An Iowa congressman promised to sponsor changes to federal voter laws if a court strikes down a controversial Kansas voting law, according to testimony from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Kobach testified in a 2017 deposition that U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican and hard-liner on immigration issues, agreed to carry legislation on his behalf if Kobach loses an ongoing court battle over a Kansas law that requires voters to provide proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
Video of Kobach’s deposition was screened before a small crowd at the federal courthouse in Kansas City, Kan., Friday against Kobach’s objections as part of a trial that will determine whether thousands can vote in Kansas this fall when the state selects a new governor.
During the deposition, Kobach was questioned by the American Civil Liberties Union about whether he lobbied President Donald Trump on supporting the proposed legislation during a 2016 meeting where Trump considered Kobach to serve as his secretary of Homeland Security.
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“I didn’t even know I was going to meet with the president-elect when I drafted this,” Kobach testified, estimating that he crafted the legislation in July of 2016.
The video shows Kobach to be appear uncomfortable during some portions of the deposition, rubbing his eyes and crossing his hands as the ACLU peppered him with questions.
Kobach referred to the legislation as a “draft of a draft” and an “initial thought piece” about changes that would need to be made to the National Voter Registration Act to allow states to enact proof of citizenship requirements if the ACLU prevails in its lawsuit.
He repeatedly called it a contingency during the deposition.
Kobach emailed a member of Trump’s transition team a day after the Republican won the 2016 election that he had already begun working on legislation, including proposed changes to National Voter Registration Act based on his ongoing litigation with the ACLU.
He also offered a proposal to block states from offering in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, something he has advocated for unsuccessfully in Topeka.
Kobach was photographed entering a meeting with Trump a few weeks later carrying a strategic plan for the Department of Homeland Security, which included a bullet point about making changes to the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law that allows people to register to vote at the DMV.
But Kobach denied that action item was the same amendment he had proposed to King.
He said it referred to an “as yet uncreated amendment” to change the Act to incentivize states to adopt proof of citizenship policies, and that he did not discuss that item with Trump during his meeting.
“I think I may have discussed the general issue of aliens voting,” Kobach acknowledged during the deposition.
Kobach said that he didn’t remember if he and Trump discussed the scope of non-citizen voting in the country.
Roughly a week after his meeting with Kobach, Trump began claiming, without evidence, that he lost the popular vote due to millions of illegal votes.
Other attendees at the meeting included Reince Priebus, who would briefly serve as Trump’s chief of staff, Steve Bannon, who oversaw Trump’s campaign during the final weeks of the election, Trump’s adviser Stephen Miller and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Kobach’s team repeatedly objected to the decision to show the video in the courtroom.
“It goes to executive privilege,” Kobach said Friday upon exiting the courtroom when asked about his objections to showing the video.
He said he had no comment on why he wasn't selected by Trump to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
A transcript of the deposition will be part of the court record, but the video itself will be sealed after the trial concludes, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson said.
Sophia Lin Lakin, an attorney for the ACLU, said the video testimony shows the “lengths he’ll go to” to preserve the proof of citizenship law, including lobbying the Trump administration.
Kobach disputed that characterization Friday.
“The video makes perfectly clear I wasn’t pushing the Trump administration to do anything,” he said.
Kobach called the video “totally irrelevant to the claims of the case” and said it will have “no impact whatsoever” on the results of the trial.
The language of Kobach’s draft amendment closely mirrors language the ACLU used in a brief in the case when describing how the National Voter Registration Act would have to be changed for proof of citizenship requirements to be legal.
“I’m actually surprised to see the similarity right now,” Kobach told the ACLU during the deposition. He denied that he based the wording of his legislation on the ACLU’s previous court filings.
“I don’t consult your legal writing in anything that I do,” Kobach said.