Judge Orders Spicer Depo Before Lifting Order Blocking RNC Poll Watching

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer talks on a phone during the Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn of the White House, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/AP

The Democratic National Committee will get the chance to depose Sean Spicer about whether he violated a longstanding legal order barring the Republican National Committee from engaging in poll watching activities, Politico reported.

The order is set to expire at the end of the week, as long as Democrats don’t provide evidence that the RNC had violated the order. The federal judge overseeing the consent order, Michael Vazquez, seemed generally skeptical that they would be able to do so, according to the Politico report on a Wednesday conference call with the case’s parties.

But Vazquez was willing to grant Dems the Spicer deposition due to reports about his presence on a floor of Trump Tower that was the hub of the Trump campaign’s poll monitoring operation on election night. At the time, Spicer was the RNC’s communications director and chief strategist.

For more than three decades, the RNC has been prohibited from engaging in so-called “ballot integrity” activities — including poll watching and making claims to election officials that certain voters are ineligible  — due to the consent order. The order stems from a 1981 election in New Jersey, during which GOP operatives created a “National Ballot Security Task Force” of off-duty cops and other volunteers that Democrats say harassed and intimidated voters, particularly in minority neighborhoods.

The Democrats brought a lawsuit that resulted in the 1982 order, and it has been extended in the past after allegations that the RNC was violating it. However, Democrats’ attempts to extend the consent order during the 2016 election, after President Trump and his allies revved up poll watching talk, failed. The RNC went out of its way to discourage its officials from engaging in any such activities, yet still faced multiple lawsuits leading up to the election.

The consent order applies only to the RNC and the New Jersey Republican Party. Other local GOP and activist groups can engage in their own poll watching. However, voting rights experts  — and even a former RNC chair — have worried that once the order was lifted, that the RNC would engage in the kind of election monitoring activity that would appear to intimidate and suppress minority voters.

According to Politico, the judge on Wednesday indicated it was unlikely that he would grant Democrats any other depositions beyond Spicer’s, but stopped short of saying whether he planned to allow the order to expire on Friday.

“It would seem as though there’s a lot unanswered by the article and a deposition of Mr. Spicer would be able to address those clearly,” he said.