WASHINGTON — On Oct. 19, the Republican National Committee's general counsel sent an email warning RNC members that the national party was barred from engaging in "ballot security" measures.
Specifically, RNC general counsel John Ryder wrote that a longstanding court-enforced agreement meant that the RNC or those acting on its behalf could not engage in measures aimed at stopping voter fraud at the polls.
He went further, however, writing, "Given the seriousness of the Consent Degree and the severe consequences of a violation, you are encouraged not to engage in 'ballot security' activities even in your personal, state party, or campaign capacity."
Two of those RNC members are now part of an argument by Democrats that the RNC has violated that agreement — which, if a federal courts agrees, would mean the agreement would be extended for another eight years.
The Democratic National Committee went to court, arguing that, among other issues, two RNC members — one in Michigan and another in Pennsylvania — had taken specific actions violating the longstanding consent decree.
On Wednesday, the RNC's lawyers made the opposite argument of Ryder's October advice — telling a federal judge that the RNC members from Michigan and Pennsylvania could not have their actions "attributed to the RNC" because they were acting solely in their capacity as state party chairs when discussing efforts to address voter fraud at the polls.
"[Pennsylvania Republican Party Chair Robert] Gleason was quoted in the news article in his capacity as State Party Chair, not in his capacity as an RNC member. ... [Michigan Republican Party Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel] was quoted in her capacity as Chairwoman of the Republican Party of Michigan, not in her capacity as an RNC member," the RNC's lawyers write. "When an individual is acting solely in his or her capacity as a state party chair that conduct cannot and should not be attributed to the RNC."
McDaniel had written a fundraising letter recently indicating that she was readying lawyers “to prepare a massive statewide anti-voter fraud effort to go along with our last-minute get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts” and wanted to put "100 Michigan Republican Party attorneys in the field to catch and discourage instances of voter fraud."
A hearing on whether their and others' actions violated the consent decree is set for Friday morning before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Vazquez.
A month before the October email, in a related context, RNC lawyers had made clear that they had significant concerns about the effect that the actions of people with multiple roles could have on compliance with the consent decree.
In a Sept. 22 memorandum from the RNC Counsel's Office that was sent to RNC political staff and independent contractors, the RNC was unambiguous: "[Y]ou cannot take off your RNC 'hat' and partake in activities prohibited by the Consent Decree by serving in some other capacity or during your non-working hours."
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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