As President Donald Trump continues to face questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election, the White House has pointed to a commission he created to investigate electoral integrity to show the president’s commitment from preventing a future intrusion.
But if understanding hacking is going to be a commission priority, it would appear to be news to at least some of the commissioners, who said this week they have no idea when the commission will meet or what it is actually going to examine.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, pointed to the presidential commission on electoral integrity, created by Trump in May, when he was asked Friday whether Trump was concerned about hacking.
“He instituted an election commission that is making sure that we look at all of how we’re voting, and to make sure that we maintain integrity in all of our voting process to make sure that we have faith in it,” Spicer said Friday. “And that includes cyber, it includes voter I.D., it includes all sort of systems. I expect that commission to have several announcements in probably the next two weeks, and potentially some hearings in July.”
Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s senior advisers, made similar comments on CNN Friday morning after being pressed, repeatedly, on what Trump was doing to secure American election systems.
“The president has met with his national security team many times, he has an initiative or commission on voter integrity, and he himself has used the power of the bully pulpit to express his resistance towards any type of outside interference,” she said.
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) told HuffPost he had no contact with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the vice chairman of the panel, since being named to the commission in May. While he hoped the commission would investigate Russian hacking, he didn’t know if it would. There’s been an urgent focus on the need to address election security after leaked National Security Agency documents showed Russia successfully breached election systems last year. Bloomberg reported there was a breach in 39 states, but Trump has downplayed Russia’s responsibility.
“I certainly believe it’s relevant to include [hacking] and it’s probably integral to include it if you’re going to talk about integrity of elections. Anything that would undermine the integrity of an election should be considered for recommendation by the commission. I mean that was the whole point,” Dunlap said. “You can’t talk about the integrity of elections and ignore a big pile of problems in the middle of the room.”
While Kobach told The Boston Globe he was open to investigating hacking if members of the commission wanted to examine it, he hardly made it seem like a priority.
“In the initial descriptions of the commission, election security and the integrity of equipment and voter databases was not specifically described,” he told The Globe. “But if it’s something the commission wants to discuss, we can.”
Given the attention on the commission, Dunlap said he was surprised he hadn’t heard more from Kobach or the White House as to what the commission would do.
“I haven’t heard anything since the executive order was made public. I understand that things happen to move kind of slow in D.C., that’s kind of the nature of the beast ... I don’t have an answer as to what our scope is going to be or when we’re meeting or where we’re meeting,” he said. “I think this is something people are looking to now and the fact that it’s been treading water has been a surprise. But I don’t ascribe that to anybody having a particular motive to hold it up.”
Many have expressed concern over the decision to appoint Kobach to lead the commission because he has a history of exaggerating voter fraud and pushed some of the country’s most restrictive voting laws in his state. Critics say the probe is just a pretext to try and justify Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that millions voted illegally in the 2016 election.
Since being tapped to lead the commission, Kobach also launched a campaign to run for governor of Kansas.
David Dunn, a former Arkansas legislator, and Mark Rhodes, a West Virginia county clerk were both appointed to the commission this week, but both said they had received no details about the commission’s work. Dunn, who doesn’t have an expertise in elections, told HuffPost he was surprised he was picked for the panel and Rhodes had to search online to find out who else was on the commission.
In addition to Dunlap, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D), another member of the commission has called for the probe to examine Russian hacking. Rhodes told HuffPost he thought the probe should “look at everything” while Dunn said Russian interference was beyond its scope.
The other members of the commission are Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R), former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R) and Christy McCormick, a commissioner on the Election Assistance Commission. Luis Borunda, the Maryland deputy secretary of state, is also serving, despite an apparent lack of previous election experience.