I held my first consultation for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity this Monday, when Hanover Fiste, Deputy Special Assistant Advisor to Advisory Commissioner Kobach for Election Policy, Methodology, Demographics and Metrics paid me a visit. Like many of my clients, he entered my office exhibiting the anxious air of a person with an intractable problem gnawing at their guts. Experience has taught me that where such gentleman or lady chooses to seat themselves tells me a lot about them and how they perceive the problem that’s got them by the short hairs. The frightened ones tend to choose the chair to the left of my desk, located as it is in a rather sheltered portion of the room, protected by a massive bookcase behind it. The desperate ones select the chair on my right, where they can sit close by and confide in me as if I were their confessor. The angry or grimly determined ones plunk down in the chair directly in front of me, where they can lean in over my desk and, respectively, either vent their fulminating spleen or declare their defiance of the Fortune’s slings and arrows. The stymied or confused opt for a seat on the couch in front of the picture window overlooking the White House; those who feel bested by their problem typically sprawl on it, and those who feel exhausted by it usually lie down, as if I were their psychotherapist.
Then there are the ones who never take a seat at all. They stand, which is what Mr. Fiste did. The implications of that choice by a client whom I can tell feels cornered by the conundrum which they have been assigned to unravel are very complex, and far too convoluted to purse in depth here, but to make a long story short, it’s not a good sign. “Collins,” he bellowed, “they say you know all about every [expletive] thing inside the Beltway and just about anything else that [expletive] isn’t!”
“They say a lot of things,” I dryly responded.
“Yeah?” he snorted. “Well how about this – they say you’re the smartest person in Washington DC!”
“Which is very much like being the tallest building in Baltimore,” I told him.
“Baltimore!” he yelled back at me as he began to pace back and forth on the handmade antique Oriental rug, “What the [expletive] are we talking about [expletive] Baltimore for? Time is money, particularly in your case! I can’t [expletive] believe what you [expletive] charge! When they told me what kind of hourly rate the Commission is paying for your advice, I about [expletive] a [expletive] brick!”
“Clay, concrete, masonry stone, porcelain or calcium silicate?” I inquired.
At that, he stopped pacing and turned to glare at me. “Clay, concrete, masonry stone, porcelain or calcium silicate what?” he demanded.
“Brick.” I replied. “That you almost [expletive], sir.”
A pregnant pause ensued, during which Mr. Fiste’s face turned bright red and I opened a drawer in my desk, withdrawing a double-faced chess clock, which I placed in front of me. “If you wish,” I offered, “I can prorate the charge for this consultation by the minute based on my hourly rate.” At which I pushed down Black’s timing button.
Puzzled, Fiste stared at the chess clock, the anger draining from his face. “What the [expletive] is that?”
“It’s a chess clock,” I explained. “You press down on this,” I said, indicating Black’s button, “and I talk. When I’m done, I push down this other one,” I continued, indicating White’s button, “yours goes back up, and it’s your turn to talk. When you’re done, push it down, and it’s my turn to talk again. At the end of the consultation, I’ll add up the total minutes on both clocks and divide that by sixty, then multiply the result by my hourly rate so you don’t have to pay my outrageous charges for a single minute you don’t use. Now – it’s your turn.” I pushed down White’s button.
Fiste strode over to my desk, leaned in and stuck his nose about an inch from my face. “What about the time we’ve been wasting since I walked in here, talking about chess clocks and [expletive] Baltimore?” he growled, snapping down Black’s button.
“On the house. No charge for that,” I assured him, setting both clocks back to zero. “So, how can I assist you today, Deputy Special Assistant?” I asked, snapping down White’s button.
“As I’m sure you know,” Fiste began, “the Commission requested all fifty states and the District of Columbia to turn over data from their voter rolls.” He snapped the Black button down.
“And you asked for quite a bit of it,” I noted. “Including full names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, party affiliation, criminal records, military status, dual citizenship status, and how each person voted for the last nine years.” White button down.
