×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
September 13, 2017
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

After falsely claiming that 3-5 million people voted illegally for his opponent in the 2016 election, President Trump announced his intention in late January to set up a commission to investigate voter fraud, a decision he formalized with an executive order in May. On Feb. 22, a Heritage Foundation employee wrote an email to Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he'd heard the "disturbing" news that the commission's chairman, Vice President Mike Pence, planned to make the panel bipartisan and urged that only like-minded conservatives be appointed, according to a copy of the email obtained by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) through a freedom-of-information request.

The Justice Department redacted the name of the Heritage Foundation's self-proclaimed vote-fraud expert, but the conservative think tank effectively confirmed to Gizmodo that the author was Hans von Spakovsky, who was later appointed to the commission and is identified by the CLC as "widely considered the architect of the voter fraud myth." At the commission's second public meeting on Tuesday, before Heritage confirmed that Spakovsky wrote the email, Pro Publica's Jessica Huseman asked him "point blank" if he'd "authored this document, he said no." She posted audio of the exchange.

In the email, the Heritage Foundation employee presumed to be Spakovsky argued to Sessions that "there isn't a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud" and claim that the commission "is engaged in voter suppression," and that "mainstream Republican officials and/or academics" would also make the commission "an abject failure." The author also complained that none of the "real experts on the conservative side" had been appointed "other than Kris Kobach," the committee's vice chairman, Kansas secretary of state, and Breitbart News columnist.

Pence and Kobach eventually appointed seven Republicans and five Democrats to the commission, though one Democrat resigned. But the CLC said that the email adds "to the mounting evidence that the commission has no interest in true bipartisanship or an open discussion of how to solve the real problems in our elections." CLC president Trevor Potter, a former GOP chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said that Kobach's "farcical meetings" continue "to validate the worst suspicions about the commission: that it is designed to shrink the electorate for partisan advantage." He suggested they focus on "a true issue of election integrity" like Russians buying political ads on Facebook.

UPDATE: Spakovsky said in a statement that the email was sent to "private individuals who were not in the administration" and "was unaware that it had been forwarded" to Sessions. He added that he now believes the commission is "committed to uncovering the truth about election integrity and the other issues present in our election system." Peter Weber

9:45 p.m. ET
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this summer, special counsel Robert Mueller's office interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about President Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The questioning took place in either June or July, several people with knowledge of the interview told the Journal, and could mean that investigators do not see Rosenstein as a major figure in the probe. Rosenstein took over the investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, and appointed Mueller in May to his role as special counsel. Catherine Garcia

8:49 p.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, and Adriano Espaillat of New York were arrested Tuesday on disorderly conduct charges during a protest outside Trump Tower in Manhattan.

The three members of Congress were part of a small group of demonstrators calling for legislation to be passed helping undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as children. Protesters sat down on Fifth Avenue and wouldn't move, The Associated Press reports, and they were eventually handcuffed and led away by police, who said they issued desk appearance tickets. They have all been released.

Before the protest, organizers said the lawmakers planned on getting arrested, and on All In with Chris Hayes after his release, Gutierrez said the goal was to keep the spotlight on the issue. When working with immigrants, "you see the fear, the trepidation that exists, and it's hurtful, it's painful to see that," he said. "I want to say, 'We're fighting.'" Trump, in town for his United Nations address, was supposed to be at Trump Tower at the time, but wasn't on the premises. Catherine Garcia

8:00 p.m. ET
iStock

At the age of eight, Sophia Spencer has done something that most scientists only dream of: she co-authored a paper that was published this month in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

Spencer, who lives in Canada, loves bugs — snails, slugs, caterpillars, and her personal favorite, grasshoppers. When the kids at school started making fun of her because they thought it was weird for her to be so interested in bugs, Spencer's mom wrote a letter to the Entomological Society of Canada, asking if they could share any words of encouragement, Quartz reports. After the request was tweeted out, support started flooding in for Spencer, and Morgan Jackson, an entomologist at the University of Guelph Insect Collection, decided to publish a paper on the importance of social media making science accessible to a greater audience, and asked Spencer to be his co-author.

Jackson analyzed engagement and the topics that were brought up, like getting more women involved in STEM, while Spencer wrote about her love of insects and what it was like to speak with entomologists. The tide has turned at school, Spencer said, and now the kids think bugs are cool and they use her microscope to get a closer look. "If somebody said bugs weren't for girls, I would be really mad at them," she said. "I think anything can be for anybody, including bugs." Catherine Garcia

7:30 p.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Attorneys for first lady Melania Trump have warned the Americki Institut in Croatia to stop using her image on their billboard, next to the words, "Just imagine how far you can go with a little bit of English."

Her lawyers said they are ready to sue the English-language school if they don't take down the billboards in Zagreb, which feature a painting of Trump in front of a microphone, within 24 hours, the BBC reports. The school's founder, Brett Campbell, told a Croatian publication all he is trying to do is emphasize the fact that "knowledge is essential for international success" and "if you are well-versed in English, in these markets you can go very far. And we can help you."

Trump is multi-lingual, speaking French, Italian, and German in addition to her native language of Slovenian and English. Since becoming first lady, her attorneys have gone after several companies for using her likeness without permission, including a honey business in Slovenia that was told they cannot use the name "Melania" on their labels. Catherine Garcia

6:32 p.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A spokesman for President Trump's onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort said Tuesday if reports are correct that Manafort was wiretapped by federal investigators as part of a probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, there should be an "immediate investigation" into the leak by the Department of Justice's Inspector General.

"It is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged," Jason Maloni said in a statement. Manafort is requesting the Department of Justice "release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ — there is nothing there." CNN reported Monday that Manafort was wiretapped before Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel to take over the FBI's Russia investigation, and The New York Times reported that Manafort was told by prosecutors they plan to indict him. Catherine Garcia

4:56 p.m. ET
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Donations to President Trump's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee are going towards paying off Trump's Russia probe legal bills, Reuters reported Tuesday. While it's legal for campaign funds to be used "to pay legal bills arising from being a candidate or elected official," Reuters reported that Trump "would be the first U.S. president in the modern campaign finance era to use such funds to cover the costs of responding to a criminal probe."

Reuters was not able to determine how much campaign cash Trump has spent so far on his team of lawyers, who are working on his behalf in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into Russia's election meddling and the Trump campaign's potential ties to it. However, one person familiar with the matter told Reuters that the first of his payments would be disclosed in public filings. The RNC is slated to release reports on its August spending Wednesday, and the Trump campaign's will be out in a month, on Oct. 15.

Read the full story at Reuters. Becca Stanek

4:14 p.m. ET

Either White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had a bad headache on Tuesday, or President Trump's debut address before the United Nations General Assembly was giving him one. While Trump was calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man," threatening to "totally destroy" North Korea, and informing world leaders that some countries, "in fact, are going to hell," Kelly sat beside first lady Melania Trump with his head in his hands and his eyes on the ground.

Another notable reaction was displayed by representatives from Zimbabwe, who looked equal parts amused, concerned, and sleepy. Becca Stanek

See More Speed Reads