Igor Derysh

'Bench slap': Legal experts say court 'eviscerated' Trump judge for 'interfering' in Mar-a-Lago case

A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon's order appointing a special master to review secret government documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence.

A three-member panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which included two judges appointed by Trump, issued a 21-page opinion blasting the decision by Cannon, another Trump appointee, to block the FBI from using thousands of documents until they are reviewed by a special master. The unanimous ruling said Cannon never had jurisdiction to order the review or to prohibit the FBI from using documents seized from Mar-a-Lago in its criminal investigation. The court also rejected the idea that Trump should be treated differently than any other target of a search warrant.

"It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed at the home of a former president — but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation," the ruling said. "To create a special exception here would defy our nation's foundational principle that our law applies 'to all, without regard to numbers, wealth or rank,'" it continued.

Cannon's special master order riled legal experts, who noted that there is no precedent for a former president to invoke executive privilege after leaving office and to prevent the Justice Department, another part of the executive branch, from viewing executive branch documents.

"The law is clear," the judges added. "We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so."

Former U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance called the ruling a "bench slap" of Cannon's decision to "interfere" with the criminal investigation.

"In a rather painful dismantling of Cannon and Trump's lawyers, the Court points out that they read the law wrong, badly wrong, in an effort to serve Trump," she wrote on Substack. "In fact, the Court notes that even Trump's lawyers don't use the badly wrong theory Judge Cannon used to decide she had jurisdiction over the matter."

"This is a smackdown," Palm Beach County Attorney Dave Aronberg told MSNBC. "It says that Judge Cannon should never have exercised jurisdiction over this matter. Remember, Judge Cannon is in a county, two counties away, 68 miles from West Palm Beach. She inserted herself into this case when it was in the hands of Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhardt. That's what Trump's team wanted. She took jurisdiction and then she gave them everything they wanted."

Other legal experts agreed that the ruling was a strong repudiation of Cannon, who was appointed to the bench in 2020.

"To say that the court of appeals today completely eviscerated Judge Cannon's ruling and Trump's arguments is an understatement," wrote conservative attorney George Conway, a frequent Trump critic.

"The Circuit Court's stinging rebuke of the loose Cannon means she has fully earned that title," Harvard Law Prof. Laurence Tribe wrote on Post.

"This Eleventh Circuit ruling is just dripping with venom for how stupid Judge Cannon's ruling was and it's beautiful," tweeted attorney Ken White.

"It is a complete takedown. Eviscerates the garbage fire arguments put forward by Trump's legal team and the clearly erroneous judicial analysis by Judge Cannon," agreed national security attorney Bradley Moss. "Trump did get one thing out of this: delay. Three months of it."

The 11th Circuit panel also took issue with Trump's arguments that he needs to protect documents that he designated as personal property, noting that the status of the document is irrelevant to whether the government can seize it during a legally authorized search.

"All these arguments are a sideshow," the ruling said, adding that Trump did not show that his rights had been violated in the search. "If there has been no constitutional violation—much less a serious one—then there is no harm to be remediated in the first place," the judges wrote.

"The 11th Circuit's ruling isn't just a stinging rebuke of Judge Cannon's special master order," wrote Norm Eisen, who served as Democratic counsel during Trump's first impeachment. "It's also a rebuke of Trump & his lawyers."

Trump could still appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, which already rejected his bid to overturn another 11th Circuit ruling knocking down part of Cannon's order that prevented the FBI from using about 100 documents marked classified.

"Trump can appeal this to SCOTUS, but I see about a 0% chance of even *this* court taking it up," tweeted Steve Vladeck, a Supreme Court expert at the University of Texas School of Law.

"This Trump maneuver backfired spectacularly," added former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal. "Like all he touches."

Read the full 21-page ruling below:

Ivanka snubs Trump’s speech and tries to distance herself from his campaign — after he 'begged' her to come

Former President Donald Trump's eldest daughter was notably absent from his 2024 campaign announcement on Tuesday and later issued a statement seeking to distance herself from his third presidential bid.

Ivanka Trump, who served as a key advisor alongside her husband Jared Kushner during her father's first two campaigns and at the White House, did not attend Trump's Mar-a-Lago campaign launch.

"I love my father very much. This time around, I am choosing to prioritize my young children and the private life we are creating as a family," she said in a statement released shortly after her father's speech.

"I do not plan to be involved in politics," she continued. "While I will always love and support my father, going forward I will do so outside the political arena."

She added that she was "grateful" to have had the honor to serve the country and "I will always be proud of many of our Administration's accomplishments."

Ivanka Trump also gave an exclusive interview to Fox News, which has had a notable turn against Trump after his candidates lost competitive races last week and cut away from his rambling speech on Tuesday.

Ivanka Trump told the outlet that she is "extremely close" with her father and "that hasn't changed and will never change."

"I've had many roles over the years but that of daughter is one of the most elemental and consequential," she said. "I am loving this time with my kids, loving life in Miami and the freedom and privacy with having returned to the private sector. This has been one of the greatest times of my life."

She added that she "never intended to go into politics."

"I'm very proud of what I was able to accomplish," she said. "I left it all on the field, and I don't miss it."

A source close to Ivanka Trump told Fox News that she was transparent with her father and did not decide to stay out of politics "yesterday."

"This is where she's been since she left Washington," the source said. "She felt she had served the country, and now she is going to focus on her family, and Jared felt the same."

Though Kushner ultimately attended the announcement without his wife, Ivanka Trump's refusal to get on board caused some "extra behind-the-scenes tension" ahead of the announcement, The New York Post reported on Monday.

Trump spent part of his youngest daughter Tiffany's wedding over the weekend "begging" Ivanka and Kushner to join him at the announcement, sources told the outlet.

"Trump thought he could convince Ivanka this weekend to come back and campaign for him as she was the most requested speaker after the president himself last time around … but so far she's resisting his entreaties and holding firm, as is Jared," a source told the Post. "They both feel they got burned in Washington and don't want to go back and expose themselves and their children to another bitter campaign."

Tiffany Trump was also absent from the event after traveling for her honeymoon, according to the report.

And while Eric and Barron Trump attended the event, Donald Trump Jr. was also missing from the announcement after his flight from a hunting trip out west was canceled due to weather, according to the Post.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., another close Trump ally, also canceled his plans to attend the event, blaming the weather.

Ivanka Trump and Kushner have spent months trying to distance themselves from their time in the Trump White House, The New York Times reported over the summer, rejecting Trump's election lies but apparently doing little to stop him from waging a campaign to try to steal the 2020 election. Though anonymous "sources close to the couple" frequently tried to paint them as a moderating influence in the White House, they stuck by his side through all of the campaign and administration scandals and played highly influential roles in domestic and foreign policy.

Ivanka Trump testified to the Jan. 6 committee that she did not believe her father's election claims but she told a documentary crew in December 2020 that her father should "continue to fight until every legal remedy is exhausted" because people were questioning the "sanctity of our elections."

The committee aired Ivanka Trump's testimony saying that she "accepted" the assessment of then-Attorney General Bill Barr, who called Trump's election claims "bullshit," prompting Trump to issue a statement dismissing her opinion.

"Ivanka Trump was not involved in looking at, or studying, Election results," Trump posted on Truth Social. "She had long since checked out and was, in my opinion, only trying to be respectful to Bill Barr and his position as Attorney General (he sucked!)."

'Admissible evidence': Legal experts warn Trump’s rally admission may be 'self-incriminating'

Former President Donald Trump's comments during a weekend rally about the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago may be "admissible evidence" in court, legal experts say.

Trump lashed out at the FBI during a rally in Miami on Sunday over the "very famous raid on Mar-a-Lago," which he described as "the document-hoax case."

Trump claimed the court-approved search "violated my Fourth Amendment rights" and is "something that's never been done to another president."

"No other president's ever done this," he said. "Presidents leave, they take things, they take documents, they read them. Nobody else has ever gone through this."

Trump has repeatedly falsely claimed that past presidents have "taken" documents with them after leaving office. The National Archives and Records Administration issued a statement debunking his claim last month, explaining that the National Archives took custody of all presidential records and "securely moved those records to temporary facilities" before moving them to presidential libraries. Claims that "indicate or imply that those Presidential records were in the possession of the former Presidents or their representatives, after they left office… are false and misleading," the statement said.

Legal experts said that Trump's comments may amount to an admission of illegality.

"Here's Trump apparently admitting to illegally taking top secret documents when he left the White House," the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said on Twitter.

Conservative attorney George Conway said the comments could be "admissible evidence," suggesting a drinking game for every time "he says something self-incriminating" at a rally.

"Keep talking. Keep confessing," wrote national security attorney Bradley Moss, a frequent Trump critic.

Legal experts also called out another comment from Trump during a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday.

"Every other president takes their documents. I'm the only one. I can't have a document," Trump complained during a rally in Latrobe before falsely suggesting that other presidents took and kept their documents in unsecure facilities.

"Did Trump just admit to taking top secret documents he was not supposed to have?" CREW said on Twitter.

Conway responded to the video of Trump's comments by posting a photo of Miranda rights, which note that "you have the right to remain silent."

Trump has claimed that former President George H.W. Bush "took millions of documents to a… bowling alley/Chinese restaurant" with "no security and a broken front door" and claimed that Bill Clinton "took millions of documents from the White House to a former car dealership in Arkansas."

"All of these Trump claims are false," CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale wrote last month, citing a National Archives statement confirming that the agency "securely moved these records to temporary facilities that NARA leased from the General Services Administration near the locations of the future Presidential Libraries that former Presidents built for NARA."

"All such temporary facilities met strict archival and security standards, and have been managed and staffed exclusively by NARA employees," the agency said.

Dale added that there is "no equivalence between Trump's handling of presidential documents and those of his predecessors."

"In the others' cases, the presidential documents were in NARA's possession and stored securely and professionally," he wrote. "In Trump's case, the presidential documents found in haphazard amateur storage at Mar-a-Lago were in Trump's own possession, despite numerous attempts by both NARA and the Justice Department to get them back."

Trump lawyers throw Allen Weisselberg under the bus as he prepares to spill the beans at trial

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump's companies on Monday threw former longtime Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisslberg under the bus during opening statements at a criminal trial over whether the company committed tax fraud.

Weisselberg and two of Trump's companies were indicted in Manhattan last year after prosecutors said the company's compensation to Weisselberg included perks like apartments, luxury cars and private school tuition for his grandchildren that were never reported on his taxes. Weisselberg in August pleaded guilty to 15 charges, including grand larceny, tax fraud and falsifying business records. He agreed to serve five months in prison, pay $1.9 million in back taxes and penalties and agreed to testify at the Trump Organization's trial.

Prosecutors on Monday detailed his offenses and vowed that Weisselberg would give jurors the "inside story of how he conducted this tax scheme."

"This case is about greed and cheating, cheating on taxes," prosecutor Susan Hoffinger said in court, according to Politico. "The scheme was conducted, directed and authorized at the highest level of the accounting department."

Lawyers representing two of Trump's businesses at the trial, meanwhile, threw Weisselberg under the bus and suggested that Trump may be the real victim of the scheme.

"Weisselberg did it for Weissleberg," Michael van der Veen, a lawyer for Trump's payroll company, said in court.

Van der Veen argued that Weisselberg abused the Trump family's trust after 50 years of working for the family.

"Given the decades he was there and the projects he worked on and that he was with this family when times were good and when times weren't so good—he was trusted by everyone, he was trusted to protect this company," he said, according to Mother Jones. "He was like family to the Trump family, and no employee was trusted more than he, but he made mistakes."

He went on to claim that Trump only found out about Weisselberg's efforts to avoid taxes when he was indicted.

"You were all here during jury selection and heard the D.A. repeatedly argue that Donald Trump was involved in or even knew what Allen Weissleberg was doing," he claimed. "You will learn that Mr. Weisselberg hid what he was doing from the company and from the owners of the companies."

But Weisselberg still remains on the company's payroll, which van der Veen suggested was out of the goodness of the Trumps' hearts.

"Since his crimes were discovered, he has been treated like a close family member who made serious and even criminal mistakes," he said. "We all know the Bible story of the prodigal son—a man who put his own personal goals and desires ahead of his family's—and when it all falls apart, he is taken back in by the same family and allowed to move forward."

Even though Trump signed the checks for things like private school tuition for Weisselberg's grandchildren, it was only Weisselberg's responsibility, he claimed.

"Allen Weisselberg has admitted to cheating on his taxes, his taxes!" van der Veen argued.

Susan Necheles, an attorney for the Trump Corporation, made a similar plea to jurors and argued that they should not let their opinion of the former president influence their verdict.

"You must not consider this case to be a referendum on President Trump or his politics," she said. "It started and it ended with Allen Weisselberg. Allen Weisselberg did this."

The two Trump companies are charged with nine felony counts, including criminal tax fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records and could face a $1.6 million fine. Trump, his company and his three eldest children have also been accused of a decade-long tax fraud scheme by New York Attorney General Letitia James in a civil probe.

Trump himself has not been criminally charged in the Manhattan case but Hoffinger made clear that the alleged criminal conduct occurred between 2005 and 2017, when the companies were "owned by Donald Trump."

"The evidence will show that when Donald Trump was elected president at the end of 2016, these companies finally had to clean up these fraudulent tax practices," she said. "There was concern about extra scrutiny of these companies because of Donald Trump's election."

Hoffinger added that no one had more financial authority than Weisselberg "except for Donald Trump."

