President Donald Trump kicked off the first meeting of a panel he has tasked with probing his own voter fraud claims by questioning why some states are refusing to turn over voting data to his administration.
“I’m pleased that more than 30 states have already agreed to share the information with the commission and the other states that information will be forthcoming,” Trump said. “If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about.”
That’s when the unpredictable president appeared to venture from his prepared remarks and went right after state officials who are withholding the voter data his administration is seeking.
“And I ask the vice president and I ask the commission: What are they worried about?” he said, referring to Mike Pence, also the commission’s chairman.
“There’s something,” state officials want to keep under wraps, Trump alleged. “There always is.”
Trump’s commission has asked states for voter-specific data, including the last four digits of Social Security numbers, that some states forbid from releasing. Several states have said they will release publicly available data, but many state voting officials have pushed back on what they consider violations of privacy and an attempt to intimidate voters.
Perhaps the most colorful of these came from a Republican, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
“They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” Hosemann said in a statement.
Since defeating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College and winning the presidency, yet losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, Trump has claimed 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally, despite lacking evidence to back such a claim.
Critics charge Trump made the claims and then launched the commission over his own insecurities about losing the popular vote. They have also pointed out that the commission’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has transparency issues himself. A federal court fined Kobach $1,000 for misleading the court about the nature of documents sought by the American Civil Liberties Union in its lawsuit against Kansas’ voter registration laws.
Trump repeated that claim as members of the panel sat nearby, though he did not point to specific numbers of allegedly illegal votes.
“This issue is very important to me because throughout the campaign — and even after — people would come up to me and express their concerns about voter inconsistencies and irregularities which they saw, in some cases, having to do with very large numbers of people in certain states,” he said.
The president told the panel that “any form of illegal or fraudulent voting, whether by non-citizens or the deceased, and any form of voter suppression or intimidation must be stopped.”
He reminded the commission members they are charged with “upholding the integrity of the ballot box and the principle of one citizen-one vote.”
Many voting rights advocates say the commission is little more than an attempt to suppress the vote, and point to the lack of evidence of voter fraud to bolster their argument.
“Today’s convening of President Trump’s new commission to suppress the vote represents a new low in Republicans’ partisan efforts to endanger Americans’ most fundamental right to participate equally in our democracy. It is no less than an attempt to reshape our electorate to exclude millions,” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement.
Jason Dick contributed to this story.