Trump was furious and thought the Commerce Department and the Justice Department — which has been arguing the case — had given up the fight too easily. He complained about Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.,who he said he thinks is lined up against him, the adviser and senior officials said. Trump also complained about Ross.
Before Trump’s tweets plunged their week into chaos, Justice officials thought the president understood how few legal options remained, according to people familiar with the matter. They had earlier told the White House that the case was a dead-end and that pursuing it would be a waste of time.
Those people said that Attorney General William P. Barr had talked to Trump and had tried to explain his limited options after the Supreme Court’s ruling.
After the Supreme Court called the government’s reason for the question “contrived,” many wondered how the government could suddenly come up with a new rationale.
“What were they going to say?” said Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and a lead attorney for plaintiffs in the New York lawsuit. “ ‘Here’s our real reason? Or here’s a new reason?’ Well, that’s kind of reverse engineering on a decision that’s already been made, which was the very definition of pretextual. . . . We had them in an inevitable checkmate.”
But since Trump’s tweet, Justice Department lawyers have been working furiously to find a way to appease him and devise a legal maneuver that would allow the question to be added with the Supreme Court’s blessing. As they deliberated options Thursday, the lawyers were pessimistic about their chances, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.
Not all Republicans agreed with Trump’s decision to plunge back into the fight. And some moderate Republicans and Trump advisers characterized it as a waste of time. “The census is part of the legacy of our Founding Fathers. There’s no reason to weaponize it in a country that was, is and will be composed of immigrants,” said Dan Eberhart, a prominent GOP donor.
But conservative legal figures — including Leonard Leo, head of the Federalist Society — have been especially vocal in urging Trump not to stop fighting for the citizenship question, according to advisers close to Trump.