Donald Trump doesn’t like witch hunts. He’s made that abundantly clear on Twitter and in press conferences, thundering against a Russia investigation that he claims is based on nothing but hot air. Let the president tell it, and the entire endeavor is a product of cooperation between partisan elements and biased media designed to undermine him, all without any evidence.
Of course, until early this year President Trump was busy running his own witch hunt. The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which was disbanded in January 2018, was originally chartered to uncover “those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of voting processes used in Federal elections”; and “those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting.” But, in its beleaguered and brief history, the commission faced numerous allegations that it was little more than a partisan inquiry hyper-focused on potential voter fraud by noncitizens—even as it struggled to establish that such fraud happens on a wide scale.
Months after the group’s dissolution, a newly released slate of reports, emails, and meeting materials from the commission confirms the skeptical view. The cache of documents, obtained by the commission member and Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap after he sued to have a court release them, highlights that much of the commission’s correspondence and activities were part of efforts by a tight circle of Republican officials, activists, researchers, and journalists to identify noncitizen voters. Their efforts seem to have focused less on a number of other serious issues around election integrity than on a broader anti-immigration agenda. The documents reveal that the commission, far from the vigilant and neutral defender of American democracy that White House leadership pretended to have chartered, conducted an inquisition during its seven-month existence.