Update: This story has been updated to include Secretary Ross’ remarks on the Democrats’ claims about the draft.
The Justice Department official behind a December 2017 request for a census citizenship question told lawmakers that he received a draft of the request from a Trump transition official who did not work for the administration, House Democrats said Thursday.
They released a portion of a transcript of an interview with Trump-appointed DOJ official John Gore on Thursday, as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was beginning testimony about the census question in front of the House Oversight Committee.
According to Democrats’ summary of the interview, Gore said he received the draft of the request “around the same time he was preparing” the Dec. 12, 2017 letter that became the official request. It came from Mark Neuman, a former census official who worked for the Trump transition team but did not ultimately serve in the Trump administration.
A DOJ lawyer accompanying Gore in the interview stopped him from answering questions about the content of the draft provided by Neuman, or about how much Gore used it to write the letter the Department ultimately sent, according to the documents released by the Democrats.
Ross, later in the hearing, suggested that Democrats had mischaracterized Gore’s testimony. Ross claimed that Gore had in fact testified that he wasn’t sure who had provided him the draft, and that, per Ross, Gore only “thought” it “might” have been Neuman, but Neuman himself denied the event in a deposition.
Regardless, this is not the first time Neuman’s name has come up in scrutiny over why Ross decided to add the question. Neuman was the co-chair of the monitoring board of the U.S. Census Commission and a go-to for Ross and his aides when they had questions about getting the citizenship question added. He had worked for the Census Bureau as its congressional liaison during the George H.W. Bush administration.
According to documents released in the lawsuits over Ross’ move, Commerce official Earl Comstock emailed Neuman in April 2017 seeking clarification on the deadline for the Census Bureau to add questions to the 2020 census. In May 2017 — after Ross emailed an aide about his frustration that nothing had been done on his request to add the question — his chief of staff Wendy Teramoto suggested that Ross get together with Neuman.
It appears that Neuman continued to give Commerce Department officials advice on how to get the question added. Comstock testified in deposition for the citizenship question lawsuits that he consulted Neuman several times, including on the citizenship question.
Commerce Department official Peter Davidson, in response to a October 2017 Ross email with the subject line “Letter from DoJ,” told Ross he was getting a “readout” from Neuman.
According to the summary of the Gore interview released by the Dems Thursday, it was Davidson who suggested to Gore that he get in touch with Neuman.