt to interfere with the upcoming Supreme Court decision on the census question. The Supreme Court could make its decision any moment and pressure from special interest groups is mounting on Democrats in Washington D.C. to do something about it.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) scolded Democratic members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee Wednesday, “you know we keep talking about how this is not about the Supreme Court case, it’s about legitimate oversight- we’ve got to do this- and I guess the real question I have is simply since we’re here in a markup and since a member of this very committee, (Rep.) Elenor Holmes Norton, has put forth a bill that would strike the citizenship question from the census, why are we not having a mark-up on that bill?”
If @OversightDems were really concerned about the citizenship question being added to the 2020 Census, we'd mark-up a bill about the issue.
But instead, they chose to hold another political show hearing about contempt.
Stop the games. Get serious about legislating. pic.twitter.com/fyazXG44U7
— Oversight Committee Republicans (@GOPoversight) June 12, 2019
Fast And Furious (Remember this Congressional Investigation?)
When it came to the Republican investigation into what actually happened in the Obama Administration’s botched Fast and Furious operation, Cummings was adamant that executive privilege was necessary to protect documents and administration officials.
Operation Fast and Furious was the controversial operation that allowed U.S. guns to fall into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels so they could apparently be tracked. Yes, that investigation. Hundreds of guns were dumped in Mexico from the U.S. as a way of tracking cartels. The operation failed miserably and resulted in the death of 40 year old Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed by one of the U.S. guns.
Here’s what Cummings had to say about that investigation in June, 2012. In particular, Cummings was reacting to Republican requests for documentation into the controversial program. The Obama Administration invoked executive privilege so it would not have to turn over the detailed and classified documents pertaining to the operation.
“In this case, it seems clear that the Administration was forced into this position by the Committee’s unreasonable insistence on pressing forward with contempt despite the Attorney General’s good faith offer,” said Cummings, as reported by CBS News.
Then the administration was forced to invoke executive privilege and defended then President Obama’s use of it, Cummings said.
DOJ Under Barr Turns Over 17,000 Plus Documents
Cummings praised former Holder in 2012 when he battled congress and turned over a minimal 7,000 documents to the Republican committee during its Fast and Furious investigation. It was far less and the documents far less significant than the ones requested at the time by Congress.
Cummings, however, isn’t playing by the same rules. Despite the thousands of documents produced by DOJ, it’s not enough for the Democratic lawmakers holding Barr and Ross in contempt.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec responded to Cummings accusations saying, “the Committee’s attempt to define the Department of Justice’s good-faith cooperation as ‘contempt’ defies logic.”
She said Wednesday that the actions of “Cummings and his Committee undermines Congress’s credibility with the American people.” Kupec noted that the DOJ has worked to provide the committee with the information requested and has produced “over 17,000 pages of documents and making senior Department officials available for questioning. Despite the Committee’s political games, the Department will remain focused on its critical work safeguarding the American people and upholding the rule of law.”
Holder Held In Contempt In 2012
In 2012, Cummings, who was then the top Democrat of the committee, angrily confronted Rep. Darrell Issa during the investigation into Fast and Furious and defended Holder from turning over more documents.
Then Cummings accused Issa of targeting Holder for political purposes, praising Holder’s submission of documents.
When it comes to Barr and Ross the story is all-together different. He has chided the Trump officials for not turning over sufficient documentation, even though they have turned over three times the amount that Holder shared.
In fact, in 2012, he accused Republicans of making it impossible for Holder to do the right thing.
“It seems to me you have no interest in resolving this issue and that the committee planned to go forward with the contempt all along.” Cummings said to Issa, as reported in the Daily Beast in 2012. “It pains me to say this, but this is what I believe.”
Seems to me all anyone needs to do is look at Cummings own words and history to understand that the contempt vote against Barr and Ross is nothing but political show boating.