The Trump administration announced in March that that the 2020 Census would include a question about citizenship status, and as regular readers know, the move immediately drew swift condemnations. The criticisms were rooted in fact: the question is likely to discourage immigrants’ participation in the census, which would mean under-represented communities in the official count, affecting everything from political power to public investments.
There’s ongoing federal litigation challenging the policy, and the plaintiffs have been eager to depose Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who’s responsible for overseeing the Census. The Trump administration has fought tooth and nail to block Ross from answering questions about the rationale behind the change.
And we’re starting to learn why. The Washington Post reported overnight:
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recalled talking with former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, according to a document filed Thursday by the Justice Department, though he testified to Congress that he had not done so.
The document, part of a multistate lawsuit against the Trump administration over the question, said Ross recalls Bannon calling him in the spring of 2017 to ask whether Ross would speak to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about ideas for a possible citizenship question on the census.
Let’s back up and review how we reached this point. Once the legal challenge to the Census policy got underway, the administration disclosed some pretty interesting emails. In May 2017, for example, Steve Bannon asked Wilbur Ross to “talk to someone about the census.” Soon after, the Commerce secretary started demanding that his team include the controversial question.
And while that’s notable in its own right, it’s especially important because Ross may have lied to Congress about the series of events.
In March 2018, the Commerce secretary testified under oath to the U.S. House that it was the Justice Department that had initiated the request for the question.
In fact, when pressed specifically on whether he’d discussed the citizenship question with anyone in the Trump White House, Ross said, “I am not aware of any such.”
We now know that the cabinet secretary’s under-oath answers were, at a minimum, inaccurate. We also know that lying to Congress is a crime.
All of which led to yesterday’s developments: Ross now remembers the conversations that he’d forgotten about during his congressional testimony, and according to a Commerce Department spokesperson, when Ross said, “I am not aware of any such,” he was referring to something else.
The Supreme Court will soon decide on whether the Commerce secretary can be deposed in the civil litigation.