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March 24, 2019

Commerce boss Wilbur Ross may face subpoena for controversial Census issue

March 14, 2019
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies during the House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross got hit with a subpoena threat Thursday after repeatedly dodging questions about why he really added a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

Ross was called before the Committee on Oversight and Reform after two courts declared his decision to include the citizenship question for the first time since 1950 was illegal and unconstitutional.

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Ross had justified the question by arguing that the Department of Justice asked for it as a way to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

But emails and testimony revealed in cases in New York and California showed that Ross himself was asking officials in the Justice Department, including then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, about the question long before the Justice Department asked for it to be added.

They also showed White House officials, primarily President Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, coordinating talks between Ross and staunch immigration opponent Kris Kobach, then the Kansas Secretary of State.

The Trump administration has appealed the rulings to the Supreme Court.

A lot of material related the court revelations has not been made public. The Oversight Committee wanted details about the missing information and conversations Ross had related to it.

Ross refused to offer any, or commit to a time to deliver new documents.

“The content of those conversations is confidential. I’m not authorized to disclose them,” Ross said repeatedly.

Democrats and Census advocates believe the citizenship question was added as a way to suppress the count of Latinos, who are already underrepresented in the Census.

The two judges who ruled against Ross have implied as much. But the documents that have been produced so far show only that Ross and the White House wanted the citizenship question, not why.

Several Democrats noted the “confidentiality” is not the same as executive privilege under which administration officials can keep talks secret.

By the end of the hearing, Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings was clearly frustrated.

“Today, when I heard your testimony, I felt like you were trying to pull a fast one — I gotta be honest with you, man,” Cummings said.

He said he doesn’t accept the arguments of confidentiality or the claim that the information could be used to sway the court cases. He gave Ross until Tuesday to come back with explanations.

“If you don’t agree with this, you will basically be forcing us to consider a subpoena. I don’t want to do that.” Cummings said. But he added, “If you refuse, you will leave me with no choice.”

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