In an apparent effort to avoid turning documents over to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, the Trump administration has told a federal judge it will destroy the voter registration data that some states forwarded to the president’s voter fraud commission.
The White House director for information technology, Charles C. Herndon, revealed the administration’s new position in a declaration filed Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Once litigation is resolved, Herndon wrote, “the White House intends to destroy all state voter data” it is allowed to under federal law.
The move, which scraps a previously announced plan to have the U.S. Department of Homeland Security continue voter fraud investigations, appears aimed at weakening Dunlap’s grounds for obtaining the commission’s documents, which included the public’s interest in knowing what the administration was planning to do next with the voter registration data.
“It’s a little Orwellian, because they say on one hand that there’s nothing there worth seeing, but they also say that I shouldn’t be allowed to see any of it,” Dunlap told the Press Herald on Thursday. “Apparently what they were working on was so inflammatory that the only way they saw to keep it out of my hands was a desperate Hail Mary pass to close down the commission.”
The government does not plan to delete the documents Dunlap wants to see, but rather the defunct commission’s voter registration data collection, the existence of which forms one of the pillars of Dunlap’s legal case for immediate access to the panel’s working and policy development documents.
Dunlap was one of four Democrats serving on the 11-member commission, which Trump dissolved Jan. 3, shortly after a federal judge had ordered the body to give Dunlap access to its working documents. Dunlap, who said he had not received any substantive communications from the body in months, had filed a suit Nov. 9 to be cut back into the flow of information. He argued in a subsequent and successful request for immediate relief that he needed prompt access to the documents because of the administration’s publicly stated plan to transfer voter registration data to Homeland Security, so that agency could continue the voter fraud probe.
But by committing to instead destroy the voter registration data, the government is now arguing Dunlap no longer has this reason to see the documents. “There is no longer a prospect of irreparable injury to the plaintiff,” Justice Department lawyers said in a motion asking the judge to vacate her Dec. 22 order that they had to share the correspondence and policy documents with Dunlap.
A Justice Department spokesperson said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Neither the commission’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, nor its executive director, Andrew Kossack, responded to requests for comment.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has put Dunlap’s Jan. 9 request for immediate access to the documents on hold while she considers the government’s latest motion. The parties have been asked to submit further filings by Jan. 24.
Herndon, the White House official responsible for custody of the voter registration data, said in his declaration that the data was encrypted and that only four members of his staff had access to it, but they were “not authorized to transfer or utilize this data.” He also said no voter fraud commission member had been given access to it nor would they.
The voter registration data does not include data from Maine, which was one of some two dozen states that refused to comply with the commission’s request. Dunlap concluded that Maine law prohibited the data from being released to the commission.
A Republican member of the defunct commission, voter fraud activist J. Christian Adams, blamed Dunlap for the body’s failure in a radio interview Tuesday, likening him to the fictional U.S. prisoner of war Robert Hogan, who was held in a Nazi-era German detention camp in the late-’60s sit-com “Hogan’s Heroes.”
“Here was people from the commission — one in particular, the Secretary of State of Maine Matthew Dunlap — who simply did not want the commission to do its work,” Adams told radio host Larry O’Connor. “He played the role like Col. Hogan — you know, burrowing out and blowing things up and sabotaging the work of the commission instead of actually trying to address the real issues.”
Dunlap said Thursday he expected there would be a lot of “salacious material” in the correspondence among Adams, Kobach and other Republican commissioners, but that isn’t what he is interested in. “I’m sure they had lots of awful things to say abut me and other office holders, but what I care abut are the substantive documents,” he said. “If there were proposals for policy changes, what were they?”
Election integrity experts said last week that Dunlap’s lawsuit almost certainly played a part in the demise of the commission, which Trump created by executive order in February to substantiate his evidence-free assertion that he had lost the popular vote in 2016 only because millions of fraudulent ballots were cast for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Dunlap came under fire from fellow Democrats for agreeing to join the commission, which they felt was providing bipartisan window dressing for what amounted to a voter suppression effort. Dunlap defended his role over the spring and summer, saying he was participating with an open mind and would act as a whistle-blower if the commission started to engage in partisan shenanigans. He became highly critical during and after its second and final meeting Sept. 12, saying many of his colleagues appeared to define “voter fraud” to include legitimate voting by people they don’t want to see cast ballots, such as college students.
Nationally, numerous voter fraud investigations have concluded that the problem is vanishingly small, with one study by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt finding only 31 credible allegations of identity fraud in all primary, general, special and municipal elections between 2000 and 2014, despite over a billion votes being cast. A 2011 voter fraud investigation in Maine by Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers found just one instance of fraud.
State voter registration data collected by Trump’s abandoned election fraud commission will be destroyed and not shared with the Department of Homeland Security or any other agency, a White House aide told a federal judge.
Herndon also wrote in his court declaration that none of the controversial panel’s other “records or data will be transferred to the DHS or another agency” from this point on, except for disclosure or archiving that a court or federal law might require.
In this July 8, 2017 photo, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap speaks during a voter registration meeting at the National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)