'This is the ballgame': DOJ winning 'secret court proceedings' in Donald Trump January 6th probe

Investigators are ramping up efforts to penetrate the "privilege firewall" former President Donald Trump has used to avoid scrutiny of his Jan. 6 discussions in "secret court proceedings" in D.C., according to CNN.

The Justice Department last week asked a federal judge to force Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone and deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin to testify despite Trump's efforts to block them from answering questions before a grand jury.

Trump has cited executive and attorney-client privilege to prevent disclosures and delay criminal investigations but the DOJ has already been successful in breaking through the privilege firewall, according to the report.

Prosecutors over the past three weeks have scored "significant court victories" in secret proceedings, securing answers from former Mike Pence advisers Greg Jacob and Marc Short. Jacob's testimony on October 6 is the "first identifiable time" that Trump's privilege firewall has been pierced in the criminal investigation, according to CNN. Short had his own grand jury appearance a week later.

All four former officials previously declined to answer some questions about discussions they had with Trump before the former president quietly lost court battles related to testimony from Jacob and Short before the chief judge of the trial-level U.S. District Court in D.C. last month, according to the report. Judge Beryl Howell refused to put the two men's testimony on hold while Trump's lawyers appealed, though the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is still considering legal arguments surrounding the privilege claims.

Jacob, who testified before the House Jan. 6 committee, has been particularly vocal in condemning Trump's actions after the election and his scheme with attorney John Eastman to block the certification of President Joe Biden's win on Jan. 6, calling the lawyer a "serpent in the ear" of the president. After Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Jacob wrote to Eastman, "thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege."

"There is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person would choose the American President, and then unbroken historical practice for 230 years, that the vice president did not have such an authority," Jacob testified to the House panel in July.

Prosecutors are now seeking to compel testimony from Cipollone and Philbin, who had extensive discussions with Trump leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Cipollone previously appeared before the House panel but declined to disclose his discussions with Trump, citing privilege. The two men's roles in the White House counsel's office raise questions about whether Trump can "claim confidentiality over the legal adviser they gave him" and whether a former president can invoke executive privilege to "hold off criminal investigators," CNN reported.

The federal grand jury has also subpoenaed former White House officials Mark Meadows, Eric Herschmann, Dan Scavino and Stephen Miller as well as campaign adviser Boris Ephsteyn, who could also cite privilege to decline to answer questions in the probe. Trump has similarly used both executive and attorney-privilege claims to impede other probes, like the House Jan. 6 investigation, the FBI investigation into national security documents found at his Mar-a-Lago residence and the Fulton County, Georgia district attorney's investigation into election meddling. Some privilege questions have remained unresolved and could eventually reach the Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly declined to assert executive privilege over Jan. 6 related information and federal prosecutors who investigated former Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon were also able to overcome attorney-client privilege claims for White House counsel.

The DOJ is "getting A LOT done in under-seal proceedings," tweeted CNN legal reporter Katelyn Polantz.

"In a lot of ways, this is the ballgame for the January 6th criminal prosecutions and the grand jury investigation around Donald Trump and after the election," Polantz said on CNN, noting that investigators have gotten some answers from former officials but Trump is still "trying to block those final answers" from the grand jury.

Andrew Weissmann, a former federal prosecutor who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, said the report was a sign that the DOJ is pressing ahead in its probe of Trump's actions.

"Really important development," tweeted former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman, adding that the DOJ could also turn to the "biggest prize who has dodged testimony to date based on executive privilege argument: Mark Meadows," Trump's former chief of staff.

"Litigating privilege issues is some serious effort by DOJ to get to Trump's conversations with his inner circle," wrote former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade. "You don't do this unless you're determined to turn over every stone."

'They’re closing in': Experts explain how DOJ may 'force' Trump aide to testify after he pleads the Fifth

Federal prosecutors investigating the trove of national security documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence are ramping up pressure on reluctant witnesses in the case, according to The New York Times.

Prosecutors have expressed skepticism about the initial account provided by Walt Nauta, a "little-known figure who worked at the White House as a military valet and cook" before getting hired at Mar-a-Lago, according to the report. Prosecutors are using the "specter of charges" for misleading investigators to pressure him to sit for questioning, the Times reported. Nauta, who was once tasked with bringing Trump Diet Cokes in the Oval Office, initially denied any role in moving boxes of sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago but told investigators that Trump instructed him to move the boxes in a second interview, according to The Washington Post. Investigators also reviewed surveillance footage showing the boxes being moved.

Prosecutors are also trying to force longtime Trump aide Kash Patel to answer questions before a grand jury after he repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in his first appearance.

Patel was named by Trump as one of his representatives to the National Archives and Records Administration to handle his presidential records. Patel was particularly interested in records related to the Justice Department probe into Trump's 2016 campaign ties to Russia, which he publicly said he planned to release.

Patel has also claimed he was in the room when Trump ostensibly declassified the documents before leaving office, a claim that has been refuted by multiple administration officials. Trump's lawyers have provided no evidence in court that the documents were declassified and Patel invoked the Fifth rather than repeating the claim before the grand jury.

Prosecutors have asked a federal judge in D.C. to force Patel to testify. Patel's lawyers have opposed the move over concerns that the DOJ wants to use Patel's statements to incriminate him, according to the report.

The witness testimony is key to the DOJ's effort to prove intent in the case. Prosecutors believe that Nauta could provide inside into Trump's "intentions," according to the report. If Trump had the boxes moved to hide them from the DOJ, it would help prosecutors build an obstruction case.

Nauta, who grew close to Trump while working as a valet, was seen on surveillance footage moving boxes out of a storage area at Mar-a-Lago after Trump received a subpoena for the remaining documents he took home from the White House. Though Nauta initially denied moving the boxes, one source told the Times that he later was "clear with investigators that Mr. Trump had directed him" to move the boxes but another source told the outlet that he was "less specific about who had told him to do so."

Patel, a former aide to ex-Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who helped lead the House GOP effort to undermine the Russia probe, is a fierce Trump loyalist whom the former president tried to install as deputy director of the CIA in his final weeks in office before the effort was blocked by White House officials. Former Attorney General Bill Barr in his recent book recalled that Trump also tried to name Patel the deputy director of the FBI, which Barr warned the White House would only happen "over my dead body."

Legal experts said the DOJ's pressure campaign could be trouble for Trump.

Prosecutors are likely to give Patel an "immunity deal that he can't in some ways refuse" that would allow him to avoid "criminal liability" in the matter, predicted Ryan Goodman, co-director of the Reiss Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law.

"They say you have immunity so you don't risk criminal liability for yourself. 'Now tell us what you know.' And if that's what they're trying to do, that's a pretty strong tactic at this stage," Goodman told CNN, adding that it "looks like they're closing in directly on Donald Trump."

Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe tweeted that once the DOJ grants Patel immunity, "his 5th Amendment rights against compelled self-incrimination will evaporate."

"He will then be forced to tell the truth about Trump's role in the Mar-a-Lago crimes against America's national security," he wrote. "The jig will be up."

The move also suggests that Patel is not the target of the DOJ investigation, wrote Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor.

"All of this suggests that DOJ is pressing forward with a criminal investigation and that Trump is their target," he tweeted. "That's significant news that suggests that they won't be satisfied by a deal in which Trump gives them any remaining documents."

'Dress rehearsal for 2024': Donald Trump plans to challenge Senate race results before votes are cast

Former President Donald Trump is already laying the groundwork to challenge the results of the Pennsylvania Senate race, viewing the election as a "dress rehearsal for Trump 2024," according to Rolling Stone.

Trump last month met with Republican allies at Trump Tower to demand they "do something" about the Senate race between Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican challenger Mehmet Oz, claiming that there was a "scam" happening in Philadelphia and elsewhere around the state.

"During our briefing, he was concerned that 2020 is going to happen again in 2022," Michael Caputo, a former Trump administration official who attended the meeting along with Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko and retired CIA officer Sam Faddis, told Rolling Stone. "Our team encouraged him to be concerned … [Furthermore], I'm advising Republicans to recruit and train election observers and a team of attorneys to oversee historically problematic precincts," Caputo said.

The meeting was one of several in which Trump has discussed plans to challenge the 2022 midterm results, and not just in Pennsylvania, four sources told the outlet, discussing "scorched-earth legal tactics they could deploy."

TrumpWorld is planning "aggressive court campaigns" if there is any hint of doubt about the results, according to the report. Trump himself has been briefed on plans in multiple states, including in Georgia, but he has been particularly fixated on the Pennsylvania race. If Oz does not win or the results are close, sources told Rolling Stone, Trump and other Republicans are already planning to "wage a legal and activist crusade against the 'election integrity' of Democratic strongholds such as Philly," according to the report.

One source told the outlet that Trump is particularly focused on Pennsylvania because he sees the Senate race as a "dress rehearsal for Trump 2024."

Trump during the September meeting urged GOP allies to work to limit mail-in voting in the state, pushing debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen in Philadelphia and demanding officials focus on the heavily Democratic and diverse area, according to the report. Trump has asked several advisers what Republicans are doing to prevent Democrats from "steal[ing] it in Philadelphia [like] they did last time," sources told the outlet.

Numerous Trump allies are ready to help wage another campaign to stoke doubt in election results before any votes are even cast.

"It's important to prepare for legal fights that will inevitably arise," Hogan Gidley, a former Trump White House spokesman who now works at the America First Policy Institute, told Rolling Stone. "The effort that the Center for Election Integrity is focused on started at the beginning of this year…We've been seeding efforts across the country in important states…[because] having people on the ground locally is key to these efforts — because if you're not at the table, you're on the menu."

MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, who has spent millions pushing lies that voting machines flipped votes from Trump to President Joe Biden, also vowed to fight over the 2022 results.

"No matter what happens, I'm not giving up on getting rid of those voting machines … I will not stop until the machines are gone," Lindell, who is facing a $1 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, told Rolling Stone.

Patrick Byrne, the former Overstock CEO who has likewise poured his own money into the "Big Lie" crusade, has teamed with former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn to form the so-called America Project.

"We have made proper preparations for post-election challenges if necessary, but our overwhelming focus is on having a clean, transparent election, which obviates the need for post-election legal scuffles," Byrne told the outlet.

The Republican National Committee is already involved in the race, pushing the state to stop counting mail-in ballots that are missing handwritten dates.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year ruled that tossing such ballots would result in "disenfranchising otherwise qualified voters" over a "meaningless requirement" that does not affect the voters' eligibility. The Supreme Court last week tossed the court's decision but did not rule on whether the ballots are required to be counted. A state court previously ruled that undated ballots can be counted and the state's Supreme Court in 2020 ruled that such ballots should be counted that year but not in future elections.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman issued guidance urging counties to count the undated ballots but the RNC and a group of Pennsylvania Republicans sued last week, asking the state Supreme Court to rule that the undated ballots should not be counted. The lawsuit is led by attorneys Kathleen Gallagher and john Gore, who previously represented Pennsylvania Republicans in their attempt to overturn the 2020 results over late-arriving mail-in ballots.

It's a trend that could play out across the country as numerous election deniers seek midterm wins, including Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc. And pro-Trump media has boosted the message.

"If it is fair, Kari Lake's going to win," Fox News host Tucker Carlson said recently.

Pro-Trump radio host Mark Levin accused Democrats of "trying to steal the election for Fetterman," citing the dispute over the undated ballots.

The Rolling Stone report noted that Trump's obsession with bolstering the Republican legal infrastructure to challenge the election stands in stark contrast with the "relatively small sums" he has poured into the campaign to boost Oz's chances. His super PAC has spent just $770,000 on TV ads for Trump, compared to $34 million from the Senate Leadership Fund, which is allied with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Some Republicans have taken notice.

"There's a lot of people that were Trump supporters, who backed him through thick and thin," a Pennsylvania Republican attorney told Rolling Stone. "That's not lost on them."

'Conclusive and irrefutable': Experts explain why 'DOJ will win' against Judge Cannon’s special master order

Legal experts predicted that U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon's order assigning a special master to review documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence would be struck down after an appeal from the Justice Department.

The DOJ in a 67-page filing asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to overturn Cannon's order and end the special master review, arguing the Trump appointee "erred" by siding with the former president.

The DOJ argued that there was no threat to Trump's rights because the search of Mar-a-Lago was authorized by a federal judge and because Trump had no right to have the documents in the first place.

"The uncontested record demonstrates that the search was conducted in full accordance with a judicially authorized warrant, and there has been no violation of [Trump's] rights — let alone a 'callous disregard' for them," the DOJ said, adding that Trump had "failed to meet his burden in establishing any need for the seized records — indeed, a substantial number of them are not even his—or in establishing any irreparable injury in their absence, and Plaintiff does not lack an adequate alternative remedy at law."

Trump's attorneys had argued that a special master was necessary to protect his rights to claim attorney-client privilege and executive privilege. Trump has also claimed that he may have declassified secret documents before he left office, though his attorneys have refused to provide evidence to the court.

DOJ attorneys argue that Trump has produced no evidence that the documents were declassified and that he has not actually claimed privilege over any documents.

Cannon initially barred the DOJ from using about 100 documents marked classified that were seized from Mar-a-Lago in its criminal investigation but that part of her order was struck down by the 11th Circuit, which agreed with the DOJ that she had abused her authority in halting the probe. The Supreme Court last week rejected Trump's appeal to have the special master review the documents marked classified.

The DOJ in its new filing argued that it needs access to the remaining 11,000 documents in the special master review and asked the court to end the review altogether.

