Republicans Block Subpoena to Compel Their Own Witness to Answer Questions on Administration’s Decision to Add Census Citizenship Question

May 18, 2018
Press Release



Republicans Block Subpoena to Compel Their

Own Witness to Answer Questions on Administration’s

Decision to Add Census Citizenship Question


Gowdy Fails to Explain Opposition to Subpoena;

Claims He Can Make Witness Appear, But Not Talk;

Suggests Committee May Need “Jack Bauer” to Preside


Washington, DC (May 18, 2018)—Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted this morning against issuing a subpoena after their own witness, a top political appointee at the Department of Justice, refused to answer questions about the Trump Administration’s sudden and controversial decision to add an untested citizenship question to the census.

At today’s hearing on the 2020 Census, John M. Gore, the acting head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, repeatedly refused to answer questions about his role in the Justice Department’s December 2017 request to the Department of Commerce to add the new citizenship question.

Two days ago, Tom Brunell—President Trump’s first choice to be Census Director—gave an interview in which he conceded that the Trump Administration’s decision to add this citizenship question was based on politics:  “They have made a political decision.  And they have every right to do that, because they won the election.”

Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings asked Gore a series of questions, including whether he communicated with Attorney General Jeff Sessions or others about inserting the new citizenship question, but Gore refused to answer, claiming that he was “unable to make any statements today beyond those in the Department’s letter or other publicly available information.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney moved to subpoena Gore to answer these questions or assert a valid privilege, but Republicans immediately moved to table the motion.  The Republican motion to block the subpoena passed on a party-line vote of 22 to 15.

Republicans offered no substantive reasons for opposing the subpoena.  Instead, Gowdy claimed:  “While I am happy to make a Department of Justice witness appear, I cannot make that witness talk.  If you can get Jack Bauer to come preside over this hearing, then perhaps he could, but I cannot make someone talk or produce documents.”  Gowdy has issued no subpoenas to the Trump Administration during his tenure as Chairman.

On April 20, Gowdy invited Gore to testify.  On May 8—the day the census hearing was originally scheduled—Gore refused to appear.  Rep. Maloney sought to offer a subpoena motion, but withdrew her motion based on assurances by Gowdy that he would ensure that Gore would answer Members’ questions.  Gowdy stated last week:  “He’s coming at some point to talk whether he wants to or not … I am happy to issue a subpoena.”

Cummings issued the following statement after the vote:  “This was the Republicans’ own witness, and they pretended like they did not even know what a subpoena was—that only Jack Bauer could somehow pry information out of this Administration.  House Republicans—in virtual lockstep—are abandoning credible oversight and enabling the Trump Administration to continue perpetuating these abuses.”

Maloney issued this statement:  “The Chairman promised me and the Committee last week that he would issue a subpoena to get this witness to answer our questions, but today every single Republican who attended the hearing voted against issuing that subpoena.  This sets a terrible precedent for our oversight efforts and degrades the authority and integrity of the Committee itself.”
According to documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, the request for the citizenship question came from the Justice Department—and specifically Gore, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  Before assuming that position, he defended Republican state redistricting plans, including one that was dismissed for racial gerrymandering.

115th Congress