On Sept. 12, the Washington Examiner ran a story headlined, "Heritage Foundation employee lobbied Jeff Sessions for no Democrats on Trump voter fraud commission." However, upon further review, it has become clear that the evidence available does not support this characterization.
The story reported on an email that emerged from a Freedom of Information Act request from the Campaign Legal Center, in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions received an analysis of conservative concerns about the voter fraud commission that originated with a Heritage employee. At the time, the Examiner reached out to the Heritage Foundation, and a spokesperson confirmed that the author of the email was in fact Heritage's Hans von Spakovsky.
However, Von Spakovsky, who now serves on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, subsequently told the Examiner that while he did indeed write the email, he had sent it to a private party and that it was eventually forwarded to Sessions without his knowlege.
"I have never had any discussions by email or otherwise with General Sessions about the election integrity commission," Von Spakovsky said. "I did send a private email in February to private individuals who were not in the administration to express my personal concerns about the efficacy of the President's Advisory Commission on Election Integrity months before it was organized or any of its members were selected. I did not send it to General Sessions and was unaware that it had been forwarded to him."
The partially redacted email chain released as part of the FOIA response does indicate that the email had been forwarded and not sent directly to Sessions. Though it's unclear which third party forwarded the Von Spakovsky's email.
In the email itself, Von Spakovsky expressed concern about reports that the voter commission would be bipartisan, arguing, "There isn't a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud and issue constant public announcements criticizing the commission and what it is doing, making claims that it is engaged in voter supression."
The initial story also reported that Von Spakovsky, "has often said voter fraud has been widespread in past elections." Critics have argued that Von Spakovsky has greatly exaggerated the problem of voter fraud and see the issue as a tactic meant to drive down turnout, especially among minorities that tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. However, in an email to the Examiner, Von Spakovsky wrote, "I have never said voter fraud is widespread. What I have done is point out that there are proven cases of it all over the country that should concern us, particularly because such fraud could make the difference in close elections."
The bottom line is that based on the information available, it is fair to say that Von Spakovsky wrote an email that expressed skepticism about including Democrats on a voter fraud commission, and that his email was forwarded to Sessions. But the evidence does not support the conclusion that Von Spakovsky directly or knowingly lobbied Sessions.
The Washington Examiner regrets the error.