John Gore, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, will defy a congressional subpoena to appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday without counsel present, the department said Wednesday. Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings called Gore to answer questions about his role in the Trump administration's efforts to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census.
"In keeping with longstanding Department of Justice policy, neither Mr. Gore nor anyone else in the Department will be forced to testify in their capacity as a DOJ official on DOJ matters without DOJ counsel," said Kerri Kupec, a spokesperson for the Justice Department. A Justice Department official also said Gore had the "unqualified support" of Attorney General Bill Barr on the matter.
Gore appeared before the committee in March, with Justice Department counsel present. The attorney told Gore to not answer certain questions that applied to "confidential executive branch deliberations," according to an April 9 letter by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd. The committee then issued a subpoena to have Gore respond to the unanswered questions.
The committee responded by saying counsel could be present in a separate room, but Boyd insisted in a letter on Wednesday that counsel be present in the same room as Gore and said he would not appear for the deposition on Thursday.
If Gore does not appear, he could be held in contempt. In a statement, Cummings argued that Gore and the Justice Department had not claimed "any legally valid privilege."
""Both President Trump and Attorney General Barr are now openly ordering federal employees to ignore congressional subpoenas and simply not show up-without any assertion of a valid legal privilege," Cummings said in a statement, adding that Gore's behavior was a "massive, unprecedented, and growing pattern of obstruction."
Democrats are investigating the circumstances surrounding the administration's decision to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census. They argue that adding the question would deter undocumented immigrants from participating, which could lead to an undercount of population in states with high immigrant populations. This could in turn affect a state's representation in Congress.
However, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court, which is currently considering the legality of the question,during oral arguments on Tuesday.
Reporting by Paula Reid.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story identified John Gore as the top official in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. He was the acting attorney general for the division, but in October 2018, Eric Dreiband was confirmed as the head of that division. Gore is the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the division. The story has been updated.