Florida law is clear: an elected official at any level may not “Use his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election or a nomination of office or coercing or influencing another person’s vote or affecting the result thereof.”
On Monday, Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins used official commission letterhead to address Florida’s congressional delegation, urging its members to reject the electoral vote counts “of certain states” in President-Elect Joe Biden’s favor. The letter repeats baseless, false, misleading, conspiratorial and widely discredited claims that Biden’s election was fraudulent.
Mullins posted the letter on his Facebook page the day it was dated, stating: “I proudly sent this today to show where we stand in Flagler and Florida. We clearly elected Trump and will not tolerate election fraud.”
Mullins did not have the approval of other county commissioners to write the letter under the Flagler Commission’s letterhead. The letter was not discussed by the commission, nor did other commissioners have advance knowledge of it. Commissioners have their own business cards but don’t have their own stationery. The stationery Mullins used doesn’t include the names of other commissioners, but prominently displays his name on every page, his designation as a District 4 representative, and his title as a Flagler County commissioner, at least implying that he is speaking for the commission.
County Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien categorically rejected any commission association with the letter or its implications when he became aware of it this morning, after a reporter brought it to his attention.
“I don’t know anything about any letter. Is it on county commission stationery?” O’Brien asked. When told that it was, he said it did not reflect the commission’s voice nor was it the result of any commission involvement. “Absolutely no, no, no, that is not official business of the county commission,” O’Brien said. Asked if he was supportive of its content, he said: “Absolutely not, I would not–that’s why I’m asking if my name is on it.”
“I don’t know that I can stop him from doing that, I’m not happy about it,” O’Brien said, stressing that “I’ve got a major problem with that” if it reflects any sense of commission endorsement of the content. The letter does not do so, beyond implicitly implying endorsement through the use of commission stationery. “I’m at a loss, because I haven’t seen it, I don’t know anything about it,” the chairman said.
Though he signed it, Mullins did not write the letter. It was lifted almost word for word from a Dec. 23 letter that appears to have originated from Anthony Sabatini, the Lake County Florida House member. Mullins used the same words, layout, fonts and addressees, adding a two-line paragraph about himself “coming to Washington, DC on January 6th with a group of 160 of my neighbors who want to show their support for this action.”
It isn’t clear if Mullins in any way utilized the services of the county administration to format the letter on to commission stationery, though in the past Mullins has inappropriately used the administration and its PR office to publicize personal acts, such as donations to local charities, and he routinely blurs official and private business on his weekly radio infomercial and Facebook page, seldom making a distinction that he is not speaking for the commission.
The Sabatini letter, long discredited, makes false allegations such Post Office backdating of ballots or the accepting of ballots without postmarks, claims of “Equal Protection Clause Violations in every single [sic.] of the six contested states,” false claims of lost or destroyed absentee ballots in Arizona, and so on. Some 60 lawsuits by the Trump administration or its proxies have been dismissed, thrown out or ridiculed, often with stern and harsh language, by judges at every level, including the United States Supreme Court. Every state, under Republican or Democratic control, has certified the election results, and while minor instances of fraud shadow every election in every state in all history, nothing close to the widespread freud–or fraud that would in any way alter the results–has been documented by officials or even by Trump proxies and Trump himself, though the baseless claims, amplified by social media disinformation and misguided protests, have continued.
“I had no idea that there was any such thing,” Commissioner Andy Dance said. He, too, became aware of the letter only when a reporter told him of it. “I don’t like the fact that he used the commission letterhead or made the assumption that it was commission-related.” Dance, who served on the Flagler County School Board for 12 years until last November, was under the impression there was one official county letterhead–as opposed to individualized letterheads–and that if a message was disseminated from the county, “that’s what you should be using. We went through this process at the school district and we came up with our manual, so I know that was addressed in the school manual to try to avert some of these issues.”
As for the content of the Mullins letter, Dance, who stressed the importance of focusing on local issues, said: “That’s a long answer that I don’t want to get into, so at this point I wouldn’t have signed on to Joe’s letter as you read it to me, so I think there’s issues that should be addressed but the election itself is probably going to stand and I think we have to move on as a country.”
