July 11, 2019 / 3:47 PM / 7 months ago

U.S. House readies contempt vote as confrontation with Trump mounts

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to reporters as she walks to her office at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt next week, as part of an intensifying Democratic assault on President Donald Trump’s stonewalling of congressional probes.

The vote, announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is expected on Tuesday in response to the Trump cabinet members’ failure to comply with congressional subpoenas involving administration plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month blocked Trump’s initial effort to add the question. He then planned an executive order to add it to the Census but was expected to drop the idea on Thursday and seek answers on citizenship through other means.

News of the House vote surfaced as the House Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas of a dozen Trump aides and associates, including his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and prepared for public testimony next Wednesday by former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller about his two-year probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The judiciary panel is also expected to launch a federal lawsuit against White House efforts to block testimony by former Trump aides soon after Mueller appears. Democrats say a court victory in such a case would stop the administration from preventing current and former officials from testifying in Congress under subpoena.

Another panel, the House Oversight and Reform Committee, voted to hold Barr and Ross in contempt last month for defying subpoenas issued as part of an investigation into whether the administration sought to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census to discriminate against racial minorities.

“The full House will vote on a resolution of criminal contempt for Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross so we can enforce our subpoenas and get the facts,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference.

But legal experts say a criminal contempt vote against two Trump cabinet members is likely to be little more than symbolic, since it would refer contempt charges to the Justice Department that is overseen by Barr.

Reporting by David Morgan, Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Susan Thomas

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