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Trump says administration is still trying to get citizenship question on census

President Trump contradicted his own Justice and Commerce Departments on Wednesday, saying that reports about the Commerce Department dropping the citizenship question from the 2020 census is "incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!"

"The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

But later in the day in a conference call with Judge George Hazel in Maryland and attorneys on a separate case being litigated over the question, the Justice Department attorney on the case had to explain to the judge he had no idea what the president's tweet meant. The DOJ attorney, Josh Gardner, had to explain to the judge that he was unaware of the president's position before the tweet, and the census is still being printed as-is.

"The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president's position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and your honor," Gardner said on the call while on vacation, according to a court transcript of the call. "I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the president has tweeted. But obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what's going on. I can tell you I have confirmed that the Census Bureau is continuing with the process of printing the questionnaire without the citizenship question, and that process has not stopped."

The Commerce Department decided not to add the question after the Supreme Court blocked it last week. The court ruled that the administration had not given a sufficient reason for why the question was added.

In an email obtained by CBS News that was sent to attorneys who have been leading the court fight, a lawyer from the Justice Department wrote that "the decision has been made" to print the census without the question and that printing had already begun. The Justice Department confirmed the move later Tuesday afternoon, as did the Commerce Department.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement Tuesday that he strongly disagreed with the court's decision, but would drop the question from the census.

"The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question. My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census," Ross said.

Critics of the question had argued that adding a citizenship question could lead to undercounting the population in areas with high concentrations of undocumented immigrants, which tend to be in blue states.

Mr. Trump had previously called for the census to be delayed, although the Constitution mandates that a count of the population be held every ten years. He also wrote a tweet on Tuesday indicating that the administration would continue to pursue the question.

"I have asked the Department and the Department of Commerce...to do whatever is necessary to bring this most vital of questions, and this very important case, to a successful conclusion," Mr. Trump said.

CBS News has reached out to the Commerce Department for a statement on whether it will reprint the questionnaires with the citizenship question.

Kathryn Watson contributed to this report

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