The top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee argued Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was part of a "secret campaign" to push for a citizenship question to be added to the 2020 Census.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, who could be the next chairman of the committee if Democrats win the majority this fall, was responding to the Department of Justice acknowledging Thursday that the idea of the citizenship question came from Trump advisers, including former adviser Steve Bannon, rather than the Justice Department.
"The Department of Justice has a direct and clear conflict of interest," Cummings said in a statement. "Based on this new evidence, it is now clear that both the Justice Department and the White House were part of Secretary Ross' secret campaign to orchestrate the addition of a citizenship question to the census. But now the Justice Department is trying to block depositions for the very same Trump Administration officials who engaged in these actions — and then misled Congress. The Trump Administration should not be using the levers of justice to conceal its own wrongdoing."
The Justice Department revelations came after Ross testified before a House panel in March that it was the department that "initiated the request for inclusion of the citizenship question." And while responding to a question from Rep. Grace Meng, a New York Democrat, Ross said he was not aware of any discussions with White House advisers before he began looking into the idea.
"Has the President or anyone in the White House discussed with you or anyone on your team about adding this citizen question," Meng asked.
"I'm not aware of any such," Ross said.
The Justice Department revelations have prompted criticism that Ross may have misled or lied to Congress.
A Commerce Department spokesman said in an email Thursday that the new Justice Department release "supplements the record but does not change the Secretary's story, it only adds to it."
Meng has made clear on her social media that she feels like she was "lied to" during the hearing.
"Hate being lied to! Very displeased to learn that @SecretaryRoss lied to me on the origins of adding a citizenship question to the #2020Census at a hearing this spring. Not a tough question, but I guess when you're in company with Steven Bannon, you've got to cover it up?" Meng tweeted, quoting a tweet from Chris Lu, a former deputy secretary of labor under President Barack Obama.
House Speaker Paul Ryan's office referred questions to the Oversight committee. CNN has not received an immediate response from the office of South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the committee.
CNN also reached out to Rep. John Culberson, the vulnerable Texas Republican who chaired the hearing where Ross testified, but has not received a response.
At the heart of the issue is a lawsuit by a group of state attorneys general who are challenging the addition of the question to the 2020 census. An appellate court has ordered that Ross be deposed as part of the lawsuit, but the DOJ is fighting that order and has taken the question to the Supreme Court.