DOJ won’t prosecute ex-Trump Commerce chief Ross for misleading Congress on census question

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will not prosecute former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for misrepresenting the rationale for a proposed citizenship question in last year's census, according to the Commerce Department's inspector general.

Ross “misrepresented the full rationale for the reinstatement of the citizenship question” during two appearances before House committees in March 2018, a letter from the department watchdog to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, both Democrats from New York.

Inspector General Peggy Gustafson said her office presented its investigation to the public integrity section of the DOJ’s criminal division, but the matter was declined for prosecution.

The Biden Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the inspector general's letter.

Ross told Congress that he decided to add the question after receiving a Justice Department memorandum in December of 2017 that said the citizenship data was needed to properly enforce federal voting laws. But he later said during a trial on the issue that he started thinking about the citizenship issue shortly after taking office and suggested that the Justice Department request it.

The inspector general's letter said “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.”

In June of 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could not include the citizenship question on the census form that goes to every U.S. household, handing a win to populous, mostly Democratic states that said the question would discourage legal and illegal immigrants from responding and make the population count less accurate.

A census is required every 10 years by the Constitution, and its results determine the size of each state's congressional delegation and redistricting. The data is also used to calculate a local government's share of funds under many federal programs.

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