The Trump administration made every effort to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census, though the gambit ultimately failed. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts explained in 2019 that the White House came up short, not because a citizenship question was legally impermissible, but because the administration didn't have a coherent, justifiable reason for their plan.
As Government Executive reported, the matter was so significant that the Commerce Department's inspector general's office opened an investigation and concluded that officials, including Ross, "provided false testimony regarding the origins of the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 census."
The Commerce IG launched its probe in 2019, following a request from lawmakers. The investigators did not make their report public, citing Privacy Act concerns, but said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., that Ross and other officials played a "substantive role" in proposing the addition of the citizenship question to the census.... Ross twice told Congress the addition of the citizenship question was based solely on a request from the Justice Department, but the IG found Ross "misrepresented the full rationale" behind the decision.
And while it's of interest that the former cabinet secretary lied to Congress, more than once, about the Republican scheme, it's of even greater significance that the inspector general's office presented its findings to the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.
In other words, the agency's independent watchdog department thought the Trump appointees' deceptions might have risen to the level of criminal wrongdoing.
As it turns out, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute, which has proven to be a familiar consequence.
As regular readers may recall, the first example was Ryan Zinke. Corruption allegations involving Donald Trump's scandal-plagued Interior secretary were referred to Justice Department prosecutors, but Trump's DOJ declined to charge the Montana Republican.
Then there was Alex Acosta, Trump's scandal-plagued Labor secretary, who was also referred to Justice Department prosecutors, only to have Trump's DOJ decline to charge the Florida Republican, too.
Robert Wilkie, Trump's controversial VA secretary, was also referred to Justice Department prosecutors, only to have Trump's DOJ choose not to charge him, either.
It was earlier this year when we learned that the Transportation Department's watchdog also asked the Justice Department to criminally investigate former Secretary Elaine Chao late last year over allegations that she misused her office. In keeping with the pattern, Trump's DOJ didn't pursue the matter.
And now Wilbur Ross has joined the quintet.
The bottom line in striking: Five times a member of Trump's cabinet was referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. Five times nothing happened.
Update: Both the Associated Press and Government Executive ran corrections yesterday, noting that it was Trump's Justice Department that decided to disregard the allegations against Wilbur Ross, predating the Biden administration. (This post previously said there was ambiguity about the timeline. That sentence has been removed.)
The larger point of this piece, however, remains the same: five Trump cabinet secretaries were caught up in scandals so significant that they were brought to the attention of the Justice Department for possible prosecution. There's no modern precedent for a presidential cabinet facing controversies this severe.