In yet another move hinting that the Merrick Garland Department of Justice places more value on moving forward than holding Trump-era corruption to account, Government Executive is reporting that the Justice Department indeed found that Trump Commerce secretary and crooked rich guy Wilbur Ross lied to Congress in sworn testimony—and that they won't be prosecuting Ross for it. No explanation for the move is being given.
The Associated Press has made a rather significant update to the story:
This story has been corrected to reflect that the decision not to prosecute Ross was made by the Department of Justice during the Trump administration, not the Biden administration.
According to a now-corrected Associated Press story, Government Executive is wrong: The decision not to prosecute was made by the Trump Justice Department in January, 2020—over a year before Biden’s inauguration.
That Ross lied to Congress, as well as to federal courts, has been known for some time. The white nationalist-stocked Trump administration wanted to add a question to the 2020 U.S. census asking whether respondents were U.S. citizens, even though the Constitution specifically orders the once-a-decade census to count all persons inside the nation's borders, whether they are citizens or not. While the move (which anti-immigrant forces have long demanded) was purported to be a mere attempt to collect useful data, it's been shown that asking such questions reduces the willingness of immigrant-heavy communities to respond to the census at all, fearing the information will be shared with federal immigration officials and result in targeted investigations, harassment, or deportations.
That's precisely what makes the question useful to anti-immigrant lawmakers and the Republican Party as a whole. By reducing census participation in non-white communities, those communities’ "official" population counts are lowered when it comes to reapportioning congressional seats. White communities receive a more accurate census count, while immigrant-heavy towns and neighborhoods are intimidated into smaller response rates. That outcome, in which non-white communities are given less representation in Congress than white ones, is precisely what the Republican Party wants. White Americans tend to vote more Republican; non-white Americans tend to lean heavily towards Democrats.
What Ross is now shown to have done is assist in the Trump White House's attempts to hide the political, partisan, and race-minded goals of the census changes by lying to Congress and to federal courts about who requested it and why. Disclosed emails cleanly prove that Ross lied to Congress about his interactions with the White House. The Commerce Department's inspector general forwarded its own findings of misrepresentation to the Department of Justice for potential criminal prosecution, and here we are. Or rather, here we were. With the new Justice decision, it appears the Ross case, as with numerous other cases of seemingly brazen corruption by top Trump officials, is now dropped.
What's baffling about this case is that while any attempt to prosecute Ross for lying to Congress is bound to meet with charges of partisan retaliation, in Ross' case it seems a rather open-and-shut case. Ross clearly did one thing, as proven by an email trail that eventually leaked to the public, and just as clearly lied about that trail to Congress as lawmakers sought answers as to why the census changes were made. But even more to the point, Ross lied with the explicit intent of hiding a Trump administration plan to artificially reduce the power of U.S. citizens living in less white American towns and cities—the precise goal that state Republican lawmakers have been simultaneously pursuing as they use false, propagandistic claims of "voter fraud" to ratchet up the difficulty of voting in poorer and less white neighborhoods.
It's an attempt to thwart the premises of U.S. democracy itself, via intimidation. Seek representation in government, Republicans hint, and consequences may befall you. That might mean your noncitizen relatives will be investigated by federal law enforcement if you fill out a census form the wrong way; it might mean extraordinarily harsh penalties doled out to anyone who thought they had the right to vote, but thought wrong.
Ross engaged in a cover-up of a Republican attempt to rig elections by stripping immigrant-heavy American towns from their full representation to begin with. There's evidence. That's not worth prosecuting?
It may very well be that the Garland Justice Department believes that avoiding all hints of partisanship is more important than fighting high-level corruption, and that the attacks they would face in attempting to prosecute Ross would result in heavy backlash from Trump-supporting Americans convinced that the prosecution against the longtime billionaire crook was a conspiracy against them.
But the plainer message being sent by ignoring multiple lies to Congress is that lying to Congress, like all the rest of the brazen corruption of Trump's Republican den of hyperpartisan sycophants, is allowable. It may not be technically legal, but it is something you can do without consequence so long as you have the backing of a political party when you do it.
That, like the rest of Republican Party-backed efforts to lie to the public in all settings, without consequence, is astonishingly dangerous. It's nearly inexplicably dangerous. The message sent during both of the last two Republican administrations is that the public not just can be, but ought to be deceived about even the most major issues of the day. It is being backed by a Republican House caucus that has slithered into blatantly fascist declarations and goals, and by Republican senators who have steadfastly refused to allow consequences to befall even outright criminality by Trump and his top officials.
It has gotten to the point where even sedition itself can be, and is being readily stoked by Republican Party leaders. And we can't prosecute a single crooked billionaire for lying to Congress and to federal judges in an attempt to alter the nation's electoral maps in the party's favor?
This one's going to require justification, and "the party attempting to overthrow U.S. government might get angry if we do it" won't be cutting it.