Story highlights

At issue is an email sent by von Spakovsky to the Justice Department in February

Critics of the panel have seen the email as confirmation of their worst fears

Washington CNN  — 

A member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is calling on a voter fraud hard-liner to resign from the panel after a controversial email he sent about the panel’s makeup became public.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said it remains “an open question” whether the commission can continue its mission and stopped short of demanding Heritage Foundation expert Hans von Spakovsky step down – but said “certainly” he should start with an apology.

At issue is an email sent by von Spakovsky that ended up with the Justice Department in February that was made public in a Freedom of Information Act request by the Campaign Legal Center last week. The names on the email were redacted by the government. Von Spakovsky was named to the commission in June.

In the email, which made its way to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, von Spakovsky says he had received a “very disturbing phone call” that the commission would be “bipartisan and include Democrats.”

“There isn’t a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud and issue constant public announcements criticizing the commission and what it is doing,” von Spakovsky wrote. “If they are picking mainstream Republican officials and/or academics to man this commission it will be an abject failure because there aren’t any that know anything about this or who have paid any attention to the issue over the years.”

Dunlap told CNN: “I think this email that he sent is really quite damaging to the relationships on the commission. It undermines the statement of the vice president that there are no foregone conclusions, and it undermines the chair and the vice chair and the rest of the commission.”

A Heritage spokesman for Von Spakovsky said he had no plans to resign. Neither Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the panel, nor the office of the vice president, who chairs the panel, responded to requests for comment.

In a statement provided to CNN after the publication of the story, von Spakovsky clarified that the email was sent to private individuals and he was unaware that it made its way to Sessions through a series of forwards.

“I did send a private email in February to private individuals who were not in the administration to express my personal concerns about the efficacy of the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity months before it was organized or any of its members were selected,” von Spakovsky said. “After my own participation as a member, I’m confident that all the members of the Commission are committed to uncovering the truth about election integrity and the other issues present in our election system and developing recommendations to safeguard and improve the voting process.”

Von Spakovsky and Kobach are known advocates for the idea that voter fraud is widespread and proponents of tough voting laws to limit such fraud – an assertion that has not been backed up by virtually any credible study of the issue. President Donald Trump established the commission to look into the integrity of elections after making repeated assertions that there were millions of illegal votes cast in 2016, a claim that has also been debunked and is not supported by evidence.

Von Spakovsky’s email served as confirmation to critics of the panel that the objective was to back up the President’s claims, though the commission’s organizers insist there are no predrawn conclusions.

“If we are going to continue, von Spakovsky has a lot of explaining to do to Democrats on the panel and anyone he classifies as a mainstream Republican,” Dunlap said, insisting that despite his party affiliation, he works with members of all parties as secretary of state. “That’s what makes me feel so offended by that statement that no Democrat should participate, because it’s a foregone conclusion how a Democrat’s going to think about this.”

“It’s really not my call to say somebody should resign,” Dunlap continued. “I think if the guy had any dignity after all this, he would.”

The panel last met in New Hampshire last week, its second meeting. A third meeting has not been scheduled.

CLARIFICATION: After the publication of this story, von Spakovsky issued a statement to CNN clarifying that he had sent his email to private individuals who were not in the administration and not employed by the Justice Department.