"The dates on unclassified records may prove highly probative in the government's investigation," the filing said. "For example, if any records comingled with the records bearing classification markings post-date Plaintiff's term of office, that could establish that these materials continued to be accessed after Plaintiff left the White House … The government may need to use unclassified records to conduct witness interviews and corroborate information."

The DOJ also rejected Trump's claim of executive privilege since the Justice Department and FBI are also part of the executive branch.

"Neither Plaintiff nor the district court has cited any instance in which executive privilege was successfully invoked to prohibit the sharing of records or information within the Executive Branch itself," the filing said.

Trump's response to the filing is due by November 10, though much of the special master review may be completed by then. Cannon ordered the review to be completed by December 16.

Legal experts predicted that the 11th Circuit would eventually rule in favor of the DOJ.

Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University, cited part of the DOJ brief laying out the core of its argument.

"Most fundamentally, the district court erred in exercising equitable jurisdiction to entertain [Trump's] action in the first place," the DOJ said, adding that Cannon acknowledged that there had been "no showing" that the government acted in "callous disregard" of Trump's rights.

"This paragraph alone is why DOJ will win hands down," Goodman predicted. "It was an essential condition for Cannon to have jurisdiction. Cannon admitted Trump made no showing to meet the condition. End of story."

Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe agreed that the DOJ filing is "as close to being conclusive and irrefutable as any brief I have ever read."

Former appellate lawyer Teri Kanefield said the DOJ filing shows that "none of the factors were met" to appoint a special master.

"There you go. End of story. If there is no jurisdiction, the case gets dismissed. The whole thing goes poof," she tweeted.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe noted that the DOJ has some "legal momentum" after the 11th Circuit and the Supreme Court both rejected Trump's arguments related to the documents marked classified.

"I think the Justice Department is kind of reading the weather here and realizing that they have the upper hand in challenging Judge Cannon's order, putting the special master in place," he told CNN, "and they're taking their shot to see if they can get that entire thing knocked out."

Trump attorney lawyers up — and says she’s willing to cooperate with DOJ in Mar-a-Lago case: report

At least one member of former President Donald Trump's legal team has hired her own attorney — and allies are urging another to follow suit, according to The Washington Post.

Trump attorneys Christina Bobb and Evan Corcoran affirmed to the Justice Department that Trump had handed over all classified records from his Mar-a-Lago residence in response to a May subpoena. But prosecutors said their response was "incomplete" after the FBI searched and found more documents at Mar-a-Lago and cited evidence of "obstructive conduct" in response to the subpoena.

Bobb has since hired her own lawyer, Florida-based former prosecutor John Lauro, and "made it known to Trump allies that she is willing to cooperate and be interviewed by the Justice Department," according to the Post. And colleagues have similarly urged Corcoran to hire a criminal defense lawyer because of his response to the subpoena, according to the report, but he has insisted it is not necessary.

Asked if she was negotiating to sit for an interview with the DOJ, Bobb told the outlet, "I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to talk about it."

Bobb signed a document affirming that Trump handed over "all documents that are responsive to the subpoena" after a "diligent search." Corcoran then met with DOJ officials and made a similar statement. Investigators ultimately found more evidence that there were additional documents at Mar-a-Lago and secured a warrant to search the premises in August.

Bobb, a former OAN host who helped push Trump's legal challenges following the 2020 election, has insisted to Trump allies that she believes the document she signed was accurate, according to the Post. But she also told the pro-Trump Right Side Broadcasting Network that she was not acting as Trump's attorney while serving as a custodian of records when responding to the subpoena, according to the report, meaning that the DOJ could compel her testimony more easily than if she were acting as Trump's lawyer at the time.

"I think people were a little bit confused," Bobb said. "I am on President Trump's legal team. I do work for him on election issues. I was never on the legal team handling this case, just to be clear on that. Which is why I came in as the custodian of records — because I wasn't on that team."

Corcoran, who is referenced as Trump's attorney in court documents, has also been "counseled" by colleagues to lawyer up, according to the report. Trump hired Corcoran, who recently returned to practicing law, in April with no vetting after a single conference call while he was representing former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who was convicted of contempt of Congress earlier this year.

"Christina Bobb and Evan Corcoran need their own criminal lawyers," former DOJ inspector general Michael Bromwich tweeted, citing their "multiple misrepresentations" to the DOJ.

With his own attorneys facing potential legal jeopardy, Trump struggled to find an elite attorney willing to represent him in the case. Trump ultimately hired former Florida Solicitor General Chris Kise, who once represented a member of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro's administration, paying him a $3 million retainer from money donated to his super PAC.

Kise has advised Trump to "turn down the temperature" with the DOJ and fought with advisers who urged a more aggressive approach, according to the Post. Kise warned Trump's team that attacks were only likely to make the DOJ more aggressive and urged them to seek an "off-ramp" before a possible indictment, according to the report. He also argued that Trump's other lawyers, whom he said lacked experience with this type of case, had "deepened Trump's problems" and "could face legal trouble themselves," according to the Post.

Just weeks after joining Trump's legal team, CNN reported that he has already been sidelined. Though his name appeared on numerous court filings, he did not sign onto the Trump team's combative filing questioning the DOJ's motives last week. The Post reported that Kise is now unlikely to play a public role in the Mar-a-Lago case, though he will continue to help Trump deal with "his other legal problems."

Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich did not respond to questions from the Post.

"While the media wants to focus on gossip, the reality is these witch hunts are dividing and destroying our nation," he told the outlet. "And President Trump isn't going to back down."

New DOJ filing exposes Trump’s secret objections — and asks special master to call his bluff

The Justice Department in a filing on Tuesday revealed the Trump legal team's objections that they tried to keep under wraps.

Federal Judge Raymond Dearie, the special master tasked with reviewing thousands of documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence, earlier this month challenged Trump's lawyers to assert whether they believe his public claim that the FBI may have "planted" evidence during the search and produce evidence of Trump's claim that he "declassified" secret national security documents before taking them home.

Trump's team apparently responded with objections to Dearie's plan for the special master review but they were not made public until the Justice Department responded to them in a filing on Tuesday.

"Team Trump is filing complaints under seal for some reason, but DOJ is discussing it not under seal, so we can largely infer what Trump is upset about," New York Times national security reporter Charlie Savage flagged on Twitter.

The filing revealed that Trump's lawyers objected to Dearie's request that they verify that the search inventory filed by the DOJ is accurate, essentially daring Trump's team to assert his dubious claim that the FBI may have "planted" evidence in official court documents. The DOJ affirmed that its inventory is complete and accurate and urged Dearie to require Trump's lawyers to state whether they believe the list of items seized from the property is accurate.

Trump's lawyers also objected to Dearie's request for them to explain whether they are claiming attorney-client privilege or executive privilege after Judge Aileen Cannon, the Trump appointee that ordered the special master review, failed to ask for a distinction.

It's unclear exactly what Trump's third objection was.

"Team Trump doesn't want to brief something that DOJ says is fine briefing. They don't say what, but Dearie's directive had discussed a briefing schedule for any eventual Rule 44 motion by Trump for return of property seized in the search, so it's probably that," Savage reported.

Trump's lawyers previously declined to provide evidence of his claims that he "declassified" the documents, arguing that they may need to save the evidence for a defense in a future hearing and a possible prosecution.

"Trump's team objects to the Special Master's order requiring them to state whether particular documents are privileged or declassified and provide evidence in support of any claim that a document was declassified," tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. "They want to have their cake and eat it too. They won't get that."

Mariotti also questioned why Trump's lawyers made the arguments under seal.

"That could be because their arguments are at odds with their public positions," Mariotti wrote.

The DOJ filing also revealed that Trump's team had trouble finding a vendor to digitize the documents that were seized for the special master review.

Trump's team "informed us this morning that none of the five document-review vendors proposed by the government" were "willing to be engaged" by Trump. The DOJ asked Dearie for an extra day to secure a vendor themselves. The DOJ expects Trump to "pay the vendor's invoices promptly when rendered," the filing said.

"This is absolutely hilarious," tweeted conservative attorney George Conway.

Trump's legal team has been in flux since the FBI raid in August, as he struggled to find an elite lawyer to represent him — and as some of his attorneys may face legal scrutiny themselves. Trump raised eyebrows earlier this month after he used donor money from his super PAC to pay attorney Chris Kise, a former Florida solicitor general who once represented a member of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro's government, a $3 million advance. But CNN reported on Tuesday that Kise has been "sidelined from the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation less than a month after he was brought on to represent Trump in the matter." A Trump spokesman denied the report and Kise told The Washington Post that he will still be working on the case.

"The infighting in this team," tweeted New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, "after one lawyer faced a search warrant and another two have gotten attention from DOJ over their statements to the feds on the documents, continues."

'Donald has the right to remain silent': Experts say Trump’s latest Fox News interview could be evidence

Legal experts on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump's claim that he could declassify secret national security documents with his mind.

Trump in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity made a series of claims entirely untethered from reality while defending himself amid an FBI criminal investigation into classified documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Trump suggested that last month's FBI search of the property may have actually been in search of Hillary Clinton's deleted emails.

"There's also a lot of speculation, because of what they did, the severity of the FBI coming in, raiding Mar-a-Lago, were they looking for the Hillary Clinton emails that were deleted — but they are around someplace," Trump said.

"Wait, you're not saying you had it?" Hannity interjected.

"No, no, they may be saying — they may have thought that it was in there," Trump replied. "And a lot of people said that the only thing that would give the kind of severity that they showed by actually coming in and raiding with many, many people is the Hillary Clinton deal, the Russia stuff, or the spying on the campaign."

There is no evidence that the investigation into classified documents Trump took home has anything to do with Hillary Clinton, who was investigated by the FBI and cleared of any wrongdoing, the Russia probe, or Trump's claim that his campaign was spied on.

Trump during the interview also attempted a novel defense in the growing documents scandal, arguing that he could telepathically declassify documents.

"There doesn't have to be a process as I understand it," Trump said. "If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, 'It's declassified,' even by thinking about it because you're sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you're sending it. And there doesn't have to be a process. There can be a process but there doesn't have to be. You're the president. You make that decision. So when you send it, it's declassified. I declassified everything."

There is no evidence that Trump declassified documents that were seized by the FBI and multiple former Trump administration officials have rejected his claim. Trump's lawyers refused to provide evidence of his claim that he declassified any of the documents in response to a request from the special master they sought in the case earlier this week. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday likewise rejected Trump's claims, writing that he has "not even attempted to show" that he had the right to have the documents and refused to provide evidence to the special master.

Some legal experts warned that Trump could be further hurting his case by making outlandish claims in the media.

"Oh wow," former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman said in response to Trump's claim. "Please let him out that in a declaration."

Once again, "Trump imperils Trump," wrote conservative attorney George Conway.

"Omg he's actually invoking the Secret Telepathic Unilateral Preemptive Irreversible Declassification (S.T.U.P.I.D.) defense," quipped Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent and attorney.

"Donald has the right to remain silent. Anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law," tweeted national security attorney Bradley Moss.

Moss explained on CNN that despite Trump's claims that there is no process, "that's not how it works."

"Thinking it in his head to declassify it? That would be an obscenely reckless way to handle declassification because no one else in the government would know that these records, this information is suddenly declassified," he said. "I get he's not a details guy but these processes are what have to be followed. This is not a defense his lawyers are going to actually try to put up -- they have to try and put up something competent and coherent."

Conway on Twitter highlighted that it does not even matter if the documents were, in fact, declassified. Trump is under investigation for mishandling national security documents, which does not require that the documents be classified in order to prosecute a defendant. Trump is also under investigation for obstruction.

"All that matters is whether he concealed or lied about documents covered by the subpoena—documents bearing classified *markings,*" he wrote. "Doesn't matter whether the docs were declassified or even classified properly in the first place."

Some legal observers have wondered why Trump took the documents in the first place and what he might have done with them. Former FBI official Peter Strzok raised concerns over a different part of Trump's interview with Hannity.

"Don't focus on the crazy start of this. Focus on the end," he wrote, pointing to Trump's argument it was fine "sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you're sending it."

"So," Strzok wrote, "where else did you send it?"

Donald Trump peddles conspiracy theory about FBI 'planting' evidence

President Donald Trump and his lawyers pushed a conspiracy theory that FBI agents may have "planted" incriminating evidence while executing a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago residence.

FBI agents on Monday executed a warrant at Trump's Palm Beach home, meaning that a judge found enough probable cause to approve the search. Agents investigating presidential documents that Trump took with him to Mar-a-Lago, including classified materials, removed 12 boxes of items from Mar-a-Lago after Trump turned over 15 boxes of materials to the National Archives earlier this year, according to the Washington Post. Trump attorney Christina Bobb told the outlet that the search warrant indicated that the FBI is investigating possible violations of the Presidential Records Act and laws related to the handling of classified material. Trump has thus far refused to release his copy of the search warrant even though it could provide transparency on what agents were searching for.

Bobb said that she was not allowed to observe the search, as is common during such FBI operations. But Trump and his lawyers have seized on that fact to push a conspiracy theory that the FBI may have "planted" something without providing any evidence to support their claims.

"The FBI and others from the Federal Government would not let anyone, including my lawyers, be anywhere near the areas that were rummaged and otherwise looked at during the raid on Mar-a-Lago," Trump said on his Twitter knockoff Truth Social. "Everyone was asked to leave the premises, they wanted to be left alone, without any witnesses to see what they were doing, taking or, hopefully not, 'planting.' Why did they STRONGLY insist on having nobody watching them, everybody out? Obama and Clinton were never 'raided,' despite big disputes!"

