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  May 16, 2017

Trump Appoints Voter Suppression Expert as 'Voter Integrity' Director

Investigative reporter Greg Palast explains how Kris Kobach has used voter registration databases to purge millions of legitimate voters and now he is in charge of 'voter integrity'
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Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and the highly acclaimed Vultures' Picnic, named Book of the Year 2012 on BBC Newsnight Review. Palast also directed the U.S. government's largest racketeering case in history, winning a $4.3 billion jury award. He also conducted the investigation of fraud charges in the Exxon Valdez grounding.


KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore, I'm Kim Brown. On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear or review a Federal Appeals Court decision which had struck down a North Carolina voter identification law back in July of 2016. Now, at the time, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a North Carolina law "targeted African American voters with almost surgical precision in an effort to suppress black voter turnout." What the Supreme Court did on Monday was to in effect, leave the lower court's decision in place, but this is but a small and perhaps temporary victory for voting rights.

A new study out by the think-tank Demos shows that black voter turnout was down at its lowest point in nearly 20 years during the 2016 election, most notably in some states that were critical to Donald Trump's electoral victory, like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. Last but not least, Donald Trump announced the appointment of Kris Kobach to head up a Special Advisory Commission on election integrity last Thursday. Trump is thus fulfilling a promise that he made in January when he tweeted, "I will be asking into a major investigation into voter fraud, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal, and even those who are registered to vote and are dead. Depending on the results, we will strengthen voting procedures."

Joining us to discuss the Kobach appointment, plus Donald Trump's claim of widespread voter fraud, it's Greg Palast. Greg's an investigative reporter who has written for Rolling Stone and The Guardian, amongst many other outlets and publications, and he's also the author of the New York Times Best Seller, and of the film with the same name, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Greg, thank you so much for joining us today.

GREG PALAST: Glad to be with you, Kim.

KIM BROWN: The appointment of Kris Kobach alarmed election integrity specialists, because he is widely seen as one of the main driving forces behind the efforts to suppress electoral participation, and according to the White House, Trump got the number of three million supposed illegal voters, which is a number that Trump very loftily throws around, he apparently got this number from Kobach who claims to have found seven million twice registered voters. In a recent article for Alternet, Greg, you say that appointing Kobach to investigate election integrity is "like appointing Al Capone to investigate the mob." Explain to us briefly what makes you say this.

GREG PALAST: Okay. Kris Kobach, his official title, Secretary of State of Kansas. He'll be running this commission on supposed voter integrity, hunting down those illegal, fraudulent voters that Trump claims exist. Now, this is very, very dangerous stuff because that number, three million illegal voters, is not just pulled out of Trump's comb over. He got it from Kris Kobach, who actually has a blacklist of 7.2 million Americans. He has 7.2 million names, people he says ... He actually says it's three million people, three and a half million people voting twice. That's how you get seven million names. Now, Trump picked up this thing about the double voters and Kobach and the GOP have been pushing this idea that there are people voting twice.

For Rolling Stone, I actually got in, dug in, and against their wishes, I got my hands on their secret list of millions of illegal double voters. Who's on this list? Well, let me give you some names. James Brown, David Lee, Jorge Rodriguez, Maria Hernandez. Are you getting the picture here?

KIM BROWN: These are voters with somewhat ethnic names, but that are also very common names?

GREG PALAST: Exactly. Here's the deal. We had experts go through this, but you don't have to be an expert to know that when you have James Brown of Atlanta, this is a real example. James Brown of Atlanta voted, and then James Brown voted again, that's what they say, in Detroit. They say, "Oh yeah, James Brown, it's got to be the same guy." Well, one is named James Edward Brown, one is named James Thomas Brown. They say that's the same voter. I'm not making this up. There are two million. Kim, there are two million names on that list where the middle names don't match. They have a James Brown Junior matched with James Brown Senior as the same voter.

They'd say this is ridiculous, and that's stupid, and it's a big laugh, except here's why I'm not laughing. They're removing these voters from the voter rolls. Donald Trump bluntly would not be president without this blacklist. 1.1 million voters removed from the voter rolls, from this blacklist of seven million that was created by Kris Kobach. It was passed out amongst 30 Republican Secretaries of State. This was in our Rolling Stone article, expose. 1.1 million voters lost their right to vote in the past election, and they were concentrated in states like Michigan, North Carolina, Alabama, Arizona, Ohio. In other words, swing states, and that made a difference.

