Democrats are asking a federal court to hold the RNC in contempt for allegedly collaborating with the Donald Trump campaign in its efforts to get poll watchers to voting sites on Election Day. A consent decree the RNC agreed to in the early 1980s limits its ability to participate in so-called "ballot security" initiatives. The decree expires in December 2017, but Democrats are asking for the court to extend it based on their claims of an RNC violation.
The RNC has maintained that it has followed the decree, and that comments made by Trump or his campaign surrogates alone aren't enough to implicate the committee in poll watching efforts banned by the decree.
In Monday's filing, the RNC said that its chief counsel, John R. Phillipe, Jr., and other top committee officials have made clear to both RNC staff and to the Trump campaign that, in accordance with the decree, the committee will not assist the campaign in any voter fraud prevention initiatives. It also argued that both the Trump campaign and individual state parties (with the exception of the New Jersey GOP) that have taken on their own "ballot security" efforts are not covered by the decree, and thus should not be construed as implicating the RNC in violation of the decree.
"The RNC takes its obligations seriously and, as the declarations explain, is not aware of any conduct that would call into question its compliance with the Consent Decree’s requirement," the filing read.
The RNC said in the filing that it trained its members, staff and contractors about the obligations of the decree eight months before Trump even became the party's nominee.
"Out of an abundance of caution, the RNC has restricted its activities even more than the Consent Decree requires, including by not participating in permissible poll-watching activities," the filing read.
The filing also said the RNC circulated materials after Trump amped up his poll watcher calls—in August, September, and October—reminding staff and affiliates of the committee's policy on poll watching. The RNC hosted teleconferences on the topic, the filing said, while the Trump campaign also received a run-down on the policy. The RNC brief cited an August letter sent to the Trump campaign's lead attorney explaining "that the RNC is covered by, and strictly complies with, the Consent Decree and thus would not engage in any ballot security efforts."
"The bottom line is that the RNC has taken abundant measures to ensure good faith compliance with the Consent Decree," the filing said.
The brief goes on to bash evidence the DNC put forward in alleging the RNC violated the decree, arguing that Democrats provided no “specific examples of activities going on.”
"And, notably, for its allegation that the RNC is working with the Trump campaign to engage in ballot security efforts, the DNC’s submission relies on reports of ambiguous statements by persons associated with the Trump
campaign—Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence, and Ms. Conway, all of which are addressed below—not statements by knowledgeable persons at the RNC," the filing read, reiterating that the Trump campaign isn't covered by the decree and that the RNC has no control over it.
The RNC also questioned evidence Democrats put forward regarding the RNC's joint fundraising with the Trump campaign, as well as RNC Chairman Reince Priebus' comments about working with the campaign.
"That the RNC works to help elect its presidential nominee is neither controversial nor unlawful," the filing read. "As this Court correctly recognized during the October 27 conference, the RNC 'clearly' is working with Mr. Trump, but 'the question [is] how is the RNC working with Mr. Trump as it pertains to this particular issue [under] the Consent Decree. The answer is simple: it is not."
The RNC singled out a comment made by Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, that the Democrats highlighted in a court document last week. The RNC accused Democrats of playing "fast and loose" with Conway's words, pointing out that she's not a committee employee.
As TPM reported, Conway made the comment in question to Washington Post reporter Robert Costa last month. Costa said on MSNBC that Conway had told him "that she is actively working with the national committee, the official party, and campaign lawyers to monitor precincts around the country.” Conway later called Costa to tell him she had been mistaken about the RNC's involvement, TPM noted in the same story.
"The DNC invokes this statement three times, making it a centerpiece of the DNC’s brief," the RNC said in its filing.
"For multiple reasons, the statement is not probative. To begin, it is triple hearsay – a published report of a statement by a reporter purporting to quote Mr. Conway [sic]. Although it is very hard to tell, the quote in the brief is not a direct quotation from Ms. Conway, but a paraphrase," the filing argued. "More significantly, the DNC fails to inform the Court that the very same article reports on the next page that Ms. Conway retracted her statement because she 'was mistaken about the RNC’s involvement.'"
The RNC went on to criticize its Democratic counterpart for "exaggerat[ing]" and "misinterpret[ing]" in its court brief other current and former GOP officials' comments regarding alleged RNC-Trump collaboration.
"In fact, several of the very same articles that the DNC cites confirm that the RNC has not coordinated with the Trump campaign on voter fraud measures," the filing read, pointing to the TPM story, which had been quoted in the Democrats' filing. The RNC also argued that the state party officials Democrats cited were acting outside of their roles as members of the RNC.
"Further, the news reports on which the DNC bases its claim specify no actions, but merely report core political speech from which the DNC urges the Court to infer actions," the filing read.
To counter the scrutiny of Trump's "rigged election" rhetoric, the RNC pointed to supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who also claimed that the primary had been "rigged" against him.
"The point is that in today’s political environment questions about the process have arisen on both sides, and the DNC’s call for this Court to infer illegal action from these statements is ill-advised at the least," the filing read. "In any event, these rhetorical flourishes cannot substitute for evidence of RNC involvement in prohibited activities."
Read the full brief below: