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Government lawyers in dark on Trump tweet about Census question

Published: Wednesday, July 03, 2019 @ 9:16 PM

Hours after President Donald Trump on Wednesday tweeted that he was still trying to find a way around a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which blocked the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, a Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge that he knew of no change on the decision to start printing the Census form, blindsided by the President's declaration.

"The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the President's position on this issue," said Josh Gardner, a Department of Justice lawyer, during an afternoon conference call with a federal judge overseeing the Census case.

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"I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the President has tweeted," Gardner said to Judge George Jarrod Hazel. 

"But, obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what's going on," Gardner explained.

On a telephone conference, Judge Hazel made clear he was not pleased with what he saw from the President on Twitter.

"I follow the President, and so I saw a tweet that directly contradicted the position that Mr. Gardner had shared with me yesterday," the Judge said, referring to the issue of whether the census forms would be printed without the citizenship question, or if the President would try some last ditch effort to get around the Supreme Court ruling of last week.

Judge Hazel said he wanted more information from the Trump Administration by Friday afternoon.

"I'll be here Friday. We'll have a call that afternoon where the Court will make a final decision on how we're proceeding," the Judge said.

You can read the transcript of the call here.

"We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court's decision, that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census," said Joseph Hunt, an Assistant Attorney General.

The possibility that the Trump Administration would continue to press for the citizenship question came after government lawyers had repeatedly said that June 30 was the last day possible for a decision - because the forms needed to be printed by that date.

But now - the Justice Department seems to be trying to come up with a new 'rationale' for the question - leaving more legal wrangling in a case that seemed over last week.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Trump Administration had not properly followed the rules for adding a new question to the Census form, as Chief Justice John Roberts all but called the Secretary of Commerce a liar, saying the explanations offered by the feds were 'contrived.'

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