DOJ Will Not Prosecute Trump Officials After IG Referred Findings of False Testimony on Census
Investigators verified that former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross misled Congress, but the Justice Department said it won't pursue prosecution.
The Justice Department has declined to prosecute former Trump administration officials, including former Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross, after an inspector general confirmed they provided false testimony regarding the origins of the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 census.
The Commerce IG launched its probe in 2019, following a request from lawmakers. The investigators did not make their report public, citing Privacy Act concerns, but said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., that Ross and other officials played a “substantive role” in proposing the addition of the citizenship question to the census. The proposal caused significant controversy as critics said it would deter non-citizens from participating in the count at all and it was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court.
Ross twice told Congress the addition of the citizenship question was based solely on a request from the Justice Department, but the IG found Ross “misrepresented the full rationale” behind the decision. Its findings follow publicly disclosed emails that clearly demonstrated the role Ross, the White House and other Commerce officials played well before Justice became involved. The Supreme Court noted the political influence when ordering the removal of the question.
“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 IG said. “Evidence also suggests the department requested and played a part in drafting the DOJ memorandum.”
The IG said it presented its findings to Justice’s Public Integrity Section of the department’s Criminal Division last year, but the department declined to pursue prosecution. Under the Trump administration, Justice similarly declined to prosecute Ross and others after Democrats voted to hold them in contempt for refusing to turn over documents related to citizenship question decision making.
Justice did not respond to an inquiry into why it declined prosecution.
Biden’s pick to lead the Census Bureau, Robert Santos, said at a confirmation hearing Thursday the political meddling by the Trump administration in the work of career employees had tanked morale at the agency. He pledged to empower and entrust those workers to do their jobs and to find new ways to reward them for their work, through bonuses, telework and new research opportunities. Ross and other Trump administration officials also faced criticism during last year’s decennial count for seeking to wrap up the process early despite delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Correction: After publication of this story, the Justice Department and Commerce Department inspector general revealed additional information to indicate the declination to prosecute took place during the Trump administration. This story has been corrected to note this information.