WASHINGTON — President Trump signed an executive order late Wednesday disbanding his own election integrity commission after less than eight months, saying he didn't want to waste taxpayer money fighting with state governments over their voter data.
But the co-chairman of the panel, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said the investigation into alleged voter fraud would continue — and could pick up speed without the formalities of a commission.
Trump said the commission's work will now go to the Department of Homeland Security.
“Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry," Trump said in a statement through his press secretary. "Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the commission, and have asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action," Trump said.
When he created the commission in May, Trump cited a repeatedly debunked claim that at least 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election — a number that, if true, would have explained Hillary Clinton's lead in the popular vote.
But many states, citing their own voter privacy laws, refused to provide the commission data on their voters without an act of Congress. Those troubles ground the commission's work to a standstill last fall.
Along the way, the commission sparked at least 15 lawsuits in federal and state courts, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Most complaints were about voter data and the commission's lack of transparency. One lawsuit was filed by a Democratic member of the commission, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who said he was left out of the loop on the commission's deliberations. A federal judge mostly agreed last month, saying the commission's actions were "indefensible."
Kobach, the vice chairman of the commission, said the investigation will move forward without the procedural requirements governing federal advisory committees.
"It was a decision that was made to be able to move the investigation forward more quickly. It was a change in tactics," he told USA TODAY. "The president's commission was being stymied and stonewalled by Democrats on and off the commission to try to halt the commission's work."
Civil and voting rights groups who had fought the effort said the commission was an attempt to justify new laws restricting the right to vote and suppress voter turnout, particularly among minorities.
"This is indicative of the fact that he was on a witch hunt to prove that 3 million people voted fraudulently in the presidential election," said Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., who led a Democratic shadow commission set up to serve as a watchdog to Trump's panel. "It’s a narrative that none of us bought into. So the fact that he’s dismantling this voter fraud commission is to me truly indicative of the fact that voter fraud is not the problem — it’s voter suppression."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also weighed in, via Twitter, saying the "commission was built to encourage and enable voter suppression." She tweeted that Americans who care about the right to vote "should breathe a sigh of relief now that it no longer exists."