Ross Admits Bannon Put Him In Touch With Kobach To Talk Census Citizenship Question

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, talks about the approaching midterm election during an interview with The Associated Press, in Washington, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross admitted Thursday in ongoing litigation that then-White House adviser Steve Bannon called him in the spring of 2017 to put him in touch with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to discuss adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Ross’ admission is contrary to previous testimony he gave to Congress in which he said he was not aware of being contacted by anyone in the White House about adding a citizenship question.

The Trump administration up until this point has stonewalled questions, including from lawmakers, about Bannon’s involvement in Ross’ move to add the question. A 2017 email from Kobach, which was released in June as part of the litigation around the citizenship question, asking a Commerce official to set up a call with Ross referenced a previous phone conversation Kobach had with Ross “at the direction of Steve Bannon, a few months earlier.”

Thursday’s revelation — which was tweeted out by a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who’s leading one of the lawsuits — is the Justice Department’s response to a discovery request by the challengers that it detail who Ross was referring to in a memo submitted in June after the records including Kobach’s emails were released.

In the June memo, Ross vaguely acknowledged that he had discussions about a census citizenship question with “senior Administration officials.” Thursday’s filing said that Ross “recalls that Steven Bannon called Secretary Ross in the Spring of 2017 to ask Secretary Ross if he would be willing to speak to then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about Secretary Kobach’s ideas about a possible citizenship question on the decennial census.”

Another Kobach email revealed he had discussed with Ross how a citizenship question could be used to change congressional apportionment. The administration has claimed, including in Ross’ own testimony to Congress, that Ross added the question because the Justice Department needed it for Voting Rights Act Enforcement.

“As you may recall, we talked about the fact that the US Census does not currently ask respondents their citizenship. This lack of information impairs the federal government’s ability to do a number of things accurately. It also leads to the problem that aliens who do not actually ‘reside’ in the United States are counted for congressional apportionment purposes,” Kobach wrote to Ross. “It is essential that one simple question should be added to the upcoming 2020 census.”

He went on to pitch that the census ask both a citizenship question and whether the respondent, if not a citizen, is a green card holder.

The email was sent in July 2017, well before the Justice Department submitted a formal request for the question in December 2017.

Read Justice Department’s response to the challengers’ discovery request below:

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