Trump, Russians, absentee voter fraud: Maybe we did need an ‘election integrity’ commission

It turns out that we really did need a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

That was the body appointed last year by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE to investigate his unsubstantiated claim that voter fraud by undocumented immigrants cost him the popular vote in the 2016 election. The commission imploded in internal dissension and lawsuits, and disbanded without finding any such fraud.

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Events have just shown that indeed there is a threat to American electoral integrity — but it’s not coming from undocumented immigrants. 

The threat is from the president and his men, the Russians, and fraud in absentee ballot voting.

The president

In connection with one of two criminal sentencings of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, federal prosecutors in New York last week submitted a remarkable memorandum to the court. They alleged that voters in the 2016 election had been misled by Cohen’s secret payments to two women to keep them from disclosing their affairs with Trump during his presidential campaign. “Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect in the election,” according to prosecutors.

We knew about the hush money. But the DOJ prosecutors asserted for the first time that Cohen “acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1,” i.e., Trump. Think about it — the DOJ’s official position is that Trump criminally misled American voters to secure an electoral advantage. 

The Russians

Only the Russians and Trump appear to dispute that the Russians interfered with the 2016 election. The Special Counsel’s Office indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers, among others, for doing just that. 

The burning question, of course, is whether the Russians and the Trump campaign cooperated to elect Donald Trump president. Last week, the Special Counsel’s Office submitted its own memorandum in connection with a second sentencing of Michael Cohen, who also pled guilty to making false statements to Congress.

The memorandum alleged that Cohen had lied about the circumstances and timing of “Individual 1’s” — Trump’s — involvement in 2015 and into the 2016 presidential campaign with plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow. One of Cohen’s Russian contacts suggested that a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but business dimension” (although no meeting took place). 

Slowly and steadily a web of contacts about political and business matters between Trump’s circle and the Russians during and after the 2016 election is emerging. Three close Trump associates, Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and campaign foreign policy adviser George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosWe need answers to questions mainstream media won't ask about Democrats Trump asked Australian leader to help look into Mueller probe's origins: report US attorney recommends moving forward with charges against McCabe after DOJ rejects his appeal MORE, have pled guilty to lying about those contacts to investigators looking into Russian election interference. The implications for election integrity are profound.

Absentee voter fraud

Bladen County in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District may have been the victim of the kind of voter fraud that the disbanded Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity hoped to find.

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The twist is the alleged fraud, which involves improper collection of absentee ballots, was not committed by undocumented immigrants. Instead, it was allegedly committed by an operative working for a consulting firm hired by the Republican candidate, Mark HarrisMark HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate Why my American Indian tribe voted Republican in NC's special election North Carolina race raises 2020 red flags for Republicans, Democrats MORE, whose margin of victory was just 905 votes. An investigation by the state’s election board could result in a new election.

It sounds grim, but here’s the good news. The investigatory process is working. A federal investigation exposed the president’s involvement in illegal hush money payments; the Russian military intelligence officers are under indictment; the web of contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians is being unearthed; and the Bladen County vote is now under investigation and the potential for fraud in absentee ballot voting is receiving national attention.

The saying that the American system is a self-righting ship may just prove true. 

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.