Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross now recalls conversations with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, according to a court document filed Thursday.
The recollection is the latest twist in litigation over the Trump administration’s decision to ask about citizenship in the decennial census.
The administration contends it needs citizenship information to better protect the rights of minority voters, but opponents argue it will depress the count in immigrant households, which will result in fewer federal dollars and diminished political power.
A Manhattan-based federal judge in September ordered Ross deposed to answer questions related to the intent of the citizenship question, but Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg temporarily froze the order Tuesday following an emergency request from the Justice Department.
Plaintiffs in a pair of related lawsuits over the question have sought more information about why administration decided to include it on the Census.
Ross told the House Ways and Means Committee in March that DOJ initiated the request for a citizenship question, but court filings challenged that assertion.
The Justice Department said earlier this month that it couldn’t confirm whether Ross spoke with Bannon before DOJ raised the issue in a December letter to the acting Census director.
In the document submitted today, the administration said Ross now remembered receiving a call from Bannon related to the issue in spring 2017.
Bannon asked Ross if he would be willing to speak with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about a possible citizenship question. Kobach, an immigration hard-liner, is the Republican nominee for Kansas governor.
Ross also said he recalled speaking with Sessions about the issue in spring 2017 and afterward.
A Commerce Department spokesman said the latest response from Ross “supplements the record but does not change the secretary’s story“ and “only adds to it.“
Ginsburg appears likely to refer the issue of the deposition to the full Supreme Court for consideration, POLITICO reported this week.
She’s expected to ask the full court to weigh in on whether to shield Ross from deposition, as well other fact-finding a judge has ordered, such as the deposition of a top DOJ official and the disclosure of an internal memo used to brief Sessions on the issue.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.