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Newly released documents show political interference in census citizenship question, say plaintiffs

Newly released government documents show “efforts of senior Commerce officials to monitor and potentially interfere in Census Bureau” decisions, according to the groups who successfully sued the Trump administration over the citizenship question.

The 1,400 documents were not handed over prior to the trial, and the groups that sued the federal government, including New York State, told a judge late Monday that harmed their case. Those groups also say omissions remain and have asked the judge to sanction the government.

The Justice Department, however, told the judge the documents “have no bearing” on the sanctions request, “except to reinforce the conclusion that Plaintiffs’ allegations of misconduct are baseless, and that their motion for sanctions should be denied.”

The lawsuit is one of several against the Trump administration over the 2018 decision to ask whether the person responding to the Census is a US citizen, which critics believe would depress the response rate to the survey. President Donald Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ultimately withdrew the question from this year’s Census after the Supreme Court ruled against the administration.

As CNN reported in January, the trial judge who oversaw the case ordered the Commerce Department to turn over this batch of documents while he considers the sanctions request.

The government has claimed a technical issue led to the pages being withheld, but the plaintiffs argued the damning nature and the sheer size of the release — combined with multiple government statements that it had handed everything over — “speaks to their candor.”

The government has not yet responded to the filing.

The release reveals that an aide to Ross asked Census Bureau leadership for feedback on his plan to add the citizenship question on the same day he issued his final decision that it be added.

But how Census Bureau officials responded remains unknown. The Commerce Department did not hand over the actual document, the plaintiffs said, and only handed over an email revealing the document exists.

Census Bureau leadership had tried earlier to dissuade Ross from adding the question, arguing its inclusion would drive down the quality of the count and cost more money.

“Plaintiffs did not know that such documents existed until the post-litigation production,” they wrote in the letter to the judge. “During discovery, Defendants led Plaintiffs to believe that the Census Bureau comments on the draft no longer existed or were never memorialized in writing.”

The timestamp on that email “raises questions as to whether Commerce actually accounted for and addressed the Census Bureau’s views.” Census officials responded to the document in the evening, within hours of receiving it, and Ross’ final memo was officially dated the same day.

“The concealment of these documents made Plaintiffs’ litigation and trial presentation more difficult,” the groups wrote.

The government letter did not directly address that allegation, but said that the documents do not shed light on a more narrow issue the groups have focused on in their request for sanctions.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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