ATLANTA — A civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security for failing to release information connected to President Donald Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud commission.
Voting rights advocates have expressed concern that the agencies might be working together as part of an effort by Trump and some commission members to justify his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. They also worry about possible efforts to enact tougher voting restrictions, such as proof of citizenship requirements.
Without evidence, Trump has blamed “millions of people who voted illegally” as the reason why he lost the popular vote in the 2016 election.
“This administration may choose to ignore reasonable requests for information about its work, but it cannot ignore a court order that mandates the production of records on matters that impact the voting rights of millions of Americans,” said Kristen Clarke, president and director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Through our lawsuit, we seek to expose the ways in which other federal agencies may be working to carry forth the commission’s unlawful activities.”
The group filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeking emails, calendars and other records of communications between the agencies and members and staff of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
In the lawsuit, the Lawyers’ Committee says the Justice Department has failed to indicate whether it will provide documents responsive to the group’s federal Freedom of Information Act request, which was filed in August. The Department of Homeland Security said in December that it was “closing the FOIA request” because the group had not provided adequate details for a document search.
While there have been isolated cases of voter fraud in the U.S., there is no evidence of it being a widespread problem.
A Homeland Security spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. An email seeking comment from the Justice Department was not immediately returned.
Friday’s lawsuit is the second filed by the group involving Trump’s voter commission.
The first revealed the existence of communications between the commission and the two federal agencies, but not the substance. Another lawsuit still pending was filed against the commission by Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, one of four Democrats on the panel when it was disbanded Jan. 3.
Dunlap also has been seeking access to documents, arguing that he was shut out of the process by the Republican-led commission.
In addition, the commission has yet to respond to a records request filed by The Associated Press in August under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The law specifies that agencies — including presidential commissions — have 20 business days to respond or 10 calendar days if the request was filed on an expedited basis, as the AP’s was.
The commission has published some documents on its website, but those have largely been limited to agendas and meeting materials. The AP request sought specific communications related to the commission’s activities, including emails. The commission has published responses from state officials to questions regarding voter fraud, which was part of the AP’s request.
In disbanding the panel, Trump blamed the lawsuits for bogging down the commission’s work and referred the matter to the Department of Homeland Security. But there has been no indication so far that the department plans to take up the investigation.