(CN) – The D.C. Circuit on Friday ruled against a former member of President Donald Trump’s short-lived advisory commission on election fraud, finding he is not entitled to emails between commissioners and the vice president’s staff.
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap was one of five Democrats to sit on the 12-member Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity that was launched in May 2017 under an executive order by Trump. The president has claimed without evidence that thousands of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, accounting for Democrat Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote.
Dunlap sued the commission later that year, claiming its GOP majority kept Democrats in the dark about its work.
The 27-page complaint, filed on Dunlap’s behalf by watchdog group American Oversight and attorneys from Patterson Belknap Webb, alleged violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and challenged the integrity of the commission’s work, asserting that it turned into a “one-sided, partisan undertaking” – the very thing the law is supposed to prevent.
Dunlap asked a federal judge to compel the commission to disclose certain documents he requested, including emails between commissioners and Vice President Mike Pence’s staff discussing potential new appointees to the panel.
In December 2017, the district court ruled Dunlap was improperly excluded from participating on the commission’s work and was directly denied access to information needed to fulfill his role by commission vice chair Kris Kobach, former Kansas secretary of state.
Twelve days later, Trump dissolved the commission. The panel has since released some documents, while continuing to dispute its obligation to release others.
The district court ordered the commission to release the emails between its members and Pence’s staff, but a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit reversed Friday.
The unsigned opinion from U.S. Circuit Judges Robert Wilkins, Merrick Garland and Stephen Williams – who were appointed by Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, respectively – said the lower court was wrong to order the release of those particular emails.
“Because Secretary Dunlap cannot clearly and indisputably show that the emails he seeks fell within the work of the Commission, the district court lacked jurisdiction to entertain Dunlap’s request for their disclosure,” the eight-page ruling states.
The judges noted that Dunlap’s counsel conceded there is no precedent for ordering the disclosure of records about the formation or membership of an advisory committee.
“Dunlap cites no case or statute that extends the ‘work of the committee’ or its ‘deliberative process’ to conversations surrounding who should be on the Commission,” the opinion states.
In a separate case, a federal judge in June 2018 ordered the commissioner to turn over 1,800 records.
After reviewing the records, Dunlap slammed the commission’s actions in a letter to Pence and Kobach.
“In addition to lacking any evidence of widespread voter fraud, the documents reveal the reasons why some commissioners were intent on keeping the commission’s work secret,” he wrote in the letter.
Dunlap's attorneys and the Justice Department could not be reached for comment Friday.
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