WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic Party officials sued Donald Trump in four battleground states, seeking to shut down a poll-watching effort that they said was designed to harass minority voters in the Nov. 8 election.
In lawsuits filed in federal courts in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Ohio, Democrats argued that Trump and Republican Party officials were mounting a "campaign of vigilante voter intimidation" that violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act and an 1871 law aimed at the Ku Klux Klan.
"Trump has sought to advance his campaign's goal of 'voter suppression' by using the loudest microphone in the nation to implore his supporters to engage in unlawful intimidation," the Ohio Democratic Party wrote in a legal filing. Similar language was used in the other lawsuits.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Campaigning in Ohio, Clinton said Trump was hoping to discourage people from participating in the election.
"His whole strategy is to suppress the vote. Lots of noise. Lots of distractions," Clinton said in Cleveland.
Since August, Trump has urged his supporters to monitor polling locations on Election Day for signs of possible voting fraud, often urging them to keep a close eye on cities like Philadelphia and St. Louis that have high minority populations.
In a separate lawsuit, Democrats are seeking to stop the national Republican Party from working with the Trump campaign on poll monitoring, arguing that a long-standing court order prevents the party from engaging in so-called "ballot security" measures.
Many states allow campaigns and political parties to monitor balloting, though they often face restrictions. In Pennsylvania, for example, poll watchers must be formally certified by the local election board and must be registered voters in the county where they are working. The state Republican party has sued to remove these restrictions.
With early voting under way, civil rights groups have said they have heard isolated reports of self-described poll monitors photographing voters and engaging in other intimidating behavior.
Democrats also sued Republican operative Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally who is organizing an exit-polling effort. Democrats said the true purpose of the project, called Stop the Steal, was to intimidate minority and urban voters.
Stone told Reuters that his project was designed to ensure that electronic voting machines were working properly.
On Stop the Steal's website, Stone says Clinton's Democrats "intend to flood the polls with illegals. Liberal enclaves already let illegals vote in their local and state elections and now they want them to vote in the Presidential election."
Stone said the 1,400 people across the United States who have volunteered for the project have been instructed to use neutral language and only approach people after they have voted.
"Since we are only talking to voters after they have voted, how can we be intimidating them?" Stone said.
By Andy Sullivan | WASHINGTON
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Cleveland; Editing by Leslie Adler)
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid on Sunday accused FBI Director James B. Comey of breaking federal law in disclosing possible new evidence in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Reid (D-Nev.) said in a letter sent to Comey that his disclosure to Congress, made 11 days before the election, might have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan politicking by government employees.
“Your actions in recent months have demonstrated a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information, with what appears to be a clear intent to aid one political party over another,” Reid wrote. “I am writing to inform you that my office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act, which bars FBI officials from using their official authority to influence an election. Through your partisan actions, you may have broken the law.”
While many Democrats and some Republicans have cast doubt on Comey’s actions, citing Justice Department policies and precedent on handling investigations ahead of elections, Reid’s letter is the most forceful denunciation leveled by a high-ranking elected official.
In the letter, Reid drew a contrast between how Comey has treated the Clinton email probe and how he has handled what Reid described as “explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.”
“The public has a right to know this information,” Reid said. “I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information. By contrast, as soon as you came into possession of the slightest innuendo related to Secretary Clinton, you rushed to publicize it in the most negative light possible.”
The intelligence community has publicly accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the U.S. election by hacking political organizations and carrying out related acts. But it has made no statement on links between Russia and Trump or his campaign.
The FBI did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Reid’s letter.
GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas denounced Reid from his Twitter account shortly after the letter was released Sunday evening.
Richard W. Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and the chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush White House from 2005 to 2007, wrote in a New York Times op-ed Sunday that he has filed a Hatch Act complaint against Comey with the federal Office of Special Counsel and Office of Government Ethics.
“We cannot allow F.B.I. or Justice Department officials to unnecessarily publicize pending investigations concerning candidates of either party while an election is underway,” Painter wrote. “That is an abuse of power. Allowing such a precedent to stand will invite more, and even worse, abuses of power in the future.”
But Georgetown University law professor David Vladeck, who is critical of Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation, said that he did not believe that Comey had violated the Hatch Act.
“I do not think he has committed a crime,” said Vladeck, who was referring to Comey’s handling of the email probe, not Reid’s claims about Trump’s links to Russia. But, he added, “I do think he has abused his office.”?
?“Prosecutors have no warrant to characterize the behavior of someone not charged with a crime,” Vladeck said. “And it is grossly inappropriate for a prosecutor to fan political flames when there is no basis to even suggest any unlawful conduct.”
Current and former officials could not understand how Comey could send the letter without knowing if, for instance, any of the emails were marked “classified” or if they were duplicates of those already in the FBI’s possession.
Democrats fear that Comey’s disclosure could affect not only the presidential race but also tight congressional races down the ballot. Republican House and Senate candidates have seized on the news to pressure their Democratic opponents to break with Clinton. Reid is retiring from the Senate in January, and he has vowed to return Democrats to the Senate majority after two years in the minority.
In closing the letter, Reid told Comey that he has “been a supporter of yours in the past.”
“When Republicans filibustered your nomination and delayed your confirmation longer than any previous nominee to your position, I led the fight to get you confirmed because I believed you to be a principled public servant,” he said. “With the deepest regret, I now see that I was wrong.”
Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.