Documents suggest census official, GOP strategist discussed citizenship question: lawsuit

Advocacy groups challenging the Trump administration's addition of a question about citizenship to the U.S. census said in court Friday that documents found in the files of a Republican strategist show that he was in communication with a top census official. 

Lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and others said new documents show that Christa Jones, who is now the chief of staff to the U.S. Census Bureau's director, communicated with strategist Thomas Hofeller

"These newly discovered documents ... eliminate any colorable doubt about the link between Hofeller and government employees involved in the citizenship question approval process," they said in their Friday court filing.

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"These documents show that Christa Jones, now Chief of Staff to the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, communicated directly with Hofeller from her private email address in 2015 ... concerning issues related to the citizenship question," they added. 

Census Bureau spokesman Michael C. Cook told The Hill in a statement Sunday that Jones reports to U.S. Census Bureau Deputy Director, Dr. Ron Jarmin.

The advocacy groups also said in court that Jones notified Hofeller that a Federal Register notice for comment on the Census Bureau's 2015 content test could “be an opportunity to mention citizenship.”

"Jones’s direct private contact with Hofeller about the citizenship question refutes Defendants’ contention that no link between Hofeller and the Secretary can be shown," the court filing states.

AAJC President John Yang said in a statement that the documentation "explicitly reveals that the citizenship question was motivated by a desire to minimize representation of Latinos and disadvantage immigrants, non-citizens, and communities of color."

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

A Department of Commerce spokesperson called the plaintiffs' claims "conspiracy theories" that "should be disregarded" in a statement to The Hill on Saturday.

"Neither Dr. Hofeller nor his views were part of the Secretary’s decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 Census," the spokesperson said. 

The filing follows revelations that Hofeller allegedly conducted a study in 2015 that found that asking about citizenship would help Republicans and white communities while hurting Democrats and Latino communities.

The Justice Department has denied in court that Hofeller played a role in getting a citizenship question on the 2020 census. 

--This report was updated on June 16 at 10:28 a.m.