Kansas’ Kris Kobach, immigration hardliner, could be Trump’s attorney general

Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state whose hardline immigration stance has caught the attention of President-elect Donald Trump, could be a candidate for attorney general.

Kobach, already a member of Trump’s transition team, advised Trump on immigration policy, one of the Republican’s top priorities, throughout the campaign and added Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Southern border to the Republican Party’s national platform.

Other candidates who may be considered for the position include Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani told a gathering of CEOs Monday that he “won’t be attorney general” and on Tuesday, it was reported that Giuliani was a favorite to head the State Department.

Kobach's spokeswoman, Desiree Taliaferro, initially dismissed the rumors as "just chatter," saying that Kobach had not had any conversations with Trump’s team about a possible appointment as attorney general.

However, in a second phone conversation late Tuesday afternoon she appeared to treat it as a more serious possibility.

"I can't confirm or deny at this time," she said.

Kobach was the architect of one of the toughest immigration laws in the country, which he drafted when he was a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Arizona’s controversial 2010 SB-1070 law most notably requires law enforcement officers to demand to see the papers of anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally, and has been denounced for encouraging racial profiling.

SB 1070 has faced legal challenges since it was signed into law, and many of its provisions have been struck down.

Kobach has been criticized for his legal work for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, an organization that says it is working to “reduce the harmful impact of uncontrolled immigration.” In 2014, his Democratic opponent, Jean Schodorf, called him an “extremist” and accused him of having ties to white nationalist groups, which he called “an outrageous accusation.”

Kobach has served as attorney for a group of 10 Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents suing the Obama administration since 2012. When Kobach joined Trump at a rally in Wichita, Kansas, in March, he told the crowd that electing Trump would improve the morale of ICE agents.

The outspoken conservative has served as Kansas secretary of state since 2011, championing stricter voting laws and gaining the power to prosecute election crimes last year.

At Kobach’s urging, the state adopted a requirement that voters must provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, when they register to vote.

Supporters say the policy prevents non-citizens from voting, but opponents say it actually makes it more difficult for citizens to become registered. The requirement blocked about 20,000 potential voters from casting ballots in 2014 when Gov. Sam Brownback narrowly won re-election.

The law has faced multiple challenges in federal and state courts. Kobach represented the state in those cases and suffered a series of defeats this year when judges ruled that he could not require proof of citizenship from people who use the federal form or register at the DMV.

State Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat and Wichita attorney, said that the possibility of Kobach “as the chief law enforcement officer of the entire (nation) sends chills up my spine.”

“You talk about his efforts at suppressing the vote across our state and he would be in charge of the civil rights division of the United States government … that’s a scary prospect,” said Ward, one of Kobach’s strongest critics in the Kansas Legislature.

Kobach has been embroiled in several other controversies during his tenure as secretary of state.

He tried unsuccessfully to force a Democratic candidate for Senate to remain on the ballot in 2014 after he submitted his letter of withdrawal, a move that some political observers saw as intended to help incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts against an independent challenger.

His office faces a still-pending federal lawsuit from a former employee who alleges she was fired for refusing to attend a prayer service, an allegation Kobach calls ridiculous.

Kobach hosts a weekly talk radio show in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2014, a caller asked Kobach if he thought that President Barack Obama’s executive action to halt the deportation of 5 million immigrants living illegally in the United States would result in ethnic cleansing of whites. He said he did not think ethnic cleansing would happen, but he did not rule out the possibility, telling the man that “things are strange and they are happening.”

On Monday, Kobach told FOX News that the Trump administration will likely move to deport illegal immigrants upon arrest instead of the current policy of deporting those who have been convicted.

“The most extreme criminals are deported while criminal arrestees not yet convicted are turned loose,” Kobach said. “(Under the new proposal,) criminal arrestees will be deported, there will be immediate improvement in safety for all Americans.”

Trump has said he will immediately begin to deport or incarcerate 2 or 3 million immigrants in the country illegally who have criminal records.

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers…we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” Trump told CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday in his first television interview since Tuesday’s election.

Trump spent Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York City working to choose people to serve in his administration. He was joined by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading up his transition team.

“There’s a lot of things. This is such an exciting time, I’ve got to tell you,” Sessions said before he joined the meeting.

Steven Mnuchin, who is considered a possible pick for treasury secretary, declined to comment Tuesday on whether he had been offered a job in the administration as he arrived at Trump Tower.

“We’re working on the economic plan with the transition, making sure we get the biggest tax bill passed, the biggest tax changes since Reagan, so a lot of exciting things in the first 100 days of the Trump presidency,” he said.

Also seen: son Donald Trump Jr.; tech billionaire Peter Thiel; Boris Epshteyn, surrogate and Facebook Live host; financier Anthony Scaramucci; Arizona’s treasurer Jeff DeWit; and Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA. Some news outlets reported earlier in the day that neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Ben Carson was offered the job of secretary of health and human services but turned it down.

Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers, declined to talk about any deliberations but said anyone who is asked to serve should do so.

“If the president of the United States, or the president-elect of the United States, offers you a position to include walking his dogs, you have to seriously think about it,” he said. “I mean, it’s only appropriate, it’s good for the nation – regardless of who it is.”

Lowry writes for the Wichita Eagle and reported from Topeka, Kansas.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01