Maloney leads 44 House Dems in Demanding that Sec. Ross Tell the Truth About Addition of Citizenship Question to 2020 Census

Aug 3, 2018
Press Release

Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY-12), co-chair of the House Census Caucus and author of the 2020 Census IDEA Act and the 2020 American Census Investment Act, today led 44 of her House colleagues in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross demanding that he respond to Congressional inquires, including one sent by the Congresswoman and her colleague on June 28, regarding the discrepancies between the Secretary’s testimony and documents contradicting his assertion that the Justice Department initiated the request to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

In the letter, the members state to Secretary Ross, “…it is clear that you settled on the addition of a citizenship question long before you indicated as much to Congress, and it was not DOJ that initiated” this request, but rather your own Department of Commerce. The release of these documents when compared against the public record raise serious concerns about your testimony and the reasons for which the citizenship question was truly added. As such, we request that you provide answers to the following questions immediately: When did you first begin considering adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census?  Who or what prompted you to begin this consideration?”

On June 28, 2018, Congresswoman Maloney, with Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA), led a letter with 54 members of the House expressing concerns about the veracity of Sec. Ross’s testimony before Congress after he submitted a supplemental memo to the courts in a case regarding the addition of the citizenship question. The Congresswoman has also submitted an amicus brief with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and over 120 current House and Senate Democrats in support of the New York State-led lawsuit seeking to stop the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The Congresswoman’s 2020 Census IDEA Act would stop the addition of last minute questions like the citizenship inquiry.

Full text of today’s letter can be found below and a PDF here.

Dear Secretary Ross,

On June 28, 2018, 54 members of the House of Representatives wrote to you with great concern after reviewing the supplemental memo you provided to the court which contradicted numerous statements made to Congress about how and when you decided to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.[1] To date, you have not responded to this letter. Since then, however, newly released internal Commerce Department communications provide further evidence that you were not truthful with Congress about the citizenship question’s addition and the role the Department of Justice played in this process. Misleading Congress is a criminal offense and it is incumbent on you to respond to our inquiries regarding your testimony.

The additional internal Department of Commerce emails released on July 24, 2018, show that as early as March 2017, you personally directed your staff to research how to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Two months later, in May 2017, you were “mystified why nothing have (sic) been done in response to my months old request (emphasis added) that we include a citizenship question.”[2] In response, your staff replied that “we need to work with Justice to get them to request that citizenship be added back as a census question.”[3]

These emails demonstrate that the Department’ s conversations about adding the citizenship question began nine months prior to DOJ’ s December 2017 request.  Similarly, they contradict the sworn testimony you and other Trump Administration officials have presented on at least four occasions about the timing, origins, and purported necessity of a citizenship question.

For example, before the House Appropriations Committee on March 20, 2018, you stated that the Department of Commerce was “responding solely to the Department of Justice's request.”[4] Two days later, before the House Ways and Means Committee, you testified that the Department of Justice “initiated the request” for a question on citizenship.[5]  You and other Commerce Department officials maintained this reasoning at hearings two months later.  On May 8, 2018, Earl Comstock, the Department’s Director of Policy and Strategic Planning, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the Department was “asked, made a valid request by a government agency” that “went through [your] normal process,”  and again, two days later, on May 10, 2018, you testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee: “The Justice Department is the one who made the request of us.”[6]

It now appears, however, that these statements were untrue.  Instead, it is clear that you settled on the addition of a citizenship question long before you indicated as much to Congress, and it was not DOJ that initiated” this request, but rather your own Department of Commerce. The release of these documents when compared against the public record raise serious concerns about your testimony and the reasons for which the citizenship question was truly added. As such, we request that you provide answers to the following questions immediately:

  1. When did you first begin considering adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census?  Who or what prompted you to begin this consideration?
  2. When did you decide that a citizenship question should be added to the 2020 Census?  Why did you come to that decision?
  3. When did you first request that the Census Bureau include a citizenship question and to whom did you request this?
  4. Did you discuss adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census with any Trump Administration, Trump transition, or Trump campaign officials before you were nominated to be Secretary? If so, who did you speak to and what was the nature of the conversation?
  5. Did you discuss or seek advice from past Census Bureau Directors about the impact that a citizenship question could have on the accuracy of the Census? If so, who?
  6. Why did you and your staff believe it was necessary to have the Department of Justice request that the Bureau add a citizenship question?  Why did you contact the Department of Homeland Security about a potential request and why did they deem the Justice Department to be in a better position to assist with your request?
  7. When did the Department of Commerce begin working with the Department of Justice to request that a citizenship question be added back to the census? Who was involved in this process? Were officials from the White House a part of this process? If so, who?
  8. Why did you repeatedly tell Congress, under oath, that the request for a citizenship question was initiated by the Department of Justice when your own emails show that you initiated the request?
  9. Why did you provide a supplemental memo to the court on June 21, 2018, contradicting your testimony to Congress? Why did you not disclose these facts to Congress before the document was publicly released?
  10. Please name all past and present senior administration officials with whom you discussed the idea of adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Congress has a Constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch, including the Department of Commerce. The newly released documents raise a great number of questions about the truthfulness of the testimony you and your staff provided to four different House and Senate Committees. Given that it is incumbent upon you to truthfully answer congressional inquiries, we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Carolyn B. Maloney

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[1] Letter from Representatives Jimmy Gomez, Carolyn Maloney, and Judy Chu et. al, to Secretary Wilbur Ross, Department of Commerce (June 28, 2018) (online at https://maloney.house.gov/sites/maloney.house.gov/files/618%20Sec%20Ross%20Supplemental%20Memo%20Letter.pdf).

[2] Email from Secretary Wilbur Ross, Department of Commerce, to Earl Comstock, Director, Office of Policy and Strategic Planning, and Ellen Herbst, Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Secretary for Administration, Department of Commerce (May 2, 2017) (online at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4616784-May-2-2017-Email-From-Wilbur-Ross.html#document/p1/a441438).

[3] Email from Earl Comstock, Director, Office of Policy and Strategic Planning, Department of Commerce, to Secretary Wilbur Ross and Ellen Herbst, Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Secretary for Administration, Department of Commerce (May 2, 2017) (online at https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=4616785-May-2-2017-Email-From-Earl-Comstock#document/p1/a441444).

[4] House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Hearing on FY19 Budget Hearing:  Department of Commerce (Mar. 20, 2018).

[5] House Committee on Ways and Means, Hearing on Hearing with Commerce Secretary Ross (Mar. 22, 2018).

[6] House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Hearing on Progress Report on the 2020 Census (May 8, 2018); Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Hearing on Review of the FY2019 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Commerce (May 10, 2018).