Trump Administration Exerted 'Unprecedented' Census Engagement In Bid For Political Gain: Memo

A memo written by a Census Bureau official complained of meddlesome interference in what's supposed to be an independent process.
Former President Donald Trump waits to speak at a rally in Florence, Arizona, on Saturday.
Former President Donald Trump waits to speak at a rally in Florence, Arizona, on Saturday.
Carlos Barria via Reuters

Former President Donald Trump and his administration demonstrated “unprecedented” engagement in the census process in a brazen bid for Republican political gain, according to a newly released memo written by a frustrated Census Bureau official.

The scathing memo from September 2020 appeared to be written by Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin and sent to two other top Bureau officials as Trump was desperately pressing to end the population count weeks early in an attempt to manipulate it in favor of him and the GOP.

The memo listed several instances of meddling by Trump and his officials that the Bureau planned to share with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Bureau. It complained about attempts to breach the privacy of census respondents, the use of estimates to fill in data, pressure to take shortcuts, and attempts to identify undocumented immigrants.

Ultimately, the Trump administration was attempting to hijack an independent system governed by statistical science to serve Trump and the Republican Party, Jarmin suggested.

“While the presidential memorandum may be a statement of the administration’s policy, the Census Bureau views the development of the methodology and processes as its responsibility as an independent statistical agency,” the memo stated.

Much of the meddling was aimed at population estimates used for reapportionment to calculate the allotment of seats in the House of Representatives. The Trump administration was particularly insistent that the Census Bureau separately tally the number of undocumented immigrants in each state, the memo noted.

Though the census is supposed to be an honest count of America’s population — a tally of the “whole number of persons in each state,” as required by the Constitution — the Trump administration aimed to exclude noncitizens from the count. That would leave an older and whiter population counted in states with large immigrant populations, which presumably would work to Republicans’ advantage during reapportionment.

Trump failed to reach his goal to eliminate counting undocumented immigrants, but he did cause major headaches for the Bureau, and likely frightened many immigrants from participating.

The damaging memo was among hundreds of documents the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s Law School obtained in a lawsuit seeking details of the Trump administration’s plans for calculating the allotment of House seats.

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