MANHATTAN (CN) – Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Congress earlier this year that he added a citizenship question to the 2020 census to help the Department of Justice enforce the Voting Rights Act.
Contradicting that sworn testimony, new evidence shows that Ross received a memo several months earlier informing him that the Justice Department wanted to avoid monkeying around with the census because of “the whole Comey matter.”
Disclosed for the first time on Monday night, the unsealed September 2017 memo shows Ross’ deputy Earl Comstock describing his conversations with the Justice Department’s director for the executive office on immigration review.
“I spoke several times with James McHenry by phone, and after considering the matter further James said that Justice staff did not want to raise the question given the difficulties Justice was encountering in the press at the time (the whole Comey matter),” the memo states.
President Donald Trump had fired former FBI director James Comey months earlier in May 2017, but the political aftershocks of Comey’s dismissal endured far longer. Comey delivered dramatic testimony before Congress that July accusing Trump of pressuring him to drop his investigation into Russian interference in the election.
Shortly before Ross received the memo that September, two Republican senators accused the former FBI director of preordaining his decision to clear Hillary Clinton of mishandling classified emails before interviewing her.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood told a federal judge on Monday that Ross must face deposition for giving testimony that was “untrue.”
“This is astonishing, unprecedented conduct from a cabinet member,” Underwood wrote in a scathing, 5-page letter. “It has consequences not for some minor or ministerial matter, but for the accuracy of the decennial census – which the secretary agrees will affect ‘foundational elements of our democracy.'”
Since April, Underwood has led 18 states, several cities and civil rights groups in a lawsuit accusing Ross of adding the citizenship question to discourage participation by immigrants of color. An undercount of these populations, which traditionally vote Democratic, would likely reduce the political power and federal funding of blue states for a decade.
The census has not inquired about citizenship status since 1950.