President Donald Trump's Department of Justice is being denounced for its "rich blend of arrogance and contempt for the rule of law" after refusing to abide by a court order to turn over internal documents to a Democratic member of the now-disbanded voter fraud commission.
The statement issued Saturday by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap comes days after Trump dissolved the controversial 11-member "Election Integrity" Commission and tweeted the baseless claim that "that many people are voting illegally."
Dunlap, "perhaps the commission's primary in-house skeptic," as one observer put it, had filed suit over after his requests for documents were refused.
On Dec. 22, a federal court agreed with Dunlap's assertion that he had been denied access to key documents, thus barring his full participation, and ordered the commission to provide them to Dunlap. As the LA Times reported at the time, Dunlap
wanted access to, among other things, communications about how to select experts who would testify before the committee and the scheduling of meetings. At the core of his lawsuit, Dunlap argued that the voter fraud commission had run afoul of the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires transparency and balanced membership for government advisory groups.
But DOJ lawyers wrote Friday that Dunlap no longer has the right to access the documents because the commission is defunct; his rights are the same as those of the general public.
Dunlap lashed out at the response.
"Perhaps the only surprising aspect of the Department of Justice response is their rich blend of arrogance and contempt for the rule of law," he wrote, calling its decision "unthinkable, unconscionable, and un-American."
"The actions taken by the administration going forward will have an immense impact on every American voter—and they plan on doing that under cover of darkness, without interference from a free people who deserve the fruits of liberty that the checks and balances of government promise them; a promise the Department of Justice is now denying," he added.
In a tweet Saturday afternoon, his office added: "DOJ has denied request for access to documents but we will continue to pursue access despite dissolution of the elections commission to ensure that the commission's work is transparent to the American people."
Dunlap wasn't along in his criticisms. Among those also raising alarms was fellow Democratic commission Alan King, a probate judge in Jefferson County, Ala.. He told the Montgomery Advertiser, "My belief when I started is it would be transparent, that there would be an exchange of information, that everybody would be in the loop and that's not how it worked out."
As journalist Jessica Huseman told PBS Saturday, Trump killed the panel as it "was facing eight federal lawsuits and those were going pretty well for the people who were suing the commission."
Indeed, as watchdog group American Oversight, which represented Dunlap in his suit, said in a statement last week, it was "no coincidence that the president dissolved the commission once it became clear it wouldn't be permitted to operate in the shadows. Secretary Dunlap deserves our gratitude for stepping into the breach to take on adversaries of democracy."
"We intend to continue to fight for his right to access to the commission's secret communications. President Trump can dissolve the commission, but the law doesn't allow him or the commission to slink away from view and avoid accountability," the group added.
Concerns about the data collected by the commission simmered last week when former commission vice chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach indicated it would be handed over to DHS—a potential move condemned by civil right advocates. Whether that will happen, though, is unclear, as Joseph Borson, a DOJ attorney, said Friday that the commission would not be turning over the data to another body.