On Tuesday, the Senate held a confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Federal Election Commission, James “Trey” Trainor. During the hearing, Trainor denied his role in a 2003 gerrymandering effort in Texas.
Trainor’s own resume says he was “intimately involved” in Texas’s 2003 redistricting, a point that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., made during Tuesday’s hearing. Trainor faced criticisms that he was not being forthright about his role as chief of staff to a Texas legislator who co-authored the redistricting bill and worked to push it through.
Senate Democrats also pressed Trainor, a conservative lawyer who had worked for the Texas secretary of state, on his connections to Thomas Hofeller, a longtime strategist for the Republican National Committee and the architect of racial gerrymanders in states including Florida, Alabama, West Virginia, and Texas. Many of those plans were found unconstitutional in recent years. According to files obtained by The Intercept, Trainor also worked with Hofeller between 2011 and 2013.
“Mr. Trainor has a long career as a conservative political operative,” Schumer said at Tuesday’s hearing. “He has worked closely with Thomas Hofeller, notorious for masterminding Republican gerrymandering schemes, to redraw maps that significantly disenfranchise minority voters at the local level. Mr. Trainor’s former law firm described him as being ‘intimately involved’ in Texas’s 2003 redistricting, which the Supreme Court deemed in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Mr. Trainor has argued the Voting Rights Act has become a political tool.”
Schumer said the FEC nomination was crucial given the upcoming November presidential election, adding that Trainor’s record raises “significant questions about his fitness to carry out the commission’s anti-corruption mandate.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, 42 of the 47 historical FEC nominees have been confirmed by the Senate through a bipartisan process, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Tuesday. “Abandoning bipartisan norms and pushing forward a controversial nominee is not the way to do it,” Klobuchar said, suggesting that a Democratic nominee should be considered simultaneously.
Cortez Masto, for her part, dove deep into links between Trainor’s redistricting work for legislators and the Texas secretary of state’s office, where he defended redistricting maps against lawsuits. The Supreme Court struck down part of Texas’s 2003 plan, which Trainor’s resume indicates he worked on, in 2006. At first, Trainor denied the extent of his role in that work.
“I appreciate your testimony here today,” Cortez Masto said, after pointing out inconsistencies between Trainor’s public record and his remarks in the hearings. “I do think it is doing a disservice to the truth here.” She suggested that she would oppose his nomination to the FEC.
Hofeller, the gerrymandering mastermind, died in 2018. A review of thousands of files found on his hard drive showed how Republican mapmakers “experimented with using race as the primary factor in drawing districts in these states,” a strategy that is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. In January, Stephanie Hofeller, his daughter, released files saved on his hard drives publicly onto a website called “The Hofeller Files,” despite Republican state lawmakers’ efforts to keep some of those documents from becoming public.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Trainor praised Hofeller in response to Democrats’ questions. “God rest his soul,” Trainor said. “He is a well-recognized expert in the field.”
Hofeller has not always been forthcoming about his work with state officials on redistricting cases. In a 2013 affidavit submitted during a Florida case against the state’s 2012 redistricting plan, Hofeller failed to disclose his involvement with individuals working on the redistricting. The court ruled that GOP consultants’ documents could be considered in other trials related to the redistricting.
Trainor praised Hofeller in response to Democrats’ questions. “God rest his soul,” Trainor said. “He is a well-recognized expert in the field.”
Eventually, Florida Circuit Judge Terry P. Lewis in 2014 invalidated the state’s congressional redistricting plan, writing that the map selection process “provided the means by which partisan maps, secretly drawn and submitted by political operatives, could be incorporated into the enacted map with no one in the general public the wiser.” In other states, links between Hofeller and state officials have come to light in court cases where his redistricting work was challenged.
Senate Rules Committee Chair Roy Blunt, R-Mo., asked Trainor if he had worked on or defended any redistricting maps, and if courts had struck down any maps he’d defended. Trainor said he’d worked on three Texas redistricting cases as legal counsel for the Texas secretary of state and that none of the maps he worked on were struck down. “I had a client that I represented their interest in,” Trainor said. “And I hope that we would not impute to the lawyer the acts of the client. But, in all three cases, the courts have upheld the maps I worked on.”
Maps he worked on years later with Hofeller, however, were rejected before they even took effect. According to files obtained by The Intercept, Trainor worked closely with Hofeller and his partner, Dale Oldham, in the 2011 redistricting of Texas’s Nueces County. At the time, Trainor was an attorney at Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, and Hofeller sent him an invoice for work on the county’s redistricting. Texas’s 2011 redistricting maps, including the redrawn Nueces County, were later found to be drawn with discriminatory intent, The Intercept reported, and reworked maps were the subject of Abbott v. Perez, a Supreme Court case dealing with Texas’s redistricting following the 2010 Census.
In 2013, while still at Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, Trainor also defended Galveston County and Judge Mark Henry in a case challenging the 2011 districts. According to the files, Hofeller drew several of the county’s Justice of the Peace precincts while working for Galveston County legal counsel. Although the 2011 maps weren’t officially used, courts eventually found that they were drawn with intentional racial discrimination.
Cortez Masto, the Nevada Democrat, had the toughest questions for Trainor, asking him to explain discrepancies between his testimony — that he was not involved as a lawyer in redistricting — and an online resume for the law firm he works at, which boasts of Trainor’s role in the redistricting.
Cortez Masto began by raising a 2003 Texas redistricting map that the Supreme Court had ruled violated the Voting Rights Act. “My understanding is that you were involved in that plan in 2003,’ she said. “You coordinated the maps and legal aspects of passage, and Department of Justice preclearance of HB3” — a 2003 redistricting bill in the Texas legislature. “Is that correct?”
Trainor responded that it was not correct, explaining that he was a staffer at the time for Texas state Rep. Phil King — the author of the redistricting bill — and not a lawyer, since he was not yet licensed to give legal advice. Cortez Masto — who would later clarify that not only was Trainor a staffer, but he was King’s chief of staff — pressed Trainor on his role in the process. According to his LinkedIn profile, Trainor was King’s chief for more than six years, from December 1998 to July 2005.
“Obviously, I worked closely with him to help bring in individuals that he needed advice from to work on the effort,” Trainor said. “I helped to coordinate those type of meetings for him, just like — just like your staff I’m sure.”
“Did you help design the legislative districts adopted for the 2002 elections?” Cortez Masto said.
“No,” Trainor said.
“You did not?”
“So I guess I’m confused then,” Cortez Masto said. She then began to read from his resume, posted online by his former law firm. “It says that ‘Trainor has been intimately involved in Texas redistricting, helping to design the Texas house legislative districts adopted for the 2002 elections. During the third-called special session of 2003, he coordinated the maps and legal aspects of passage and Department of Justice preclearance of HB3, the new congressional maps adopted for the 2004 election.’” Then Cortez Masto asked another question: “So is that statement as part of your resume, which is online for the firm that you worked for, inaccurate?”
Trainor blamed the text of his online resume on “some marketing licensed by marketing individuals at the firm.” He went on, “I did do coordinating efforts for the individuals who worked on the map. I spent time working with them, making sure that they had everything that they needed.” He added that he traveled with King to the Department of Justice for the preclearance meeting.
Cortez Masto parried the denials. “First of all, you’re chief of staff. We all have a chief of staff, we know what our chief of staff does,” she said, gesturing to her colleagues. “And for you to come back and say that what was on your resume was inaccurate and that you were not intimately involved, has concerns for me as somebody that I’m looking to appoint to the FEC.”