President Trump is calling for a “major investigation” of voter fraud, as he continues to stand by his lies about the 2016 election despite the fact that his claims have been widely debunked by experts. Trump falsely asserted that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because 3 to 5 million unauthorized votes were cast in the election. Trump claims a 2008 study published by the Pew Research Foundation supports his “belief” of widespread voter fraud. However, according to Politico, there is no 2008 Pew study saying any such thing. There is another study – published in 2014 and since widely debunked – that mistakenly claimed 14 percent of noncitizens said they were registered to vote in 2008 and 2010. Brian Schaffner, one of the academics behind the survey that led to this study, told CNN Trump is misinterpreting the study, calling Trump’s claims “absurd” and “not even plausible.” For more, we’re joined by Brian Schaffner, who recently co-wrote a piece in The Washington Post titled “Trump wants to investigate purported mass voter fraud. We pre-debunked his evidence.” We’re also joined by Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump is calling for a major investigation of voter fraud, as he continues to stand by lies about the 2016 election despite the fact his claims have been widely debunked by experts. Trump falsely asserted he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because 3 to 5 million unauthorized votes were cast in the election. During the ABC interview on Wednesday night, David Muir questioned Trump about those claims.
DAVID MUIR: When you say, in your opinion, millions of illegal votes, that is something that is extremely fundamental to our functioning democracy, a fair and free election.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Sure. Sure. Sure.
DAVID MUIR: You say you’re going to launch an investigation into this.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Sure, done.
DAVID MUIR: What you have presented so far has been debunked. It’s been called false.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, it hasn’t. Take a look at the Pew reports.
DAVID MUIR: I called the author of the Pew report last night. And he told me that they found no evidence of voter fraud.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Really? Then why did he write the report?
DAVID MUIR: He said no evidence of voter fraud.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. Then why did he write the report?
DAVID MUIR: So, I guess I’m—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: According to Pew report – then he’s – then he’s groveling again. You know, I always talk about the reporters that grovel when they want to write something that you want to hear, but not necessarily millions of people want to hear or have to hear.
AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump claims a 2008 study published by the Pew Research Foundation supports his belief of widespread voter fraud. However, according to Politico, there is no 2008 Pew study saying any such thing. There’s another study – published in 2014 and since widely debunked – that mistakenly claimed 14 percent of noncitizens said they were registered to vote in 2008 and 2010. Brian Schaffner, one of the academics behind the study, told CNN Trump is misinterpreting the study, calling Trump’s claims “absurd” and “not even plausible.”
And while experts have found no evidence to support Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud, they have found at least five members of Trump’s family or inner circle were registered to vote in multiple states this fall – something that Trump has claimed is evidence of voter fraud. The Washington Post reports Trump’s son-in-law, White House adviser Jared Kushner; Trump’s daughter, Tiffany Trump; Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon; White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer; and treasury secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin were all registered to vote in at least two different states.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Brian Schaffner, one of those academics who collected the raw data that the erroneous study was based on. Schaffner is a political science professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he joins us from. He recently co-wrote a piece in The Washington Post titled “Trump wants to investigate purported mass voter fraud. We pre-debunked his evidence.”
So, let’s start with Professor Schaffner. Tell us how he got it wrong. He’s citing your study.
BRIAN SCHAFFNER: Well, he’s not citing our study; he’s citing a study that uses our data. So, I work with a team that puts out a very large-scale survey of American adults. And one of the things we do is, of course, ask people a lot of questions, and then we also match the survey respondents to vote files. Now, these other researchers from Old Dominion University took our study – or, took our survey data, which we make publicly available to the scholarly community. They downloaded it and basically took a question that really wasn’t designed to identify noncitizens, but they used it for that purpose. They identified a small number of what they thought were noncitizens, and found that among that small group there were about 14 percent of that group were – basically had a vote record in a recent election.
Now, the problem is that that question happens at the end of a very long survey. It’s not really designed to identify noncitizens. And what we did, actually, was, two years later, we went back to those same survey respondents, re-asked the question, and found that a lot of people who had initially identified themselves as noncitizens in the next wave actually identify themselves as citizens. There were even some people who had identified themselves as citizens the first time and changed their answer to noncitizen, which is pretty much an impossible change, which just suggests that some people are just clicking the wrong button. So what we did was we took the people who said in response both times, both in 2010 and 2012, that they were noncitizens, and there was not any voters among that group. So that’s the group that we can be more confident are actually noncitizens. And among that group, nobody had a vote record. And so, that, essentially, is the evidence we used to debunk their claim that there were noncitizen voters, that when you – basically, when you identify with more confidence who the noncitizens are, you don’t find any voters among that group.
