- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Members of President Trump’s voter integrity commission have been using personal email accounts to conduct the panel’s business, violating a federal law, according to a group that has sued to demand more transparency from the commission.

In court papers filed Tuesday the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said the Justice Department admitted in a conference call that personal email accounts were being used by some panelists.

Justice Department lawyers didn’t refute the substance of the claim but said in a reply that they didn’t recall making any “definitive” statements about it during the conference call.

It’s the latest battle over transparency involving the Presidential Advisory Commission and Election Integrity, which Mr. Trump formed earlier this year to examine both voter fraud and barriers that keep people from voting.

A federal judge has chided the commission for defying her expectations and failing to make all of the commission’s documents available to the public, as the law calls for.

The judge last week ordered the commission to do a better job in the run-up to the panel’s second meeting, slated for Tuesday. And the judge ordered the commission to produce a master list of the commission’s documents so far.

Among those documents, according to the Lawyers’ Committee, should be emails back and forth between panel members. But the Lawyers’ Committee said those emails may be tough to pry loose, if commissioners aren’t using a government email account.

“Defendants’ counsel stated that Commissioners have been using personal email accounts (rather than federal government-issued accounts) to conduct Commission-related work,” the Lawyers’ Committee said in its new filing

“Such use of personal email violates the Presidential Records Act (PRA), which Congress amended in 2014 specifically to require that all persons covered by the PRA — including members of this Commission — use official federal government email to conduct government business,” the filing says.

The Justice Department countered that its lawyers didn’t “recall making any definitive statements as to email addresses being used by non-federal commissioners, nor is the email account relevant for determining whether records are subject to” open-records laws.

Besides, all documents are being preserved as part of the ongoing lawsuit, the Justice Department said.

A spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence, who is chairman of the commission, forwarded questions to the Justice Department, which pointed to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s comments during last week’s hearing where she said she didn’t object to personal email accounts being used.

“It doesn’t make any difference from my perspective, at least off the top of my head, whether you do it on a personal email or you do it on one of the business or one of the email accounts that have been provided,” the judge said.

Still, she said the emails should be documented as part of disclosure.

Both sides did come to an agreement for better transparency ahead of next week’s panel meeting.

The commission said it would post an agenda for the meeting by Wednesday this week and would upload all other materials by Friday. Public comments would be accepted on a rolling basis.

Emails have become a particularly charged issue after former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton refused to use an official account for her government business during her time as the country’s chief diplomat.

She belatedly returned some messages she said were work related, but the FBI found thousands of others she should have turned over. The State Department is still releasing emails, including some marked classified, on a regular basis.

Other Obama officials were also snared by their use of secret email accounts, including the former president’s top science advisor.

Mr. Trump blasted Mrs. Clinton for her use of a secret email account during the campaign.

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