×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
September 13, 2017
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

After falsely claiming that 3-5 million people voted illegally for his opponent in the 2016 election, President Trump announced his intention in late January to set up a commission to investigate voter fraud, a decision he formalized with an executive order in May. On Feb. 22, a Heritage Foundation employee wrote an email to Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he'd heard the "disturbing" news that the commission's chairman, Vice President Mike Pence, planned to make the panel bipartisan and urged that only like-minded conservatives be appointed, according to a copy of the email obtained by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) through a freedom-of-information request.

The Justice Department redacted the name of the Heritage Foundation's self-proclaimed vote-fraud expert, but the conservative think tank effectively confirmed to Gizmodo that the author was Hans von Spakovsky, who was later appointed to the commission and is identified by the CLC as "widely considered the architect of the voter fraud myth." At the commission's second public meeting on Tuesday, before Heritage confirmed that Spakovsky wrote the email, Pro Publica's Jessica Huseman asked him "point blank" if he'd "authored this document, he said no." She posted audio of the exchange.

In the email, the Heritage Foundation employee presumed to be Spakovsky argued to Sessions that "there isn't a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud" and claim that the commission "is engaged in voter suppression," and that "mainstream Republican officials and/or academics" would also make the commission "an abject failure." The author also complained that none of the "real experts on the conservative side" had been appointed "other than Kris Kobach," the committee's vice chairman, Kansas secretary of state, and Breitbart News columnist.

Pence and Kobach eventually appointed seven Republicans and five Democrats to the commission, though one Democrat resigned. But the CLC said that the email adds "to the mounting evidence that the commission has no interest in true bipartisanship or an open discussion of how to solve the real problems in our elections." CLC president Trevor Potter, a former GOP chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said that Kobach's "farcical meetings" continue "to validate the worst suspicions about the commission: that it is designed to shrink the electorate for partisan advantage." He suggested they focus on "a true issue of election integrity" like Russians buying political ads on Facebook.

UPDATE: Spakovsky said in a statement that the email was sent to "private individuals who were not in the administration" and "was unaware that it had been forwarded" to Sessions. He added that he now believes the commission is "committed to uncovering the truth about election integrity and the other issues present in our election system." Peter Weber

12:58 p.m. ET

China, Iran, and North Korea could join Russia in attempting to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections, National Security Adviser John Bolton said on ABC's This Week Sunday.

Bolton told host Martha Raddatz there is "a sufficient national security concern about Chinese meddling, Iranian meddling, and North Korean meddling that we're taking steps to try and prevent it" — but he would not answer her question about whether there is any evidence China has tried to hack American elections in the past.

Bolton is a diehard hawk who has advocated attacking Iran and North Korea.

Raddatz also asked whether Bolton would support fighting the 17-year war in Afghanistan entirely using contractors instead of the U.S. military. (Contractors already outnumber U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan by a large margin.) Bolton dodged the question with a bromide about entertaining new tactics.

Watch that exchange below. Bonnie Kristian

12:31 p.m. ET

Former CIA Director John Brennan is considering legal action against the Trump administration after President Trump revoked his security clearance as part of a very public feud, Brennan said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday.

"I have been contacted by a number of lawyers and they have already given me their thoughts about the basis for a complaint, an injunction, to try and prevent him from doing this in the future," Brennan told host Chuck Todd. "If my clearances and my reputation — as I'm being pulled through the mud now — if that's the price we're going to pay to prevent Donald Trump from doing this against other people, to me it's a small price to pay, so I am going to do whatever I can personally to try to prevent these abuses in the future, and if it means going to court, I will do that."

Pressed by Todd as to whether he regrets "essentially accusing the president of treason," Brennan said no. "I've been speaking out rather forcefully, because I believe it's important to do so," he said. "I don't believe I'm being political at all." Contra Todd, who highlighted his prominence as "the former CIA director accusing the sitting president of the United States," Brennan maintained he is merely a "private citizen."

Watch the full segment below. Bonnie Kristian

11:14 a.m. ET

Those who say President Trump should testify for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation "because he's going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, well, that's so silly, because it's somebody's version of the truth — not the truth [itself[," Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said on NBC News Sunday.