AMY GOODMAN: In New York, we’re joined by Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. His op-ed in The New York times is headlined “Trump’s Lies Pave the Way for an Assault on Voting Rights.” How?
DALE HO: Well, Amy, throughout history, specious and unsubstantiated allegations about voter fraud have been used to justify measures that restrict voting rights. This was true a hundred years ago, when states in the South were passing things like poll taxes and literacy tests. They said, “We have to charge people money for their votes, because if we don’t, then poor people will sell their votes. We have to make sure that voters can read, because if they can’t, then someone is going to be telling them how they should vote,” and on and on and on.
And when you look, you know, closer to the present and during the 1980s, what Senator Jeff Sessions, the president’s nominee for attorney general, was most infamous for was for a failed voter fraud prosecution of three civil rights activists, one of whom was a close aide of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and it was one of the incidents that helped derail his nomination for a federal judgeship back then. And we see this again in more contemporary – in more recent times with things like restrictive voter identification requirements and new registration restrictions.
We don’t have a really significant or systematic problem of voter fraud in this country. I think Americans should feel secure that our voting systems are of very high integrity. What we have a problem with in this country is a low participation rate. And we should be doing everything we can to encourage more people, not fewer, to participate.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, the whole issue of people voting illegally has morphed. It was – originally, Donald was talking about, you know, “illegal immigrants” – not a word we use, don’t think any person is illegal – but undocumented people who are not supposed to be able to vote. But then the examples he’s using are all the people in his Cabinet and many people in his family, who are registered in more than one state. He keeps insisting that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally. And he says all of those people – and he was very clear about this, not one of them voted for him – voted for, you know, Hillary Clinton.
DALE HO: I think that’s because he senses he has something of a legitimacy problem. He lost the election, in terms of the popular vote, by almost 3 million votes, which is by far the largest negative margin for anyone who has ever ascended to the presidency, certainly in contemporary times. So he knows that there is a legitimacy issue here. The Electoral College is obviously the law the land. And we all recognize that. He is the president of the United States right now, legally. But most people don’t think that that’s the appropriate way of selecting our leaders, that the legitimacy of our government derives from the consent of the majority. And I think he senses that, and that’s probably why he’s trying to attack the fact that he lost the popular vote.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, interestingly, when Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, challenged the elections, wanted a recount in places like Michigan and Wisconsin, it was Donald Trump’s lawyers who said that the election was not fraudulent.
DALE HO: That’s right. When he was president-elect, President Trump’s legal team stated in court, in a filing, something to the effect of there is no evidence – or, all of the available evidence, rather, suggests that the 2016 election was untainted by fraud or mistake. If that was true a few months ago, it remains true today. Just because he’s now the president of the United States and the most powerful person in the world, he doesn’t have the power to warp reality and change what was true a few months ago.
AMY GOODMAN: So, The Guardian is reporting that Vice President Mike Pence has privately told lawmakers that the Trump administration will, quote, “initiate a full evaluation of voting rolls in the country and the overall integrity of our voting system in the wake of this past election.” The significance of this, the idea that this will lead to massive voter suppression, which is already taking place around the country, Dale?
DALE HO: Well, that’s a concern. There are a number of states, as you alluded to, that have passed laws in the last five years that make it harder for people to register to vote and cast a ballot. The Department of Justice, over the last few years, has been very active in pushing back against those laws and fighting for the right of every American to participate. There are significant concerns that the new Justice Department is not going to fully enforce the Voting Rights Act and constitutional protections for voting rights in this country, and that instead what we’re going to see is a rerun of what we saw 15 years ago, when the Bush Justice Department applied political pressure to U.S. attorneys around the country to investigate and prosecute voter fraud. They engaged in a five-year project on this. They turned up very little evidence, only a few scattered instances of people voting when they weren’t supposed to. U.S. attorneys around the country declined to devote a lot of resources to these investigations or to prosecute them, in some cases, and they were fired for political reasons. And it is one of the reasons that Alberto Gonzales was removed as attorney general. It was one of the largest scandals of the George W. Bush administration, because the investigation was politicized. It wasn’t a normal investigation, free from political influence. And I think the concern is that we’re going to see something along those lines yet again. One would hope that we would have learned from those mistakes in the past, but I guess time will tell.