Before Senator Cory Booker broke tradition to testify at the Senate Judiciary committee’s confirmation hearing for Attorney-General Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s team went full racist when it presented the committee with a story accusing “black Democrats” of voter fraud.
The optics were obvious. The story was intended to taint Booker’s testimony before he uttered a word.
Vox’s Jeff Stein tweeted that Trump’s team defended Jeff Sessions by citing a story accusing “black Democrats” of voter fraud:
Trump team at the Sessions hearing just passed out a dossier citing an article about "how black Democrats stole votes" pic.twitter.com/oOOA3cIJbk
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_Vox) January 11, 2017
The story, was written by Hans Spakovsky and published by the Conservative Review on January 5. Spakovsky is a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a member of the Voter Integrity Project, known for spreading the myth of “rampant voter fraud” and supporting draconian voter ID laws.
As noted in the New York Times, “VIP offers its services to all corners (to stop voter fraud) but it tended to investigate Democrats.” A case in point is Democrat Mary Landrieu’s victory in a Senate race against Republican Woody Jenkins.
“Republicans called in V.I.P., which reported that Landrieu’s election was a result of a complex fraud scheme. A Senate committee investigated and instead found evidence that a Jenkins operative may have coached the witnesses, four of whom recanted. The Senate inquiry determined that there was “no evidence of an organized, widespread effort to secure fraudulent votes.” (emphasis added)
In his story, Spakovsky tried to argue that Democrats colluded to suppress votes of black voters in Perry County and Jeff Sessions came to their rescue. Emily Bazelon provides a detailed account of the case that thwarted Sessions’ nomination to be a federal court judge. She explains what transpired when federal investigators found 27 disputable ballots.
Ten F.B.I. agents fanned out, interviewing more than 1,000 residents about whether they could read or write, whether anyone helped them vote and whether they had altered their own ballots. The Black Belt includes 10 or so counties; the F.B.I. concentrated on the five in which black voters were making strides toward political ascendance.
Jeff Sessions pursued the investigation that led to the acquittal of the 3 black civil rights activists he targeted.
It’s worth restating, Sessions’ nomination was rejected by Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Their decision was based on the outcome of this case.
Tactics like this should come as no surprise considering Trump’s modus operandi from the very beginning of his run for the White House. The Spakovsky story, again, resurrects the myth of “widespread” voter fraud, Republicans have used as a justification to suppress votes at the state level, suggesting the possibility that Trump intends to take draconian voter ID measures nationwide.
As observed by Jeff Stein,
Exactly what the new Trump administration thinks about the existence of voter fraud could have real-world consequences. As Vox’s German Lopez has written, the false belief in widespread voter fraud is often used to justify draconian new voter ID laws that restrict black voters’ access to the polls.
The fact that Trump’s team submitted the Spakovsky story to the committee just as prominent black Democrats, Senator Cory Booker and a true civil rights hero, Rep. John Lewis has the stench of Trump style theatrics.
This latest stunt was intended to paint Sessions as a man who came to the aid of African-American victims of vote suppression perpetrated by African American civil rights activists.
In 1986, Coretta Scott King wrote a 10-page letter to the Judiciary Committee about Sessions politically motivated application of the law. Interestingly, then Chairman Strom Thurman never entered it in the record. There is one sentence in that letter that explains why Sessions was ill-suited to be a federal court judge and for today’s purposes why he is not suited to be our Attorney-General.
Mr. Sessions’ conduct as U.S. Attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.
In 1986, Sessions introduced himself as a man who lacks a central characteristic needed to serve as U.S. Attorney-General. Sessions showed himself as someone whose political views influence the way he applies the law. Republican Senators recognized it and rejected his nomination to be a federal court judge. We should recognize it too.