Steven Bannon, an outspoken conservative who served as chief strategist in the White House last year, appears to have been involved in discussions regarding a question about immigration status on the 2020 U.S. Census, the U.S. Department of Justice wrote in a new filing.
Bannon was among the individuals Trump administration lawyers said were included in talks around the citizenship question, which was announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce earlier this year.
The filing was in response to a set of interrogatories sent to the Commerce Department in a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office and the New York Immigration Coalition, which is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, New York Civil Liberties Union, and Arnold & Porter.
The plaintiffs in the case asked the DOJ to identify officials within the Trump administration who had either discussed or previously raised the idea of reinstating a question about immigration status to the census.
The DOJ identified eight people that fit the description, including Bannon, who apparently discussed the idea with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Emails obtained in the lawsuit showed Kobach lobbied the Commerce Department to add the question.
Kobach spoke directly to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over the phone about the issue, according to emails. That call was apparently set up by Bannon, the DOJ filing said.
“Secretary Ross recalls that Steven Bannon called Secretary Ross in the Spring of 2017 to ask Secretary Ross if he would be willing to speak to then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about Secretary Kobach’s ideas about a possible citizenship question on the decennial census,” the filing said.
A previous filing from the DOJ said the administration “cannot confirm” whether Bannon and Ross spoke directly about the citizenship question, but that Bannon had tried to put Kobach in touch with Ross about the issue.
A spokesman for the Commerce Department said the updated response supplements, but does not change, the original account of Bannon’s involvement.
“Today’s response supplements the record but does not change the Secretary’s story, it only adds to it,” the spokesman said.
Kobach, who is currently running to be governor of Kansas, has been outspoken on the citizenship question. He has argued that counting undocumented immigrants in the census dilutes the voting power of citizens within congressional districts with high immigrant populations.
“Right now, congressional districts are drawn up simply based on the number of warm bodies in each district,” Kobach said on his campaign website. “Not only are legal aliens counted, but illegal aliens are counted too. As a result, citizens in a district with lots of illegal aliens have more voting power than citizens in districts with few illegal aliens.”
The filing also showed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Gore were involved in discussions on the citizenship question. Gore allegedly “ghostwrote” a letter from the DOJ to the Commerce Department last year formally asking that the question be added to the next census.
Gore was scheduled to be deposed in the lawsuit on Wednesday, but his testimony was stayed until Thursday afternoon.
Also involved in discussions, according to the filing, were James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, and other DOJ officials, including Mary Blanche Hankey, Gene Hamilton, and Danielle Cutrona. The latter two focus on immigration matters.
Bannon no longer works at the White House. He resigned from his position and subsequently rejoined Breitbart News, where he previously was executive chairman. He was ousted from that position after a public disagreement with President Donald Trump.
The filing is the latest public exchange between the Trump administration and the parties challenging the citizenship question through discovery, which is scheduled to end in the case Friday.
Ross was scheduled to be deposed Thursday before his testimony was stayed by the same U.S. Supreme Court order that stayed Gore’s deposition. The stay was scheduled to be lifted Thursday afternoon, but it was not immediately known when the two depositions would happen.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman for the Southern District of New York has set a firm trial date in the lawsuit for Nov. 5.
The lawsuit was brought by the plaintiffs earlier this year after the Commerce Department announced it would reinstate a question about citizenship to the census.
Underwood’s office led a coalition of 18 state attorneys general in a lawsuit against the decision days after it was announced. The New York Immigration Coalition filed its own lawsuit with the ACLU, NYCLU, and Arnold & Porter. The two cases were consolidated for trial.
The plaintiffs have argued that asking about citizenship on the census could decrease turnout in states with high immigrant populations, such as New York. That could reduce the number of representatives those states are allotted in Congress and the Electoral College, they said. It could also lessen the amount of federal funding those states receive in such areas as education and health care.
Senior Trial Counsel Elena Goldstein and Executive Deputy Attorney General Matthew Colangelo are leading the case for New York. Kate Bailey is the lead attorney for the Trump administration.