Bobb, a former TV host at the right-wing outlet OAN who joined Trump's legal team, made a similar claim on Monday, citing only the fact that she was not allowed to observe the search.

"There is no security that something wasn't planted," Bobb said in an interview, adding, "I'm not saying that's what they did."

"At this point, I don't necessarily think that they would even go to the extent of trying to plant information, I think they just make stuff up and come up with whatever they want and that's the way that they will have to proceed in order to actually try to indict the president because they don't have anything," she said.

Fellow Trump attorney Alina Habba told Fox News that she was also "concerned that they may have planted something. You know, at this point, who knows? I don't trust the government and that's a very frightening thing as an American."

Trump's right-wing allies have parroted this evidence-free claim to their followers.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., cited his distrust of the government to suggest that the FBI "may put something" in the boxes they removed from Mar-a-Lago to "entrap" Trump.

"I think there is an extremely high probability that the FBI planted 'evidence' against President Trump," tweeted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. "Otherwise WHY would they NOT allow his attorneys or anyone watch them while they conducted their unprecedented raid? They know the consequences of an empty handed power move."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Trump ally Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, both discussed their belief that the FBI may have "planted evidence" on Kirk's show Monday.

Trump's defenders on Fox News have also echoed the claim.

"They could have easily negotiated the return of documents like that without guns and warrants. What the FBI is probably doing is planting evidence," Fox News host Jesse Watters said without any evidence. "We also have a hunch they doctored evidence to get the warrant."

Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt suggested that FBI agents may have dumped "backpacks" full of incriminating evidence at Mar-a-Lago.

"His lawyer said they brought in backpacks, what was in those backpacks?" Earhardt said. "Did they bring those in to fill them up or did they have something in there?"

Agents raided Mar-a-Lago because they believed Trump did not turn over all classified information he had taken to his home, according to The Wall Street Journal. Trump's lawyers had been in discussions with federal officials about the records for months. Trump attorneys in June showed investigators a basement room where boxes of materials were being stored. The Justice Department directed Trump's team to secure the room, prompting them to add a padlock to the door. It's unclear what triggered Monday's raid.

Legal experts pushed back on the claims. Former federal prosecutor Elie Honig called the idea that FBI agents "may" have planted evidence "ridiculous."

"How would anybody even know at this point?" he questioned. "If you're going to fabricate some accusation, at least wait until you might plausibly have a basis for it."

Former federal prosecutor Richard Signorelli condemned Trump's attorneys for pushing the claim.

"These are baseless lies but unfortunately will be believed by deranged, ignorant MAGA cult members," he tweeted.

Defense attorney Ken White noted that forbidding anyone from observing their searches is standard practice.

"Law enforcement does not let anyone, including lawyers, observe what they're doing during searches," he wrote. "They typically remove everyone from the searched area. This has always been the case. This is the latest 'it's an outrage when the typical happens to me.'"

Former federal prosecutor Michael Stern suggested that TrumpWorld is trotting out the claim because the FBI may have found damaging evidence at his home.

"I have written hundreds of search warrants. Lawyers and people whose homes are being search[ed] are routinely not present during the search," he wrote. "That Trump is now talking about 'planted' evidence means he knows there is something damning they found."

'News dump': Twitter blows up over photos of Trump documents flushed down White House toilet

Axios on Monday published photos showing former President Donald Trump's handwritten notes flushed down a White House toilet that were obtained by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman.

White House staff "periodically discovered wads of printed paper clogging a toilet — and believed the president had flushed pieces of paper," according to an excerpt from Haberman's upcoming book "Confidence Man" published by Axios earlier this year. The report raised concerns that Trump may have illegally destroyed records that are required to be preserved.

Trump at the time called the report a "fake story," issuing a statement calling the claim "categorically untrue and made up by a reporter in order to get publicity for a mostly fictitious book."

Haberman turned the photos over to Axios to corroborate her reporting. One photo shows a White House toilet with an unintelligible note, a source told Haberman. Another photo shows a note with Trump's handwriting thrown into the toilet on an overseas trip. It's unclear what the note says but it mentions the name of Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the No. 3 Republican in the House.

"The document dumps happened multiple times at the White House, and on at least two foreign trips," according to the report.

"That Mr. Trump was discarding documents this way was not widely known within the West Wing, but some aides were aware of the habit, which he engaged in repeatedly," Haberman told Axios. "It was an extension of Trump's term-long habit of ripping up documents that were supposed to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act."

The National Archives previously reported that some of Trump's White House documents had to be taped back together after they were destroyed. Other records and gifts were improperly taken from the White House to Trump's residence in Mar-a-Lago.

Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich did not specifically deny the content of the photos but pushed back on the report.

"You have to be pretty desperate to sell books if pictures of paper in a toilet bowl is part of your promotional plan," Budowich told Axios. "We know ... there's enough people willing to fabricate stories like this in order to impress the media class — a media class who is willing to run with anything, as long as it anti-Trump."

Haberman on CNN called her reporting "gross and important."

"The point is about the destruction of records which are supposed to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act, which is a Watergate-era creation," she said. "It's important because who knows what this paper was? Only he would know and presumably whoever was dealing with him, but the important point is about the records," she added.

CNN's Dana Bash said the photos "look nefarious."

"It's not legal," she said citing the Nixon-era law, adding that "it's a Sharpie and it looks like Donald Trump's handwriting."

Twitter exploded after Haberman shared the photos.

"Too early in the week for this kind of news dump," quipped Amanda Carpenter, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

"The former guy shredding & flushing documents down the toilet makes sense. The shitter was always full at the Trump White House," tweeted Olivia Troye, who served as an adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence.

"A flushing toilet should be the last sound we ever hear of the Trump presidency. A clogged toilet being plunged will forever be my lasting image of his presidency," wrote former Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill.

"How many essays will be launched by folks pondering the metaphor of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik's name firmly stuck to the bottom of Trump's toilet bowl," wondered journalist Soledad O'Brien.

"Maybe this is why Trump was so obsessed with water flow regulations," joked Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell, referring to Trump's frequent White House rants about water pressure."We have a situation where we're looking very strongly at sinks and showers, and other elements of bathrooms," Trump mused in 2019. "People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once."

'Cover-up': Trump-appointed DHS watchdog’s office told Secret Service to ignore Jan. 6 text request

Two top House Democrats on Monday accused the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general of a "cover-up" related to the deleted Jan. 6 Secret Service text messages.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who also chairs the Jan. 6 Committee, and House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., cited evidence of a "cover-up" in a letter to Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, a controversial Trump appointee who has quashed Secret Service probes in the past.

The lawmakers raised "grave concerns" over Cuffari's "lack of transparency and independence," citing reports that his office learned of the missing Secret Service texts in May 2021 but did not tell Congress.

The letter also cited new evidence that Cuffari's office "may have secretly abandoned efforts to collect text messages from the Secret Service more than a year ago," indicating that the office "may have taken steps to cover up the extent of missing records."

Cuffari informed Congress last month that Secret Service text messages from Jan. 5 and 6 were deleted, "roughly 14 months after you reportedly learned that the Secret Service texts were unavailable though Inspectors General are required by law to 'immediately' reports problems or abuses that are 'particularly serious or flagrant,'" the lawmakers wrote, adding that Cuffari's letter also failed to mention that his office told Secret Service to ignore a request to turn over texts from that time.

The lawmakers said that Cuffari's office had requested text messages from Secret Service employees but his deputy, Thomas Kait, sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security just six weeks later informing officials that the IG office would "no longer request phone records and text messages" from Secret Service personnel related to Jan. 6.

It's unclear why Cuffari's office "chose not to pursue critical information" at the time, especially since his office submitted a new request for certain texts four months later in December 2021, the lawmakers wrote. Kait, the letter said, also removed "key language" from a February 2022 memo to DHS highlighting the importance of text messages to the IG's investigation. Kait "apparently worked" with other senior staffers to "alter the memo to remove the reference to text messages" and instead praised DHS for its "timely and consolidated" response.

The letter also called out Cuffari's office for failing to inform Congress about missing texts from top DHS Trump appointees Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli.

The lawmakers called for Cuffari to "step aside" and for the department to turn over additional documents.

"These documents raise troubling new concerns that your office not only failed to notify Congress for more than a year that critical evidence in this investigation was missing," the letter said, "but your senior staff deliberately chose not to pursue that evidence and then appear to have taken steps to cover up these failures."

Cuffari in a defiant email to colleagues obtained by Politico on Monday wrote that he "cannot always publicly respond to untruths and false information about our work," alleging that the department has faced an "onslaught of meritless criticism."

But it's not just Congress criticizing the department. A DHS IG official told Politico that Cuffari and his senior staff are "uniquely unqualified to lead an Inspector General's office, and the current negative congressional and media scrutiny bear that out."

"The crucial oversight mission of the DHS OIG has been compromised," the official said, "and there will be no course correction as long as Cuffari leads the DHS OIG."

Olivia Troye, a former DHS official and adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence, told CNN on Friday that she went public with her 2020 resignation over the administration's pandemic response because she did not trust Cuffari.

"There is a reason that I went very public with my concerns about the Trump administration, rather than going through the traditional whistleblower process, which would have led me through the inspector general's office at DHS," she said. "And I'll just say that. So, there's a level of trust there that you understand."

Cuffari previously came under fire for rejecting his staff's recommendation to investigate the Secret Service's role in clearing Lafayette Square of protesters ahead of a controversial Trump photo-op, according to the Washington Post. He also scrapped an investigation into whether the agency had flouted pandemic protocols despite recommendations from his staff. His office did not launch a single investigation specifically probing the Secret Service at any point while Trump was in office.

At the same time, reports have highlighted the unusual support Trump received from certain Secret Service personnel. Bobby Engel, the head of Trump's detail on Jan. 6, and Tony Ornato, a longtime Secret Service officer who was tapped by Trump to serve as a deputy chief of staff at the White House, sought to refute testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson that Trump lunged at a Secret Service officer on Jan. 6 while insisting he be taken to the Capitol. Both men have since refused to testify under oath to the committee and have retained private counsel, lawmakers said last month.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) last month obtained records showing that Cuffari's team was aware agents deleted their texts months earlier than reported but did not tell Congress.

"There's a clear pattern, going back months, showing that Cuffari has no respect for his role as inspector general," Liz Hempowicz, the director of public policy at POGO, told Politico. "Every time we report on another inexplicable misstep that shows Cuffari clearly not meeting his mission, he doubles down and claims everything is fine and that you just have to trust him. Biden should remove Cuffari as DHS inspector general now. DHS needs a credible watchdog."

'This is how Republicans are planning to steal elections': GOP officials refuse to certify primaries

Republican election officials in at least three states have refused to certify primary votes, in a sign of things to come amid the party's baseless election fraud crusade.

Numerous allies of former President Donald Trump have echoed his lies about voter fraud on the campaign trail. Trump-backed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Adam Laxalt both claimed evidence of "election stealing" before any votes were cast. Colorado secretary of state candidate Tina Peters has twice demanded recounts of her Republican primary race after losing by double digits. Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert filed a lawsuit alleging that his GOP primary loss was a "mathematical impossibility," even after a recount he requested confirmed the results.

While candidates are free to challenge the results of their elections under various state guidelines, Trump-allied election officials pose a more insidious threat. Echoing the same false narratives as Trump and his endorsed candidates, county officials in New Mexico, Nevada and Pennsylvania have tried to circumvent state laws and refused to sign off on primary results.

Republican commissioners in Otero County, New Mexico last month refused to certify primary results in their GOP-dominated jurisdiction, citing unspecified concerns about Dominion voting machines. These apparently stem from TrumpWorld's crusade to stoke baseless allegations that the machines had "flipped" votes from Trump to Joe Biden. The Otero County commissioners ultimately relented and certified the votes amid concerns that they could go to jail after state officials took them to court.

Republican commissioners in rural Esmeralda County, Nevada, likewise refused to certify the 317 votes cast in the county last month, citing unspecified concerns about the election from residents. County officials ultimately relented after spending more than seven hours counting the 317 ballots by hand.

Three Republican-led counties in Pennsylvania — Berks, Fayette and Lancaster — have refused to count all valid votes from the May 17 primary election for Senate, Congress, governor and the state legislature for weeks over opposition to the state's rules regarding undated mail-in ballots.

Officials in all three counties informed the state last month that they would not count mail-in votes that had not been properly dated, according to the Associated Press.

Pennsylvania mail ballots instruct voters to write a date next to their signature on the outside of mail-in return envelopes, although these dates do not determine whether voters are eligible or if votes were cast on time. A federal appeals court ruled in May that undated mail-in ballots must be counted, ruling that the dates are "immaterial." The U.S. Supreme Court, even with three Trump-appointed justices, allowed the ruling to stand last month. A state court similarly ruled in the Republican Senate primary that undated ballots should be counted.

The Pennsylvania Department of State earlier this month sued the three counties, asking a state court to order them to include all valid ballots "even if the voter failed to write a date on the declaration printed on the ballot's return envelope."

The department said in the lawsuit that the handwritten date "is not necessary for any purpose, does not remedy any mischief and does not advance any other objective," and that "allowing just three county boards to exclude votes that all other county boards have included in their returns creates impermissible discrepancies in the administration of Pennsylvania's 2022 primary election."

"Interpreting Pennsylvania law to allow a county board of election to exclude a ballot from its final certified results because of a minor and meaningless irregularity, such as a voter omitting a date from the declaration on a timely received ballot, would fail to fulfill the purpose of the Pennsylvania Election Code and would risk a conflict with both the Pennsylvania Constitution and federal law," the lawsuit said.

