A Trump-appointed official who gets an important vote on whether Trump broke election laws spoke at a Texas GOP event where he was billed as a part of the 'Trump Elections Team'

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Republican FEC Commissioner James E. “Trey” Trainor III speaks at his confirmation hearing at the US Senate on March 10, 2020.
Trey Trainor, a Republican FEC commissioner, speaking at his confirmation hearing at the US Senate on March 10, 2020.Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images
  • The FEC's Trey Trainor spoke at a GOP-sponsored "election integrity" event in Texas in November.

  • The event's host advertised Trainor as a "Trump Elections Team" member.

  • Trainor, who votes on Trump-related cases at the bipartisan FEC, says he was unaware of his billing.

A Federal Election Commission official appointed by President Donald Trump was billed as a member of the "Trump Elections Team" before speaking at a Republican "election integrity" event in Texas in November, an invitation reviewed by Insider showed.

In a series of Facebook ads promoting FEC Commissioner Trey Trainor's appearance, the Denton County Republican Party made no mention of Trainor's service as a duly appointed FEC commissioner — one who regularly votes on campaign-finance-related cases involving Trump and his political associates.

Several campaign-finance experts, including former FEC commissioners, expressed concern about a commissioner involving himself or herself in overtly partisan activities. They suggested Trainor should recuse himself from adjudicating matters involving the Trump campaign while he continues to serve with the FEC, but they disagreed as to whether he broke any rule or law.

Facebook screenshot of Denton County Republican Party post
A Facebook post from the Denton County Republican Party identified Trainor as a member of the "Trump Elections Team." Trainor told Insider he was unaware of the advertisement and hasn't worked for a Trump political effort since becoming an FEC commissioner in 2020.Facebook

Trainor told Insider on Thursday that he hasn't worked for a Trump political committee or effort since joining the FEC in 2020, adding that the Federal Election Campaign Act "prohibits commissioners from doing any outside legal work for anybody."

Trainor, who questioned the validity of the 2020 presidential vote in the days after Trump lost, said he didn't know that the Denton County Republican Party had advertised him as a member of the "Trump Elections Team." He added that he's unconcerned about it being "out there" for an event that's passed.

Trainor said he attended the Denton County Republican Party election-integrity event via Zoom as he was sick at the time. He said he spoke primarily about "what the FEC does as far as an agency regulating campaign finance" and answered audience questions.

The Texas Scorecard, a conservative news website, also reported at the time that Trainor told attendees at the Denton County Republican Party event that Republicans "need at least one well-trained election worker and poll watcher in each polling place."

The Denton County Republican Party declined to comment, telling Insider that the election-integrity event occurred before its newest chair took office.

Since the November event, Trainor has considered and voted on Trump-campaign-related issues before the FEC, including a case involving whether Trump's 2020 campaign laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in spending.

The bipartisan commission deadlocked 3-3 along ideological lines, with Trainor voting in Trump's favor. Four or more votes are required to affirm a decision, and FEC deadlocks are common on high-profile matters. During the past six years through March, Trump has posted a 43-0 record in FEC cases involving potential campaign-finance violations, The Daily Beast reported.

It's common for FEC commissioners, who regulate and enforce federal campaign-finance laws, to appear at educational or civic events and announce when they do so — often within a weekly digest the bipartisan government agency publishes.

Trainor made no such public announcement about his participation at the Denton County Republican Party election-integrity event, although he has previously announced other appearances, such as in September when he spoke at a Federalist Society event in Denver.

Trainor's history with Trump

Trainor, an attorney, worked for Trump's 2016 presidential-election effort.

In 2017, shortly after becoming president, Trump nominated Trainor to the FEC. But Trainor's nomination languished in the Senate until 2020, when the Senate finally conducted a confirmation hearing.

At that hearing, Trainor declined to recuse himself from FEC matters involving Trump-related campaigns or political committees. But he said that he'd consult with an agency ethics attorney as needed.

Trainor told Insider that what guides him in determining if he should recuse himself from a case is whether he has knowledge that may personally affect him in the outcome. He said he hasn't done any paid work for Trump's presidential campaign since a brief postelection legal fight in 2016 that has never come before the FEC.

"So I haven't really had a need to do an evaluation as to whether or not there's any conflict of interest," Trainor said. "If there were, I would obviously go to ethics attorneys inside the agency to talk with them about it and determine whether or not it was something I needed to recuse on."

Trainor added that he's recused himself from cases involving other campaigns he's worked on, just none relating to the Trump campaign.

Months after his confirmation hearing, Trainor himself publicly questioned the validity of the 2020 presidential election.

"I do believe that there is voter fraud taking place," Trainor said while appearing on Newsmax.

Is Trainor in the wrong?

For Trainor to be billed as a member of Trump's team while also voting on complaints against Trump "undermines any sense of any appearance of impartiality," said Brendan Fischer, a lawyer and the deputy executive director of Documented, a nonprofit government watchdog group.

Ann Ravel, a former FEC chair and Democratic commissioner, said Trainor should recuse himself from cases involving the Trump campaign.

"Any responsible public official in any other area in the entire federal government would recuse themselves from such a decision and this one, given that it is so clearly intertwined with what the obligations of the commissioners are," Ravel said.

Saurav Ghosh, the director of federal campaign-finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center, echoed Ravel's call for Trainor to recuse himself from matters involving Trump, adding that it's "extremely common" for FEC officials to recuse themselves from cases involving former employers or clients.

Democratic former FEC Commissioner Scott Thomas told Insider that he had confidence that Trainor "would have reviewed the situation with the ethics personnel at the commission."

"Not knowing the specifics of how the promotional materials were put together, I have no way of knowing who was responsible," Thomas said. "Obviously, FEC commissioners need to be careful about those appearance matters and conflicts, but I'm quite confident in the ethics officials working with the commissioners, and I'm sure moving forward any conflicts, real or apparent, can be resolved in an appropriate manner going forward."

The FEC's press office declined to comment.

Dave Mason and Brad Smith, former Republican FEC commissioners, declined Insider's requests for comment. Smith founded and is the chair of the nonprofit Institute for Free Speech, which states that it's "dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political speech rights."

As Insider previously reported, the Biden Administration could overcome the FEC's constant ideological gridlock and deadlocking on high-profile cases by replacing Commissioner Sean Cooksey, a conservative Trump appointee whose term expired in April 2021, with a more liberal commissioner.

Commissioners are allowed to continue serving on the commission after their term has expired until the president replaces them. While the six-member FEC cannot, by law, have more than three commissioners serving from any single party, Biden could conceivably nominate a left-leaning independent or pro-regulatory Republican, for example.

The White House did not respond to Insider's question of whether President Joe Biden plans to replace Cooksey.

Read the original article on Business Insider