“So what?” Fiste shrugged as he resumed his pacing, “Under Executive Order 13799, the Commission has the authority to request any and all information to ascertain the extent of voter fraud. After all, between three and five million people voted illegally on November 4, 2016 – that’s why Hillary Clinton supposedly won the popular vote, when, in fact, if those fraudulent votes were subtracted, the popular vote, as well as the Electoral College majority, would have gone where it rightfully should be – to President Donald J. Trump.” Black button down: “Very few people, besides President Trump, and apparently, yourself, actually believe what you just said, sir. You are aware of that, I hope?”
White button down: “It’s President Trump’s opinion, and it’s mine. And it’s also the opinion of everybody in the Executive Office of the President, too, or they’re going to be out of a [expletive] job!”
Black button down: “As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, sir, everybody’s entitled to their own set of opinions, but everybody is not entitled to their own set of facts. And the fact is, there’s no evidence whatsoever of voter fraud having the necessary magnitude to account for the two point eight million vote popular majority won by Hillary Clinton. Please understand that I’m certainly no fan of Hillary Clinton, but the fact is, she lost the presidency of the United States in the Electoral College with the largest popular vote majority margin in American history.”
White button down: “The Trump Administration has alternative facts to the contrary, Mr. Collins, and those are the ones we are operating on.”
Black button down: “If you insist, sir. So what, may I ask again, is your problem?”
White button down: “I’m sure you’ve heard of that, too – twenty-two states are refusing to comply with the Commission’s request.”
Black button down: “Indeed I have. Didn’t Delbert Hosemann, the Republican Secretary of State in Mississippi, actually issue an official response inviting the Commission to go jump in the Gulf of Mexico?”
White button down: “Yeah, he did, the [expletive] [expletive] corn pone eating son of a [expletive]! And he’s going to jump about six feet in the air if I ever get close enough to shove the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity’s official letter he issued his official response to up his fat, stinking cracker [expletive], you can count on that!”
Black button down: “At least California didn’t get snarky about it when they totally refused to comply. And I’ve heard that Louisiana intends to be nice about telling the Commission to get lost, too. What’s more, Kentucky only accused you of wasting taxpayers’ money and plotting voter suppression when they turned you down. Also, this morning, I heard Alabama might comply if you can prove some twelve-year-old in Bulgaria won’t hack your Microsoft database and publish everything on the Internet for everybody in the world to see. Oh, and by the way, would anyone care for a big helping of irony? How about we supersize it? Here’s Kansas, the home state of Commissioner Kobach – they’re refusing to comply. Furthermore, quite a few states, like Vermont and North Carolina, for example, are telling the Commission that all you’re going to get is what is publicly available anyway, so stop bothering them.”
White button down: “That won’t work! We need complete compliance from every state on every data element, or we can’t do our job!”
Black button down: “And that’s just it – a lot secretaries of state are concerned that your job might not be what you say it is.”
White button down: “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Black button down: “It means that they’re worried that, once it has completely failed to demonstrate any significant voter fraud in the 2016 election – much less the three to five million illegal votes it is fantasizing about at the moment – the Trump Administration will use the data for… let’s say… other purposes.”
White button down: “Such as what, for Christ’s sake?”
Black button down: “The aforementioned voter suppression cited by Kentucky’s SOS, for starters, of course. But you don’t have to be Joseph Stalin or J. Edgar Hoover to think of all kinds of alternative… interesting things… which could be done with that information. I’m sure you can appreciate the allure of having the IRS audit everybody who voted the straight Democratic ticket in every election since 2006 might have for certain Republican zealots, for instance. Or how about denying citizens with consistently liberal voting records access to passports or putting them on the short list for FBI investigations, FISA wiretaps, and no-knock search warrants, or just rounding them up and sending them to privately run prisons en masse, to await trials for subversion?”
White button down: “Ridiculous! All we were thinking about doing with that data was maybe using it to give the Trump 2020 campaign a little edge, and that’s it, I swear.”
