A Justice Department spokesman in May flatly denied allegations of contact between Hofeller and the administration. The spokesman also had said an unpublished study by Hofeller from 2015 showing the question would benefit Republicans and whites had “played no role” in the administration’s push to add the question.
But July 2, two weeks after a request from the Oversight Committee, Neuman produced documents confirming he had communicated with Hofeller and his business partner, Dalton “Dale” Oldham, on how to craft the question, according to a memo released by the committee Tuesday.
The memo cites an email sent Aug. 30, 2017, from Neuman, who was an adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the citizenship question, “asking Mr. Hofeller to review language for a letter Mr. Neuman was drafting to request the addition of a citizenship question.”
The letter, addressed from the Justice Department to the director of the Census Bureau, argued that data from a citizenship question was needed to ensure “compliance with requirements of the Voting Rights Act and its application in legislative redistricting,” the memo said, adding that the language Mr. Neuman sent to Mr. Hofeller was part of that draft letter.
In the email, Neuman appeared to critique one argument against adding the question: that the Census Bureau had other ways to obtain information the government wanted on citizenship.
“We understand that the Bureau personnel may believe that ACS [American Community Survey] data on citizenship was sufficient for redistricting purposes. We wanted the Bureau to be aware that two recent Court cases have underscored that ACS data is not viable and/or sufficient for purposes of redistricting,” he wrote to Hofeller, according to the memo.
A citizenship question currently appears on the ACS, which goes to a small sample of American households each year. The decennial census, which goes to all households, has not asked a citizenship-related question since 1950.
Referring to Hofeller’s partner, Mr. Neuman wrote: “Please make certain that this language is correct. Dale doesn’t return my calls,” the memo said, adding that Hofeller replied the same day, saying, “Dale just read it, and says it is fine as written.”
Neuman later sent a draft letter that included the language approved by Hofeller and Oldham to the Justice Department, according to the memo.
The Justice Department did not respond to inquiries about the newly released documents. A Commerce Department spokesperson called the committee actions “a PR stunt primarily intended to malign senior officials in the Trump Administration,” adding that the department has cooperated “in good faith“ with the committee.
The timing and impetus of the department’s involvement became a flash point during litigation over the question. The Justice Department wrote a letter in December 2017 requesting that the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, add it, but documents released during the lawsuits revealed Ross had actively solicited the request from the Justice Department.
The government had said it needed the citizenship question on the decennial form to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But census experts, civil rights organizations and the bureau’s internal analysis said the question probably would depress response rates among immigrants and minorities, resulting in underrepresentation of those groups.
Data from the decennial census is used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding each year, and for redistricting and congressional reapportionment.
The administration backed off trying to add the question in July, after a Supreme Court ruling found its rationale for adding it to be “contrived.” But members of Congress, led by recently deceased congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), continued to push for information related to the government’s 19-month quest to add it.
The administration did not respond to congressional subpoenas over the matter, and in July the House voted to hold Ross and Attorney General William P. Barr in criminal contempt for failing to provide documents connected to it.
The question of Hofeller’s involvement came to light in May, as the question was being litigated, when new evidence discovered on his hard drives after his death suggested the administration had worked with him to craft the question.
Documents on the hard drives also showed Hofeller was in direct contact with a top census official about adding a citizenship question, and lawyers for plaintiffs in a North Carolina gerrymandering case, Common Cause v. Lewis, said Oldham evaded a subpoena for computers he took from Hofeller’s house upon his death.
That census official, Christa Jones, said in an interview with the committee in July that she had known Mr. Hofeller for many years and that he had raised the topic of adding a citizenship question with her in 2014, saying it would help “the Republican redistricting effort,” according to the memo.
Jones told the committee that she also had known Oldham for many years and that he had advocated for a citizenship question for purposes of redistricting and apportionment “Probably more times than I can remember,” the memo said.
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, who argued the Supreme Court case that blocked the administration’s effort, said the new revelations “further confirm that the Trump administration’s push to include a citizenship question on the census was always part of a scheme to undermine fair representation for communities of color.”