Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed ignorance Thursday when asked about comments from his own aide, Earl Comstock, that suggested that the Commerce Department, and not the Justice Department, came up with the rationale for adding a Census citizenship question.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Ross told Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) at a House Oversight Committee hearing.
Sarbanes appeared to be referring to deposition Comstock gave in the lawsuits challenging Ross’ decision. Comstock testified that Ross had asked him to explore getting the question answered.
“My job is to figure out how to carry out what my boss asks me to do,” Comstock testified. “So you go forward and you find a legal rationale. Doesn’t matter what his particular personal perspective is on it.”
Documents released in the litigation indicated that Commerce Department officials initially reached out to immigration law experts at other agencies about requesting the question, rather than voting rights attorneys.
Comstock asked the DOJ attorney whether it would be useful to the Department to have the kind of data a Census citizenship question would provide.
Both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security rebuffed Comstock’s efforts.
Comstock then asked a top Commerce Department attorney “to look into the legal issues and how Commerce could add the question to the Census itself,” according to a September 2017 memo Comstock prepared for Ross.