Black button down: “Perhaps that’s all you’ve thought of now, but if the Commission ever got the kind of database it is demanding in that letter, it doesn’t require a PhD in analytics and data mining to see the potential of cross-referencing those records with other ones that contain common data fields, like name, date of birth, address, and so forth.
White button down: “Actually, we do want to run the information we get against Social Security’s databases so we can find out how many people on state voter rolls are dead. Remember that famous joke LBJ used to tell about Democrats and elections in Texas?”
Black button down: “You mean the one where the punchline is, ‘Go back to that churchyard, scrape the moss off that tombstone and get that man’s name – he’s got as much right to vote as everybody else in that cemetery,’ don’t you?”
White button down: “Yeah, that’s the one – dead people have been voting Democrat for over a hundred years and we Republicans are sick and tired of it! At last, with this commission, we can do something about it – but only if all the states cooperate!”
Black button down: “First of all, let me tell you what would happen if the Commission did, in fact, manage to get that list of dead people who are still registered to vote – you would find that, out of the one point eight million deceased people estimated to be on voter roles, ninety-nine point nine, nine, nine percent of them haven’t voted anywhere, in any election, since they died, and that of the fifteen or twenty of them that are left over, ten of them are still alive. And that would do nothing more than prove President Trump is full of beans when he claims there were three to five million illegal votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016. What you have to understand is, the true nature of the real concern among the various secretaries of state – that the Trump Administration won’t just stop at cross-referencing the data you want with the Social Security Deceased database. There are plenty of other nice, juicy databases you could play around with – search one of those other databases by Zip code for households with dual incomes and no kids and then see which ones pop out of your data as Democratic voters at the same address, then look up their genders from the corresponding state driver’s license database, pull out the ones that match up as the same sex and bingo – you’ve got a list of Democrat gay couples, sorted by Zip code median household income. Run that against the Commission’s data again, and you’ve got that list grouped by congressional district.”
White button down: “Oh, horse [expletive]! What would anybody do with a silly-[expletive] list like that?”
Black button down: “Cross-reference it with another list of households and the IP addresses of cell phones, tablets and computers associated with them, then start selective advertising displays on those voters’ personal digital devices at election time, presenting subtly threatening messages designed to keep gay Democratic voters away from the polls in key swing districts.”
White button down: “Huh? Really? You’re saying we could do that?”
Black button down: “With the information the Commission is demanding? You bet, no sweat. And what I just said off the top of my head as a quick for-instance, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. With Trump Commission data, any garden variety collection of computer geeks can come up with ways to rape Democrats nine ways from Sunday.”
White button down: “Um… that sounds pretty [expletive] good, actually. But where would the Republicans get those… what did you say… ‘subtly threatening messages’ to keep gay Democrats away from the polls on Election Day?”
Black button down: “Ahem… ah, yes… we’re treading on some rather thin legal ice here, but, since we’re only speaking hypothetically, of course, I’d venture a fairly confident guess that Steve Bannon or Mike Pence could probably write some very effective ones. And if not them… you could hire a… suitably discreet advertising agency.”
White button down: “Bannon or Pence, yeah, I could see that, but how the [expletive] would we ever find an advertising agency we could trust?”
Black button down: “Well… in that case, there’s always the Russians. I’m certain they would do an excellent job, and not just with messages meant to discourage gay Democrats. FSB psy-ops could tailor messages that look like ads which would keep any demographic the Trump Administration selects away from the polls on Election Day, I’m sure.”
White button down: “Uh… let’s not talk about the Russians, okay?”
Black button down: “As you wish. My point here is, there are a number of quite valid reasons why the states are afraid to open their kimonos all the way for the Trump Commission. And that’s why you shouldn’t expect to get complete compliance from all fifty states. Don’t be surprised if forty of them won’t go along with you completely. But I’m sure the Commission has realized, have they not, that if only as few as five states were to give you the full data sets requested, those would be sufficient for your purposes?”
White button down: “Data from only five states? What the [expletive] are you talking about?”
