Dunlap Files for Temporary Restraining Order to Stop Election Commission From Hiding Records

Lawyers representing Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap today filed a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to preserve his access to information and documents related to the now-defunct Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (PACEI) and to bar the commission from transferring its findings to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In the wake of a significant legal victory for Secretary Dunlap, on January 3, President Trump abruptly dissolved the PACEI, citing ongoing litigation and resistance from state election officials as reasons for doing so. The White House announced a plan to transfer the commission’s “initial findings” to DHS so the agency can continue the commission’s work.

Shortly thereafter, Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers representing the commission informed Secretary Dunlap – one of the commission’s four Democratic members – that they would disregard a federal court order mandating Secretary Dunlap be provided access to information that had been withheld from him by PACEI officials.

“Mendacity and bad faith have characterized this commission from its inception,” said one of Secretary Dunlap’s lawyers, American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers. “Now that a court is forcing transparency on the commission, the White House wants to take its ball and go home. Luckily for the American people, the law doesn’t allow government officials to evade accountability so easily.”

“My access to this information is more critical than ever, now that the commission is dissolved,” said Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. “Dissolution of the commission does not change the law on the availability of a presidential commission’s records, either for a former member or for the public.”

On January 5, DOJ informed Secretary Dunlap it would not be turning over records in accordance with a December 22 court order ruling that Secretary Dunlap had been improperly excluded from participating in the commission’s work and had been denied basic access to information need to fulfill his role.

As a result, American Oversight is seeking immediate court intervention, asking that Secretary Dunlap be given access to all documents related to the PACEI’s prior work, as well as the decision to dissolve it. The motion also asks the court to ensure Secretary Dunlap has the opportunity to participate in the commission’s wind-down, and enjoin the transfer of any documents to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until the court has ruled on the matter.

American Oversight, along with the law firm Patterson Belknap, has represented Secretary Dunlap in his ongoing lawsuit to enforce his rights as a commissioner.

The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requires the PACEI to provide all commissioners with equal information as the group makes decisions and conducts its inquiry. Secretary Dunlap repeatedly sought access to commission records – including meeting materials, witness invitations, and correspondence with other commissioners – but after being repeatedly rebuffed, was forced to sue.

In 1999, in Cummock v. Gore, the DC Circuit held that commissioners may not be denied access to information.

The motion for a TRO can be viewed HERE.

More background on Sec. Dunlap’s lawsuit is HERE.