ProPublica

Conflict Mounts Inside Voting Fraud Commission in the Wake of Child Porn Arrest

The arrest, on child pornography charges, of a researcher for the controversial Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is intensifying conflict inside the group, with two Democratic members asserting again that a small band of conservatives holds disproportionate power. The researcher, Ronald Williams II, who was arrested late last week, previously worked as an intern at the Department of Justice on a case with J. Christian Adams, who is now a Republican member of the commission.

Democratic commissioner Matt Dunlap contends Williams’ involvement with the commission is the latest in a series of discoveries suggesting a few conservative members wield outsize clout; Dunlap claims that Democratic members have been largely excluded from planning. Today he wrote a letter to the commission demanding information.

“I am seeking information because I lack it,” stated the letter, a copy of which was given to ProPublica. “I am in a position where I feel compelled to inquire after the work of the Commission upon which I am sworn to serve, and am yet completely uninformed as to its activities.” The letter demanded copies of “any and all communication between members of the commission” beginning in May.

Dunlap called the arrest of Williams the last straw in what he characterized as a series of actions by several commissioners to manipulate the commission. In September, an email was released showing that Republican Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky lobbied against the inclusion of Democrats on the commission. And earlier this month, filings in a lawsuit showed that, before they joined the commission, von Spakovsky and Adams played a role in the commission’s most consequential action to date: a letter sent to states requesting sweeping quantities of voter data.

Maine Secretary of State and Democratic Commissioner Matt Dunlap (Michael C. York/AP Photo)

Both Dunlap and Alan King — a Democratic commissioner and probate court judge in Jefferson County, Alabama — said the commissioners were never told about any staff members apart from Andrew Kossack, the person running the commission. They said they did not know of Williams until they read about him in a Washington Post article describing his arrest in Maryland on 11 counts of possessing and distributing child pornography. (Williams, who no longer works for the commission, was released on $150,000 bail. Attempts to reach him by phone and email were unsuccessful.)

“It seems like you have the core of the commission — J. Christian Adams, Hans van Spakovsky and [Kris] Kobach — and then you have the rest of us, who are kind of like mannequins,” Dunlap said in an interview. He said he was surprised to learn of Williams’ history working alongside Adams.

Williams was an intern at the DOJ during the administration of George W. Bush. He worked alongside Adams on litigation the department filed against Noxubee County, Mississippi, in 2006 — the first time the DOJ used the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to protect white voters.

Adams recognized Williams’ work on the Noxubee case in the acknowledgements of his 2011 book, “Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department.” “Thanks to the Noxubee team,” Adams wrote, “including Joshua Rogers, Ron Williams, and Joann Sazama, who made litigation enjoyable.” The DOJ declined to comment on Williams’ role in the litigation.

Adams declined to answer questions about Williams’ role on the commission, or whether he helped hire Williams. Adams did provide a written statement:

“Ronald Williams worked at the Criminal and Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice where presumably he underwent regular background checks. The alleged behavior is appalling and incomprehensible, particularly given his long tenure at DOJ handling sensitive matters. It would be hyper-partisan overreach to say that any grotesque behavior in his personal life is in any way a reflection of the vitally important work the Commission is doing for the American people.”

Williams appears to be the intern mentioned in a 2013 report by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General, which recounted complaints of alleged hostile treatment by fellow DOJ employees after Williams’ involvement in the Noxubee litigation. “You know why they asked you to go down there … they used you as a token,” a black intern — whose mother was also employed by the DOJ — stated he was told, according to the report. Williams, who is black, was an intern assigned to the Noxubee case and his mother was a long-time employee at the DOJ.

The OIG report noted that the intern “perceived a broader ‘whisper campaign’ in the office about his participation in the Noxubee case,” and that “the remarks angered and insulted him by suggesting he was duped into working on the matter.”

Dunlap said despite the widespread media coverage of Williams’ arrest, no one on the commission was provided any explanation. He expressed frustration over this in his letter to the commission, which indicates he found out about the arrest through a journalist.

The Office of the Vice President of the United States — Mike Pence is the co-chair of the commission — did not respond to multiple questions about Williams’ role, or when he began his work. (Kobach and von Spakovsky also did not respond to emails seeking comment.) Williams was pictured sitting behind the commissioners at the first meeting of the voting commission in mid-July.

David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said the commission continues to operate in a “shroud of secrecy.”

“Despite being asked repeatedly for information about its activities, sometimes by fellow commissioners themselves,” he said, “it takes a revelation like this to learn anything about what this panel is doing behind closed doors at taxpayer expense.”

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