The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate demanded Thursday that President Trump disband his commission designed to investigate voter fraud, saying it stems from the same ideology that spurred neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said that if Mr. Trump won't cancel the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, he will force a fight over an amendment to shut down the commission when Congress returns in September.
But Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of the commission, called Mr. Schumer's attack a "lame" attempt to further politicize the Charlottesville clashes, and said Democrats and misrepresenting the panel's business.
"His piece displayed a remarkable ignorance of the issue," Mr. Kobach told The Washington Times. "Anybody who knows anything about elections or who's been reading anything about the commission would know those are incorrect statements."
Democrats have been searching for months for reasons to derail the commission, which the president formed to investigate voter fraud and barriers to voting that popped up in the 2016 election.
Opponents say they think the commission is intended to try to lay the groundwork for removing voters from the rolls, or otherwise making it more difficult to vote. Mr. Schumer called the panel "wolves in sheep's clothing."
"Under the guise of voter fraud, which experts agree is practically non-existent, conservative forces in the administration, cheered on by white-supremacy-stoking publications like Breitbart News, are reviving the old playbook of disenfranchising minority voters," Mr. Schumer wrote in a new post on Medium. "Unfortunately, hardly anything would make the torch-bearing men who just marched on Charlottesville any happier than for this effort to succeed."
Mr. Kobach, though, did a point-by-point rebuttal of Mr. Schumer's post, saying the commission won't be keeping any of the voter data it collects, in accordance with federal laws. He also said the commission can only make recommendations and "has no ability to remove anyone from anything."
"Indeed the commission has no authority to compel anyone to do anything. Its purpose is simply to offer advice and collect information," he said.
The voter integrity commission has held one meeting so far, and has scheduled a second meeting for Sept. 12 in New Hampshire.
The entire operation has proved to be extraordinarily controversial, though, with repeated attempts by opponents to derail the panel's business in court.
While those efforts have fallen short, a federal judge did rebuke the panel last week over how it was handling its obligations under open-records laws, saying commission members seemed to be hiding documents based on a faulty interpretation of the law. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly called the commission's approach "incredible."
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which has sued to force more transparency, told the judge Thursday that it wants to take a sworn deposition from commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach to try to learn more about the commission's business and goals.
"Vice Chair Kobach, as the operational leader of the Commission, has unique knowledge regarding whether he or other commissioners have communicated or kept documents regarding the Commission outside of official federal government systems, the existence of certain types of records (such as any documents relating to the Commission that have not been shared with the full Commission), and whether the Commission's anticipated activities extend beyond providing advice to the President," the lawyers said in their request.
Mr. Kobach said the administration's lawyers would have a full response, but said "it's a very weak basis for seeking a deposition."
The panel's official reply to the court is due Monday.
Democrats from the start have doubted the commission's mission, saying it appeared more of an effort to justify the president's claims that he would have won the popular vote in last year's election but for illegal voting.
Mr. Schumer said he'd always had questions about the commission, "but now, given what's happened in the last several weeks, we've entered a new world and it's even more important that the commission be disbanded."
Mr. Schumer said Congress should take over the issue, holding hearings on both voter fraud and on ways to expand voter participation, such as same-day voter registration.
The Democratic leader said the GOP should join Democrats in disbanding the commission if they want to distance themselves from neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others who marched in Charlottesville. In the wake of those clashes, police say, a man seen marching with the white supremacists plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.
Mr. Kobach, who is also secretary of state in Kansas, took umbrage at the attempt to tie the panel to that violence.
"It's a rather lame effort to try to squeeze Charlottesville into every other policy issue he can find. It just doesn't make any sense. There's no remote connection between Charlottesville and the Election Integrity Commission," Mr. Kobach said.
"And if he's trying to make the argument that some on the far left do that election security measures are racially biased then he should look at the facts, and the facts are that in survey after survey more than 80 percent of African Americans say they support photo ID, which is right in line with white survey respondents," he said.