Trump to name Kansas’ Kobach to panel probing voter fraud – McClatchy Washington Bureau

President Donald Trump will appoint Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to a new commission that will investigate voter fraud and other election issues, according to White House officials.

Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Thursday creating the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity. Vice President Mike Pence will serve as chair and Kobach will serve as vice chair.

“The Commission will review policies and practices that enhance or undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of Federal elections — including improper registrations, improper voting, fraudulent registrations, fraudulent voting, and voting suppression,” one White House official told McClatchy.

Kobach’s appointment to help lead the commission likely will spark controversy. An immigration hardliner, he has championed some of the strictest voting laws in the country during his tenure as Kansas’ top election official.

Kobach is the only secretary of state in the nation with prosecutorial power and has championed the state’s controversial proof of citizenship law, which requires voters to provide a birth certificate or passport to register.

His office confirmed he was in Washington on Thursday but Kobach could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, raised concerns about Kobach’s appointment, accusing him of exaggerating the prevalence of voter fraud in the past.

“Any commission studying the white hot issue of voter fraud should be headed by a bipartisan leaders commanding respect (like the last three commissions). It should include professionals who study election administration,” Hasen said in a message. And it should avoid people who have made a name for themselves by hyping false or wildly exaggerated claims of voter fraud.”

Trump told FOX News in January that he would establish a commission to be led by Pence to investigate voter fraud.

“We’re going to look at it very, very carefully,” he said.

Almost immediately after his victory, Trump said that millions of people had voted illegally and deprived him of a popular-vote victory. He also said that there was unspecified voter fraud in three states he lost: California, New Hampshire and Virginia.

“I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted.

Trump White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly confirmed that there would be a commission, but after several weeks it was clear it was not a priority.

Independent fact-checkers mocked Trump for the allegations, saying there was no evidence , though his team cited two years-old reports that did not point to fraud even then.

Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on on CNN that he thought states should investigate.

“This sort of thing is handled at the state level, and the Democrats always claim there’s no election fraud at all,” he said. “That is, of course, not true — election fraud does occur,” he said. “There’s no evidence that it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election, and I don’t think we ought to spend any federal money investigating that.”

Pence’s office did not immediately respond to questions on Thursday.

Kobach has turned the typically sleepy Kansas secretary of state’s office into a platform to push conservative policies. He said in the past he advised Trump to investigate voter fraud.

While other secretaries of state, as well as government and academic studies, say occurrences of voter fraud are rare, Kobach has supported Trump’s claim that millions of illegal votes in November’s election tipped the popular vote in Democrat Hillary Clinton’s favor. He has provided no hard evidence, however.

After the election, Kobach was seen as a possibility to lead the Department of Homeland Security. He was photographed taking a plan for the agency into a Nov. 20 meeting with Trump.

The plan, which was only partially visible in the photo, included a reference to voter rolls.

That plan is now part of a legal battle between Kobach and the ACLU, which is seeking its disclosure as part of an ongoing lawsuit against a Kansas law that requires voters to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, when they register to vote. The ACLU argued that if Kobach lobbied Trump on changes to the National Voter Registration Act, then the documents may contain material relevant to the case.

A U.S. federal magistrate judge in April ordered Kobach to turn over the plan. On Wednesday, a U.S. federal district court judge upheld the order and gave Kobach until Friday to produce the document.

Mark Johnson, a Kanas City attorney who is challenging Kobach’s proof of citizenship law in court, said he will reserve judgment on Kobach’s appointment to the new commission.

“I will take at face value that the commission will truly undertake an impartial investigation, and will begin that investigation with no pre-judgment of the issues. I’ve had the pleasure to debate him on voting issues and have found that he is a knowledgeable and engaging advocate,” Johnson said in an email.

“That being said, I am concerned that Secretary Kobach has made strong statements concerning the existence of voter fraud, and that he will enter the investigation with a predisposition to find voter fraud,” he added. “However, Secretary Kobach is an honorable public servant and as such I hope he will put aside any personal beliefs and participate in the investigation with an open mind.”

Lowry reported from Kansas City, Mo., and Shorman reported from Topeka, Kansas.

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