President Trump’s plans to ask for a “major investigation” into allegations of widespread voter fraud were met with skepticism by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers — and fear from voting rights advocates that the president will use his unfounded claims to justify more-restrictive voting laws. It is unclear who will investigate Trump’s belief that he lost the popular vote in November’s election because millions of illegal votes were cast. The president could set up an independent commission or task force to look into the claims, which have already been disproved by many national studies. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president’s investigation would examine “the integrity of our voting system” and not just the 2016 election. The Justice Department, which investigates claims of election crimes, has not historically launched a criminal investigation at the request of a president. An attorney general could order an investigation, but Trump’s nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has not yet been confirmed, and his spokeswoman declined to comment. Justice officials said they knew nothing about an investigation into voter fraud and referred questions to the White House.
Former assistant attorney general for civil rights Tom Perez, who oversaw the department’s voting section under the Obama administration, called Trump’s announcement of a voter fraud probe “a totally stupid and wasteful investigation into nonexistent problems.” “I can’t think of a more colossal waste of taxpayer dollars than to initiate this investigation,” said Perez, who was also labor secretary and is now a candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee. “This is all about ego. The issue of in-person voting fraud is virtually nonexistent.”
In back-to-back tweets on Wednesday, Trump said the investigation would cover “those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal” and “those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time).” News outlets reported Wednesday that Trump’s daughter Tiffany, White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin were all registered to vote in two states. “Depending on results,” Trump added in his tweet, “we will strengthen up voting procedures.”
Former Justice spokesman Matthew Miller said this is exactly the fear of voting rights advocates — that such an investigation will be used to endorse more-restrictive voting laws. “That’s where this is going,” Miller said. Civil rights groups are specifically worried about an action the Justice Department took three hours after Trump’s inauguration on one of the most controversial voting laws in the country — a 2011 voter ID law in Texas, which every judge who has considered it has found to be discriminatory. On Friday, Justice officials asked for a months-long delay in a hearing in the case so they can determine their next course of action, which could include dropping out of the case altogether.