Trump Voter Fraud Panel Coming Under Investigation

Donald Trump and voter fraud commission
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, co-chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, left, at the White House on July 19. The commission doesn’t have a clear goal, says Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The congressional watchdog Government Accountability Office (GOA) will review President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission—the first federal investigation to be launched on the controversial panel.

The GOA, an independent, nonpartisan agency that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, said in response to a request from Senator Michael Bennet, the Democrat from Colorado, that the investigation was "work that is within the scope of its authority."

"We're in the legislative branch and do all our work for Congress. So as long as the request comes from a Chair or Ranking Member of a relevant Committee, and meet(s) a number of other similar related criteria, we typically do it," Chuck Young, a spokesman for the office, told Newsweek in an email Thursday.

BIG NEWS: @USGAO accepts our request to investigate @POTUS “Voter Fraud” Commission.

— Michael Bennet (@SenatorBennet) October 26, 2017

The office's decision was in response to an October 18 letter from Bennet, Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Democrat from Minnesota, and Senator Cory Booker, the Democrat from New Jersey, stating that Trump's commission has ignored numerous requests from Congress members seeking clarifications on its activities and that investigative reports "raise questions about the partisan motives and actions of the Commission."

"Without any (commission) response to Congressional inquiries, we fear that the manner in which the (commission) is conducting its work will prevent the public from a full and transparent understanding of the Commission's conclusions and unnecessarily diminish the confidence of our democratic process," states the letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

The GOA advises Congress through findings from its research.

Critics of the commission have accused it of aiming to suppress the right to vote and lodged public records requests to get a sense of its doings.

The senators requested that the office examine the amount of all federal funds expended to support the commission's work and the commission's efforts to address voter participation. In addition, senators sought any information that the commission used to draw conclusions and insights on what it is doing to protect voter data gathered and its efforts to adhere to government regulations.

Bennet said the office's decision to investigate "is essential to protecting American voters."

"In its review, the (office) must ensure the Commission's work isn't using taxpayer money to support conspiracies long relegated to the fringes of political discourse," Bennet said in a statement to Newsweek.

Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in May in an attempt to find evidence to support his claim that millions of noncitizens voted in the 2016 election and cost him the popular vote against Hillary Clinton.

The majority-Republican panel has requested voter data from all states, and at least 44 have refused to hand the sensitive information over. It has been stalled by eight lawsuits from various civil rights groups that some members have said have halted its efforts to study voter fraud.

The @USGAO investigation will uncover the #ShamVotingCommission’s motives and influence of its work:

— Michael Bennet (@SenatorBennet) October 26, 2017

Though the GOA accepted the request, staff will not be available to begin work for "about five months," its letter states.

"Once it does begin," Young wrote to Newsweek, "The first step is to determine the scope of what we will cover and the methodology to be used."

Trump's executive order states that the commission is to terminate 30 days after it submits its report to the president, but does not indicate a deadline for the report.

The senators asked that the office complete its work within six months of the commission's termination.

"We are making the request now in recognition of the fact that (office) may need to take steps in advance of the (commission)'s completion to ensure you have the information necessary to provide a fully informed review," their letter states.

It is unclear whether at least some members of the commission—including its de facto head Kris Kobach, who's gained a reputation of suppressing voting rights—are working quietly as the panel as a whole appears held up. If they are, the senators' requested deadline for the office a half-year after it is disbanded could be somewhat futile.