WASHINGTON – President Trump's voter fraud commission was sued Thursday morning by one of its Democratic members, who alleged that he has been kept in the dark about its operations, rendering his participation "essentially meaningless."
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said in a complaint filed in federal court that the 11-member panel is in violation of a federal law that requires presidential advisory commissions to be both balanced and transparent in their work.
"The Commission has, in effect, not been balanced because Secretary Dunlap and the other Democratic commissioners have been excluded from the Commission's work," says the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. "The Commission's operations have not been open and transparent, not even to the commissioners themselves, who have been deprived access to documents prepared by and viewed by other commissioners."
The lawsuit is the latest drama for a commission that has proven a magnet for controversy since its launch in the wake of Trump's baseless assertion that he would have won the popular vote in last year's election if he hadn't been thwarted by as many as 5 million illegally cast ballots.
The 11-member panel, which is nominally chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and is formally known as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, has met publicly twice, in Washington in July and in New Hampshire in September. A third meeting has yet to be announced.
Pence and others have pledged that the commission has no preordained agenda as it looks at voting practices that could undermine or bolster confidence in elections.
Spokesmen for Pence and the commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Dunlap's lawsuit.
Dunlap is among four Democrats serving on the 11-member commission. A fifth died last month.
"In fact, the Commission's superficial bipartisanship has been a facade," Dunlap says in the suit. "The Commission has, in effect, not been balanced because Secretary Dunlap and the other Democratic commissioners have been excluded from the Commission's work."
The commission has been targeted in at least eight other lawsuits seeking to curb its operations or make its deliberations more transparent. The filing by Dunlap, who was appointed to serve by Trump, is the first by one of its own members.
"Today's lawsuit is highly unusual and virtually unprecedented, and further underscores the chaotic and dysfunctional nature of this Commission," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups that have sued.
Besides the commission itself, Dunlap's suit names several other defendants, including Pence; Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the commission's vice chairman; and Andrew Kossack, its executive director.
Last month, Dunlap and Alan King, a probate judge in Alabama and another of the commission's Democratic members, wrote separately to Kossack, demanding basic information such as when the panel might meet again, what kind of research is being conducted by its staff and when it might send a report to the president.
"The Commission continues to review information obtained during the last meeting and will keep all Commission members updated should further meetings be scheduled," Kossack said at the time.
In a late October email from Kossack to Dunlap, shared with the Washington Post, Kossack mentioned the eight lawsuits as a factor weighing on the commission.
The panel was rattled last month by the arrest of a staff member on charges of possessing child pornography.