Trump's Lies on Immigrants Will Keep Failing in Court

(Bloomberg View) -- The truth still matters somewhere.

In November 2016, after Donald Trump had issued his feeble lie that millions of illegal ballots cost him the popular vote, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach came to the aid of the president-elect’s damaged pride. Trump, said Kobach, was “absolutely correct” about the existence of these phantom voters.

Kobach made his remark to reporters. He wasn’t under oath, or cross-examined. No one demanded that he produce evidence.

Until last week.

Kobach, who led Trump’s seedy, now-defunct commission on voter “integrity,” has been performing voter-fraud shtick in public for years. But the Yale Law School graduate proved spectacularly out of his depths in a federal courtroom, where evidence is the currency of the realm.

“The Kobach trial shows that talk is cheap, and when incendiary claims are actually put on trial, oftentimes they can fall apart,” emailed election law expert Richard Hasen, author of “The Voting Wars” and a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. “It is hard to think of a worse development for those who make false and exaggerated claims of voter fraud than the Kobach trial, which was really an ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment.”

Has anyone taken note of Jeff Sessions’s wardrobe lately?

The U.S. attorney general earlier this month filed suit against the State of California claiming that the state’s sanctuary policies seeking to shield undocumented immigrants from aggressive immigration enforcement are invalid -- preempted by federal law.

The suit is not just a “political stunt,” as California Governor Jerry Brown called it. It sets up a legal clash between federal and state powers. On immigration issues, the feds should have the upper hand.

But Sessions and his boss can’t seem to resist making stuff up. Neither can their experts. On March 20, the White House held a meeting on the evils of "sanctuary cities" that was designed to show the need for a federal crackdown. A guest at the meeting, Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, claimed there were “spectacular failures every single day” in California because of sanctuary laws that he said enable known criminals to go free and victimize innocents.

In effect, Jones provided local confirmation of what Sessions and Trump have been saying in Washington. Except as Jones’s hometown paper, the Sacramento Bee, pointed out, Jones has been saying something very different back home.

Give us a break. This is the same Sheriff Scott Jones who last month reported that Sacramento County’s crime rate dropped 24 percent over the last five years.

So much for American carnage.

Speaking at the White House, Jones was not under oath. He presented no evidence. He wasn’t cross-examined. But if Sessions should bring such hokey claims to federal court in California, he’s likely to find himself reeling like Kobach in Kansas.

There is little evidence to support the arguments -- at the racial core of Trump’s political promise -- that undocumented immigrants produce spikes in violence. What scant evidence exists is vigorously disputed and, much like the claims of the vote-fraud charlatans, quite likely to shrink in size, scope and significance under the scrutiny of a federal trial.

The judicial system has largely held firm against the various calumnies of the Trump administration. The Muslim ban, conjured of bigotry, incompetence and expediency, was the administration’s first hapless foray into the evidence-based world. Eventually, the administration tailored its arguments to survive in court.

Yet Kobach’s humiliation last week in Kansas, before a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush, suggests that, for some tenets of the Trump creed, the shadowy gulf between the assertion and the evidence is unbridgeable.

The U.S. attorney general has vastly more legal firepower at his command than the Kansas secretary of state. And Sessions may not be foolish enough to attempt to prove the administration’s bogus claims in court.

If he does, another round of evidence-based humiliation awaits.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.

To contact the author of this story: Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net.

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