Then-Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. “misrepresented” his reasons for why he wanted to add a citizenship question to last year’s full census, according to an inspector general’s investigation that found he misled Congress in testimony on two occasions.
But Mr. Ross, who served as head of the Commerce Department under President Trump, will not be charged. The case was presented to the Justice Department but it declined prosecution in January 2020.
Mr. Ross oversaw the 2020 census and ordered the late addition of a question probing citizenship status — something that was also a top political goal of the White House.
He told lawmakers he added the question at the behest of the Justice Department, which did indeed request the information be gathered for enforcement of voting rights laws. But the Commerce Department’s inspector general said Mr. Ross was already contemplating the question well before the Justice Department’s request.
But the inspector general did not substantiate allegations that Mr. Ross was following a blueprint laid out by a now-deceased GOP political consultant who’d suggested the citizenship question could be used to curtail the political power of racial and ethnic minorities.
Investigators said they did find the consultant’s “verbiage” was echoed in communications between the Commerce and Justice departments, but it dealt with historical data, not plans for future action.
The inspector general’s letter to Congress does not say why prosecutors in the Trump administration declined to pursue a case.
Mr. Ross had previously acknowledged he had been pondering a citizenship question since his early days in the department, but had said the trigger for adding the question was the request from the Justice Department.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chair of the House Oversight Committee, said the new report undercuts his explanations.
“It is appalling that the Trump administration subjected an undertaking as important as the decennial census to brazen political manipulation,” the New York Democrat said.
She said her committee’s investigation is still ongoing.
The citizenship question was not added to the full 2020 census after a divided Supreme Court rejected the administration’s reasoning as too hasty.
The justices said the question itself is not illegal — it has been asked on full censuses before and is still asked in smaller census surveys — but the majority of the court ruled that the Trump administration moved too quickly.
Immigrant-rights and voting-rights advocates had sued to block the question, saying it would scare some people, including undocumented immigrants, from answering the census, skewing the results.