For days President Trump has promoted the absurd notion that three million to five million people voted illegally in the presidential election. … When a president demands an investigation of voter fraud, what could go wrong? Based on recent history, a lot. Little more than a decade ago, the Justice Department made investigating and prosecuting voter fraud a major priority. When top prosecutors failed to find the misconduct and refused to make partisan prosecutions, they were fired. In the fallout, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was forced to resign in the biggest Justice Department scandal since Watergate. It seems like an odd bit of history to try to repeat — unless the goal is to clear the path for voter suppression. Let’s begin with the underlying fact: There is no epidemic of voter fraud. After Mr. Trump claimed the election was rigged, election officials from both parties, scholars, journalists and experts noted that there was simply no widespread fraud. Mr. Trump’s lawyers even confirmed this in their own court filings in recount efforts in Michigan. There was no extensive voting fraud in 2002, either, when President George W. Bush’s attorney general, John Ashcroft, made finding it a top priority for the Department of Justice. And the federal prosecutors kept coming up empty. After years of trying, they had charged more people with violating migratory bird laws than voting statutes.
The White House was agitated by this failure. In October 2006, President Bush told Mr. Ashcroft’s successor, Mr. Gonzales, that he had heard about fraud in Albuquerque, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s aide, warned Mr. Gonzales he had “concerns” about voter fraud.
Soon top officials concocted a way to get results: If you can’t find the crime, fire the prosecutors. In a highly unusual move, seven United States attorneys were forced to resign, on top of two more pushed out earlier.
David Iglesias, a conservative Republican, was the United States attorney in New Mexico. Local Republicans became angry that he refused to bring corruption cases against Democrats. Shortly after the 2006 election he was dismissed. In his book “In Justice: Inside the Scandal That Rocked the Bush Administration,” Mr. Iglesias summed up his experience: “First would come the spurious allegations of voter fraud, then unvarnished legal manipulations to sway elections, followed by a rigorous insistence on unquestioned and absolute obedience and, finally, a phone call from out of the blue.”