Seven Democratic senators on Tuesday asked the Department of Justice to explain any involvement it has with President Donald Trump’s commission convened to investigate voter fraud.
In June, the department sent an unusual letter to 44 states asking them for information on their practices for purging voters from the rolls. The same day, the voter fraud panel sent out a request to all 50 states for sensitive voter information. Earlier this month, a public records request by the Campaign Legal Center revealed that a February email from Hans von Spakovsky, a commission member, was forwarded to the Department of Justice with instructions for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to read it. In the email, von Spakovsky said Democrats shouldn’t be appointed to the commission and lamented it also might be filled with Republicans whose views were too mainstream.
Critics say the commission is an effort to justify Trump’s claim that millions voted illegally last November. Several commissioners have a history of exaggerating voter fraud, and the panelists have already focused on dubious information to foster the idea that the American electoral system is rife with voter fraud. Several studies and investigations have concluded it is not a widespread issue.
“These developments underscore the concerns many of us have raised about a return to the illegal politicization of the Department’s Civil Rights Division that took place under the Bush administration, and raise questions about the role of Department leadership in the formation and operation of this nakedly partisan commission,” the letter says. ”It would be a low moment for the Department to have been a facilitator of the myth ― perhaps a fraud in its own right ― that widespread voter fraud is a problem plaguing our election system, especially when the Department has itself produced evidence to the contrary.”
The letter was written by seven of the nine Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee: Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Al Franken (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii). The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is suing the commission over transparency issues, had urged the senators to investigate any coordination ahead of an oversight hearing with Sessions in October.
As part of the confirmation process, Democrats repeatedly asked Eric Dreiband, Trump’s pick to lead the department’s civil rights division, about coordination between the department and the commission. Dreiband said the two were independent and he did not anticipate having a role in the probe.
The senators also called the commission “little more than a platform for conspiracy theorists and voter suppression advocates.”
The group also suggested the Justice Department wasn’t being entirely forthcoming in its response to the Campaign Legal Center’s public records request under the Freedom of Information Act.
“The Department’s FOIA response comprises only six pages. It is implausible the Department’s production constitutes the full extent of responsive documents in the Department’s possession, custody, or control,” the senators wrote.
In the letter, the senators also asked if Sessions had used a private email address for any of the correspondence involved in the FOIA request. At least six White House advisers have used personal email accounts, a move that has drawn increased attention in light of Trump’s repeated criticisms of rival Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign for using a private email server while she was secretary of state.