Heritage lamented Dems, moderates on Trump voter fraud commission

Heritage lamented Dems, moderates on Trump voter fraud commission

Allowing Democrats or moderate Republicans to serve on President Trump’s voter fraud commission “would guarantee its failure,” a top Heritage Foundation employee wrote in an email that eventually made its way to Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsCurtis wins Chaffetz's former Utah House seat Overnight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny FBI can’t unlock Texas shooter’s phone MORE, according to newly released documents.

Trump’s Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, helmed by Kris Kobach, Kansas’s Republican secretary of state, has been fraught with claims of hyper-partisanship. The president has, with no evidence, claimed his Democratic presidential opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE, would not have won the popular vote without voting irregularity.

The newly released email shows that before any members of the commission had been appointed, someone at the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government described hearing about a “very disturbing phone call” that there were plans for it to be bipartisan. 

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“That decision alone shows how little the [White House] understands about this issue,” the email dated Feb. 22 reads, with the sender’s name redacted. The email was released Tuesday by the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and obtained through an open records request.

“There isn’t a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud and issue constant public announcements criticizing the commission and what it is doing, making claims that it is engaged in voter suppression,” it reads.

The email came from Hans von Spakovsky, who runs the Heritage Foundation's Election Law Reform Initiative and was appointed to the commission by the Trump administration in June, the Heritage Foundation later confirmed to The Hill.

The CLC’s president, a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said the exchange, along with an unsubstantiated claim about the 2016 vote in New Hampshire by the panel’s director, shows the true nature of the commission. The development also comes as the president’s commission holds its second meeting on Tuesday in New Hampshire. 

“Any commission tasked with looking at the integrity of our elections should be bipartisan and should not be trying to make voting harder,” said CLC President Trevor Potter. “Yet Secretary Kris Kobach, the vice-chair of the commission, continues to use his position to further his quest to undermine citizens’ right to vote. His demonstrably false claims about election results in New Hampshire leading up today’s meeting impugned the dignity of that state and were clearly intended to undermine our democracy rather than strengthen it.”

All the names mentioned in the email are redacted, and only an email signature with the Heritage Foundation’s address is identifiable. 

The person at the Justice Department who received the email forwarded it to Peggi Hanrahan, who was an executive assistant for Sessions in the Senate, and said “Please give this to JBS,” Sessions’s initials.

A spokeswoman for the think tank said on Tuesday that Heritage is "scrupulously nonpartisan."

The statement touts von Spakovsky's experience as a campaign finance regulator and notes that he has helmed the Heritage Foundation's Election Law Reform Initiative for years.

"He brings a wealth of knowledge and insight to the discussion of voter fraud, and holds strong views on the topic," Heritage spokeswoman Sarah Mills said through an emailed statement. "The views expressed in the email are his own.”

It wasn't only Democrats that von Spakovsky wanted kept out of the commission. He also pushed in the email to the Justice Department to keep “mainstream Republican officials and/or academics” out of the voter fraud panel.

“There are only a handful of real experts on the conservative side on this issue and not a single one of them (including [redacted]) have been called other than Kris Kobach,” the email continued. “And we are told that some consider him too ‘controversial’ to be on the commission.”

The commission “will be an abject failure” if moderate Republicans are chosen, the email says, “because there aren’t any that know anything about this or who have paid any attention to the issue over the years.”

“[Redacted] are concerned that this commission is being organized in a way that will guarantee its failure.”

In addition to von Spakovsky, the Heritage Foundation has a handful of people who have written predominantly about voter fraud issues, including Heritage research fellow David Muhlhausen and policy analyst Jason Snead.

The author of the email eventually sent to Sessions expressed concern that experts at Heritage had not yet been contacted about the commission’s mission.

“We are astonished that no one in the WH has even bothered to consult with [redacted] despite the fact that the three of us have written more on the voter fraud issue than anyone in the country on our side of the political aisle,” the email reads. “I think you know from the white paper we sent you that based on our experience we have thought long and hard about what needs to be done.”

Heritage has created a voter fraud database, which it says has documented more than 1,000 cases of voter fraud. Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice called the entries “grossly exaggerated and devoid of context.” Heritage rejects those claims.

There are multiple pending state and federal lawsuits against the Election Integrity Commission, which has sought access to detailed voter information in each state. Most states have rejected requests for the information.

— This post was updated on Sept. 13.