Politics & Government

Kobach wants to stop release of deposition tape because it would be used in attack ads

Five things you should know about Kansas governor candidate Kris Kobach

Aug. 7 is the primary for the Kansas governor election. Here are five things you should know about Republican candidate Kris Kobach.
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Aug. 7 is the primary for the Kansas governor election. Here are five things you should know about Republican candidate Kris Kobach.

A Kansas state government attorney argues in a new court filing that a videotaped deposition of Republican Kris Kobach would be used against him politically if released.

The tape, which provides details about Kobach’s private talks with President Donald Trump and members of Congress, was played at a federal trial earlier this year over Kansas’s proof of citizenship voting law. Judge Julie Robinson overturned the law.

Although a transcript of the video is public, the American Civil Liberties Union wants to release the video itself. In a series of court filings over the past few weeks, the ACLU and Kobach, the secretary of state, have sparred over the video.

The most recent filing late Wednesday from Kobach’s office draws an explicit link between stopping release of the video and his campaign for governor.

The filing specifically asks that if Robinson decides to release the video, that she delay her decision long enough for Kobach to seek a review of the decision from a higher court.

Kobach “expects the videotape to be immediately released to the media so that its footage can be used in last-minute political commercials targeting (Kobach) personally,” Sue Becker, the secretary of state’s senior counsel, writes.

Becker also writes: “The release of the videotape has nothing to do with this litigation; rather it is a transparent effort by a nakedly partisan and liberal organization to inject this lawsuit and the State’s loss into the gubernatorial campaign.”

And she says that if the video is used against Kobach it will force him to spend “tens of thousands of dollars in new ads and manpower to attempt to respond to whatever assertions are made using cobbled together deposition soundbites.”

Kobach is locked in a tight race for governor against Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly. Public polls over the past month and a half show the race effectively tied.

Kelly spokeswoman Johanna Warshaw called the effort to block or delay the release of the deposition video “unacceptable.” And she said “the fact that his taxpayer funded staff is more concerned with Kris Kobach’s campaign than the state of Kansas is alarming.”

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, criticized the filing and said he doubts a federal court will care whether those wanting the video released are liberal or conservative.

“This is gratuitous, inflammatory language inserted in a serious legal pleading by an attorney working for the state of Kansas in an attempt to further Kris Kobach’s campaign and his personal animosity toward the plaintiffs and in particular the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s unprofessional, to say the least,” Carmichael said.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office and campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

At the March civil trial where Kobach’s deposition was played, Kobach represented himself as he tried to defend a state law that requires individuals to show proof of citizenship – like a passport or birth certificate – in order to register to vote. Robinson found Kobach’s arguments unpersuasive and repeatedly chastised him for breaking court procedure. She also found him in contempt of court.

During the deposition, the ACLU questions Kobach about whether he lobbied Trump on supporting the proposed legislation during a 2016 meeting where Trump considered Kobach to serve as his secretary of Homeland Security.

“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 appearing uncomfortable during some portions of the deposition, rubbing his eyes and crossing his hands as the ACLU peppered him with questions.

R. Orion Danjuma, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said the First Amendment grants the public the right to know what happened at a public trial and the press the right to report on it.

“The question for Mr. Kobach is why he is so desperate to hide his own sworn testimony from the people of Kansas. It is likely because his testimony was self-contradictory and because it lays bare Mr. Kobach’s concerted schemes to make it much more difficult for ordinary citizens to vote,” Danjuma said.

In previous court filings, the ACLU attorneys and others have said that they do not believe the tape is shielded from release and that it is not covered by a protective order from Robinson.

“The Tape was entered into the record unsealed and played in open court in full view of the public,” one filing reads.

If Kobach wanted to preserve the tape’s confidentiality, he should have asked for the courtroom to be closed, but he didn’t, the filing says.

Contributing: Bryan Lowry of The Kansas City Star