Trump Lost on the Census, but the Scandal Is Just Getting Started

By Jay Michaelson
Alex Wong/Getty

President Donald Trump may think the census citizenship question scandal is over now that he’s declared victory and marched away in defeat.

But he’s wrong. The citizenship question may be finished, but the scandal is just getting started.

Forget Trump’s order to compile data from “vast federal databases” on citizenship. Not only is that insignificant—it’s what the Census Bureau itself had recommended instead of messing with the census form itself by asking about citizenship.

Trump Declares From the Rose Garden He’s Not Owned on the Census

What’s actually meaningful are the two lawsuits over the citizenship question and the congressional investigations over what Trump officials knew and when. And all of those are still ongoing.

Why? Because, at this point, those investigations are about the lies the administration told, not the underlying question itself: the cover-up, not the crime, so to speak. And those are all live legal questions.

First, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that the House of Representatives will vote “soon” on a contempt of Congress resolution against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr.

That vote stems from the two officials’ refusal to hand over reams of subpoenaed documents related to the census question. And whether those two officials acted in contempt of Congress has nothing to do with whether the citizenship question is alive or dead. If they ignored the subpoenas, that’s contempt, regardless of the context.

Barr and Ross stood alongside Trump at his Thursday press conference, but they may soon have to stand in a dock in court, defending themselves against contempt charges.

Second, the primary lawsuit over the census is still ongoing in a federal court in New York, after the Supreme Court authorized the court to continue proceedings regarding the “incongruent” explanations for the citizenship question provided by the Trump administration.

While some parts of those proceedings may now be moot, several parts are not. Plaintiffs—including the ACLU, the state of New York, and the New York Immigration Coalition—have asked the court to levy sanctions against government officials who, they say, lied during court proceedings.

To adjudicate that claim, plaintiffs have asked for additional “discovery,” the legal term for obtaining documents, deposing witnesses, and otherwise conducting a detailed, exhaustive investigation.

In fact, these two investigations may be just getting started.

Just in the New York case, plaintiffs are eager to explore the newly unearthed files of deceased Republican operative Thomas Hofeller, who said that gaining citizenship data through the census might enable states to redraw congressional districts based on eligible voters, rather than total population. That would help Republicans and “non-Hispanic whites,” Hofeller wrote.

Remarkably, Trump and Barr even alluded to Hofeller’s rationale for harvesting citizenship data in their remarks in the Rose Garden: Trump said the data could be used to draw congressional districts, and Barr said that states “may want to draw districts based on eligible voters, not the total number of persons.”

Those are shocking statements, and completely different from what the Trump administration told the public, courts, and Congress about why the citizenship data was needed.

But there’s probably a lot more than just that one remark in the hard drives Hofeller left behind, and plaintiffs in the New York case are determined to find out.

Then there are the congressional investigations.

In addition to the ignored subpoenas, it’s clear—as I noted as early as last October—that Ross lied under oath to Congress. Ross said that he only added the citizenship question in December 2017, after a request from the Department of Justice and a public comment period. But a letter Ross wrote seven months earlier, in May 2017, said that he had already requested the question be added.

And there are numerous other examples. Ross lied under oath about his meetings with White House advisers Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach, both ardent nationalists. DOJ officials lied about the influence of Hofellercovered up their conversations about changing census confidentiality rules to share data with ICE, and lied about the chain of events leading up to the proposed change.

In his press conference, Trump tried to make the citizenship question about loyalty and patriotism.

Democrats, he said, “want to erase the existence of a very important word: citizen.” They want to “conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst. Probably because that number is far greater, far higher than anyone would have believed.”

But the Democrats aren’t the ones who hatched a secret plan to weaponize the census against immigrant communities and then lied about it over and over again. Trump officials are. And they are going to have to answer for it.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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