"It is imperative that every legal vote cast by a qualified voter is counted," Molly Stieber, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, told the New York Times. "The 64 other counties in Pennsylvania have complied and accurately certified their election results. Counties cannot abuse their responsibility for running elections as an excuse to unlawfully disenfranchise voters."

Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach said during an appearance in court on Thursday that he does not have "discretion to determine whether a date is material or immaterial."

"I simply am obligated to look at the clear language of the law that says undated and/or unsigned ballots will not be counted," he said during a hearing, claiming that rulings on the ballots have been "anything but clear."

Leinbach said he "could not in good conscience vote to certify undated ballots," adding that "this type of issue is what is causing a lack of trust in the system."

Lancaster County officials told the Philadelphia Inquirer the county had "properly certified" its results in accordance with state law and court orders.

"The Commonwealth's demand is contrary to the law or any existing court order," the county said. "The County will vigorously defend its position to follow the law to ensure the integrity of elections in Lancaster County."

Fayette County officials argued in a court filing that the state did not have the authority to force it to count the undated ballots, according to the AP, adding that the state had missed a deadline to appeal a county board decision. The county also cited ongoing litigation before the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the merits of the appellate court ruling.

It's unclear which way the Supreme Court may rule. Only Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented in the earlier emergency order, arguing that the lower court ruling was "very likely wrong."

The American Civil Liberties Union defended the appellate court ruling after Alito's dissent.

"Every vote matters, and every valid vote should be counted. Voters may not be disenfranchised for a minor paperwork error like this one," ACLU attorney Ari Savitzky said in a statement. "The Third Circuit was correct in unanimously reaching that conclusion. We are thrilled for these voters that their ballots can finally now be counted, consistent with the requirements of federal law."

The dates on the absentee ballot envelopes neither help determine whether a voter is eligible nor whether the ballot was cast by the deadline, Matthew Weil, the director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said in a statement.

"Exploiting inconsequential errors or omissions to invalidate otherwise eligible ballots received by the deadline is poor policy and bad for democracy," he said. "The fact that the state already accepts ballots with incorrect or invalid dates only demonstrates how inconsequential this requirement is to determine the voter's and the ballot's eligibility."

Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias warned that the situation in Pennsylvania is "far more disturbing than those we have seen elsewhere."

The three counties have a combined population of over 1 million people, he noted, and the issue causing the counties to contest the results has "been fully litigated in both federal and state courts."

"Most importantly, these counties did not refuse to submit any election results at all. Worse, they submitted results that intentionally exclude lawful votes," he said, adding that "this is how Republicans are planning to steal elections in the future."

Nonpartisan election law experts agreed that the trend could cause chaos on a larger scale.

"Had this unfolded on this kind of timeline in 2020, it really could have created problems, because there would have been questions about whether the state could have actually named a slate of electors," Robert Yablon, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, told the Times. "You could imagine there being disputed slates of electors that were sent to Congress, and it could have been a big mess."

'Embarrassment to the Supreme Court': Samuel Alito ripped for taunting critics of his anti-abortion ruling

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito mocked world leaders who criticized his anti-abortion ruling last month and decried what he called a "hostility to religion" in his first public comments since the decision.

Alito, who authored the court's majority opinion in the Dobbs case that overturned Roe v. Wade, bragged during a surprise appearance at a religious conference hosted by the Notre Dame Law School's Religious Liberty Initiative in Rome last week that he wrote the opinion in what he described as the case "whose name may not be spoken."

"I had the honor this term of writing I think the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law," he said.

"One of these was former [British] Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But he paid the price," Alito said, referring to Johnson's unrelated decision to resign, drawing laughs and cheers from the crowd.

"Others are still in office," he added, calling out French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for their remarks before lobbing an attack on Prince Harry.

"But what really wounded me was when the Duke of Sussex addressed the United Nations and seemed to compare the decision whose name may not be spoken with the Russian attack on Ukraine," he quipped.

Prince Harry during a speech at the U.N. said that the court's decision, along with the invasion of Ukraine, are both evidence that "we are witnessing a global assault on democracy and freedom."

"Despite this temptation, I'm not going to talk about cases from other countries," Alito continued. "All I'm going to say is that, ultimately, if we are going to win the battle to protect religious freedom in an increasingly secular society, we will need more than positive law."

Alito during his remarks alleged that "religious liberty is under attack" even though the impenetrable conservative majority on the Supreme Court gave religious rights groups their biggest wins in generations this term: striking down abortion rights, siding with a public high school football coach who prayed on the field after games, and banning Maine from excluding religious schools from tuition assistance programs.

"It is hard to convince people that religious liberty is worth defending if they don't think that religion is a good thing that deserves protection," Alito said.

Alito's speech came on the same day that liberal Justice Elena Kagan warned that the court's hard-right majority risks losing legitimacy in the eyes of Americans.

"I'm not talking about any particular decision or even any particular series of decisions, but if over time the court loses all connection with the public and with public sentiment, that's a dangerous thing for a democracy," she said during a conference in Montana last week. "People are rightly suspicious if one justice leaves the court or dies and another justice takes his or her place and all of sudden the law changes on you."

Confidence in the Supreme Court hit a record low after the Dobbs decision, according to a Gallup poll, falling to just 25%.

Alito's appearance at the conference was not announced in advance and the video was published by the law school on Thursday. The event was sponsored by the school's Religious Liberty Initiative, which aims to promote "religious freedom for people of all faiths through scholarship, events, and the Law School's Religious Liberty Clinic," and files briefs to the Supreme Court, according to The Washington Post.

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., called out Alito's remarks at the conference, calling him an "embarrassment to the Supreme Court."

"He doesn't understand there are different religions in America," Lieu tweeted. "What makes America great is that we let you practice your faith, change your faith or have no faith at all. Some religions support abortion, some don't."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said that Alito's leaked opinion ahead of the ruling "paired with his politicized remarks" should be "alarming to anyone."

"The Supreme Court is in a legitimacy crisis," she tweeted, calling on Chief Justice John Roberts to get to the bottom of who leaked the draft opinion.

Roberts sought to save Roe and lobbied fellow conservatives to change their vote until the leak upended his attempts just as anti-abortion activists were growing concerned about his efforts, according to CNN.

Other critics also cited Alito's remarks as further evidence of the politicization of the Supreme Court.

"Alito is not just a partisan hack. He is the leader of this partisan and reckless court, and he is a clear and present danger to our basic system of governance and of justice," wrote Norm Ornstein, an Emeritus scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

"Alito is so extremist far right," quipped former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes, "that his idea of owning the libs is taking shots at Boris Johnson."

'There was no order': Trump defense secretary calls BS on his Jan. 6 lie that he had 10K troops ready to deploy

Former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller testified to the House Jan. 6 committee that former President Donald Trump never ordered 10,000 troops to be ready to deploy to the Capitol on Jan. 6 despite his repeated claims.

Trump and former chief of staff Mark Meadows previously claimed that the administration had 10,000 National Guard troops ready to deploy to the Capitol.

Miller told the committee that there was no "accuracy" to those statements in a new deposition video released by the panel on Tuesday.

"I was never given any direction or order or knew of any plans of that nature," Miller told the committee, adding that he was "surprised by seeing that publicly" because there was "no order from the president."

Miller explained that "obviously we had plans for activating more folks but that was not anything more than contingency planning."

"There was no official message traffic or anything of that nature," he added.

Pressed again on whether the Defense Department had 10,000 troops ready for Jan. 6, Miller said that a "nonmilitary person could have some sort of weird interpretation but no, the answer to your questions is no."

"That was not part of my plan or the Department of Defense's plan," he said.

Not only did Trump not order the National Guard to be ready, but he also urged Miller to "do whatever is necessary to protect the demonstrators that were executing their constitutionally protected rights," Miller testified in May.

Meadows in an email released by the committee even suggested that the National Guard would "protect pro-Trump people."

The 10,000-troop claim has been repeatedly cited by Trump and his allies to cast blame for the deadly Capitol riot on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"Don't forget, President Trump requested increased National Guard support in the days leading up to January 6. The request was rejected — by Pelosi, by congressional leaders, including requests, by the way, from the Capitol Police chief," Fox News host Sean Hannity said while interviewing Meadows in December.

Meadows has repeatedly made the claim about the troops.

"What we also know is that President Trump wanted to make sure that the people that came, that there was a safe environment for that kind of assembly. And I've said that publicly before — the 10,000 National Guard troops that he wanted to make sure that everything was safe and secure," Meadows told Hannity at the time. "Obviously having those National Guards available, actually the reason they were able to respond when they did, was because President Trump had actually put them on alert."

Trump made the claim as early as February 28, 2021, just weeks after the riot.

"I requested … I definitely gave the number of 10,000 National Guardsmen, and [said] I think you should have 10,000 of the National Guard ready," he claimed in a Fox News interview. "They took that number. From what I understand, they gave it to the people at the Capitol, which is controlled by Pelosi. And I heard they rejected it because they didn't think it would look good. So, you know, that was a big mistake."

Trump earlier this month updated his claim, falsely writing on Truth Social that he requested up to "20,000 troops to stand guard at the Capitol."

The committee has shown copious evidence that Trump never acted or made any calls to law enforcement or military officials on Jan. 6, watching the violence play out on Fox News in his dining room instead.

Trump in a video recorded on Jan. 7, 2021, falsely claimed that he "immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement" to secure the Capitol.

The Jan. 6 committee previously released video last month of Trump of Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley revealing that it was then-Vice President Mike Pence who demanded National Guard support.

"Vice President Pence – there were two or three calls with Vice President Pence," Milley testified. "He was very animated, and he issued very explicit, very direct, unambiguous orders. There was no question about that. And I can get you the exact quotes, I guess, from some of our records somewhere. But he was very animated, very direct, very firm to Secretary Miller: Get the military down here, get the Guard down here, put down this situation, et cetera."

He added that he later received a call from Meadows urging him to "kill the narrative" that Pence was calling the shots.

"He said – this is from memory, he said: 'We have to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions. We need to establish the narrative, you know, that the president is still in charge and that things are steady or stable,' or words to that effect," Milley told the committee. "I immediately interpreted that as politics, politics, politics. Red flag for me, personally, no action. But I remember it distinctly. And I don't do political narratives."

Pence's national security adviser Gen. Keith Kellogg and Trump aide Nick Luna also testified that they were unaware of any requests Trump made to the National Guard or any law enforcement agency.

Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said at a hearing last month that Trump not only refused to call off his mob but "placed no call to any element of the United States government to instruct that the Capitol be defended."

"He did not call his secretary of defense on Jan. 6. He did not talk to his Attorney General. He did not talk to the Department of Homeland Security," Cheney added. "President Trump gave no order to deploy the National Guard that day. And he made no effort to work with the Department of Justice to coordinate and deploy law enforcement assets."

Secret Service agents who vowed to derail Hutchinson testimony lawyer up, refuse to testify: panel

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the clearing of protesters at Lafayette Square. An inspector general report "did not support a finding that the [U.S. Park Police] cleared the park to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church.” AlterNet regrets the error.

Top Secret Service agents who tried to undermine former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony to the Jan. 6 committee have hired private lawyers and are refusing to cooperate with the investigation, members of the panel said over the weekend.

Hutchinson, who worked as a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified last month that she was told by deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato that former President Donald Trump was so irate that his security detail would not take him to the Capitol with his supporters on Jan. 6 that he lunged at Secret Service agent Bobby Engel, the head of his detail. Hutchinson said Ornato, who made the unusual leap from working at the Secret Service to working for Trump before returning as a senior Secret Service official, described the incident with Engel present and he did not dispute it.

After her testimony, journalists citing anonymous sources reported that Engel and the driver of Trump's vehicle were "prepared to testify under oath" to dispute Hutchinson's account and that Ornato denied telling Hutchinson that Trump "grabbed the steering wheel or an agent."

Hutchinson's lawyer, Jody Hunt, a former aide to Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said that she stood by her account and urged the Secret Service agents to testify under oath. Several witnesses, including a D.C. police officer assigned to Trump's motorcade, testified that Trump got into a "heated" confrontation with his security detail when he was told he could not go to the Capitol.

Ornato, Engel, and the unidentified driver of Trump's vehicle have since hired private counsel, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., told reporters last week.

"Some of the officers said that they would be coming and talking under oath," said Lofgren, a member of the committee. "They have not come in, and they recently retained private counsel, which is unusual but they have a right to do that."

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., one of the two Republicans on the panel, told ABC News on Sunday that "it is not our decision that they have not [testified] so far."

Asked if the Secret Service is refusing to cooperate, Kinzinger replied, "that's a question you have to ask the Secret Service, you have to ask those particular people."

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the committee's vice-chair, told Fox News Sunday that "we have not had the kind of cooperation that we really need to have" from the Secret Service.

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Questions have swirled about Ornato and Engel's credibility since Hutchinson's testimony. Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, who wrote the book "Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service" during the Trump administration, told MSNBC that both men were "very, very close to President Trump."

"Some people accused them of at times being enablers and 'yes men' of the president—particularly Tony Ornato—and very much people who wanted to do what he wanted and see him pleased," she said, adding that "both of these individuals lose a little credibility because of how closely they have been seen as aligned to Donald Trump."

