Jurisprudence

There’s New Proof That Trump Officials Lied Under Oath About the Census Citizenship Question

Will they be punished for it?

John Gore.
John Gore at the Justice Department on July 15.
Erin Scott/Reuters

Yet another smoking gun proves that officials in the Trump administration lied under oath about their attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The new documents, obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, also confirm the administration’s true reason for inserting the question—to aid Republican redistricting efforts by diminishing minority votes. It is now beyond doubt that high-ranking officials covered up the racist motivations behind their endeavor to rig the census. Now the only question is whether a federal court will punish those involved for their mendacity.

The broad strokes of the administration’s scheme to add a citizenship question were uncovered during litigation last year. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, demanded that the Justice Department devise a rationale to insert the question. The task fell on John Gore, then the principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights. Ross’ adviser Mark Neuman gave Gore a draft letter claiming that the DOJ needed citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. Gore adapted this letter into a memo that he sent back to Ross, who then announced that he would add the citizenship question. Ross overruled his own Census Bureau, which found that its inclusion would lead to a massive undercount because Hispanics and immigrants would be afraid to respond to the census. As a result, their communities would lose electoral representation, as well as billions in federal funding.

After the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, but before it issued a decision, the ACLU dropped a new bombshell. Its attorneys had obtained the files of Thomas Hofeller, the GOP’s recently deceased gerrymandering guru. These files demonstrated that Neuman’s letter was cribbed directly from a 2015 study performed by Hofeller. In that study, Hofeller found that a census citizenship question “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” Recognizing the political toxicity of this aim, Hofeller advised that the question be disguised as an attempt to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

In May, before the Supreme Court ruled, ACLU asked U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman to sanction both Gore and Neuman. Hofeller’s files proved, among other things, that both men had lied about the genesis of the citizenship question during depositions. Neuman claimed he played no role in crafting Gore’s memo, while Gore falsely testified that he wrote the memo himself. In fact, Neuman wrote a draft of the memo that Gore then adapted. Both men also concealed Hofeller’s involvement; Neuman even declared that he did not ask Hofeller for help.

The Supreme Court issued a decision a few weeks later blocking the citizenship question. Chief Justice John Roberts’ 5–4 decision found that the administration had illegally “contrived” a “pretext.” But the headache for Gore and Neuman was not over. The ACLU has continued to press for sanctions against both men, putting forth more evidence of their lies on Thursday.

This new information is the result of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s investigation into the census plot. And it is incredibly damning. Previously, the Justice Department had dismissed Hofeller’s alleged involvement with the citizenship question as a “baseless” “conspiracy theory.” And while a growing mountain of evidence linked Hofeller to the scheme, there was no irrefutable confirmation of his participation. Until now.

The new materials include an email exchange directly between Neuman and Hofeller. Neuman testified that he never relied on Hofeller for “expertise on the Voting Rights Act.” But in reality, Neuman emailed Hofeller a draft of the letter justifying the census citizenship question on VRA grounds. “Please make certain that this language is correct,” Neuman wrote. Hofeller responded that Dale Oldham, his business partner, had looked over it and “says it is fine as written.”

Neuman withheld these emails throughout the entire course of litigation over the census in violation of multiple court orders.

There’s more. Gore testified that he had never used personal text messages for DOJ work. He also attested that he did not improperly withhold any documents during discovery. But it turns out that Neuman sent a different version of the census memo to Gore—by personal text message. This alternate draft contains language approved by Hofeller and Oldham, and helps illustrate the development of the VRA rationale. Yet Gore never disclosed this alternate draft during discovery, as he was required to by court order.

Put simply, Gore and Neuman illicitly concealed at least two key pieces of evidence from the plaintiffs. The Justice Department then exploited these illegitimate omissions to deny Hofeller’s involvement before the Supreme Court. And the DOJ came one vote away from succeeding in what the ACLU decried as a “fraud on the court.”

The ACLU asked Furman to consider these new materials if he chooses to sanction Gore and Newman. Furman appears to be taking the request seriously; he could fine both men, and even suspend Gore’s law license. (Gore left the DOJ and took a job at Jones Day, the Trump administration’s farm team.) Even if Gore and Neuman escape punishment, this continued pursuit of the truth behind the cover-up serves a useful function: Each new bombshell gives the judiciary another reason to reject the fictions that the Trump administration cooks up in court.

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