Trump launches commission to investigate his unsubstantiated claim of 2016 voter fraud
Executive order on voter fraud comes after firing of FBI chief James Comey, who had been investigating another aspect of election integrity - Russian meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign
US President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday launching a commission to review alleged voter fraud and voter suppression, building upon his unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.
The timing of the announcement could not be lost on Washington, coming two days after Trump fired FBI director James Comey.
Comey had been investigating the integrity of the election from a very different perspective - the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in its efforts to influence the race.
The White House said the president’s “Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” would examine allegations of improper voting and fraudulent voter registration in states and across the nation. Vice President Mike Pence will chair the panel and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will be vice chair of the commission, which will report back to Trump by 2018.
Trump has alleged, without evidence, that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in his 2016 election against Democrat Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote by about 3 million electors. He has vowed since the start of his administration to investigate voter fraud, a process that has been delayed for months.
Last November, Kobach said he supported Trump’s assertions that he would have won the popular vote if “millions” of people hadn’t voted illegally.
Democrats and voting rights groups called the panel a sham, arguing there are few, if any, credible allegations of significant voter fraud. They warned that the panel would be used to lay the groundwork for stricter voting requirements that could make it more difficult for poor and minority voters to access the ballot box.
“The sole purpose of this commission is to propagate a myth and to give encouragement to Republican governors and state legislators to increase voter suppression,” said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who challenged Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said it was a “clear front for constricting the access to vote to poor Americans, older Americans, and — above all — African-Americans and Latinos.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the commission would be bipartisan and composed of about a dozen members, including current and former state election officials and experts.
“The president is committed to the thorough review of registration and voting issues in federal elections and that’s exactly what this commission is tasked with doing,” Sanders said.
The panel will aim to ensure confidence in the integrity of federal elections while looking at vulnerabilities in the system and the possibility of improper voting and fraudulent voter registration and voting, officials said.
The commission will include two Republicansand two Democrats.
Christy McCormick, a former Justice Department attorney and a member of the US Election Assistance Commission, will also be on the panel, and others will be named soon.
Trump repeatedly alleged that the election system was “rigged” during his campaign and later argued that massive, widespread fraud kept him from winning the popular vote. Trump won the presidency with an Electoral College victory even though Clinton received more votes.
Voting experts and many lawmakers, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, have said they haven’t seen anything to suggest that millions of people voted illegally. The Utah Republican said his committee won’t be investigating voter fraud.
But in a lunch meeting with senators in February, Trump said he and former Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte would have won in New Hampshire if not for voters bused in from out of state. New Hampshire officials have said there was no evidence of major voter fraud in the state.
Michael Waldman, president of the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice, said the commission was formed to “find proof of the president’s absurd claim” about millions of people voting illegally. He noted that it came in the aftermath of Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey on Tuesday.
“He fired the person investigating a real threat to election integrity, and set up a probe of an imaginary threat,” Waldman said.
On the Comey front, Trump radically shifted the narrative on Thursday when he said that he had planned to fired the FBI boss regardless of the advice of the Justice Department. On Tuesday, the White House had claimed that Trump was following the advice of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein when he fired Comey.
Another justification used by the White House to justify the dismissal was also challenged when acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a Senate hearing that Comey still enjoyed the “broad support” of FBI agents.
“The vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey,” McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
Asked whether Comey had lost the confidence of rank-and-file employees at the bureau, as the White House had asserted, McCabe said: “No, sir, that is not accurate.”
Additional reporting by Robert Delaney