Ornato made an unusual transition from working for the Secret Service to working directly for Trump at the White House, serving as deputy chief of staff for operations. Former White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah accused Ornato, who helped coordinate Trump's infamous photo-op at a church near Lafayette Square, of lying about the incident. "There seems to be a major thread here… Tony Ornato likes to lie," Kinzinger tweeted last month.

The committee members also called out the Secret Service over missing text messages from around the time of the Capitol attack. The Secret Service said that agents' text messages were deleted during a system migration in Jan. 2021. The agency turned over just one text message thread in response to a subpoena from the committee. Joseph Cuffari, the top watchdog at the Department of Homeland Security, was aware of the deleted texts since February but did not inform Congress, according to The Washington Post. Cuffari's office has since opened a criminal investigation into the destruction of the text messages, NBC News reported last week, after the committee accused the agency of potentially violating federal record-keeping laws.

The committee, which held eight televised hearings over the last six weeks and plans to hold three more in September, vowed to continue its investigation, including into the "extent to which there are no text messages from the relevant period of time," Cheney said Sunday.

"Those are all the things the committee is going to be looking at in more detail in the coming weeks," Cheney told Fox News.

Ron DeSantis’ handpicked 'radical far-right' secretary of state will oversee his race

Democrats and election experts have sounded the alarm for months about the growing risk of election subversion as conspiracy theorists backed by former President Donald Trump run for secretary of state in key swing states. But with little fanfare or media attention, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year hand-picked a right-wing ally who refuses to acknowledge President Joe Biden's 2020 victory to oversee his re-election race.

Around the country, Republicans pushing Trump's "Big Lie" about the 2020 election are running to win jobs overseeing the next election. Trump loyalist Jim Marchant, who baselessly claims that elections have been illegitimate for more than a decade, recently won the Republican nomination for secretary of state in Nevada. The Michigan Republican Party is backing Kristina Karamo, who has pushed ludicrous conspiracy theories about the 2020 race being stolen. Trump has also endorsed Mark Finchem as Arizona's next secretary of state after he attended the Jan. 6 Capitol rally and introduced a bill to decertify 2020 election results.

But Florida, like Texas, allows the governor to appoint the state's election chief. After Secretary of State Laurel Lee resigned to run for a U.S. House seat this spring, DeSantis simply handed his right-wing ally the job.

DeSantis in May appointed controversial state Rep. Cord Byrd to oversee elections in the state, touting him as an "ally of freedom and democracy." DeSantis won his first election by less than half a percentage point against Democrat Andrew Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee.

"I look forward to his successes ensuring Florida's elections remain safe, secure and well-administered," DeSantis said in a statement. A news release from DeSantis' office praised Byrd as "a staunch advocate for election security, public integrity, the fight against big tech censorship and the de-platforming of political candidates."

In his own statement, Byrd vowed to ensure that "Florida continues to have secure elections and that we protect the freedom of our citizens in the face of big-tech censorship and ever-growing cybersecurity threats."

Byrd has refused to acknowledge Biden's win over Trump, citing unspecified "irregularities" in the 2020 election.

"He was certified as the president. He is the president of the United States," Byrd said after he was appointed. "There were irregularities in certain states. … I'm not the secretary of state of Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Arizona. That's up to their voters. We in Florida had a successful election in 2020. And that's what I want to continue to have in 2022."

There is no evidence of any issues in the states Byrd cited that may have improperly swayed the election.

Byrd said Florida's election was "successful and accurate" but added that "we also know that people want to interfere and sow chaos," defending a spate of new voting restrictions, some of which a federal judge later ruled unconstitutional because they disenfranchised Black voters.

Byrd and his wife Esther, who was appointed by DeSantis to the State Board of Education, quit Twitter last year after she tweeted about "the coming civil wars" during the Capitol riot.

"In the coming civil wars (We the People vs the Radical Left and We the People cleaning up the Republican Party), team rosters are being filled. Every elected official in DC will pick one. There are only 2 teams … With Us [or] Against Us," Esther Byrd tweeted as the Capitol was under siege. "We the People will NOT forget!"

She also appeared to defend the rioters in another post she wrote on Facebook.

"ANTIFA and BLM can burn and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens," she wrote, according to Florida Politics. "But when Trump supporters peacefully protest, suddenly 'Law and Order' is all they can talk about! I can't even listen to these idiots bellyaching about solving our differences without violence."

She also made "comments supportive of QAnon after the couple was photographed on a boat flying a QAnon flag," the outlet reported.

Cord Byrd dismissed criticism of his wife's comments last year, arguing that "people talk about civil wars in the Republican party."

"There are factions. People believe different things. It was a figure of speech and that's how it was intended," he told WJXT-TV.

Byrd, who will ultimately require confirmation by the Republican-led state Senate, will oversee the state's upcoming elections and the implementation of its new voting restrictions, including the creation of a new office in the Department of State to investigate allegations of irregularities. Democrats have pushed to hold confirmation hearings but have been ignored by Republican leaders.

While serving in the state House, Byrd co-sponsored the voting restrictions legislation and several other controversial bills, including a 2021 measure that imposed stiff criminal penalties in protests that turn violent after mass demonstrations following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

"We can act before it's too late. We do not need to have Miami or Orlando or Jacksonville become Kenosha or Seattle or Portland," Byrd said at the time. "We have the ability under House Bill 1 to act now to say you can protest peaceably but you cannot commit acts of violence, you cannot harm other people, you cannot destroy their property, you cannot destroy their lives."

Byrd also co-sponsored Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill, a 15-week abortion ban, a bill to ban schools from discussing race, and anti-trans and anti-immigrant legislation, according to the ACLU of Florida. Byrd also supported DeSantis' congressional map, which was adopted by the legislature and subsequently challenged in court for reducing the number of majority-Black districts in the state.

"Our main concern around this office is that there is no guardrail to ensure that under any administration it couldn't become a political tool," Abelilah Skhir of the ACLU of Florida told NPR.

During a debate on the state's 15-week abortion ban, Byrd clashed with Black lawmakers on the House floor, calling them "fucking idiots," according to the Orlando Sentinel.

State Rep. Angie Nixon said at the time that she was "disgusted" by Byrd's behavior.

"Byrd is unhinged," she tweeted, accusing him of "antagonizing and cussing at Black Caucus members." He "clearly has biases & lacks composure," she wrote.

Byrd's office later denied the report.

After Byrd's appointment, Nixon slammed DeSantis' choice, arguing that the top election official "should be a consensus builder whose sole focus is running free and fair elections for every citizen of our state."

"Cord Byrd is not that person," she said in a statement. "He is unqualified in both his credentials and his temperament, has proved time and again he will put partisanship ahead of good policy, and is unfit to lead the elections department of a diverse state of more than 20 million people."

Byrd said in a statement to NPR that he has "always advocated for the rule of law, and now serving as Florida's Secretary of State, that will not change."

The secretary of state's office said the allegations that Byrd would politicize the department "are simply not true and have been repeatedly addressed."

"This is a false narrative that appears to be perpetuated by inaccurate or incomplete news stories and by partisan political attacks," the office said. "The Secretary of State's office is nonpartisan and will not respond to those allegations."

DeSantis defended Byrd during a press conference in May, touting him as a champion of "election integrity."

"We are not going to have to worry in Florida about Zuckerbucks infiltrating our elections with Cord as secretary of state," the governor said, echoing a litany of election conspiracy theories. "We're not going to have to worry about ballot harvesting with Cord as secretary of state. We're going to make sure that the elections are run efficiently and transparently. But we are not going to allow these external influences to come in and to corrupt the operations. And we're certainly not going to allow political operatives to harvest all these votes, and then dump them somewhere."

So far, Democratic calls for a state Senate vote on Byrd's confirmation have fallen on deaf ears. State Sen. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat, said in a statement that Byrd "must be thoroughly vetted and confirmed by the full Senate body before he is able to preside over the upcoming midterm elections.

"He is taking over at a critical juncture and will be the first to oversee a new election security force which has unprecedented authority to hunt election and voting violations," Bracy said.

State Rep. Carlos Smith, a fellow Democrat, said Byrd may be DeSantis' "most frightening appointment to date."

"Florida now has a QAnon conspiracy theorist and promoter of the big lie overseeing our state elections and DeSantis' election police," he said. "We need a Secretary of State whose top priority is free and fair elections, not a hyper-partisan GOP loyalist who takes orders from Ron DeSantis. Our right to vote is sacred and I worry about what this could mean for our democracy."

Democrats running to challenge DeSantis have already asked for the Justice Department to keep a close eye on the secretary of state's new election police, citing Byrd's involvement.

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., a former Florida governor (and former Republican) who is running for the office again, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department to "consider using all available authorities and resources to protect the rights of Florida voters."

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also cited Byrd when she asked the DOJ to keep tabs on the state.

"Due to these seriously concerning actions, it is imperative that the U.S. Department of Justice closely monitor the election-related actions of Florida officials and take appropriate federal action if necessary," she wrote, adding that the "collective measures" by DeSantis and the Florida legislature were "not isolated threats, but deliberate attempts to circumvent or override democratic norms. Discriminatory congressional maps, new voter suppression measures, and a Secretary of State with radical far-right views is a dangerous combination for Florida voters and the integrity of our elections."

Texas GOP Attorney General Ken Paxton on the Uvalde massacre: 'God has a plan'

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said recently that he would tell parents of young children killed in the Uvalde school shooting that "God has a plan."

Paxton, who took the leading role in a failed Supreme Court case aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 election, went on a media blitz to fight calls for gun restrictions shortly after an 18-year-old shooter killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in the West Texas town of Uvalde.

In an interview with right-wing radio host Trey Graham, Paxton acknowledged that it is "difficult to give comfort" to families who lost their kids. "If I lost one of my children I'd be pretty devastated, especially in a way that is so senseless and seemingly has no purpose," he continued. "I think ... I would just have to say, if I had the opportunity to talk to the people I'd have to say, look, there's always a plan. I believe God always has a plan. Life is short no matter what it is. And certainly, we're not going to make sense of, you know, a young child being shot and killed way before their life expectancy."

Paxton's comments last week came ahead of emotional testimony by parents of Uvalde victims in the House last week. Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed in the attack, pleaded for Congress to take action on gun safety in response to the massacre.

"We understand that for some reason, to some people — to people with money, to people who fund political campaigns — that guns are more important than children," Rubio said while testifying with her husband, Felix. "Somewhere out there, there is a mom listening to our testimony thinking, 'I can't even imagine their pain,' not knowing that our reality will someday be hers. Unless we act now."

Dr. Roy Guerrero, a Uvalde pediatrician who treated some of the victims, made a similar plea as he described how children's bodies were "pulverized" and "decapitated" by the bullets from the AR-15-style rifle used by the gunman, to the point that "the only clue as to their identities were the blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them."

"Making sure our children are safe from guns, that's the job of our politicians and leaders," Guerrero said. "In this case, you are the doctors and our country is the patient. We are lying on the operating table, riddled with bullets like the children of Robb Elementary and so many other schools. We are bleeding out, and you are not there. My oath as a doctor means that I signed up to save lives. I do my job, and I guess it turns out that I am here to plead, to beg, to please, please do yours."

But after the heart-wrenching testimony, all but five Republicans in the House voted against a package that would raise the age to buy an AR-15 from 18 to 21 and toughen existing gun laws. Senate Republicans have already ruled out any new gun restrictions, as have Republican state leaders in Texas.

Paxton's immediate response to the shooting was to call for arming teachers, which some schools in Texas already do despite strong pushback from teachers.

"We can't stop bad people from doing bad things. We can potentially arm and prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly. That, in my opinion, is the best answer," Paxton said following the shooting.

Other Texas Republicans have also tried to blame anything but widespread easy access to guns. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called for "door control" in schools and Gov. Greg Abbott pushed an emphasis on mental health — despite slashing funds for mental health treatment.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, after Wednesday's hearing suggested that the answer is more "prayer."

"Look, maybe if we heard more prayers from leaders of this country instead of taking God's name in vain, we wouldn't have the mass killings like we didn't have before prayer was eliminated from school," he said.

Paxton in particular has a long history of opposing gun restrictions in response to mass shootings in Uvalde, El Paso and Sutherland Springs, arguing that mass shooters are "not going to follow a single gun law" even though gun laws prevented the shooter from getting a gun until he turned 18 — the legal age to purchase an AR-15, but not a handgun — just days before the attack.

Paxton has a close relationship with the gun lobby. The NRA, the Texas State Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America Political Victory Fund have all contributed heavily to his campaigns. Paxton also signed an amicus brief backing the NRA's petition asking the Supreme Court to strike down California's ban on high-capacity magazines. He even "welcomed" the NRA to Texas after the group tried and failed to file for bankruptcy to dodge a corruption investigation by New York's attorney general.

After a gunman killed 26 people in the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting, Paxton argued that the only answer to gun violence was more guns.

"In Texas at least we have the opportunity to have concealed carry," he told Fox News. "And so if it's a place where somebody has the ability to carry, there's always the opportunity that gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many."

After another gunman killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart, Paxton again argued that more guns were the answer rather than fewer guns.

"The best way is to be prepared to defend yourself," he told CBS News.

Ironically, Paxton himself cannot buy a gun under federal law, because he has been under indictment since 2015 for breaking state securities law.

Researchers have found no evidence that arming teachers or other school personnel has any effect on school shootings. A review of 89 journal publications and media reports by researchers at the University of Toledo and Ball State University similarly found that armed school resource officers, restrictions on the number of school exits and active-shooter drills do not help either.

