Jul 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

DOJ won't prosecute Wilbur Ross for misleading Congress on census question

Photo of Wilbur Ross sitting at a table and speaking

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Justice Department has declined to prosecute former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for misleading Congress on the Trump administration's push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Catch up quick: Ross had testified that the Trump administration wanted the addition due to a DOJ request for data so it could better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But internal records showed that Trump officials, including Ross, had planned to add the question long before the DOJ submitted its formal request in December 2017.

Why it matters: Civil rights activists and some census experts feared that adding the question would discourage immigrants from participating, which could then lead to an undercount with significant implications for redistricting and funding.

  • The Supreme Court ultimately blocked the Trump administration's move, calling Ross' Voting Rights Act reasoning "contrived."
  • Democrats also requested that Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson investigate Ross on his characterization of the request.

What they're saying: Ross "misrepresented the full rationale" when he testified in Congress on two separate occasions in March 2018, according to Gustafson.

  • "During Congressional testimony, the then-Secretary stated his decision to reinstate the citizenship question was based solely on a DOJ request [from late 2017]," Gustafson wrote in a letter to Democratic lawmakers last week.
  • "However, evidence shows there were significant communications related to the citizenship question among the then-Secretary, his staff, and other government officials between March 2017 and September 2017, which was well before the DOJ request memorandum."
  • "Evidence also suggests the Department requested and played a part in drafting the DOJ memorandum," she noted.
  • After documents revealed in the legal case undermined his testimony, Ross sent a memo to the department clarifying his involvement in June 2018, Gustafson added.

The bottom line: The Public Integrity Section of the DOJ's Criminal Division declined to prosecute the case, Gustafson said.

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