The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt after they refused to comply with subpoenas issued by the House Oversight Committee for their testimony on the true origins of the citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The 230-198 vote is largely symbolic as the Trump administration Department of Justice will likely not persecute its own officials who were acting on Donald Trump’s orders. It is indicative of just how frustrated the House has become with cabinet officials not answering their summonses, undermining one of the main powers of the House.

“I do not take this decision lightly,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Oversight Committee. “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 Secretary Ross, they blatantly obstructed our ability to do congressional oversight into the real reason Secretary Ross was trying, for the first time in 70 years, to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census,” Cummings added.


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This is the second time in history that a sitting cabinet official has been held in criminal contempt. The only other official to be faced with such a vote was Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012 after he refused to divulge documents relating to the Operation Fast and Furious gun-running investigation.

Now that the Trump administration has officially given up on the citizenship question, as well has been blocked from pursuing it by a federal judge, it is unclear whether the House will take their grievances to court in an attempt to enforce the subpoenas or just drop the investigation altogether. As various committees prepare to fight what will likely be drawn-out legal battles over the testimony of former Trump aides such as Hope Hicks and Donald McGahn, the prospect of adding another court conflict to their schedule may not appeal to many on the panel.

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