The "ideal method for eliminating school firearm violence by youths is to prevent them from ever gaining access to firearms," the researchers concluded, adding that "unfortunately, studies have found an alarming rate of firearms accessible to youths."

Trump pal JD Vance says Big Tech data collection should be 'illegal' — but set to profit from it

Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance stands to profit from the same Big Tech data collection tactics he has attacked on the campaign trail.

Vance, the author of "Hillbilly Elegy" and the co-founder of the venture capital firm Narya Capital, has focused many of his talking points on Big Tech, which has become a popular target of the Trump wing of the GOP. But Vance himself made much of his fortune investing in tech companies. Vance received Donald Trump's endorsement earlier this month in the crowded primary race to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. He has been especially outspoken about data collection tactics used by tech giants, but his firm recently invested in a religious app that does exactly that, harvesting user data as a "business asset."

During an interview with Breitbart News in January, Vance complained about companies "stealing our data and selling it to our enemies."

"There is nothing that says that Google should be allowed to harvest your data as a consumer," he said.

Vance went as far as calling to ban the practice in a video posted to Facebook. "Maybe we should make it illegal for them — or at least require disclosure before they steal our data, before they harvest our data and then sell it back to us in the form of targeted advertising," he said.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation earlier this year revealed certain religious and prayer apps prey on unwitting users by collecting their data and sharing it with third-party vendors. One such app mentioned in the report is Hallow, which targets Roman Catholics and collects "extensive information about their users." The company says it does not currently sell user data, but reserves "sole discretion" to share it however it chooses.

Hallow, the "#1 Catholic prayer and meditation app," recently completed a $40 million investment round that included J.D. Vance's company, Narya Capital, along with Peter Thiel.

Hallow bills itself as the "#1 Catholic prayer and meditation app," and announced last November that it completed a $40 million investment round that included Narya and Peter Thiel, the Trump megadonor who is bankrolling Vance's Senate bid to the tune of at least $13.5 million. Hallow is one of just seven apps that Narya lists in its portfolio. Vance is a co-founder and partner at Narya, which has paid him more than $400,000 since January 2020, according to a recent personal finance disclosure.

Hallow collects "extensive information" about its users, although company officials told BuzzFeed News it has not shared user information with third parties.. The company's privacy policy allows it to share the data with partners for targeted advertising and gives the company "sole discretion" to disclose information to marketing firms, the government or other third parties. The company, which offers a free and paid versions of its app, categorizes user data as a "business asset," perhaps "one of their most valuable," according to the BuzzFeed investigation.

Though the company is not yet selling data, privacy researcher Zach Edwards told BuzzFeed that was likely to change at any time without notice. "Until these prayer apps have been around for a few years," he said, "users should anticipate that at any moment, online advertising could be easily integrated into these websites, and the data they currently are collecting could be used to optimize new advertising systems."

Other apps like Bible Gateway, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., are already making money by sharing user data into an ad targeting system called NewsIQ, which claims it can "capture the preferences, opinions and emotions" that advertisers could exploit.

Lawmakers expressed concerns over the BuzzFeed investigation.

"This investigation makes even more clear the need for Congress to pass comprehensive consumer privacy laws to ensure that the public is in control of their most intimate personal information — not distant corporations and tech giants," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who chairs a Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee on consumer protection and data security, told BuzzFeed.

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told BuzzFeed that companies "have a duty to explain if and how their users' personal prayers are being used by marketers," adding that "concealing that information would be a disgusting indication that they prioritize profits over faith."

Vance's campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but a Democratic PAC criticized Vance over his ties to the company.

"J.D. Vance is a Silicon Valley insider who's being propped up by his tech billionaire former boss," Brad Bainum, spokesperson for American Bridge 21st Century, told Salon, "and keeps proving that he's a total and complete fraud who can't be trusted."

Progressives announce plan to 'block business as usual' to protest Manchin and Sinema’s 'corrupt obstruction'

Progressive organizers in Arizona and West Virginia on Tuesday announced a joint protest targeting Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to demand they back ending the filibuster.

The activists announced a "Sit-In to Save America" rally, march and nonviolent civil disobedience on May 23 in Tucson, Ariz., and Charleston, W.Va., to demand the two senators "stop their corrupt obstruction and end the filibuster so the majority can finally pass legislation to deal with the urgent crises that plague our nation."

Organizers in a statement accused Sinema and Manchin of "protecting an abused, outdated Senate rule" and the "profits of their corporate donors over our people, our democracy and our planet."

The organizers said the protest will "block business as usual" in "the great tradition of Dr. King, John Lewis, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, the suffragettes, the sit down strikers and other freedom struggles" in order "to dramatize this emergency and make it impossible to ignore."

Activists in the two states joined forces in response to the "continuing disgusting role of Sens. Sinema and Manchin and the filibuster rule that maintains racism, oppression and the exploitation of labor," Steven Valencia, the chair of Arizona Jobs for Justice and coordinating committee member of the Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster, said in a statement to Salon. "Democracy is at stake and the moment is critical to change course for the benefit of working people and the planet. I will join friends in peaceful action and risk arrest to give voice to our demand of ending the filibuster."

Sharon Helan, president of the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition and coordinating committee member of the West Virginia Poor People's Campaign, said that Martin Luther King Jr. "taught us the value of nonviolent disobedience to affect positive change."

"Sen. Manchin's obstructionism and support of fossil fuels are perilous to preserving our democracy, as well as our planet, and we cannot be silent about it," Helman said.

Many of the activists involved organized previous efforts to protest the two senators, including two sit-ins at Sinema's Phoenix office last summer and a Martin Luther King Jr. Day sit-in in Charleston to pressure Manchin. Activists frustrated with the Senate obstruction have also confronted Manchin on his yacht in Washington and Sinema at her teaching gig at Arizona State University and on airplanes.

Activists say their complaints have been ignored, even as the senators routinely make time for corporate campaign donors.

"Straight from the heart, I asked Sen. Sinema on an airplane to put people first last year. But like she's done with nearly every voter who put her in office, she simply ignored me," Karina Ruiz, executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and coordinating committee member of the Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster, said in a statement to Salon. "It's unacceptable. And it's time to escalate with the power of solidarity. Arizonans and West Virginians are coming together to take on our obstructionist senators together."

Democrats entered President Biden's term with high hopes of passing transformational legislation, including protections for workers and the LGBTQ+ community, a $15 minimum wage, a voting rights expansion and the Build Back Better package, which in its initial form sought to provide more than $500 billon to fight climate change, lower drug costs, expand child care and elder care, and provide assistance for families. But Manchin and Sinema opposed key portions of the Build Back Better plan, and their refusal to reform the filibuster has stalled the other proposals indefinitely amid united Republican opposition.

"How much more are we going to let the wealthy and powerful few hurt our democracy, our planet, and our neighbors?" Alexandra Gallo, former organizing director for the West Virginia Working Families Party, said in a statement. "Enough is enough and we are sitting in to save America. Sen. Manchin has demonstrated time and time again that he is not doing right by all West Virginians and we must do whatever it takes to hold him accountable. The time is now and the call to action is urgent."

Manchin earlier this year reaffirmed his commitment to protecting the filibuster, arguing incorrectly that it has existed in its current form for 232 years. It was actually established in 1975, two years after Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate. Sinema has also stood firm on her position despite being censured by the Arizona Democratic Party in January over her opposition. Despite ostensibly supporting voting rights legislation and other Democratic proposals, Sinema has argued that eliminating the filibuster would "deepen our divisions and risk repeated radical reversals in federal policy, cementing uncertainty and further eroding confidence in our government."

The two senators have faced very different reactions from their constituents back home. Manchin, who represents a deep-red state that Donald Trump carried by nearly 40 points, has seen his approval rating soar 17 percentage points over the past year, doubling his approval among Republicans in the state to 69%, compared to just 44% among voters in his own party, according to a new Morning Consult poll.

Meanwhile, a January Data for Progress poll found that just 19% of Arizona Democratic primary voters have a favorable opinion of Sinema, compared to 78% for Sen. Mark Kelly, a fellow Democrat. Activists last year launched a crowd-funded PAC to raise money for a potential primary challenger to Sinema. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., has emerged as a likely contender, besting his fundraising record last quarter and leading Sinema by a more than 50-point margin in a potential primary matchup.

But while neither senator is up for re-election until 2024, their obstruction of their party's agenda threatens to cost Democrats control of Congress in November. Democrats in recent weeks have blamed Biden's falling approval rating on congressional inaction, and generic ballot polls have repeatedly shown that midterm voters are more likely to support Republican candidates than Democrats.

"The failure of the first filibuster reform vote and the collapse of Build Back Better aren't a reason to give up — they're a call to fight harder and smarter," said Kai Newkirk, founder of For All and coordinating committee member of the Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster, in a statement to Salon. "It's a lie to say we've done all we can. There is too much at stake for our nation and planet not to draw on the nonviolent civil resistance lessons of victorious movements worldwide and put our bodies on the line together to try to make the political costs for Sinema, Manchin and all who continue to block the will of the American majority unbearable."

Trump admits he wanted Barr to take the fall for election scheme: 'I said look — get impeached'

Former President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he pressured then-Attorney General Bill Barr to pursue bogus voter fraud claims after his election loss even if it meant being impeached.

Trump claimed in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity that Barr did not want to investigate his baseless voter fraud claims because he was worried about being impeached even though Barr has repeatedly said the Justice Department did not pursue the claims because there was no evidence of any widespread fraud that could have affected the election outcome.

"Look, we also had a chance, but Bill Barr, the attorney general, didn't want to be impeached," Trump said. "How do you not get impeached? You sit back and relax and wait out for your term to end. That's what he did. And it was a sad thing and a sad day for our country."

Trump also lashed out at Barr for writing what he called a "crummy book" that was "so false." Barr in his book rejected Trump's debunked fraud claims and blamed him for the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, arguing that Trump was not fit for office.

"Had Bill Barr had the courage, a lot of this could've been taken care of," Trump said. "The U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia said Bill Barr told him not to investigate the fraud in the elections, and he said 'Don't do it.' And he wrote a letter to that effect and you know, had Bill Barr had the courage to do what he should've done instead of being worried about being impeached.

"I said, 'Look, get impeached. I went up a lot in the polls when I got impeached. You have to get impeached, maybe,'" Trump added. "But he was so afraid of being impeached that he refused to do his job."

Barr had been a top Trump loyalist who helped run interference in special counsel Bob Mueller's investigation and led the administration's violent crackdown on Black Lives Matter protests. But Barr told MSNBC that Trump became enraged at him after he told him the election fraud "stuff was bullshit." Barr blindsided Trump in December 2020 by giving an interview revealing that the DOJ had found no evidence of widespread fraud, which led him to being pushed out just weeks before Trump left office. Trump continued to pursue the false fraud claims, culminating in the Capitol riot and his record-setting second impeachment. He left office with the lowest approval rating on record.

Barr in his book wrote that Trump surrounded himself with "sycophants" and "whack jobs from outside the government, who fed him a steady diet of comforting but unsupported conspiracy theories." He said that the "absurd lengths" to which Trump took the conspiracy theory "led to the rioting on Capitol Hill."

But despite criticizing his former boss, Barr vowed to vote for Trump if he is the Republican nominee in 2024 even though he is "going to support somebody else for the nomination."

Barr isn't the only former DOJ official Trump has lashed out this week for not doing enough to help him try to steal the election. The former president issued an anti-endorsement of sorts against Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain, the former U.S. attorney in Philadelphia that Trump mentioned in his Hannity interview.

"He was the U.S. Attorney who did absolutely nothing on the massive Election Fraud that took place in Philadelphia and throughout the commonwealth," Trump said in a statement on Tuesday.

McSwain last year sent Trump a letter seeking his endorsement and blaming Barr for stopping him from investigating the bogus fraud claims.

"He should have done his job anyway," Trump said. "Do not vote for Bill McSwain, a coward, who let our country down. He knew what was happening and let it go. It was there for the taking and he failed so badly. Many of the U.S. Attorneys were probably told not to do anything by Barr. Hence, our Country is going to hell."

While Trump has not endorsed a candidate in the race, every viable candidate in the race is an election conspiracist. Leading GOP candidates Doug Mastriano and Lou Barletta even took part in Trump's fraudulent elector scheme.

But as Trump and his allies continue to stoke debunked claims about the 2020 election, the schtick seems to be wearing thin on Republicans concerned the conspiracy theory mongering could cost them key seats in the midterms. Trump's recent endorsements have prompted infighting among his supporters and his rally attendance has dwindled, suggesting a "very shrinking base," one Republican strategist said.

"Many Republicans are tired of going back and rehashing the 2020 election," longtime Republican pollster Frank Luntz told The Daily Beast. "Everybody else has moved on and in Washington, everyone believes he lost the election."

Betsy DeVos is back — and her family is flooding Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with cash

Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her family have donated more than $280,000 to back Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' re-election effort amid his crackdown on discussions of race and sexual orientation in schools.

DeVos, who served four years as former President Donald Trump's education chief, personally contributed $5,500 to a super PAC backing DeSantis' re-election bid last month, according to state campaign finance records. Her husband, Dick DeVos, the former chief executive of Amway, contributed more than $80,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis super PAC last year. Their son, Rick DeVos, contributed $2,500 directly to DeSantis' campaign, as did their grandson Dalton DeVos and niece Olivia DeVos. Dick DeVos' brother Daniel and his wife Pamela also kicked in more than $70,000 to the Friends of DeSantis super PAC and his other brother Douglas also contributed more than $60,000. Dick DeVos' sister Suzanne Cheryl DeVos added another $50,000.

