Donald Trump. Picture: AFP/NICHOLAS KAMM
Donald Trump. Picture: AFP/NICHOLAS KAMM

Washington — US President Donald Trump asserted his executive privilege on Wednesday to block Congress from obtaining documents related to how his administration added a citizenship question to the 2020 US census.

The US justice department notified the chair of the House oversight committee of the decision shortly before the panel was to vote on whether to hold attorney-general Bill Barr and commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for refusing to produce the subpoenaed material.

“These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege,” the department wrote in a letter to committee chair Elijah Cummings.

It added that Trump “has made a protective assertion of executive privilege over the remainder of the subpoenaed documents” to allow more time for review.

Cummings responded by postponing the vote to allow members additional time to review the justice department’s letter.

“It appears to be another example of the administration’s blanket defiance” of congressional subpoenas, Cummings said. “This begs a question: What is being hidden?”

The census has become a hot-button issue ahead of the 2020 election, and the US supreme court has heard arguments in the case that could have high-stakes political implications.

Democrats have said they fear that asking respondents whether they are US citizens will reduce census participation in communities with large immigrant populations, suppressing representation in Congress and reducing access to federal dollars.

The clash between Trump’s administration and congressional Democrats comes after recently uncovered documents from a Republican strategist suggest that the citizenship question would politically benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.