September 13, 2017
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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

10:47 a.m. ET
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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is surprised by how many Republicans have been willing to "carry water" for President Trump, he told Politico, as his presidency careens through Washington. Particularly in the face of the ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Schiff criticized Republicans for failing to speak out against the president:

"I think one of the really sad realizations over the last year is not what kind of a president Donald Trump turns out to be — I think it was all too predictable — but rather, how many members of Congress would be unwilling to stand up to him, and more than that, would be completely willing to carry water for him. That is a very sad realization," Schiff told Politico. "I did not expect that. I thought there would be more Jeff Flakes, more John McCains, more Bob Corkers — people who would defend our system of checks and balances, would speak out for decency, who would defend the First Amendment." [Politico]

Schiff has frequently criticized Trump and called for support for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian election interference. The congressman also called out House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) directly, saying Ryan is "complicit in all this" because he has failed to adequately push back against the president.

As ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff has often touted the importance of investigating Russian meddling. In response, Trump has slammed Schiff on Twitter, calling him a "liar and leaker" and dubbing him "Little Adam Schiff." Read the full interview at Politico. Summer Meza

10:36 a.m. ET
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After 423 days in office, President Trump has gotten rid of more Cabinet officials (three, in Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) than most presidents lose in their first two years on the job. In fact, NPR reports, no other "elected first-term president in the past 100 years has had this much Cabinet turnover this early in his presidency."

Most presidents since Woodrow Wilson have replaced just one Cabinet member in the first 14 months, and several have kept the same Cabinet throughout that time. Only three — Warren G. Harding, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan — have swapped more than two in the first two years of office, and Trump is easily on pace to exceed Reagan's four Cabinet departures in that span.

Kelly, for his part, was reassigned to be Trump's chief of staff. But if Trump continues swapping Cabinet secretaries at the current rate, Trump will replace 10 Cabinet members by the time his first term is complete. There are 16 members of the Cabinet, including the vice president. Bonnie Kristian

10:20 a.m. ET
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It is getting easier to evade tax payments, FiveThirtyEight reports, and though anti-tax fervor is usually found among the GOP, for this shift Americans can thank Republicans and Democrats alike.

Specifically, we can thank their bitter partisanship. Following the passage of the GOP tax reform bill, blue states like California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York are considering classifying some state or local taxes as charitable donations or a payroll tax that can be deducted from federal payments. The goal, as Connecticut's state revenue commissioner put it, is "a bit of payback for what I think was the utter disregard of the Congress for the impact of [the bill] on [these] states."

More broadly, studies have shown Americans are more likely to pay their full tax bill when they like the party in power in Washington, so President Trump's consistently low approval ratings probably aren't great for revenue.

And beyond partisanship, FiveThirtyEight highlights the reduced staff and budget at the IRS, which means the agency conducts fewer audits. Likewise, small businesses, including mom-and-pop shops and independent contractors, tend to under-report their tax liabilities by as much as two-thirds, and the new tax law is expected to facilitate this habit.

Read the full FiveThirtyEight report here. Bonnie Kristian

10:00 a.m. ET
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A majority of Americans believe the U.S. government is engaged in mass surveillance of the general public and is influenced by the "deep state," a "group of unelected government and military officials who secretly manipulate or direct national policy," a new Monmouth University poll published Monday reports.

Asked whether the "U.S. government currently monitors or spies on the activities of American citizens," 82 percent of respondents said yes, with 53 percent affirming that such surveillance is "widespread" and 29 percent believing it happens less often. When such surveillance does occur, just 18 percent believe it is "usually justified," while 8 in 10 said it is only sometimes or rarely legitimate.

On the subject of the deep state, three-quarters of survey participants said it "definitely" or "probably" exists. Fully 63 percent were not familiar with the term before it was explained by pollsters, but "there's an ominous feeling by Democrats and Republicans alike that a 'Deep State' of unelected operatives are pulling the levers of power," said Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray.

The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent. Read The Week's Marc Ambinder on the deep state here. Bonnie Kristian

9:51 a.m. ET

Conservative commentator Erick Erickson alleged in a blog post Monday that Fox News removed him from air in 2014 at the request of Elaine Chao, who didn't like Erickson's criticisms of her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Chao held an influential position on the Newscorp board of directors at the time, and former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes reportedly told Erickson that she was "riding [his] a--" about Erickson's unfavorable coverage of McConnell. Now the Senate majority leader, McConnell at the time was running a primary against Matt Bevin in Kentucky, and Erickson supported the latter candidate.

Roger felt the need to apologize, but told me that as long as I was writing about McConnell at RedState that I would find my appearances on Fox limited. I kept writing about McConnell. To his credit, Roger later called me and said he appreciated that I was willing to give up air time to keep doing what I believed in. He said most people would have shut up to be on TV. [The Resurgent]

Erickson adds: "I had long dismissed the idea that Fox really was tied in some way to the GOP," although clearly he has his suspicions now. Today, Chao serves as President Trump's transportation secretary. Read Erickson's entire post at The Resurgent. Jeva Lange

8:47 a.m. ET

President Trump is expected to unveil his plan to fight the opioid epidemic on Monday, Politico reports. An early version of the plan would have called for the death penalty against some drug dealers, but the final version is expected to be scaled back, with a call for capital punishment against drug traffickers only "when appropriate under current law," said Andrew Bremberg, the White House's director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Trump will announce his new policies during a trip to New Hampshire.

The administration says the plan would lead to a reduction in opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years by mixing administration actions and new laws requiring money from Congress. It includes elements focused on law enforcement, education, prevention, treatment, and recovery. Harold Maass

8:09 a.m. ET
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President Trump attacked Special Counsel Robert Mueller by name on Twitter over the weekend, veering from the White House legal strategy of cooperating with Mueller's investigation, but Trump's legal team is still trying to work out how Mueller can interview Trump, Axios reports. And Mueller, in his conversations with Trump's lawyers, is focused on "events since the election," Axios' Mike Allen says, specifically "the firings of FBI Director James Comey and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn."

Mueller is charged with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, any possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, and anything else he discovers in these lines of inquiries. But discussing post-election events "suggests a focus on obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign," Allen says, acknowledging that "both sagas are interwoven with Russia," in part because Trump has woven them together.

The line between collusion and obstruction also appeared to befuddle Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who led the House Intelligence Committee investigation of Russian interference. Conaway told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that "our committee was not charged with answering the collusion idea" and "so we really weren't focused in the direction," only to be contradicted by a spokeswoman, who said Conaway "meant obstruction," not collusion. Conaway also told NBC's Chuck Todd that his committee did not interview some key witnesses because "we're trying to stay away from the Mueller investigation and not confuse that or hurt it one way or the other." The committee Republicans said "we found no evidence of collusion," he added, but did not draw any conclusions about whether collusion took place. Peter Weber

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