WASHINGTON — President Trump announced Wednesday that he is disbanding a controversial panel studying alleged voter fraud that became mired in federal lawsuits, including from Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a commission member, and faced resistance from states that accused it of overreach.

The decision is a major setback for Trump, who created the commission last year in response to his baseless claim that he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 because of millions of illegally cast ballots.

The commission met only twice amid the series of lawsuits seeking to curb its authority and claims by Democrats that it was stacked to recommend voting restrictions favorable to the president’s party.

In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there is “substantial evidence of voter fraud” and blamed the ending of the commission on the refusal of many states to provide voter data sought by the commission and the cost of ongoing federal lawsuits.

The bipartisan panel, known as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, had been nominally chaired by Vice President Pence and led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who has aggressively sought to prosecute alleged voter fraud in his state.

In the statement, Sanders said Trump had signed an executive order asking the Department of Homeland Security to review voter fraud issues and “determine next courses of action.”



“The commission never had anything to do with election integrity,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “It was instead a front to suppress the vote, perpetrate dangerous and baseless claims, and was ridiculed from one end of the country to the other. This shows that ill-founded proposals that just appeal to a narrow group of people won’t work, and we hope they’ll learn this lesson elsewhere.”

Other critics of the commission, including former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander,  also hailed Trump’s announcement.

“President Trump created his sham voting commission to substantiate a lie he told about voter fraud in the 2016 election,” said Kander, president of the advocacy group Let America Vote. “When he couldn’t come up with any fake evidence, and under relentless pressure, he had no choice but to disband his un-American commission. . . . Good riddance.”

The 11-member commission proved a magnet for controversy from the outset and was sued by Dunlap, who alleged in November that he has been kept in the dark about its operations, rendering his participation “essentially meaningless.”

A federal judge last month ruled partly in Dunlap’s favor.


Dunlap said in a statement Wednesday that he is not surprised the commission was dissolved.

“The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has not functioned according to the Federal Advisory Committee Act since its inception, and the ruling in my favor pursuant to the complaint I filed in the U.S. District Court has borne those shortcomings out,” he said. “The lack of transparency brought nothing but suspicion onto the work of the commission, which bankrupted it of any chance at public legitimacy.”

American Oversight, a nonprofit government watchdog group that helped represent Dunlap in the lawsuit, credited his efforts for the commission’s demise.

“It’s no coincidence that the president dissolved the commission once it became clear it wouldn’t be permitted to operate in the shadows,” American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers said in a statement Wednesday. “Secretary Dunlap deserves our gratitude for stepping into the breach to take on adversaries of democracy. We intend to continue to fight for his right to access to the commission’s secret communications. President Trump can dissolve the commission, but the law doesn’t allow him or the commission to slink away from view and avoid accountability.”

The commission had been targeted in at least eight other lawsuits seeking to curb its operations or make its deliberations more transparent. Several of those stemmed from an early sweeping request to states for voter data that some, including those led by Republicans, deemed too intrusive.

The panel met publicly in Washington in July and in New Hampshire in September. Other meetings planned across the country never materialized.


The panel was rattled in the fall by two unforeseen events: the arrest of a staff member on charges of possessing child pornography and the death of one of the commissioners, Democrat David Dunn, a former Arkansas state legislator.

The original executive order establishing the commission called for it to produce a report to Trump detailing laws and policies that both enhance and undermine “the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting.”

Despite the accusations of bias, both Trump and Pence had said in opening remarks at the first commission meeting that it had no preordained agenda.

That did not reassure critics.

“This commission started as a tragedy and ended as a farce,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, a fierce critic of the panel. “It was a colossal waste of taxpayer money from the very beginning.”

A senior White House aide said Democrats on the commission were to blame for refusing to work with the panel, as were states that refused to turn over public data.

The aide, who was not authorized to speak on behalf of the commission and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the Department of Homeland Security is “better equipped to take up the matter.”

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