For example, in Michigan, Trump won by 10,700 votes, supposedly, but at least 50,000 voters, mostly voters of color, were removed because of this crosscheck list. I checked with their Republican Secretary of State's office after the election. "Oh yeah, we were really aggressive in using the Kobach list." Now, Kobach's going to be in charge of so-called voter protection. It's not just double voters. He's getting into this claim that a million voters supposedly swam the Rio Grande to vote for Hillary Clinton, illegal aliens. You know how excited illegal aliens are for turning over to the government their names and addresses for voting. You can well imagine. It's a sad joke, but the joke's going to be on us when they remove another million voters from the voter rolls.

KIM BROWN: Greg, when we talk about the crosscheck program, I mean, it allows Republicans to strike as many as you said, up to one million voters off the registration list. In your article, you suggested that this will be done again in 2018 and 2020. What do you think needs to be done to prevent this from happening in the future? I understand the ACLU has already filed FOIA requests to the Trump administration about this Election Integrity Commission, because they want to know where Kris Kobach is getting this information from.

GREG PALAST: Well, one of the things, I'm an investigative reporter. You can tell from my hat. I'll be investgating and trying to get these lists which they try to keep secret, but I'm very good at getting them anyway. The ACLU is going through the front door demanding that the Trump administrate turn over ... Because they claim that in the remit for the panel they said, "There are illegal voters." They're going to investigate them. What's really, really dangerous here, Kim, is that Kris Kobach on Fox News said on Sunday that he will now as a federal official, have access to the databases of Homeland Security. This guy's going to be breaking into our files on Homeland Security, and he says that way he's going to find out who are the aliens in United States and see if they're registerd to vote.

Now, if he does the alien hunt, the way he did the double voter hunt, you're going to get Mariah Isabel Hernandez is going to lose her vote because someone named Mariah Linda Hernandez is on the alien voter list. Anyone named Hernandez, Jorge Rodriguez, doesn't matter what their middle name is or not, if they're Junior or Senior, they're going to be losing their vote because they'll be listed on the alien resident list in the United States. We see this coming. It's in our face. This is dangerous, very dangerous.

KIM BROWN: Greg, a recent study conducted by the group Priorities USA found that the voter ID law in Wisconsin resulted in an estimated 200,000 fewer votes being cast and the majority of these fewer votes were likely from individuals who usually vote democrat. That is, younger voters, college aged voters, African American voters. This was in a state where Trump won by only 23,000 votes. Tell us how these findings fit with the larger patterns that you see Kobach trying to implement on the national scale.

GREG PALAST: Well, let me tell you, Kris Kobach is one of the reasons you have that ugly Wisconsin voter ID law. Not only there, but in other states as well. He wants to expand, he said one of the things he's going to be doing on this commission is expanding the use of and the requirement for voter ID. Now, you have to understand, this is a con, because the reason we have voter ID is so that no one will steal your identity to vote in your name. Well guess what? Indiana was the first state to propose voter ID. In 100 years of record keeping, they didn't have one single conviction for someone using someone else's identity to vote. I only know of one case in Wisconsin in its entire history. It was a Republican who stole his son's identity to vote. One guy.

But this was then used to knock out 200,000 voters. Who? Well, look at students, for example. In Wisconsin, you have to have a state ID. Now, if you have a state gun license, you can use that to vote, but if you are a student at the University of Wisconsin, you cannot use your student photo ID to vote. If you've got a book, you can't vote, if you've got a gun, you can vote. This is the game that's being played, and they know exactly who they're knocking out. This is the only way that they can win elections. I'm going to put it bluntly, there aren't enough white guys to elect Donald Trump or a Republican Congress. They've got to get rid of nonwhite guys. That's just how the games going to be played.

KIM BROWN: We're speaking with Greg Palast, investigative journalist, about the appointment of Kris Kobach to head Donald Trump's new commission on electoral integrity. This obviously comes on the heels of recent studies which found that voter turnout was suppressed, particularly amongst African American voters, in a variety of swing states that helped to put Trump in the White House. Stick around for part two of our conversation right here on The Real News.


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