Black button down: “Why, statistical methods, of course. Public opinion polling organizations regularly measure what three hundred million Americans think about various issues with samples of only a few thousand people. Application of standard statistical analysis to complete data sets from five US states ought to cause voter fraud on the scale alleged by the Trump Administration to stick out like the biggest sore thumb in history. And once you find that, the Commission will have an excellent argument for asking the other states to drop their objections and turn over complete data sets. But let’s be honest with one another here – you’re not really expecting to find any evidence of three to five million illegal votes in the 2016 presidential election are you?”
White button down: “Bull-[expletive]! Of course we are! And if your prediction is right, and thirty or forty states are going to refuse to get with the [expletive] program, then what the [expletive] is the Commission going to [expletive] do? Oh yeah, sure, we can cut off federal funds to [expletive]-hole Blue states like New York, California and Maryland, sure – it’s not like we’re going to get their Electors in 2020 anyhow. But what about Purple states, like Virginia and Colorado, not to mention Red states like, well, [expletive] Mississippi, for instance. What the [expletive] can we do about them, God damn it?”
Black button down: “Sue them.”
White button down: “What the [expletive]? Sue them?”
Black button down: “That’s right – sue them; in federal court.”
White button down: “On what [expletive] grounds, for Christ’s sake?”
Black button down: “As you know, Mr. Fiste, I am not a lawyer. But speaking as a consultant having extensive experience with federal law, might I suggest Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment?”
White button down: “Oh, Jesus – okay, Collins, what the [expletive] does Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment [expletive] say?”
Black button down: “It says, in part, ‘No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.’ Now, it should be pretty obvious that the right to fair, unbiased and equitable elections, free of chicanery, external interference, deception, dishonesty or fraud, is one of the sacred privileges granted by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to citizens of the United States of America. The federal government may therefore contend in federal court that refusal by the states to relinquish the full and complete evidence required by the federal government; such evidence having been determined by a duly appointed commission, created through an Executive Order of the president in accordance with his powers and duties as defined by Article Two, pursuant to that commission’s investigation of voter fraud; violates Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
White button down: “Damn, Collins, I gotta admit – you may not be a [expletive] lawyer, but you sure as [expletive] hell know how to talk like one. All right, then, say the Trump Administration sues the states that don’t comply in federal court under Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment. What makes you so sure the states wouldn’t win?”
Black button down: “Oh, they probably will, unless you can find a way to file in the Fifth Circuit, of course. But no matter which circuit you file it in, it will probably end up in the DC circuit court of appeals, and you will definitely lose there.”
White button down: “So what’s the [expletive] point of filing a lawsuit if we’re going to lose?”
Black button down: “The point is, you should fight for a speedy trial in the lower courts and fend off every attempt by the states to stall the process so you can lose the case and all its appeals as quickly as possible.”
White button down: “Oh, great – then what?”
Black button down: “Then, the Trump Administration can appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Given that the states will fight like pit bulls to slow you down, by the time it gets there, Anthony Kennedy will have retired, and the Supreme Court will have another judge like Neil Gorsuch on it.”
White button down: “And so – we’ll win in the Supreme Court?”
Black button down: “Slam dunk.”
White button down: “Okay, but isn’t all this going to take a long time?”
Black button down: “Well, all you really need is for it to be over by late 2019 so you’ll have the necessary lead time to use the information to ensure a second Trump term, right?”
White button down: “Yeah, I suppose so.”
Black button down: “So, again, I’m not a lawyer, but I would definitely advise that the Commission ask the Trump Administration to file that lawsuit as soon as possible, because the states are going to figure out what I just told you on their own, and pretty quickly, I bet. And their strategy will be to delay a Supreme Court decision until it will be too late for the Trump campaign to exploit the data in their voting districts.”
White button down: “Sounds like you’re saying I need to get over to the Commission immediately and tell them about this.”
Black button down: “Essentially, yes.”
White button down: “So I’d better get the [expletive] out of here right now.”
Black button down: “I couldn’t have put it better myself. Have a nice day.”