Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) continued to fight releasing documents from a meeting with President Donald Trump in November, saying that the public did not need to see them and that disclosing them would impede his ability to serve on Trump’s commission to investigate voter fraud.
Kobach, who has lent support to Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud and exaggerated instances of it in the past, made the argument with his lawyer in a Friday court filing as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union over a Kansas law requiring people to prove their citizenship to vote. As part of the lawsuit, the ACLU is requesting a Kansas federal judge unseal documents that Kobach was photographed holding when he met with Trump in November 2016, as well as a draft amendment to federal voting law, which circulated in his office. The documents contain potential amendments to the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law requiring motor vehicle and some other state agencies to provide opportunities to register to vote.
The public release of the documents would be significant because Kobach is the de facto leader of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a probe Trump convened in May to investigate election confidence. Trump and Kobach have promised a neutral investigation, but critics say the panel is an effort to substantiate Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud and lay the groundwork for restrictive voting laws. Documents that show Kobach attempting to change federal law to impose more restrictive voting policies could substantially undermine the perception of impartiality.
A separate email made public as part of the lawsuit revealed Kobach was already working on an attempt to amend NVRA the day after Trump was elected.
In the filing, Kobach, who is also running for governor of Kansas for 2018, seemed aware that releasing the documents would impact his work on the commission.
“It would undermine Secretary Kobach’s interest in fulfilling his appointed duty and responsibilities on the Presidential Election Commission which include being able to advise the President privately on matters within the purview of the Commission,” Kobach and his lawyer wrote. “The public broadcast of the Secretary’s documents related to these meetings with the President would hinder his ability to confidently advise the President.”
ACLU lawyers sought the documents because they say an attempt to amend NVRA would be a concession by Kobach that federal law, as written, does not allow the state to impose a proof of citizenship requirement. Kobach initially refused to turn over the documents to ACLU lawyers, saying they were irrelevant, but only did so after a U.S. magistrate judge forced him to do so. Those documents are currently under a protective seal from the court and not available to the public.
The magistrate judge also sanctioned Kobach with a $1,000 fine last month for misleading the court about the contents of the documents. In denying Kobach’s appeal of the sanctions, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson noted Kobach had a pattern of misleading statements before the court.
Beyond hindering his work on the commission, Kobach said in the Friday filing the documents were irrelevant to the central claims in the lawsuit and the ACLU only wanted them to be made public because the group wanted to fundraise off of them. Kobach also said the documents were protected by Kansas state law and disclosing would make it more difficult for him to give candid advice on sensitive matters in the future.
In its own filing earlier this month, ACLU lawyers said Kobach had no basis for keeping the documents shielded from public view and the “public has a presumptive right of access to judicial records and a well-recognized interest in understanding disputes presented in federal litigation, particularly those regarding matters of paramount public concern, such as access to the franchise.”