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Trump Blocked Congress From Seeing These Emails About The Census Unredacted

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., pauses as the House Oversight and Reform Committee votes on Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to turn over subpoenaed documents related to the Trump administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
J. Scott Applewhite

The Trump administration left behind a long paper trail as it pushed to get a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Many of those internal emails and memos became public as part of the lawsuits over the addition of the question, " Is this person a citizen of the United States?" They revealed that the Justice Department did not initiate the request for the question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — who oversees the Census Bureau — testified to Congress. Instead, Ross pressured Commerce staff to get the question added for reasons that a federal judge in Maryland has called "mysterious."

Portions of the documents are blacked out with redactions by the Trump administration. Attorneys at the Justice Department, which is representing the administration in the lawsuits, cited privileges, including ones that prevent attorney-client communications and certain decision-making discussions between government officials from becoming public. The lawsuits' plaintiffs have tried to get some of those protections lifted, but the courts have generally sided with the administration.

Lawmakers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, however, have been in a months-long battle for the full release of these emails and memos, as well as other unreleased documents, as part of their congressional investigation into why the administration wants the citizenship question.

This week, President Trump claimed executive privilege over the requested documents, shortly before the committee's Democrats and Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, voted to hold Ross and U.S. Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas for the documents.

Here are some of the emails that could spark another court battle over the citizenship question:

Email sent to Ross by Commerce Department official Earl Comstock on May 2, 2017

Email sent to Ross' then-chief of staff, Wendy Teramoto, by Ross on May 2, 2017

Email sent to Comstock by Ross on Aug. 8, 2017

Email sent to Comstock by Ross on Aug. 10, 2017

Email sent to Ross by Comstock on Aug. 11, 2017 (The House oversight committee has asked the administration to release the memo that was attached to this unredacted email.)

Email sent to Comstock by Ross on Sept. 1, 2017

Email sent to Ross by Comstock on Sept. 1, 2017

Email sent to Comstock by then-Commerce Department attorney James Uthmeier on Sept. 7, 2017

Email sent to Uthmeier by then-White House official John Zadrozny on Dec. 20, 2017

Email sent to then-Commerce Department attorney Michael Walsh by Uthmeier on Feb. 26, 2018

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hansi Lo Wang is a national correspondent for NPR based in New York City. He reports on the people, power and money behind the 2020 census.
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