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Trump DOJ Decries Eleventh-Hour ‘Conspiracy Theory’ in Attempt to Save Census Citizenship Question


As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the Trump Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the upcoming 2020 census, the administration is condemning allegations that new documents released last Thursday prove that the question may actually have been added to benefit “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

After reports of new of the documents from the New York Times broke last week, President Donald Trump‘s Department of Justice (DOJ) responded on Monday, issuing a strong rebuke of the claims in a letter; they called the allegations “meritless” and claimed there is no evidence to back the plaintiffs’ allegations.

“There is no smoking gun here; only smoke and mirrors,” DOJ wrote to U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman. “Plaintiffs apparently hope that by filing their eleventh-hour motion they might (improperly) derail the Supreme Court’s resolution of this case.

Furman scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to consider the plaintiffs’ accusations as part of a motion in which they requested weighing sanctions against the department for allegedly withholding evidence and making false statements about the census question. Furman previously blocked the addition of the citizenship question to the census, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” He also questioned Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross‘s credibility.

The DOJ, however, dismissed the allegations as a “conspiracy theory.”

Here was the full paragraph from the very end of the DOJ filing:

The Department of Justice takes accusations of false testimony very seriously. For the reasons set forth above and in the attached charts, Plaintiffs’ accusations are meritless. Plaintiffs had an obligation to conduct a pre-filing investigation before leveling such inflammatory accusations, especially against a high-ranking DOJ official. And they have had ample time to conduct that investigation; according to the New York Times, Plaintiffs’ counsel have had the Hofeller materials since at least February. See Gov’t Ex. L, at 3. Yet they appear to have spent more time coordinating with the media—the detailed Times article was posted online less than an hour after the ECF filing notice— than performing the requisite investigation. Plaintiffs apparently hope that by filing their eleventh- hour motion they might (improperly) derail the Supreme Court’s resolution of this case. There is no other plausible explanation for why they spilled so much ink describing “new” evidence that they have known since October and conjuring a conspiracy theory involving a deceased political operative that essentially hinges on wordplay. The Court should deny their baseless motion.

The issue centers around documents from the estate of Thomas Hofeller, a Republican operative who notoriously specialized in gerrymandering maps to ensure Republican advantages. The documents purportedly show that Hofeller specifically orchestrated the addition of the citizenship census question to achieve similar advantages, according to Thursday’s court filings.

Hofeller conducted a study on the effects a citizenship question would have on the overall census report, which became the template for the Trump administration in their decision to add the question. One of the conclusions of the study was that “A switch to the use of citizen voting age population as the redistricting population base for redistricting would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

According to the Times report, Hofeller even assisted in ghostwriting a draft DOJ letter to the Department of Commerce in 2017 requesting a citizenship question as a means of enforcing voting rights and concealing the results his 2015 study, claiming the question would benefit Latinos. Reports claim the letter was then passed to senior DOJ official John Gore before being sent to Commerce (known as the “Gary Letter”).

“The new evidence reveals that Dr. Thomas Hofeller, the longtime Republican redistricting specialist, played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,’ and that defendants obscured his role through affirmative misrepresentations,” the filing said.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a spokesman for the Justice Department said that Hofeller’s study played “no role” in the department’s decision to add the citizenship question to the census and claimed Gore had never heard of Hofeller’s study before Thursday.

In their letter to the Court Monday, the DOJ downplayed any similarities between Hofeller’s study and the Gary Letter, arguing that there is “no evidence that Gore ever read, received, or was even aware of the existence of [Hofeller’s study] before the filing…Thursday morning,” adding that the Plaintiff’s claims “rely on pure speculation to conjure an imagined link.”

[image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.