Dunlap, one of four Democrats on the panel, made the statements in a report he sent to the commission’s two leaders — Vice President Pence and Kobach, who is Kansas’s secretary of state — after reviewing more than 8,000 documents from the group’s work, which he acquired only after a legal fight despite his participation on the panel.
Before it was disbanded by Trump in January, the panel had never presented any findings or evidence of widespread voter fraud. But the White House claimed at the time that it had shut down the commission despite “substantial evidence of voter fraud” due to the mounting legal challenges it faced from states. Kobach, too, spoke around that time about how “some people on the left were getting uncomfortable about how much we were finding out.”
Dunlap said that the commission’s documents that were turned over to him underscore the hollowness of those claims: “they do not contain evidence of widespread voter fraud,” he said in his report, adding that some of the documentation seemed to indicate that the commission was predicting it would find evidence of fraud, evincing “a troubling bias.”
In particular, Dunlap pointed to an outline for a report the commission was working on that circulated in November 2017. The outline included sections for “Improper voter registration practices,” and “Instances of fraudulent or improper voting,” though the sections themselves were blank as they awaited evidence, speaking to what Dunlap said indicated a push for preordained conclusions.
“After reading this,” Dunlap said of the more than 8,000 pages of documents in an interview with The Washington Post, “I see that it wasn’t just a matter of investigating President Trump’s claims that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally, but the goal of the commission seems to have been to validate those claims.”
After a career of more than 20 years that has included stints as a state representative and the chairmanship of a committee on fisheries and wildlife, Dunlap said that his time on the panel was “the most bizarre thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
“We had more transparency on a deer task force than I had on a presidential commission,” he said. “We had probably a dozen meetings. They were all public. We published everything we did in the newspaper and published results, including information we got from the public.”
In contrast, the voting fraud panel was marked by obfuscation, secrecy and confusion related to the work the panel was engaged in.
“I was asking for a schedule,” he said. “If they had handed me a bunch of binders, I probably would have been satisfied. But they didn’t do that.”
So Dunlap filed a lawsuit against the commission while it was still active in November, alleging that he and the other Democratic members were being excluded from its work and materials. He received the documents he sought only in July, after a federal judge ordered the administration to turn them over, despite the objections of the Justice Department.
The materials provide a window into the panel’s operations. In one email, Christy McCormick, a Republican member of the commission, spoke to a staff member about recruiting a career statistician from the Justice Department to the commission, writing that she was “pretty confident that he is conservative (and Christian, too).” Other documents showed what American Oversight, the accountability-focused nonprofit organization working on the lawsuit with Dunlap, said was an attempt to shut out him and other Democrat members. Another email showed one of Pence’s aides sharing with Kobach what he said was data about same-day voter registration in New Hampshire, which Kobach later used in a Breitbart column arguing that the alleged fraud had swung the state’s 2016 senate race.
Dunlap said there were many strange moments when he served on the panel, such as the time John R. Lott Jr., a controversial economist described as a “favorite” of the National Rifle Association, testified about introducing a background check for voters modeled off the federal instant check process for acquiring a gun.
“It was surreal,” Dunlap said. “I was like, why is this guy even here?”
He said he didn’t understand why people like Kobach continue to talk up the prevalence of voter fraud.
“Where are the indictments, where are the prosecutions?” Dunlap said. “But that’s sort of de rigueur here. You throw out a bunch of numbers about supposed voter fraud, and it becomes the Halloween ghost story that keeps getting repeated. But nobody can really point to it.”
Kobach, who is running in the Republican primary for the governor’s seat in Kansas, did not return a request for comment sent to his office.
Trump’s claim that as many as 3 million to 5 million fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 election remains one of his most notable falsehoods.
No credible evidence has ever been produced, by the White House, or anyone else, to substantiate the claim. The commission, formally known as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, was formed in May 2017, and it quickly faced controversy from a wide array of groups, including many state officials from both political parties who objected to its requests for detailed data on voter rolls. By the time it was disbanded in January, it had drawn at least eight lawsuits, including Dunlap’s.
That lawsuit is not yet resolved. Dunlap says he believes that the committee may yet have more information to procure, while the government has said it wants to terminate the litigation, said Clark Pettig, a spokesman for American Oversight.