The public should know why the Department of Justice declined to prosecute former Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross following a Department of Commerce referral and investigation which found that Ross provided false or misleading testimony before Congress in March 2018. Specifically, Ross “misrepresented the full rationale” for proposing the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census. A crucial component of our democracy which impacts everything from legislative districts to budgetary decisions, the Census should not be subject to political influence by federal officials.
CREW requests the complete, unredacted version of the investigation report referenced in Inspector General Peggy Gustafson’s letter to Congress detailing the OIG’s findings that Ross “misrepresented the full rationale for the reinstatement of the citizenship question” in the 2020 Census during his testimonies before Congress. CREW also requests all records relating to the DOJ’s decision to decline prosecution of Ross following the Commerce OIG’s referral.
Although Ross testified twice before Congress that the inclusion of the citizenship question was solely due to a request by the DOJ, the OIG investigation found that Ross and other officials played a “substantive role” in proposing the addition of the question. Furthermore, there were “significant communications related to the citizenship question among the then-Secretary, his staff, and other government officials” before the DOJ request, and the investigation also suggests that the Department of Commerce “requested and played a part in drafting the DOJ memorandum.”
The 2020 Census was marred by politicization, from the Trump administration forcing Census officials to halt counts early to the controversial proposal of the citizenship question, which could have discouraged non-citizens from participating. Ross’s apparently misleading testimony under oath about the citizenship question is unacceptable, and it is worrisome that the DOJ decided against prosecution after OIG’s findings. Congressional testimonies depend on telling the truth under oath, and anything less is a disservice to our democracy and citizens. The public should have more information regarding the DOJ’s rationale to not prosecute, as well as the full contents of the OIG report.