"Truth is truth," Meet the Press host Chuck Todd interjected.

"No," Giuliani replied, "it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth."

After a moment of crosstalk and protestation, Todd observed Giuliani's phrase "is going to become a bad meme."

While Trump himself has at times expressed eagerness to testify, his legal team has been wary of permitting it, with Giuliani alleging Mueller is attempting to trap Trump in perjury. His Orwellian phrasing aside, Giuliani's concern is not particularly unusual, especially for a lawyer with a loquacious fabulist for a client.

Giuliani's full interview mostly concerned Saturday's news that White House counsel Don McGahn has voluntarily given 30 hours of interviews to the Mueller team, as well as President Trump's response to that story. Watch the complete conversation with Todd below; the exchange about truth begins around the nine-minute mark. Bonnie Kristian

10:53 a.m. ET
Omar Haj Kadour/Getty Images

Syria's Idlib province is expected to be the site of the final major battle of the seven-year Syrian civil war.

The country's strongman President Bashar al-Assad has retaken most rebel-held territory across Syria, and Idlib is the last large rebel-held enclave. About 70,000 rebel fighters are in the province, driven by regime forces from other Syrian regions.

Idlib is also the temporary home of internally displaced people who have fled more intense fighting elsewhere in Syria. Now, the fighting will likely come to their doorsteps once again as a new offensive is thought to be imminent.

"We are asking God for mercy and protection from the bombing and the airstrikes," said a woman named Aisha, who lives in Idlib with her family. "If I take [my children] with me outside, I am scared. If I leave them inside the house, I'm also scared. Wherever I go, I will still be scared for their lives." Bonnie Kristian

10:39 a.m. ET
CNN/Screenshot

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on Wednesday arrested Joel Arrona-Lara as he drove his wife, Maria del Carmen Venegas, to the hospital to give birth. Arrona-Lara was detained when he stopped at a gas station, and Venegas, left sobbing at the station, ultimately drove herself to the hospital and delivered the baby alone.

ICE said Saturday the arrest was made because Arrona-Lara is in the U.S. illegally and there is an "outstanding warrant issued for his arrest in Mexico on homicide charges." The agency "will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement," the statement said. "All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States."

Venegas told CNN the murder accusation is the result of "a misunderstanding." The couple's attorney, Emilio Amaya García, said he was not able to locate a Mexican warrant for Arrona-Lara's arrest. "Using the name and date of birth, we couldn't find anything saying he was in any criminal proceedings," he said.

"I'm well healthwise, but emotionally bad," Venegas said after the birth. Her experience has been a nightmare, she added, and she "had wanted it to be a dream." Bonnie Kristian

10:31 a.m. ET

President Trump intends to announce this coming week new guidelines for emissions from coal power plants, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The proposal would reverse an Obama administration policy, the Clean Power Plan, intended to discourage coal use long-term. The new plan would allow states to set comparatively looser standards for coal plants for the next decade.

The Post reports the Trump proposal will result in the release of 12 times the amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as compared to emissions under the Obama-era rules, and other pollutant emissions will be affected as well:


(The Washington Post)

"These numbers tell the story, that [the Trump administration] really remain[s] committed not to do anything to address greenhouse gas emissions," said Joseph Goffman, formerly associate assistant administrator for climate at the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Air and Radiation. "They show not merely indifference to climate change but really, opposition to doing anything about climate change."

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, meanwhile, hailed the expected rule change as a win. "We're certainly pleased and supportive of the administration rolling back what we thought were harmful regulations," said the organization's president, Michelle Bloodworth. "It's a step in the right direction." Bonnie Kristian

8:33 a.m. ET

President Trump raged on Twitter early Sunday, continuing an overnight series of tweets on a Saturday New York Times report that White House counsel Don McGahn has cooperated extensively with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation:

In previous posts, Trump claimed he approved McGahn's information sharing for the sake of transparency and that the Times published the piece to unfairly smear McGahn:

The president also reprised a familiar refrain of protests and misdirection about collusion, Hillary Clinton, the media, McCarthyism, and the "witch hunt." Read more about the Times story that has him so agitated here. Bonnie Kristian

See More Speed Reads