A Republican lawyer says the party can’t control what Donald Trump says about monitoring polls

Voters cast ballots last week in San Jose.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
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For months, Donald Trump has whipped up supporters by directing them to go into cities with sizable minority populations to make sure the presidential election is fair.

“So important that you watch other communities, because we don’t want this election stolen,” Trump said in Pennsylvania last month, encouraging people to watch voting in “certain areas.”

For the record:

2:45 p.m. Nov. 5, 2016

An earlier version of this article misidentified U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez as Thomas Vazquez.

Those statements put the Republican National Committee in an uncomfortable spot. The party has been bound by a federal court consent decree for three decades that bars efforts to police the polls on election day, on the grounds that they might intimidate minority voters. In courtrooms across the country, Democratic lawyers are pushing for orders to prevent what they fear will be widespread GOP efforts to confront or harass voters on Tuesday.


On Friday, with Democrats seeking an injunction that finds the RNC violated the consent decree, an RNC lawyer told a federal judge in Newark, N.J., that the party can’t be held accountable for what Trump says.

“Is the [Democratic National Committee] really contending that the RNC has control of Donald Trump?” said the attorney, Bobby Burchfield. “That would be a news flash.”

U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez did not immediately rule, but did indicate he was troubled by statements from Trump supporters.

“‘I’m not going to violate the law, but I’m going to make them nervous,’” said Vazquez, quoting a typical statement. “That’s like saying, ‘I’m not going to murder him, but I’m going to shoot that guy.’”

Democrats won rulings in several other cases Friday. In Ohio, a federal judge barred Trump’s campaign and Roger Stone, a longtime Trump supporter and lobbyist, from interrogating voters or taking photos around voting locations.

In Arizona, a federal appeals court suspended enforcement of a state law that prohibited political parties from picking up absentee ballots; Democrats claimed that unfairly raised hurdles for minorities.


And in North Carolina, U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs ordered election workers to restore voters purged from the rolls in a challenge process that she called “insane.” “This sounds like something that was put together in 1901,” she said in a hearing this week.

The case in federal court in Newark has a long history, dating to the 1981 New Jersey governor’s race, when off-duty police officers were hired to confront voters in black and Latino neighborhoods, holding signs warning, “This area is being patrolled by the National Ballot Security Task Force.”

Stone was involved in that race 35 years ago, working for Republican candidate Thomas Kean — who narrowly won the election — but he said he had nothing to do with the poll-monitoring operation.

Since then, the RNC has been operating under the consent decree, and Democratic lawyers regularly return to court to seek strict enforcement.

“Every four years, huh?” one lawyer on the Democratic side said Friday, shaking hands with a Republican colleague.

The RNC says it takes care to steer clear of poll-monitoring activities and says no one has produced evidence to the contrary.


The court order only covers the RNC, though, leaving state parties and others free to set up poll watching. This year, Stone runs, which has recruited volunteers to be “vote protectors” on election day — to conduct exit polls, he says.

Top officials in both the Trump campaign and the RNC have said they are working hand in hand. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said at a Denver rally that the campaign is working with the RNC to “ensure ballot integrity,” exhorting supporters to volunteer to monitor polls on election day. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, and Reince Preibus, head of the RNC, also said the national committee was coordinating with the campaign.

“When you take all of that evidence together, the RNC is at least in coordination with these other groups to violate the rules,” said Joshua Kaul, a lawyer for the DNC.

Burchfield said Pence, Conway and Priebus all misspoke. “He has been man enough to admit he made a mistake,” he said of Pence.

That’s a lot of mistakes, the judge said: “Every time they talk about the RNC acting with them, they say, ‘Oops! Slip of the tongue.’”


Twitter: @jtanfani

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4:10 p.m.: This story was updated with court action on voting cases around the country.

This story was originally published at 1:20 p.m.