Judge finds RNC not collaborating with Trump on improper poll watching

Story highlights

  • The 1980s consent decree focused on concerns related to voter suppression
  • The judge says the DNC can come back to court after the election

(CNN)A federal judge in New Jersey on Saturday declined, for now, to rule that the Republican National Committee engaged in certain "ballot security" activities directed at deterring qualified voters from the polls.

Late last month, the RNC was ordered to provide information detailing "any efforts regarding poll watching or poll observation" after the Democratic National Committee alleged that the RNC had violated a decades-old consent decree by improperly collaborating with Donald Trump's campaign on poll monitoring activities aimed at intimidating minority voters.
    Lawyers for the DNC urged Magistrate Judge John Michael Vazquez of the US District Court for the District of New Jersey at a hearing on Friday to find that Trump had acted as an "agent" of the RNC for purposes of enforcing the consent decree.
    "They are inextricably tied together," Joshua L. Kaul argued on behalf of the DNC, pointing to various statements made by RNC chair Reince Priebus, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conaway in an effort to show the high degree of coordination among the two camps.
    But the RNC flatly denied that the Trump campaign's activities were attributable to the RNC.
    "(Is the DNC) really contending that the RNC has control over Donald Trump?" RNC lawyer Bobby Burchfield asked rhetorically. "That would be a newsflash."
    Vazquez agreed with the RNC Saturday, concluding: "The DNC has submitted insufficient evidence to support its position. ... The discovery thus far produced by the RNC reflects that it is not working with the Trump Campaign on ballot security measures."
    To be sure, the judge found that "Trump Campaign has clearly emphasized voter fraud efforts," but those actions could not be imputed to the RNC for purposes of the consent decree.
    "The RNC produced documentary evidence from its counsel's office to the general counsel for the Trump Campaign which indicated that the campaign was not an agent of the RNC vis-à-vis ballot security measures," Vazquez explained.
    At the hearing on Friday, Vazquez previewed skepticism about the remedy being sought by the DNC, pressing Kaul to explain how an injunction of improper ballot security measures would be effective when the RNC's position was that it had not engaged in any impermissible poll-watching activities.
    "Wouldn't I be enjoining them from something they say they aren't doing anyway? Does that move the ball forward at all?" Vazquez asked.
    In denying the relief sought by the DNC, Vazquez's opinion makes clear, however, that the DNC is free to provide the court with additional evidence supporting an extension of the consent decree after Election Day.
    "(T)he Court will hear the parties after Election Day as to additional discovery on this point in order to develop a full record to determine whether an extension is warranted," Vazquez ruled.
    The DNC did not hesitate to point out this language soon after the decision came down.
    "I am disappointed in the court's decision denying immediate relief on the eve of this election, but find comfort in knowing that meaningful discovery may be pursued afterward to establish that this 30-plus-year consent order should remain viable in the fight against RNC-inspired voter suppression efforts," DNC attorney Angelo Genova said in a statement Saturday.
    And Marc Elias, a Clinton campaign lawyer, tweeted, "'For now' and 'at this time.'"