The American Civil Liberties Union wants the documents that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was photographed carrying after a meeting with President Trump during the transition to be made public — a move that could potentially shed light on Kobach’s intentions as one of the president’s leading advisers on voting issues.
The ACLU has filed a motion in a Kansas voting rights case to make the documents — which went viral after they appeared to be mistakenly displayed for professional photographers with long-lens cameras during a photo op — fully available for the first time.
The request by the ACLU comes in the case Fish, et. al v. Kobach, et. al, where Kobach is accused in his official capacity of voter suppression and violating the civil rights of several state residents, including members of the League of Women Voters. The allegation is that he suppressed voting by enforcing a law that requires people to show an additional form of identification when registering to vote at their local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Earlier this year, the ACLU was successful in convincing the court to order Kobach to provide the stack of documents captured in the photo, the front page of which included language about the controversial and now-defunct federal Muslim registry program NSEERS. Kobach was the architect of NSEERS after 9/11 and the US government later abandoned it under Obama — after the 9/11 Commission concluded it had been ineffective in its goal of tracking down suspected terrorists.
It has also been reported that the document outlined potential changes to federal voting laws, which is what makes it relevant to the Kansas case.
When Kobach and his attorneys initially gave the plaintiffs in the Kansas voting rights case the documents, according to the ACLU’s motion, they marked them as “CONFIDENTIAL — SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER.” In its argument seeking to lift this confidential classification, the ACLU cites an earlier order by the judge in the case where the court ruled, “there is no protective order in this case that would limit disclosure of defendant’s documents.”
“Given that the court has already held” that these documents are not subject to a protective order “we feel that it’s problematic and it’s part of why we’re seeking sanctions,” ACLU attorney Dale Ho told BuzzFeed News.
In addition to their request to make the documents from the Trump meeting public, the Kansas plaintiffs are also seeking attorneys’ fees from Kobach for the costs to litigate this issue and are asking the judge to let them depose Kobach about the documents.
The Kansas Secretary of State’s office responded to BuzzFeed News on Tuesday with no comment on the motion.
The fight over these documents in the Kansas case comes as Kobach, the staunchest supporter of Trump’s assertion that widespread voter fraud exists — a claim that has no evidence — and it should be investigated in connection to the 2016 presidential election, readies himself to lead a new White House commission alongside VP Mike Pence that will probe voting practices around the country.
Following the announcement of the commission, Kobach told the AP that he doesn’t have "preconceived conclusions" about what the election commission will do as far as recommending new federal policies for elections. And Kobach committed that the commission would examine voter suppression as well as possible fraud.
But voting rights activists like the ACLU are skeptical about Trump and Kobach’s intentions with this new commission. The ACLU responded to the announcement by urging professional election officials, elected officials, and other stakeholders to refuse to participate "in what will be a pretext for disenfranchising Americans."
“As President Trump’s own lawyers have said, ‘All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake,'" Ho said in a statement. "Signing a piece of paper will not make Trump’s false statements about voter fraud true."
"This commission, to be co-led by King of Voter Suppression Kris Kobach, is a sham," he added.