“I’m aware of the letter, that’s it, no other involvement,” an impatient Commissioner Dave Sullivan said today. He said he’d looked up the letter on Facebook. He said he learned about it from Greg Hansen, after Hansen learned about it from a reporter’s call to his home (Hansen did not attend the workshop, being ill).
“I have no comment on the letter and I’m not involved in the letter, period, that’s it, nothing,” Sullivan said. Asked about its propriety as a document that portrays itself as a county commission letter, an impatient Sullivan said: “I really don’t want to get involved in that right now. I have no comment whatsoever about it, it has nothing–it’s not my responsibility to do that at this point. If there’s a valid question that comes to the commission, I’m always willing to do it. I consider this a private issue.”
Of course, it isn’t a private issue, the letter appearing on official county stationery, and Sullivan backed away from the comment. But he was equally equivocal when asked about the content of the letter. “President Biden will be sworn in as president on January 20, period. Whether I agree or not that’s a fact, but I believe from everything I’ve read and heard, that’s what I believe will happen, and of course we live in a society of law.” Pressed on the content of the letter, Sullivan conceded that he did not believe there’d been a fraudulent election beyond the usual, minor instances of fraud that happen in every election. He did not dispute the outcome, and said that Tuesday’s vote in Georgia appeared to prove that the November election there had been accurate.
Mullins’s apparent misuse of his position to “influence” or “interfere” with the election pales, however, in comparison with the man on whose behalf he copied the letter, following attempts by Donald Trump to convince the Georgia secretary of state to “find” enough votes to give Trump the victory there–a violation of state and federal law.Trump and his supporters have given law little heed in a scorched-earth campaign to hold power in violation of constitutional and historic norms.
O’Brien, the commission chairman, did not want to be associated with the behavior. “If one commissioner crosses the line about what’s legal or not legal about the use of their office, that’s their problem,” the commission chairman said. “If you’re holding him to account, or other people, go ahead, chips have got to fall where they fall.”
Foregoing a commission workshop on the $10 million Marineland Acres drainage project, Mullins today was in Washington, D.C., with that group whose travel he had sponsored. He had a supporter videotape him in Flagler before the group left, as the Flagler County Sheriff’s Mike Lutz and two other uniformed members of the Sheriff’s Office appeared with the protesters before they departed from the county fairgrounds, with Lutz alternately giving them safety and security advice and ridiculing or insulting “anarchists” or protesters of a different political persuasion Mullins’s group might encounter in the capital, which Lutz referred to as “a dirty city. I’m sorry did I say that out loud?”
Lutz’s statements were stunning for their partisanship and derisiveness–public servants are not allowed to take sides in partisan issues when on the clock–though he clearly had a supporting audience.
“If you’re confronted by antagonists, watch each other’s back, please, don’t turn your back on these people, keep them in your sight, they will sucker punch you, they will kick you, they will do a lot of things, be careful with that,” Lutz said, though demonstrators against police brutality over the past year have used the same language to describe police behavior. “Remain peaceful and respectful to the area you’re in because you know the press isn’t going to be nice to you guys,” Lutz said, then asking the local demonstrators to show politeness–not to fellow demonstrators, but to the police.“Try to be respectful to the area you are, it is the nation’s capital, and please be polite to law enforcement, because they have to be there.”
Mullins throughout made sure to be as close to Lutz as possible, in the video frame, though he did not speak in the clip he posted.
Once pro-Trump protesters reached the capital today, the problem was not “anarchists,” but law-breaking pro-Trump protesters themselves, some of them stormed the Capitol and approached the floor of the U.S. Senate, brawling with police in front of the Capitol or within it, repeatedly and at times violently confronting and insulting law enforcement. By mid-afternoon, the protesters’ violence and lawbreaking led police to skirt Vice President Pence away from the building for his safety, forced the Capitol into lockdown and halted the presidential certification process.