A federal judge ordered Monday that the Republican National Committee hand over any evidence showing that the committee was working with the Donald Trump campaign on the campaign’s poll watching crusade. The discovery order comes as part of a court action mounted by the Democratic National Committee accusing the RNC of violating a decades-old consent decree limiting its participation in election site anti-voter fraud activities.
The judge, U.S. District Court Judge John Michael Vazguez, ordered the RNC to hand over “All agreements in any form between Defendant and the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump (the “Trump Campaign”) regarding voter fraud, ballot security, ballot integrity, poll watching, or poll monitoring.” If such agreements were made verbally and are not in writing, then the RNC shall submit affidavits from those who know of them detailing the plans, according to the order.
The order also requests that the RNC submits affidavits regarding any “efforts with the Trump Campaign to work with state governments and secretaries of state to ensure ‘ballot integrity,'” as Trump’s running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) suggested in a town hall earlier this fall. The judge also told the RNC to submit affidavits about RNC’s “efforts with the Trump Campaign to monitor precincts around the country,” in connection to comments made by Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway last month suggesting coordination.
Conway had told Washington Post reporter Robert Costa last month that she was “actively working with the national committee, the official party, and campaign lawyers to monitor precincts around the country,” according to Costa. She later called the reporter to tell him she had been mistaken about the RNC’s involvement, Costa told TPM.
Additionally, the order asks for evidence related to the comments of two RNC members, Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Robert Gleason and Michigan GOP Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel, suggesting they were taking on ballot security initiatives.
Gleason has suggested that the party is recruiting poll watchers specifically for Philadelphia — where Trump has also urged his supporters to watch election sites — and the Pennsylvania Republican Party has filed a lawsuit to allow poll observers to monitor election sites outside the counties where they’re registered to vote, which is currently prohibited by state law.
“The affidavit(s) shall set forth all material terms of any such efforts and the reason(s) for targeting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” the judge’s order said. “The affidavit or affidavits should also address why Mr. Gleason’s efforts, if any, are not on behalf of the RNC.”
The order for the RNC to produce evidence was more narrow than the DNC had asked for. But, as UC-Irvine Law Professor Rick Hasen noted on his Election Law blog, this “alone should be pretty educational on what efforts are actually going on behind the scenes.”
The judge requested the evidence be produced by Wednesday, 5 pm ET. The order also scheduled oral arguments for Friday morning.
The consent decree dates back to 1982, and was agreed to by the RNC to settle a case brought by Democrats accusing the RNC and the New Jersey Republican Party of voter intimidation tactics in the 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial race. Democrats have alleged that Republicans have continued to violate it since, prompting further litigation around the decree. After allegations of a violation in the 2008 election, the decree was modified to expire in December 2017, unless Republicans were found to be in violation of it again, at which point it would be extended another eight years.
The current court action was brought by the DNC last week, as Trump has ramped up his rhetoric from the stump calling for vigilante poll watchers. The DNC has accused the RNC of violating the decree in collaborating with Trump on so-called “ballot security” activities. The RNC has contended it has participated in no such efforts, and that Trump’s and his surrogates comments are outside the RNC’s purview.