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Trump Aides Worked With GOP Activist Who Sought To Rig Census

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has obtained evidence showing that the Trump administration worked hand-in-hand with a GOP activist to try to rig the 2020 census.

Thomas Hofeller, who died last year, was a Republican activist who specialized in gerrymandering and redistricting. In 2015, he conducted a study that determined that having a citizenship question on the decennial census would disadvantage Democrats and be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

During litigation over the Trump administration’s attempts to justify adding the question to the 2020 census, allegations appeared that Hofeller’s study had been instrumental in the administration’s decision to push for the question. The Justice Department flatly denied this, saying that the study “played no role” in the matter.

Now, the House Oversight Committee says it has material showing that the Trump administration began strategizing about how to add a citizenship question almost immediately after Trump took office — and, in the summer of 2017, worked directly with Hofeller to do so.

Mark Neuman, who was a member of the Trump transition team and a former adviser on census issues, provided information about his contacts with Hofeller during the time the administration was discussing how it could get the citizenship question on the census.

In August 2017, Neuman, then an adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, communicated directly with both Hofeller and his business partner, Dalton “Dale” Oldham, about how to best phrase the citizenship question. Neuman asked both men to review language in a letter Neuman was sending to request the addition of the question.

Neuman’s letter offered the unfounded rationale the DOJ would later use to justify the question — to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act — and he wanted to make sure Hofeller and Oldham thought the language was correct. Both Oldham and Hofeller agreed the language was fine.

At every turn, Hofeller sought to advantage Republicans by minimizing participation by voters of color and Democratic voters. He didn’t do this in the shadows. On the contrary, Hofeller was ubiquitous in his efforts to ensure Republican control at any cost. When he passed away in 2018, one obituary said he “may be more responsible for the Republican majority in Congress than any other single person in modern politics.”

Over the years, Republicans paid him millions of dollars for his services.

Hofeller helped draw a highly gerrymandered map in North Carolina. He was hired by the conservative Washington Free Beacon to assess whether it would advantage Republicans to draw political maps based on a subset of the population — American citizens of voting age — rather than a state’s total population. He worked as the redistricting director for the Republican National Committee.

Trying to rig the census was just a logical progression for Hofeller. In the Trump administration, he found a willing ear for his efforts. And now the House Oversight committee has proof the administration formed a partnership with Hofeller as well.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: Wilbur Ross departs Trump Tower after a meeting with Donald Trump in New York, November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Congress Holds Wilbur Ross And William Barr In Criminal Contempt

On Wednesday, Wilbur Ross became the first commerce secretary in the history of the United States to be held in contempt of Congress. In a 230-198 vote, the House of Representatives voted to hold both Ross and Attorney General William Barr in criminal contempt of Congress.

Barr is the second attorney general Congress has held in contempt. In 2012, the House voted to hold President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, in contempt in relation to the “Fast and Furious” scandal, even though Holder testified before Congress 11 times.

Hours before the contempt vote took place, Ross and Barr wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pleading with her not to hold the vote. Their request went unheeded.

The overwhelming majority of Democrats supported the resolution, while Republicans unanimously opposed it. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, an independent who recently left the Republican Party, voted in favor of the resolution, while only four Democrats voted against it.

The vote came after both Ross and Barr refused to cooperate with congressional investigations into the Trump administration’s attempt to rig the 2020 census with a racist citizenship question. Both men ignored subpoenas demanding documents to aid in the investigation.

Ross falsely claimed to Congress that the idea to add the question came from the Justice Department. Internal documents show it was the Commerce Department that asked the Justice Department to request a citizenship question. Adding the question, according to a Republican operative involved in the process, would undercount millions of black and Hispanic residents and would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

In the end, it was a racist ploy to advantage Republicans and unfairly harm Democrats.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration lied about why it wanted the question on the census in the first place, ultimately halting Trump’s efforts to add it.

The contempt vote allows Congress to sue Ross and Barr in federal court and have a judge enforce the subpoena. The vote also formally refers both men to the Justice Department for possible punishment, up to and including fines and jail time. Given Barr’s role as head of the Justice Department, it is highly unlikely the pair will face any repercussions.

Before the vote, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of the House Oversight Committee, explained the reasons for moving forward with contempt, even though punishment is unlikely.

“Look, if you act with contempt for Congress and the American people, then you should be held in contempt of Congress and the American people, that’s pretty clear to me,” Raskin told NBC News. “We’ve never seen anything like this systemic defiance of the Congress by the president before.”

With the contempt vote behind it, Congress will likely file a lawsuit in federal court in the coming weeks, the New York Times reports. Many members of the Trump administration have been willing to defy Congress, but it remains unknown if they would also defy a court order directing them to comply with a congressional subpoena.

