Trump voting commission allegedly uses personal email for government business

Where have we heard this before?

Vice President Mike Pence, left, accompanied by Vice-Char Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, speaks during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Vice President Mike Pence, left, accompanied by Vice-Char Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, speaks during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against President Trump’s voting commission are alleging that co-chair Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) and other commissioners are committing the same offense that haunted Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency: using private email for government business.

In a court filing Tuesday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law claims that members of the commission “have been using personal email accounts rather than federal government systems to conduct Commission work.” The complaint alleges that use of non-government email would violate the Presidential Records Act.

“Defendants’ counsel further stated they did not yet have any settled plan for how they would collect emails from these personal, non-federal government systems, or even who would conduct the searches,” the filing notes, adding that it’s “critically important” that the emails from personal accounts are logged in the same way as government emails.

The civil rights organization said that the current plan for commission members to search their own personal email accounts and forward official business to counsel is inadequate. “This is troubling,” the Lawyers’ Committee says, both because commissioners should not make their own determinations about what is subject to disclosure and because Kobach has previously misled the court.

The Lawyers’ Committee filed its lawsuit in July alleging that Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is not making its meetings public or communications public, in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. “[T]he so-called Election Integrity Commission has been operating covertly and its actions, to date, have been shrouded in secrecy,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, said in a statement at the time.

A week after the group filed suit, a federal judge denied an injunction against the commission, finding that there was not enough evidence that the panel planned to violate the transparency law and that the commission was making efforts to make more information public. The Lawyers’ Committee appealed that decision to the D.C. Circuit.

The Lawyers’ Committee’s suit is just one of at least seven federal lawsuits filed against the commission in its first months of operation. A separate suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also alleges that the commission is not complying with transparency laws because it held its first meeting by phone, without allowing public access, and that it failed to share documents related to its operations.

According to the Washington Post, the White House published a web page containing many of those documents three days after the ACLU filed its suit.

It’s unclear if members of the commission are using personal email to transmit personal voter information they collect from states, but any use of non-government email raises alarms, especially from an administration that made Clinton’s use of private email and the FBI’s investigation into her practices pivotal attacks during the 2016 campaign.

Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the voting commission, was just one of many Trump-affiliated politicians who were vocal critics of Clinton’s private server.

Pence continued his line of attack on the former secretary of state, even after it was reported this year that he used a private AOL email account to conduct some public business when he was governor of Indiana.

“There’s no comparison whatsoever between Hillary Clinton’s practice — having a private server, misusing classified information, destroying emails when they were requested by the Congress,” Pence said in March. “We have fully complied with Indiana’s laws.”