The Justice Department on Thursday acknowledged that Steve Bannon, formerly President Donald Trump’s top adviser, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed the idea of adding a citizenship question on the 2020 census with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
In a court filing on Thursday, the Justice Department said that Ross recalls Bannon calling him in the spring of 2017 and asking if he would speak to then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about Kobach’s idea of adding a question about citizenship in the decennial census.
The filing also said that Ross “discussed the possible reinstatement of a citizenship question” on the 2020 census with Attorney General Jeff Sessions “at subsequent times” that spring.
The discovery contradicts a claim Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, made during his testimony in front of Congress on March 20.
When asked whether the president or anyone in the White House discussed the possibility of adding a citizenship question to the census while testifying to Congress, Ross replied, “I am not aware of any such.”
During that testimony, Ross also claimed that the Justice Department initiated the requests to add the question.
The Justice Department’s filing on Thursday was a response to questions from New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood in the pretrial discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by New York and 16 other states aimed at blocking the Trump administration from adding the citizenship question.
Documents, including Ross’ emails, disclosed earlier this summer as part of the lawsuit’s discovery suggest that Ross wanted to add the question before the Justice Department’s official request.
In a May 2017 email to Earl Comstock, the director of the office of policy and strategic planning at the Commerce Department, Ross questioned why “nothing have been done in response to my months old request that we include the citizenship question. Why not?”
Comstock replied by assuring Ross that the department would find a way to get the question on the census.
“We need to work with Justice to get them to request that citizenship be added back as a census question, and we have the court cases to illustrate that DoJ has a legitimate need for the question to be included,” Comstock wrote to Ross. “I will arrange a meeting with DoJ staff this week to discuss.”
Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, announced the Department of Commerce’s decision to add the question in March after the Justice Department sent his department a formal request for it in December 2017.
The administration claims that it’s adding the question to the 2020 census so the Department of Justice can gather more citizenship data and better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
In April, then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) said that adding the question “blatantly” undermines the Constitution’s mandate to count all people living in the U.S.
The decennial census, which goes to every American household, has not included citizenship questions since 1950.