If the lawsuit against Ross and Burr is successful, America could soo find out.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Spokesman Says The President Isn’t ‘Going To Be Beholden To Courts Anymore’

A White House spokesman let slip something in a Fox News interview on Friday he probably didn’t mean to say.

Discussing the defeat in the Commerce Department’s effort to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley tried to argue — as President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr have said — that despite all appearances, the administration was actually vindicated by the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court even ruled this question could be on there, but it was impossible to get it on in time for printing,” Gidley said.

Of course, Gidley didn’t mention the fact that the reason it’s “impossible” to put the citizenship question on the Census in time is that the court found that the administration’s first attempt to include the question violated the law. Chief Justice John Roberts struck down the Commerce Department’s plans because it provided an apparently “contrived” justification for including the question. The impossibility only became a factor because the administration was so wildly inept and deceptive; it would have had to start all over again to add the question back to the Census because it is currently legally blocked from including it. And there just isn’t enough time for redo.

“We looked at inserts, we looked at all types of options,” Gidley continued. “And the president said: ‘Listen. I’m not going to be beholden to courts anymore. I have the legal authority to find out this information. The American people deserve to know it. So I’m moving forward with this method.”

Host Bill Hemmer ignored Gidley’s claim that the president claims he’s not “beholden” to the courts and quickly moved on. While it was likely just more pseudo machismo in the face of a humiliating defeat, the claim echoed what many feared when Barr and Trump suggested they might try to include a citizenship question on the Census despite the Supreme Court’s ruling. Trump ended up directing the administration to find other methods of calculating the number of American citizens.

Since even the Census Bureau long acknowledged that including the question on the decennial survey was not the best method for counting American citizens, it seems the administration’s real purpose for including the question in the first place was not really to get a quantitative answer. Rather, it sought to discourage response rates in regions heavily populated by Hispanics and immigrant groups, thus shifting political power from Democrats to Republicans.

Watch the clip below:

IMAGE: White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.

Blame Wilbur Ross For Clumsy Lies That Made A Mess Of Census

If you want to understand why the Trump administration is scrambling at the last minute to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census, you have to look beyond the lawsuits filed by Democrats anxious about the question’s political impact. The only reason that litigation produced a June 27 Supreme Court decision blocking the question was the blatant, bumbling mendacity of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose rationale for the change Chief Justice John Roberts and four of his colleagues deemed “contrived” and “pretextual.”

Whether that conclusion should make a legal difference is a matter of dispute; four justices thought it shouldn’t. But if Ross, whose department includes the Census Bureau, had told the truth — or even if he had been better at lying — census forms with the citizenship question would already be rolling off the presses.

The evidence that Ross’ official explanation — that the Justice Department needed better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act — was not the real reason for his decision persuaded three federal judges as well as a majority of the Supreme Court. It is not hard to see why.

“In the Secretary’s telling,” the court said, “Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency).”

That record shows Ross “began taking steps to reinstate a citizenship question about a week into his tenure, but it contains no hint that he was considering VRA enforcement in connection with that project.” After making the decision for reasons he has yet to reveal, Ross spent months trying to gin up a respectable excuse.

Under Ross’ instructions, his policy director “initially attempted to elicit requests for citizenship data from the Department of Homeland Security and DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, neither of which is responsible for enforcing the VRA,” the court said. “After those attempts failed, he asked Commerce staff to look into whether the Secretary could reinstate the question without receiving a request from another agency.”

The VRA rationale originated not with the Justice Department, as Ross repeatedly claimed, but with Commerce Department staffers trying to satisfy their boss’s demands. The DOJ was unwilling to write this cover story until Ross persuaded the attorney general to intervene, and even then, “the record suggests that DOJ’s interest was directed more to helping the Commerce Department than to securing the data.”

The DOJ letter requesting a citizenship question was not written until nine months after Ross had made his decision, and it “drew heavily on contributions from Commerce staff and advisors.” Furthermore, “After sending the letter, DOJ declined the Census Bureau’s offer to discuss alternative ways to meet DOJ’s stated need for improved citizenship data,” reinforcing the impression that the VRA justification was phony.

Why does it matter? “In order to permit meaningful judicial review, an agency must ‘disclose the basis’ of its action,” the court said. “The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law … is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public.”

The court left open the possibility that the Commerce Department could try again, this time without lying. It noted that the commerce secretary has wide discretion to determine the contents of the census and that review of such decisions is “deferential.”

The Trump administration now faces two problems. First, while there are plenty of plausible nonpartisan reasons for asking about the legal status of U.S. residents in the census, coming up with one at this late date will smack of desperation.

Second, the administration has insisted all along that it needed to start printing forms by last week to keep the census on schedule, which is why its appeal in this case went straight to the Supreme Court. The administration has weaved a tangled web for itself that will be hard to escape.

IMAGE: Wilbur Ross testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be commerce secretary at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @JacobSullum. To find out more about Jacob Sullum and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.