The Department of Justice (DOJ) will not bring charges against former Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossCommerce Department unit gathered intel on employees, census critics: report Former Trump officials find tough job market On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico’s handling of energy permits MORE after a government watchdog found that he gave false testimony to Congress about the Trump administration’s failed effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
In a letter to congressional leaders that was released Friday, Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson said that her office had provided evidence to the Justice Department that Ross had not been truthful in a pair of House committee hearings in 2018, but federal prosecutors declined to bring perjury charges against the former secretary.
“Our investigation established that the then-Secretary misrepresented the full rationale for the reinstatement of the citizenship question during his March 20, 2018, testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations and again in his March 22, 2018, testimony before the 2 House Committee on Ways and Means,” Gustafson wrote. “During Congressional testimony, the then-Secretary stated his decision to reinstate the citizenship question was based solely on a DOJ request.”
The letter was first reported by the news outlet Government Executive.
A DOJ spokesman was not immediately able to comment.
Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyNY progressive Bowman introducing 6B ‘Green New Deal for Public Schools’ Overnight Health Care: Senate budget deal to provide new funding for Medicare, Medicaid, ObamaCare | More than 2 million sign up during ObamaCare special enrollment period | US drug overdose deaths rose to record last year Oversight Democrats launch investigation into GOP Arizona election audit MORE (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, vowed to continue investigating the Trump administration’s efforts on the citizenship question, which she said aimed “to skew the census for political gain.”
“The independent Inspector General has confirmed what the Oversight Committee found in our extensive investigation: that Secretary Ross misled Congress and the American people about the true motivations behind the Trump Administration’s illegal efforts to add a citizenship question to the census,” Maloney said in a statement Monday. “Lying to Congress is unacceptable, and the IG did the right thing by referring Secretary Ross’s conduct to the Justice Department.”
Ross repeatedly insisted in 2018 and 2019 that the decision to add the citizenship question was solely based on a DOJ request for data to inform its efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
But in her letter on Friday, Gustafson said there was evidence Ross had been exploring the addition of a citizenship question long before the December 2017 DOJ request.
“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,” the inspector general’s letter reads. “Evidence also suggests the Department requested and played a part in drafting the DOJ memorandum. Further, the then-Secretary sent a memorandum to the Department on June 21, 2018, clarifying his deliberations regarding adding a citizenship question to the Decennial Census. In this memorandum, the then-Secretary stated he began considering the content of the 2020 Census, to include reinstating the citizenship question, soon after his appointment to Secretary.”
Ross, who years before his Cabinet appointment in the Trump administration was the CEO and part-owner of The Hill’s parent company, News Communications Inc., could not immediately be reached for comment.
The inspector general investigation was launched on June 27, 2019, the day the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from moving forward with its plans to add a citizenship question. Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined the court’s four liberal justices in siding against the administration, wrote in the majority opinion that the evidence revealed “a significant mismatch between the Secretary’s decision and the rationale he provided.”
“Unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived,” Roberts wrote. “The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public. The explanation provided here was more of a distraction.”