Before they were formally named to President Trump’s now disbanded voter fraud commission, two conservative activists emailed the commission’s vice chair Kris Kobach about “potential Democratic commissioners,” a federal judge revealed Thursday.
The revelation came in a legal dispute over whether the Trump administration must turn over a batch of commission-related emails to a Democratic member of the panel, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.
While U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly had previously ordered that the emails in question be released to Dunlap, it now appears she is reconsidering that order, given that the conversations were happening before the commissioners — Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams — were officially appointed to the panel.
Dunlap sued the commission in 2017, before it was dissolved, seeking internal communications and other documents from commission work he said he was excluded from. So far, Dunlap has been successful in getting many of those materials. But the administration had asked the judge to pause her order, in January, that it produce certain emails about the potential commissioners, because the government was planning on appealing the decision.
In considering the request, Kollar-Kotelly reviewed the emails herself, and earlier this week, she said that review prompted questions about when Adams and von Spakovsky were appointed. She questioned the accuracy of the government’s previous claims that Adams and von Spakovsky were appointed on July 11, 2017. The government, in a filing Thursday morning, insisted that date was accurate.
Her latest order shed some light why she was confused.
“Defendants’ ex parte submission of emails shows that these individuals were in communication with the Office of the Vice President about potential Democratic commissioners prior to their own appointments to the Commission,” her order said. “Although some of Mr. Kobach’s communications occurred after his appointment, his service as Vice-Chair is distinguishable from the role of other commissioners.”
Before her order Thursday, it was not known that the withheld emails were between Kobach, Adams and von Spakovsky. It was also not previously known that the emails were in about potential Democratic commissioners in particular.
However, another now-public email, sent in February 2017, showed that von Spakovsky had complained to allies of then-Attorney General Jeff Session about the “disturbing” news that the White House was considering naming Democrats and “mainstream Republicans” to the panel. The email was forwarded to Sessions himself.
“There isn’t a single Democratic official that 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 it is engaged in voter suppression,” von Spakovsky wrote in February 2017, in an email that cc’d Adams.
“That decision alone shows how little the WHouse understands about this issue.”
It may remain unknown whether Adams and von Spakovsky expressed similar alarm in the email exchanges in question over the Democrats being considered for the commission.
The judge’s order on Thursday said that a “premise” of her previous order that the emails be produced “was that the communicating individuals were commissioners at the time of the emails they sent or received.”
For now, she is giving Dunlap until Friday to provide further briefing.
Read the full order below: