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Federal election commissioner posts foreign interference memo on Twitter

The Federal Election Commission chairwoman, Ellen L. Weintraub, at a panel discussion on disinformation and the 2020 campaign on Sept. 17.
The Federal Election Commission chairwoman, Ellen L. Weintraub, at a panel discussion on disinformation and the 2020 campaign on Sept. 17.Getty Images for PEN America

The Federal Election Commission chairwoman, Ellen L. Weintraub, has taken the dramatic step of using Twitter to release the entire draft of a memo addressing foreign election interference.

Weintraub, a Democrat appointed by President George W. Bush, said she had tried to publish the memo in the commission’s weekly digest, but a Republican commission member, Caroline Hunter, had thwarted it.

Weintraub said Sunday that the six-page memo, which can also be found on the agency’s website, was drafted by the commission’s staff and was meant to provide guidance on rules about prohibited activities involving foreign nationals in elections.

She said it was unusual for another commissioner to object to publishing it in the digest, a weekly account of fines meted out by the agency for campaign finance law violations and other matters.

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“I don’t need her permission to put out a statement,” Weintraub said in an interview. “I’m entitled to put something out there.”

Hunter, who served as chairwoman last year and is a former deputy counsel of the Republican National Committee, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She was also appointed to the commission by Bush.

“Funny story,” Weintraub said in the opening line of her Twitter thread Friday.

“I always thought these anti-regulatory people liked the First Amendment well enough,” she wrote. “I guess they think it’s just for corporations. I’m not fond of anyone trying to suppress my speech.”

The act of defiance by Weintraub came amid a deepening impeachment inquiry by Democrats on Capitol Hill and the release of a whistleblower’s complaint that said President Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to look into allegations of corruption against former vice president Joe Biden and his younger son.

It also amplified the investigation findings of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election, including the arrest of 26 Russian nationals as part of a 22-month probe by Robert Mueller, the former special counsel.

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“Obviously, it deals with a topic that’s been in the news a lot,” Weintraub said of the memo. “I thought it was worth putting it out there so people could see a summary of the law.”

Weintraub said Hunter, who is the only Republican commission member, did not explain her objections to including the memo in the digest. She said digest items are typically reviewed by the commission’s communications committee, which is made up of Weintraub and Hunter.

The commission has been beleaguered by dysfunction; its vice chairman, Matthew S. Petersen, resigned in August, leaving what is supposed to be a six-member body with three commissioners, one short of the quorum required for it to take actions. As a result, Weintraub said, there are not enough members to vote on the rules interpretation memo.

This was not the first time that Weintraub has confronted Republicans. In an open letter to Trump that she shared on Twitter in August, Weintraub challenged the president to provide proof of his claim during a campaign rally that there had been voter fraud in New Hampshire during the 2016 presidential election.

“To put it in terms a former casino operator should understand: There comes a time when you need to lay your cards on the table or fold,” Weintraub wrote.

Weintraub said Sunday that the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School had debunked much of the misinformation that had spread about the scope of voter fraud in the United States.

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