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DOJ won't prosecute ex-Trump Commerce chief Ross for misleading Congress on census question

Wilbur Ross "misrepresented the full rationale for the reinstatement of the citizenship question" during appearances before House committees in 2018, the Commerce Department inspector general found.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will not prosecute former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for misrepresenting why a citizenship question was proposed for last year's census, according to the Commerce Department's inspector general.

Ross "misrepresented the full rationale for the reinstatement of the citizenship question" during two appearances before House committees in March 2018, said a letter from the department's watchdog to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, both Democrats from New York.

Inspector General Peggy Gustafson said that her office presented its investigation to the public integrity section of the Justice Department's criminal division but that the matter was declined for prosecution.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the letter.

Ross told Congress that he decided to add the question after he got a Justice Department memorandum in December 2017 that said the citizenship data were needed to properly enforce federal voting laws. But he later said during a trial over the issue that he started thinking about the citizenship issue shortly after he took office and suggested that the Justice Department request it.

The inspector general's letter said "evidence shows there were significant communications related to the citizenship question among the then-secretary, his staff, and other government officials between March 2017 and September 2017, which was well before the DOJ request memorandum."

The Supreme Court ruled in June 2019 that the Trump administration could not include the citizenship question on the census form that goes to every U.S. household, handing a win to populous, mostly Democratic states that said the question would discourage legal and illegal immigrants from responding and make the population count less accurate.

A census is required every 10 years by the Constitution, and its results determine the size of each state's congressional delegation and redistricting. The data are also used to calculate local governments' shares of funds under many federal programs.