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Witcover: Trump's 'electoral integrity' panel is a fishing expedition

Donald Trump's presidency cries out for deeper scrutiny by the mainstream news media he so defensively demeans as a generator of fake news, says Jules Witcover.

Donald Trump's insistence that nationwide voter fraud denied him a victory in the popular vote last November prompted him to set up a federal voting commission seeking broad personal and political information on enrolled voters. The effort has triggered a broad pushback from at least 44 state elections agencies.

Numerous studies, including some by Republican and Democratic state governments, have concluded Mr. Trump's allegation is unfounded. But the commission, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, has asked the state agencies to provide names, addresses, birth dates and even party affiliations and partial Social Security numbers.

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Many state elections officials, citing state laws, have refused to release any of this information or parts of it. One Republican secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann of Mississippi, said the commission "can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from."

The emphatic rejections are based on concerns over federal intrusion into states' affairs and huge technical difficulties in complying, not to mention the commission's transparent purpose. The driving force appears to be Mr. Trump's enduring frustration over his 2016 popular-vote loss by 3 million ballots to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He gained the Oval Office via his 77-vote majority in the Electoral College.

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In May, after much Democratic chiding over the nature of his victory, Mr. Trump created a new Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity under Mr. Pence, with a vocal Republican critic of alleged voter fraud, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, as vice chairman.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of President Donald Trump's Election Integrity Commission, sent a letter to election authorities across the nation seeking voter roll data that includes personal information.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of President Donald Trump's Election Integrity Commission, sent a letter to election authorities across the nation seeking voter roll data that includes personal information. (Orlin Wagner / AP)

Mr. Kobach last week labeled news accounts of the states' pushback against the sweeping request as more "fake news," echoing Mr. Trump in the ongoing war of words with much of the mainstream news media.

"Despite media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians," Mr. Kobach wrote, "this bipartisan commission on election integrity will continue it work to gather the facts through public records request to ensure the integrity of each Americans vote, because the public has a right to know."

His statement notably was issued through the White House, which itself has been under fire for its skimpy and nonresponsive evasions to White House reporters' verbal inquiries to the president on multiple news developments.

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While he has been on his second trip to Europe with a much ballyhooed first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Trump also has been coping with North Korea's reportedly successful testing of a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching Alaska.

When it comes to North Korea, the best offense is a good defense

Yet he remains preoccupied with the politically irrelevant loss of a popular vote of eight months ago. It doesn't erase Mr. Trump's hold on the presidency, although that may be eroding because of his own impulsive remarks and behavior on a variety of fronts.

Trump in a recent tweet observed: "Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTE FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?" As a president who has continued to doubt Russian interference the American election process and has sought to derail the congressional investigation into it, one can reasonably ask: Who is Donald Trump to ask that question?

He continues to withhold his latest income tax returns, which could reveal answers to the many inquiries about his wealth, his means of acquiring it and alleged Russian connections. Along with the general secrecy surrounding this most unorthodox presidency, all of it cries out for deeper scrutiny by the mainstream news media he so defensively demeans as a generator of fake news.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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