Former President Donald Trump has asked the Maine Superior Court to consider evidence that Secretary of State Shenna Bellows allegedly had undisclosed “personal and professional” relationships with Ethan Strimling and Thomas Saviello — two of the individuals who initiated challenges against his eligibility to appear on the ballot in Maine.
According to former President Trump, these connections served, at a minimum, to give the “appearance of impropriety” surrounding her decision to remove him from the state’s primary ballot.
Trump filed a Jan. 8 motion to supplement the record with several exhibits serving as “additional evidence” of the Secretary’s alleged bias.
These new accusations come in addition to those made against Bellows by Trump in his original complaint to the Superior Court, in which the former president argued that the Secretary’s “documented history of prior statements” concerning the issues she is tasked with adjudicating jeopardized the integrity of her decision.
“The Secretary held a hearing on December 15, 2023, and did not disclose to the parties that she had previously made public comments containing conclusions about the factual and legal matters that were the issues at the hearing and warning that history would look kindly at those who disagreed with her,” the former president wrote in his motion. “Similarly, the Secretary did not disclose that she had personal and professional relationships with the Challengers.”
“Recently, it was brought to President Trump’s attention that the Secretary not only had pre-determined the outcome of this case, but that she also had undisclosed relationships with two of the Challengers,” the motion states.
The attorneys pointed up that Bellows and Strimling were colleagues at LearningWorks — a Maine-based nonprofit — in 2015 and 2016 — facts first reported by the Maine Wire.
According to tax records, Bellows worked as the Interim Executive Director for LearningWorks, a nonprofit founded by Strimling, at the same time Strimling was serving as CEO.
“Because the Secretary has a relationship with Strimling that she did not disclose prior to hearing a case he brought,” Trump argues, “this failure to disclose gives, at a minimum, the appearance of impropriety and should have been grounds for the Secretary to disqualify herself from hearing the case.”
The motion also references a CNN interview that aired on January 2, 2024 in which Saviello — another challenger in the case — stated that he knew Bellows “very well personally.”
“While it is unclear how Saviello developed sufficient knowledge to claim to know the Secretary ‘very well personally,’ his statement further contributes to the appearance of impropriety and provides an additional basis upon which the Secretary should have disqualified herself from rendering an opinion in this case,” the motion argues.
It is argued in the motion that this additional information ought to be considered by the Superior Court because it speaks to one of Trump’s “core assertions” in the case — “that the Secretary was a biased adjudicator who should have recused herself.”
Trump goes on to explain that he was unable to obtain this information earlier in the process due to “highly compressed timeframe of this matter,” as well as because Saviello did not make his remarks until after the “conclusion of the hearing.”
It is also noted in the motion that Bellows had not disclosed these relationships, making it “effectively impossible” for this information to be added to the record earlier.
Trump also argues that the inclusion of this evidence would help Maine to protect the “integrity of its proceedings” and maintain “public confidence in the fairness of its election.”
In her opening brief, Bellows also responded to the former president’s motion to supplement the record with evidence of these alleged relationships.
“The evidence that Mr. Trump seeks to add to the record is also not even remotely indicative of bias,” the Secretary states in her briefing.
Bellows refers to the accusations made by the former president in his motion as “specious,” arguing that the information he presents “consists of no more than an allegation that Secretary Bellows and Challenger Ethan Strimling were professional colleagues in or around 2016, and that Challenger Thomas Saviello stated on TV that he knows the Secretary personally.”
The briefing goes on to dispute the validity of the information contained in his motion, suggesting that she and Strimling were not colleagues at LearningWorks, but rather that she “replaced him, on a temporary basis” toward the end of 2015 when he was elected as Portland’s mayor.
“More importantly, the fact that eight years ago the Secretary briefly worked for a company that one of the Challengers had also worked for, and that another challenger made a comment about knowing the Secretary personally when defending her decision,” the brief argues, “is simply not evidence of bias.”
Bellows goes on to contend that “no law requires” that she disclose she is “to some extend familiar with two of the Challengers” — suggesting that “no rule of reason suggests [there] should be.”
For several weeks, the controversy surrounding Bellows’ decision to block Trump from appearing on the state’s presidential primary ballot has been a point of discussion among Mainers.
According to a recent poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Survey Center, the majority of Mainers (58%) feel that “partisan politics” factored into Bellows’ December ruling to disqualify the former president.
Earlier this month, the former president asked the Superior Court to temporarily halt its proceedings in light of the United States Supreme Court agreeing to review the decision issued by the Colorado Supreme Court, a case that closely mirrors that which was brought in Maine.
Both Bellows and the challengers filed responses to that motion opposing a potential stay, primarily arguing that delaying the Superior Court’s decision would push the proceedings too close to the state’s primary election date of March 5.
The Supreme Court is currently scheduled to hold oral arguments in the Colorado case on February 8, but it is not yet clear how long it will take the justices to come to a decision and release their opinion.
It remains to be seen how the Maine Superior Court will rule on both of the motions filed by the former president.
The Superior Court is currently scheduled to issue its decision by January 17, 2024.