Trump official misled Congress about census citizenship question

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Department in Washington, U.S., September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott/Pool

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A watchdog agency found that former Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross misrepresented the reasons for wanting to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, and the Trump administration declined to prosecute him, a probe showed on Monday.

In a letter dated Friday, Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson said Ross’ congressional testimony in March 2018 “misrepresented the full rationale” of the question when he said it was driven by a Justice Department request to aid in enforcing the Voting Rights Act.

A spokesman for Gustafson’s office said the Justice Department made its decision to decline prosecution of Ross in January 2020, when Donald Trump was president. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment when asked Monday if it would revisit that decision.

Ross, a Republican who was nominated by Trump, could not immediately be reached for comment. The Commerce Department declined comment.

The inspector general’s investigation found that months before the Justice request in December 2017, Ross, his staff and other government officials discussed the citizenship question, the inspector general said.

In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from asking if census respondents were citizens because officials gave a “contrived” rationale.

The results of the census influence how government operates, such as where funding is allocated and how many seats in the House of Representatives each state gets.

The Census Bureau’s experts estimated households corresponding to 6.5 million people would not respond to the census if the citizenship question were asked. Immigrants have historically been part of the Democratic Party’s support base.

House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said the review confirmed the Trump administration’s effort was illegal.

Citizenship has not been asked of all households since the 1950 census.

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