Home Donald Trump Rep. Connolly Statement for Today’s Oversight Hearing with Secretary Wilbur Ross

Rep. Connolly Statement for Today’s Oversight Hearing with Secretary Wilbur Ross

“Secretary Ross’ dishonesty and lies and distortions extend beyond his actions as a public official"

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From Rep. Gerry Connolly’s office:

Connolly Statement for Today’s Oversight Hearing with Secretary Wilbur Ross 

It is time to hold Secretary Ross responsible for what he said before Congress and for the Department’s obstruction of the Committee’s investigation into the citizenship question.”

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, released the following statement in advance of today’s House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing with Secretary Wilbur Ross:

Key excerpts:

“In early 2018, we heard rumors that the Trump Administration was planning to add a question to the 2020 Census. I was concerned then, as I am now, that the citizenship question will reduce the accuracy of the 2020 Census and increase the overall cost of census operations.

I spoke with Secretary Ross and then-Commerce Deputy General Counsel Michael J. Walsh on March 15, prior to the Department’s announcement that it would go forward with adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census. During our phone conversation, Secretary Ross and Mr. Walsh made it seem as though they had not heard any similar concerns about adding a citizenship question to the census. They did not let on that from nearly the moment he took office, Secretary Ross conducted a secret, behind-the-scenes campaign to add a citizenship question over the objections of experts and career agency officials.”

“Throughout his campaign to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, Secretary Ross was misleading and untruthful. He knew the consequences of adding the question, but he led me to believe that he had not heard any concerns prior to speaking with me.”

“Secretary Ross’ dishonesty and lies and distortions extend beyond his actions as a public official…The kleptocracy is open for business and you will be rewarded.”

“It is time to hold Secretary Ross responsible for what he said before Congress and for the Department’s obstruction of the Committee’s investigation into the citizenship question.” 

Full statement:

The decennial census is one of the most important operations undertaken by the federal government. It is one of the few government functions mandated explicitly in the Constitution. The data collected during each decennial census is used to apportion seats of the House of Representatives, redraw congressional districts, and allocate billions of dollars each year in federal financial assistance. State and local governments as well as the private sector use census data for planning purposes and to better serve their customers. That is why a complete count is so crucial.

In early 2018, we heard rumors that the Trump Administration was planning to add a question to the 2020 Census. I was concerned then, as I am now, that the citizenship question will reduce the accuracy of the 2020 Census and increase the overall cost of census operations. I spoke with Secretary Ross and then-Commerce Deputy General Counsel Michael J. Walsh on March 15, prior to the Department’s announcement that it would go forward with adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census. During our phone conversation, Secretary Ross and Mr. Walsh made it seem as though they had not heard any similar concerns about adding a citizenship question to the census. They did not let on that from nearly the moment he took office, Secretary Ross conducted a secret, behind-the-scenes campaign to add a citizenship question over the objections of experts and career agency officials.

            Here is what we now know:

  • On March 10, 2017, ten days after Secretary Ross was sworn in, Department of Commerce official Earl Comstock emailed Secretary Ross with the subject line, “Your Question on the Census.” The body of the email included a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Pitfalls of Counting Illegal Immigrants.”
  • On April 5, 2017, Secretary Ross’ assistant wrote in an email, “Steve Bannon has asked that the Secretary talk to someone about the Census.”
  • A week later, on April 13, Mr. Comstock emailed Mark Neuman, a private citizen who had served in prior Republican administrations, asking, “When does Census need to notify Congress regarding questions that will be on (A) the ACS and (B) the decennial Census?”
  • On May 2, 2017, Secretary Ross emailed Mr. Comstock and the Department of Commerce Chief Financial Officer Ellen Herbst, “I am mystified why nothing have [sic] been done in response to my months old request that we include the citizenship question.”
  • In early May 2017, Mr. Comstock met in person with officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to discuss the citizenship question. Eventually Mr. Comstock was informed, “Justice staff did not want to raise the question given the difficulties Justice was encountering in the press at the time (the whole Comey matter).”
  • On July 14, 2017, Kris Kobach, who had recently been appointed Vice Chair of President Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, emailed Secretary Ross to “follow up on our telephone discussion from a few months ago.” In a follow-up email, Mr. Kobach noted their previous call had been “at the direction of Steve Bannon.” Mr. Kobach told Secretary Ross that not asking a citizenship question “leads to the problem that aliens who do not actually ‘reside’ in the United States are still counted for congressional apportionment purposes,” and included a sample citizenship question. Ten days later, Secretary Ross’ Chief of Staff arranged for Mr. Kobach to speak with Secretary Ross by phone.
  • On August 8, 2018, Secretary Ross emailed Mr. Comstock asking, “Where is DOJ in their analysis?” if they still have not come to a conclusion please let me know your contact person and I will call the AG.”
  • On August 11, 2017, Mr. Comstock emailed Secretary Ross a memorandum analyzing the citizenship question drafted by James Uthmeier, the Department of Commerce’s Deputy General Counsel.
  • On September 13, 2017, John Gore, then-Acting Assistant Attorney General at DOJ, emailed Secretary Ross’ Chief of Staff to talk about a “DOJ-DOC issue.” That phone call was followed by a call between Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Ross. After the Attorney General and the Secretary spoke, a DOJ staffer emailed Secretary Ross’ Chief of Staff, “From what John told me, it sounds like we can do whatever you all need us to do and the delay was due to a miscommunication. The AG is eager to assist.”
  • On November 27, 2017, Secretary Ross emailed the Department of Commerce General Counsel Peter Davidson, “We are out of time. Please set up a call for me tomorrow with whoever is the responsible person at Justice. We must have this resolved.”
  • On December 12, 2017, Arthur Gary, the General Counsel at DOJ’s Justice Management Division, sent Ron Jarmin, then-Acting Director of the Census Bureau, a formal letter requesting the addition of a citizenship question to the 200 Census in order to gather “critical” data needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
  • On January 19, 2018, Dr. John Abowd, Chief Scientist at the Census Bureau, sent Secretary Ross a memorandum analyzing the citizenship question. The Bureau recommended existing records to obtain citizenship data and warned that adding a citizenship question “is very costly, harms the quality of the census count, and would use substantially less accurate citizenship status data than are available from administrative sources.”
  • On March 1, 2018, Dr. Abowd sent a second memorandum to Secretary Ross, recommending against adding a citizenship question.
  • I relayed my own concerns about the citizenship question during a phone call with Secretary Ross on March 15, 2018.
  • On March 26, 2018, Secretary Ross announced his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

Throughout his campaign to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, Secretary Ross was misleading and untruthful. He knew the consequences of adding the question, but he led me to believe that he had not heard any concerns prior to speaking with me. He ignored statutory deadlines to notify Congress despite being aware enough of to ask a private citizen when Census would need to notify Congress of the question.

After issuing the decision to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, Secretary Ross continued to mislead Congress. In testimony before House Committee on Appropriations, the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Secretary Ross insisted that the addition of the citizenship question was added pursuant to a request from DOJ. It was not until he knew that the Department of Commerce would soon turn over documents during litigation that proved otherwise did Secretary Ross admit that he had asked DOJ to initiate the request to add the citizenship question.

The citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire scandal only scratches the surface on serious concerns about Secretary Ross’ honesty and integrity. Secretary Ross twice submitted statements to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) saying he had divested stock that he, in fact, still owned. In a letter to OGE, Secretary Ross promised to sell his Bank United, Inc. stock within 90 days of Senate confirmation, a transaction that was supposed to have occurred by the end of May 2017. Since his confirmation, Secretary Ross twice submitted disclosure reports to OGE stating that he had divested the stock. When press inquired with the Department of Commerce last year about whether Secretary Ross had followed through with his promise to divest from Bank United, Inc. and other stocks that presented a conflict of interest with his position, he submitted a statement to OGE acknowledging he had not divested from stock when he said he did. This led to OGE taking the highly unusual step of not certifying Secretary Ross’ latest financial disclosure report.

Secretary Ross’ dishonesty and lies and distortions extend beyond his actions as a public official. According to reporting by Forbes, he has engaged in serial obfuscation and lying regarding his personal wealth and investments. After an investigation of his past business relationships, the outlet concluded that “if even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States Secretary of Commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.” By keeping Secretary Ross in his role as Commerce Secretary, the Administration is sending this message to individuals in the private sector: Lie in your business dealings to inflate your net worth, being the target of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is not disqualifying, short stocks of companies when you learn they are about to be the subject or bad press, obscure lawsuits and investments during your Senate confirmation hearing, and lie to Congress. The kleptocracy is open for business and you will be rewarded.

I want to thank Chairman Cummings for doing what Republicans have avoided doing for the past two years: oversight of the Trump Administration. It is time to hold Secretary Ross responsible for what he said before Congress and for the Department’s obstruction of the Committee’s investigation into the citizenship question.