President Trump’s decision last week to pull the plug on his troubled voter fraud commission was partly the result of Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s effort to force the body to behave in a transparent and bipartisan manner, a struggle that gained intensity Saturday, when Dunlap learned the administration would not be turning over working documents to him as a federal judge had ordered. Trump killed the commission – which was mired in lawsuits, infighting among commissioners, and an organizational culture so secretive it had refused to tell its own membership if and when it would meet again – “rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense,” according to a White House statement.
The president’s decision, announced Wednesday, also came less than two weeks after a federal judge ordered the commission to share working documents and scheduling information with Dunlap, who had sued the body in November after he and three other Democrats serving on the 11-member commission had been frozen out of its deliberations. American Oversight, a Washington-based ethics advocacy group that represented Dunlap in the suit, said this was “no coincidence,” as the decision had made it “clear it wouldn’t be able to operate in the shadows.”
But in a surprise move revealed Saturday, the Trump administration is resisting turning over the documents. On Friday evening, Dunlap’s attorneys received a letter from the Justice Department informing them that it would not be providing the records on the rationale that because the commission no longer exists, Dunlap is no longer a member of it and therefore not entitled to receive them. “The balance of the equities and the public interest have now shifted,” explained the letter’s author, Joseph Borson, a Justice Department attorney representing the now defunct commission, who added they intended to ask the judge to lift the order on account of the changed circumstances.