Four individuals directly involved in the process to reinstitute the citizenship question on the 2020 census have testified to Congress that senior members of the White House had no influence on Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to include the question.
This testimony refutes claims from Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, led by Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), that President Donald Trump and/or his trusted advisers wanted the question included for nefarious reasons. The transcripts of this testimony were released by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, Tuesday afternoon.
Cummings and the committee adopted a resolution on June 12 to hold U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr and Ross in contempt for allegedly refusing to hand over documents related to the reinstitution of the citizenship question. To date, Jordan wrote in his “Minority Views” report, the Department of Justice has released 17,000 pages related to the decision and the DOC has release 14,000 pages. Jordan wrote that there was “no reason to believe that the DOC and DOJ would not continue to cooperate with the Committee’s investigation,” had it not been for Cummings “decision to abruptly cease the constitutionally mandated accommodation process” and hold Barr and Ross in contempt.
Jordan also noted that context has been missing from the decision to reinstate the citizenship question:
A question soliciting citizenship information appeared on the census in one form or another from 1820 to 2000 and has been asked annually on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey since 2005. Other nations request citizenship information as part of their population surveys, which the United Nations recommends as a best practice. Information solicited as a part of the census is protected from dissemination by federal law.
Included in Jordan’s report is sections of testimony from four individuals — Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore, Counselor to the Attorney General Gene Hamilton, former senior counsel at the DOC James Uthmeier, and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — who all contradict Cummings claims.
For example, Democrats have insisted that Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller, now deceased, was heavily involved in the decision to include the citizenship question. Hofeller, according to court documents that are part of a lawsuit against the DOC over the question (that is now before the Supreme Court), may have ghostwritten part of a DOJ letter for A. Mark Neuman, who in turn gave that letter to Gore.
The meat of the argument is that Hofeller conducted a study in 2015 for The Washington Free Beacon that found using the citizen voting age population — as opposed to the adult population or total population — would benefit Republicans and that this was the real basis for Ross including the question in the upcoming census.
In their testimony, Hamilton, Kobach, and Uthmeier all said they didn’t know who Hofeller was and never spoke to him. Uthemeier said he had never seen anything Hofeller wrote and only discussed him once — in preparation for his testimony. Hamilton said he had “no idea” who Hofeller was. Kobach said he didn’t “recall ever meeting or talking with anyone by that name,” but that he had read an article about him the day before. Kobach also testified that he had never heard of the 2015 study by Hofeller or any similar study. Kobach also disagreed with Hofeller’s conclusion that Republicans would be helped by changing redistricting rules to exclude noncitizens.
“I don’t agree with his assumption that when you count — when you count accurately the number of citizens, that that necessarily helps one party or another party. We don’t know,” Kobach testified.
Gore in his testimony repeated the DOJ position that the question would be used to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.
“We would like to get an additional source of data because there may be districts or cases out there where that data provides a clearer picture of what’s going on at the block level and within a particular district or redistricting plan, and we might be able to identify additional cases for investigation and potential prosecution,” Gore said.
Gore also said in his testimony that he did not interact with the senior Trump administration officials identified by House Democrats as conspiring to include the question in the census. Specifically, he said he was not aware of any conversations between then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former White House Adviser Steve Bannon about the question, nor was he aware of any conversation between Kobach and anyone else at the DOJ about the question.
Further, Gore said he had “never spoken to Mr. Bannon in my life” nor had he spoken to White House policy adviser Stephen Miller. He said he had only spoken to Thomas Brunell, who was originally tapped to be director of the U.S. Census Bureau, over a voting rights case back when he was in private practice.
Uthmeier testified he never spoke to Bannon, Miller, Reince Priebus, or Trump about the citizenship question. Hamilton also denied speaking to anyone at the White House about the census question.
Kobach also denied speaking to the Republican National Committee about the question.
Jordan accused Democrats of choosing “conflict over compromise” in holding Barr and Ross in contempt instead of continuing to work with them to obtain documents related to the citizenship question’s inclusion in the census.