Hassan A. Kanu and
President Donald Trump’s pick to head a Homeland Security Department’s equal employment
opportunity and civil rights office has been accused of voter suppression and dishonesty
in the past, making some observers wary of her qualifications for the job.
Trump recently announced that he intends to appoint Cameron Quinn to take over as
officer of civil rights and civil liberties at the DHS. Quinn was the chief election
official for Fairfax County, Va., from 2011 to 2015. The local Democratic Party sued
her and others in 2012, alleging election workers were instructed to prohibit poll
watchers from speaking to voters at polling locations. That and a related incident
of alleged perjury could potentially cast a shadow over her appointment, which doesn’t
require Senate confirmation.
“Everything she wanted the electoral board to support was constrictive of voting rights,”
John Farrell, the Virginia attorney who filed the lawsuit, told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s
a concern for me when I heard she was up for the position.”
The DHS office oversees civil rights complaints from employees of the department,
one of the government’s largest agencies. Quinn has been a special assistant in the
civil rights office at the Department of Agriculture since January. She worked on
voting matters at the Department of Justice before that.
The lawsuit named Quinn, a Virginia attorney, individually and in her official capacity
as general registrar. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee said Quinn instructed
poll watchers not to answer voters’ questions about the voting process and their rights.
The case was ultimately
“Ms. Quinn is highly qualified for the position for which she has been announced and
the allegations against her are without merit,” DHS spokesman David Lapan told Bloomberg
BNA. A White House spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request
for comment. Quinn didn’t answer several phone calls and an e-mail request for comment.
The county registrar who succeeded Quinn, Cameron Sasnett, said he’s always found
her to be “incredibly knowledgeable and competent in the scope of work she’s done
“Whatever her resume credentials might be to support her going to” an EEO office “I
can’t speak to that,” Sasnett told Bloomberg BNA.
Office Comes With Broad Scope of Responsibility
The DHS office also handles civil rights complaints from the public regarding department
employees. That responsibility is likely to prove particularly consequential as the
administration’s positions on race, immigration, and policing continue to get close
scrutiny. The Transportation Security Administration, many agencies involved in immigration
law and enforcement, and even the Federal Emergency Management Agency are under the
purview of the DHS.
Steven Reaves, the president of AFGE Local 4060, a union representing FEMA workers,
learned of Quinn’s appointment during a phone conversation with Bloomberg BNA.
“Federal employees are under increased attack regarding their civil liberties, and
AFGE believes wholeheartedly in those civil rights and liberties,” Reaves said. “We
look forward to working with Ms. Quinn to enforce these powerful and fundamental rights
as they apply to those employees on the front lines of homeland security.”
A number of observers, including some who’ve known and worked closely with Quinn in
the past and spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Bloomberg BNA that they’re
concerned Quinn lacks civil rights experience and isn’t qualified for the position.
Some noted that she stepped down from the registrar’s office amid controversy, and
was ordered to take management training because of complaints from her staff.
“While Ms. Quinn appears to have some relevant experience for her new position, her
smooth transition from campaign staff to political appointee in Agriculture to a completely
unrelated position in Homeland Security suggests her primary competence may not be
civil rights,” a spokesperson for the government watchdog group American Oversight,
told Bloomberg BNA.
The group said it requested Quinn’s records after she was appointed to Trump’s beachhead
team at the Agriculture Department “because early indications raised concerns that
the president prioritized loyalty over qualifications, including for positions with
critical responsibilities for protecting consumers and at-risk communities.”
The White House’s announcement and Quinn’s publicly available professional profiles,
including her LinkedIn
page, list the Agriculture Department job, which she has held since January, as her only
previous position dealing directly with civil rights outside voting matters. Another
profile describes her as an “expert on US election law,” and she’s taught courses in election
law for years the George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia law school.
Quinn also described her professional experience during the lawsuit brought against
her in 2012, saying “almost all of which has been involved in election administration.”
Others who have also worked closely with Quinn told Bloomberg BNA that she’s competent
to hold the office.
“I’m confident she’d fill in any knowledge gaps she has and do a good job if she takes
the office,” Stephen Hunt, chairman of the Fairfax County Electoral Board, said.
“She really does care a great deal about people, which I think is a key aspect of
that position,” Brian Schoeneman, the former secretary of the Fairfax County Electoral
Board, said. “I think it’s a good fit,” Schoeneman said about Quinn taking over the
DHS position. “I don’t think the management issues will follow her to that gig. And
she is all about doing things by the books ensuring people’s rights are protected.”
Criticized by Judge
The general registrar is appointed by the Fairfax County Electoral Board and is responsible
for the county elections office’s day-to-day operations, voter registration, and elections
administration. Fairfax County has about 700,000 registered voters. The district is
significant in both state and national elections because of its location in an area
that has shifted to voting for Democrats in the last three presidential elections,
after voting for the Republican candidates in the seven previous ones.
Poll watchers are volunteers who inform voters about their rights at polling locations.
The 2012 lawsuit accused Quinn of interfering with the Fairfax poll watchers’ work.
At a hearing, Quinn repeatedly denied giving improper instructions to the election
officers who oversaw the poll watchers, according to Farrell and transcripts obtained
by Bloomberg BNA. The chief training instructor later sent Farrell copies of documents
showing that Quinn’s training materials restricted the poll watchers’ conduct.
The instructor also told Farrell she spoke directly with Quinn about her opposition
to the training material, but Quinn did nothing. Farrell filed a new offer of proof
days after Quinn’s initial testimony.
“She was an attorney and she got on the stand and did not tell the truth to the judge,”
he told Bloomberg BNA.
Judge Dennis Smith also suggested Quinn hadn’t been truthful and implied that a perjury
investigation may be appropriate.
“They are saying Ms. Quinn and Ms. Glass were not being truthful,” Smith said, according
to the transcript. “We have copies of this overhead” containing details of the poll
watcher training materials that suggested “they were not truthful on the stand.”
Farrell said he referred the matter to the county prosecutor’s office but it wasn’t
pursued further. Other observers noted that because the prosecutor dropped the issue,
it shouldn’t weigh on her fitness for the DHS office.
“I know Cameron Quinn both by reputation and personally, and have for a number of
years,” William Hurd, a partner at Troutman Sanders and previous solicitor general
of Virginia, said. “She is a person of unquestioned integrity, and highly competent.”
Management Skills in Question?
An investigation into elections staff complaints led to an order for Quinn to take
“There were generally were some concerns about her style and the way that she approached
managing people,” Sasnett, Quinn’s successor in office, said. “I’ve known her for
a while and I’ve always found her very competent” in other areas “but from what I
understood, upon evaluation, she was maybe not the best people manager, and that’s
been widely reported.”
Schoeneman, the former election board secretary, said hostile staff was the reason
Quinn had so much trouble as a manager.
“That made it very difficult for her to be an effective manager when she didn’t have
the resources, and the folks on the staff were actively trying to circumvent what
she was doing because they didn’t agree with it,” Schoeneman said.
All of the interviewees who were knowledgeable about the allegations of bad management
acknowledged that the office is a challenging one that has cycled through several
registrars besides Quinn over the last decade.
“People have strengths and weaknesses, and managing an office that large would be
a challenge for anyone,” Hunt said. “We felt that it exceeded her managerial skills
to the point where we thought it would be beneficial for her to get some management
training and support.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Hassan A. Kanu at
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