Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday declined to elaborate on what conversations he may have had with the White House about adding a Census citizenship question — beyond detailing his previously-known spring 2017 phone call with then-Trump advisor Steve Bannon. House Oversight Democrats sought to grill Ross on any White House conversations, given that his testimony in front of Congress last year suggested he had none.
At Thursday’s hearing, Ross said that any hypothetical White House discussions beyond the Bannon call are confidential and he is not authorized to disclose them. He also said the previous testimony referred only to an Trump campaign fundraising email that referenced the Census citizenship issue.
The Commerce Department revealed the Bannon phone call in a court document last year following Ross’ initial congressional testimony. Ross on Thursday said the phone conversation was “brief,” and merely a request from Bannon that the Commerce Secretary speak to then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about something Kobach wanted to add to the census.
But rather than deny that other conversations with the White House occurred, Ross referenced a list filed in court of the other people he spoke to about the citizenship question. The list included names of Justice Department officials, as well as an official at the Department of Homeland Security.
Ross emphasized that his White House conversations were confidential.
He used the same excuse when asked about a phone call he had in 2017 with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“My conversations with the Attorney General are confidential,” Ross said, while claiming, “I have been told by counsel that it would not be appropriate for me to answer that question.”