WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge ruled that the Department of Justice must release the names of people mentioned in an email from a conservative group that tried to influence the makeup of President Donald Trump’s disbanded voter-fraud commission.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled Friday in favor of the Campaign Legal Center and found that the full disclosure of three names mentioned in an email from Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation would shed light on the formation of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a body charged with investigating his unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud during the 2016 election.
In existence for less than a year, Trump disbanded the commission in January 2018, saying many states refused to comply with its requests for information.
In February 2017, the Campaign Legal Center requested records from the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy relating to “President Trump’s allegations and proposed investigation of ‘widespread voter fraud.’”
The government released six pages of responsive records, including the email chain in question, with partial redactions based on individual privacy concerns.
The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government and elections watchdog, sued the Justice Department in February 2018, challenging the redaction of the names in the Heritage Foundation email. While the government released two of the names, it kept another three redacted.
Records show von Spakovsky’s email, which was forwarded to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asked for him to be given a spot on the president’s voter-fraud commission, a request that was ultimately granted.
“There isn’t a single Democratic official who will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud and issue constant public announcements criticizing the commission and what it is doing, making claims that is engaged in voter suppression,” von Spakovsky’s email states, noting that neither himself nor another person claiming to be experts on voter fraud had been called to serve.
“[Redacted] and I are concerned that this commission will be organized in a way that will guarantee its failure,” the email continues. “We are astonished that no one in the WH has even bothered to consult with
despite the fact that the three of us have written more on voter fraud issue than anyone in the country on our side of the political aisle.”
It is undisputed that von Spakovsky’s email argued strongly for all conservative members on the commission.
Judge Jackson said in her 20-page ruling Friday that the release of the three names at issue would not “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
“Given the public interest in the formation of the Commission, and the fact that von Spakovsky’s appointment followed the transmittal of the email, there is a public interest in knowing who he asked to weigh in that outweighs the individual’s weak privacy interest in shielding that information,” Jackson wrote.
Corey Goldstone, media strategist at the Campaign Legal Center, applauded the ruling.
“Since unsubstantiated claims about noncitizen voting has continued to pervade popular discourse, CLC is committed to seeing this fight through until the end – and releasing this information to the public, who can be better prepared to defend against voter suppression if they know its source,” he said in a statement.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.