A federal court today ordered President Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud commission to turn over documents to Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap by July 18, 2018. Dunlap had served as a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (PACEI) but had been systematically excluded from participating in the commission’s work and had been denied access to commission records.
“It was a difficult and even daunting decision to bring this matter to court,” said Dunlap. “The American people deserve to know – indeed, as the Court rules, they have a right to know – how their government officials are working to reshape the future of this nation. In this decision, the judge locks the back windows and side doors, turns on the lights, and demands that this work happen not in the shadows, but in the open. I thank the District Court for their very thorough work.”
“With today’s decision, the court rejected entirely the efforts of President Trump’s voter fraud commission to hide its work behind closed doors. Former commissioner and Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s right to view commission records has been vindicated. This is a big victory for government transparency,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of non-partisan ethics watchdog American Oversight, which is representing Dunlap.
President Trump disbanded the PACEI in January 2018, just weeks after a previous court opinion in December 2017 ruled that Dunlap could not be excluded from the commission’s work and must be given access to documents – including all communications between commissioners, communications with commission staff or staff of federal agencies, and records related to the development of policy proposals.
In the ruling today from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the court ordered the PACEI to comply with the December order and to produce the records by July 18, 2018. The decision clarifies that the president’s dissolution of the commission did not relieve it of its obligation to disclose documents.
Dunlap filed a lawsuit in November 2017 to enforce his rights as a member of the PACEI to have access to the documents used by the group – including meeting agendas, internal emails, witness lists, and letters sent by commission staff – that he had been denied.
Dunlap’s lawsuit alleged that the commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, had violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by denying Dunlap and other commissioners access to key documents and excluding them from much of the commission’s work.
On December 22, 2017, the court largely agreed, ordering the commission to turn over documents and allow Dunlap to participate in commission activities. Just weeks later, on January 3, 2018, President Trump dissolved the PACEI, and government lawyers argued that the termination of the commission meant that Dunlap no longer had a right to access the commission’s documents.
Nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight and the law firm of Patterson Belknap are representing Dunlap.
More background on Dunlap’s lawsuit is available here.
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