The DeVos family, which also owns the NBA's Orlando Magic, donated more than $200,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC during the Florida governor's 2018 campaign. The Michigan-based DeVos clan, with their extensive conservative connections, have showered far-right Republicans with campaign cash for years, contributing more than $82 million to political causes since 1999, according to an analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, though some estimates put that number at closer to $200 million.

The former secretary and other members of her family have been deeply involved in the "school choice" movement, pushing to shift public education funds to private and charter schools, and have promoted efforts to use the country's schools to "advance God's kingdom." DeSantis, meanwhile, quickly pushed for a plan to use taxpayer money to fund private and religious school tuition to expand "school choice" options shortly after taking office in 2019. DeVos touted the plan while part of the Trump administration, tweeting that she "completely" agrees.

DeSantis also appointed former state House Speaker Richard Corcoran, an ally of far-right Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who had no background in education, as the state's education commissioner. Fedrick Ingram, the president of the Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union, decried Corcoran as a "Betsy DeVos clone" after he spent his time in the legislature pushing school choice and charter school funding and decried teachers' unions as "repugnant" and "evil" for objections to shifting taxpayer funds from private schools to charter schools. Critics also accused Corcoran of a conflict of interest because his wife Anne is the chief executive of a charter school who has worked with conservative groups like Hillsdale College to influence the state's education curriculum.

After the pandemic hit, DeVos and Trump pushed for a rapid reopening of schools in the summer of 2020. DeSantis and Corcoran jumped at Trump's demand, issuing an order to keep all schools open five days a week. The state last year sought to punish school districts that required students to wear masks in the classroom.

Critics say DeVos is seeking to expand her successful effort to shift money away from public schools to for-profit and private schools in Michigan, where her family has donated more than $58 million at the state level as the state's education rankings have plummeted. John Austin, the former president of the Michigan State Board of Education, previously told Rolling Stone that the family's efforts have done "tremendous damage to learning outcomes, particularly for poor and minority kids in Michigan."

Since then, DeVos has turned her focus to "parental rights" — a catchall that covers conservatives' fight against "wokeness," "critical race theory," and the "1619 Project." The effort has led to bans on books on race by authors of color and discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms, as well as the firing of school administrators and librarians.

DeSantis has been among the Republican Party's leaders in pushing so-called "academic transparency" legislation touted by DeVos. The governor just signed into law legislation critics decried as a "Don't say gay" bill, which bans schools from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in some classrooms and allows parents to sue school districts over potential violations.

Two LGBTQ advocacy groups, as well as students and parents, on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit arguing the Florida law is an "unlawful attempt to stigmatize, silence and erase LGBTQ people in Florida's public schools." The lawsuit alleges that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and Title IX protections.

"It seeks to do so by imposing a sweeping, vague ban covering any instruction on 'sexual orientation and gender identity,' and by constructing a diffuse enforcement scheme designed to maximize the chilling effect of this prohibition," the lawsuit says.

This effort to control young minds through state censorship -- and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality -- is a grave abuse of power," the complaint said. "The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that LGBTQ people and families are at home in our constitutional order. The State of Florida has no right to declare them outcasts, or to treat their allies as outlaws, by punishing schools where someone dares to affirm their identity and dignity."

DeSantis' office pushed back on the lawsuit, arguing that the complaint erroneously claims that a person has a right to instruct another person's child about sexuality or gender and that state employees can craft their own unique curriculum for elementary school classrooms. DeSantis' communications director Taryn Fenske said the law "does not chill speech – instead it returns speech on these topics to parents."

"This lawsuit is a political Hail-Mary to undermine parental rights in Florida. Unsurprisingly, many of the parties to this suit are advocacy groups with publicly stated political agendas," Fenske said in an email to Salon. "This calculated, politically motivated, virtue-signaling lawsuit is meritless, and we will defend the legality of parents to protect their young children from sexual content in Florida public schools," she added.

DeSantis last year also signed a law further expanding the state's school vouchers program, directing $200 million to allow tens of thousands of families with incomes upwards of $100,000 to qualify for income-based scholarships intended to help children living in poverty. The law also weakened oversight for the program. The Florida Education Association said after the signing that "draining money from public education to fund unaccountable private institutions is a betrayal of the 90 percent of students who are in public schools." DeSantis defended the bill as a way for "working families" to "have the ability to get their kids into the school of their choices."

DeSantis is also pushing a bill titled the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act," which aims to ban the teaching of so-called "critical race theory," which DeSantis described as teaching "our kids to hate our country or hate each other." Though there is little evidence that critical race theory, which examines systemic racism in law and society, is actually being taught in public schools in Florida or elsewhere, conservatives like Devos and others have sought to crack down on certain race-related education. DeVos last year decried critical race theory as "indoctrination."

Critics linked DeSantis' education crackdown to donations from the DeVos clan and other deep-pocketed conservatives ahead of his re-election battle.

"While millions of Floridians are struggling to make ends meet from rising costs and a pandemic that Ron DeSantis has ignored, he is focused on his quixotic presidential bid and pleasing his billionaire backers," Aidan Johnson, a spokesperson for the Democratic PAC American Bridge, said in a statement to Salon. "He cares more about catering to extremists within the Republican Party than keeping Floridians safe."

'Florida has a horrendous history of racial discrimination in voting': federal judge guts ballot restrictions

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that parts of Florida's new voting restrictions unconstitutionally disenfranchised Black voters and banned the state from making certain voting changes without approval from the court for the next decade.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that portions of the law restricting the use of ballot drop-boxes, assistance for voters, and third-party voter registration drives violated the Voting Rights Act and constitutional protections because they were passed "with the intent to discriminate against Black voters."

Walker also ruled that the state must get court approval for the next 10 years before it enacts any other changes related to these rules. The ruling effectively put Florida back under pre-clearance requirements that were imposed on states with a history of discrimination under the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the preclearance rules in its Shelby County v. Holder decision.

Walker in a 288-page ruling wrote that the requirement was necessary because Florida has "repeatedly, recently, and persistently acted to deny Black Floridians access to the franchise."

Florida was one of the numerous Republican-led states that passed new voting restrictions amid former President Donald Trump's campaign to stoke lies about the election, which were often aimed at areas of states he lost that had large Black populations. Walker in his ruling wrote that racism was a "motivating factor" behind Florida's new voting law, SB 90.

"At some point, when the Florida Legislature passes law after law disproportionately burdening Black voters, this court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental," Walker wrote. "Based on the indisputable pattern set out above, this court finds that, in the past 20 years, Florida has repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates. In summation, Florida has a horrendous history of racial discrimination in voting."

The preclearance requirement is one of the most aggressive measures federal courts have taken in response to voting restrictions. The "bail-in" provision in Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act allows judges to impose federal oversight of states or localities that have a history of racial discrimination, Travis Crum, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told The New York Times. Prior to Thursday's ruling, federal courts had only imposed such requirements against New Mexico and Arkansas in cases that were decided decades earlier. Five Florida counties were also placed under preclearance in 1975, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Democrats had pressed federal courts to use the provision over voter ID laws and gerrymanders in North Carolina and Texas but were denied by judges.

Walker's ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and the NAACP.

The plaintiffs "allege that SB 90 runs roughshod over the right to vote, unnecessarily making voting harder for all eligible Floridians, unduly burdening disabled voters, and intentionally targeting minority voters—all to improve the electoral prospects of the party in power," Walker wrote. After poring over thousands of pages of evidence and hearing testimony from dozens of witnesses, he wrote, "this Court finds that, for the most part, Plaintiffs are right."

Florida's sweeping restriction law has many similarities to other voting restrictions passed in states like Georgia and Texas in the wake of Trump's election loss.

"All things being equal, that if the Florida law is intentional discrimination, the Georgia law should be intentional discrimination," Jonathan Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the Times. "But there's no guarantee that our judge in Georgia or the judges in the Texas cases are going to look at it the same way."

There is also no guarantee that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which leaned liberal before Trump packed the bench with conservative judges, will uphold the decision, much less the Trump-packed Supreme Court.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the bill into law, expressed confidence that the ruling would be struck down on appeal and accused Walker of "performative partisanship."

"There's an old saying in law," DeSantis told the Times. "If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have the law on your side, argue the law. If you have neither, you pound the table. Well, this is the judicial equivalent of pounding the table."

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson called the ruling "highly unprofessional, inaccurate and unbecoming of an officer of the court."

Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said the ruling was a "huge deal" and the preclearance requirement a "very strong remedy." But he agreed that the ruling may be short-lived.

"The district court's analysis is probably right, but there is good reason to believe that this case could be reversed on appeal by the much more conservative 11th Circuit or the Supreme Court," he wrote in a blog post.

Other legal experts warned that the judge's ruling could backfire given the Supreme Court's willingness to gut voting protections. Nicholas Stephanopoulos, an election law expert at Harvard Law School, warned that the Supreme Court could use the case to further weaken the Voting Rights Act.

"From a realistic perspective, it's unlikely that the 11th Circuit or the Supreme Court would agree with the district court that there was racially discriminatory intent in Florida," he told the Times. "There's a lurking fear that the same court that decided Shelby County might decide that bail-in is unconstitutional."

Walker, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2012, in his ruling cited recent Supreme Court decisions to highlight that "the right to vote, and the VRA particularly, are under siege."

"Federal courts must not lose sight of the spirit that spurred the VRA's passage," Walker wrote, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., as saying that "to deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer."

"Federal courts would not countenance a law denying Christians their sacred right to prayer," Walker wrote, "and they should not countenance a law denying Floridians their sacred right to vote."

Mark Meadows now under investigation for alleged voter fraud in North Carolina: state attorney general’s office

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is under investigation for alleged voter fraud, according to the North Carolina attorney general's office.

Meadows, who helped spread former President Donald Trump's repeatedly debunked voter fraud claims, may have committed voter fraud himself in the 2020 election, The New Yorker reported earlier this month. Trump's former top aide and his wife, Debbie, registered to vote in what has been called a "dive trailer" in a remote rural area. Meadows does not appear to have spent a single night there, according to the report. Local news outlet WRAL later reported that Meadows and his wife had voted via absentee ballots in North Carolina in 2020, sparking a state investigation.

State Attorney General Josh Stein's office asked the State Bureau of Investigation to "investigate alongside the State Board of Elections," spokesperson Nazneen Ahmed told WRAL on Thursday. "At the conclusion of their investigation, we'll review their findings."

Macon County District Attorney Ashley Welch requested the probe.

"I am requesting the Attorney General's Office handle both the advisement of law enforcement agencies as to any criminal investigations as well as any potential prosecution of Mark Meadows," she said in a letter to the AG's office, according to the report, adding that the state attorney general typically handles "prosecutions involving alleged misconduct of government officials."

Welch said that she was "unaware of any allegations of voter fraud surrounding Mark Meadows" until she was "contacted by the media." She noted that Meadows had contributed to her 2014 campaign and appeared in her campaign ads.

"It is in the best interest of justice and the best interest of the people of North Carolina that the Attorney General's office handles the prosecution of this case," Welch wrote.

Meadows listed the Scally Mountain mobile home address in a voter registration field that asks for the residential address "where you physically live," according to the reports. Mark and Debbie Meadows sold their prior North Carolina home when Meadows joined the Trump administration. Meadows is also registered to vote in Virginia, where the couple owns a condo, according to The New York Times. Meadows, the former chairman of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, represented North Carolina in Congress from 2013 to 2020 and was considered a potential Senate candidate before he ultimately declined to run.

The former owner of the mobile home told WRAL that they had rented the property to Meadows' family, but said the former Trump aide "never spent a night down there" and that Meadows' wife only stayed for a night or two.

Melanie Thibault, the director of Macon County's Board of Elections, told The New Yorker she was "dumbfounded" that Meadows listed the address on his voter registration form.

"I looked up this Mcconnell Road, which is in Scaly Mountain, and I found out that it was a dive trailer in the middle of nowhere, which I do not see him or his wife staying in," she said.

Under state law, a person cannot list a temporary residence as their residential address unless they intend to make the property a "permanent place of abode." In election law, the term "residence" refers to a person's "domicile," or the place where they actually live most or all the time.

The Supreme Court in 1972 ruled that "residence simply indicates a person's actual place of abode, whether permanent or temporary. Domicile denotes one's permanent, established home as distinguished from a temporary, although actual, place of residence."

State law allows a person to claim an address as their residence if they are living elsewhere temporarily but have the intention of returning. Both the New Yorker and WRAL reported that the trailer property has since sold to a different owner and the Meadowses remain registered at the address. Last year they also bought a $1.6 million home in South Carolina.

The state's voter registration form warns that it is a Class I felony to "fraudulently or falsely" fill out the form, which could involve a prison sentence of up to one year, according to WRAL.

Meadows repeatedly pushed Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Before the election, Meadows raised concerns over inaccurate addresses on voter rolls.

"I don't want my vote or anyone else's to be disenfranchised. … Do you realize how inaccurate the voter rolls are, with people just moving around?" he told CNN in August of 2020. "Anytime you move, you'll change your driver's license, but you don't call up and say, 'Hey, by the way I'm re-registering.'"

After Trump's defeat, Meadows pressed the Justice Department to investigate the former president's conspiracy theories. Meadows was also on the infamous phone call in which Trump pushed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to overturn his loss in the state. In December, the House voted to hold Meadows in contempt of Congress after he refused to cooperate with the House probe into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Bobbie Richardson, the chairwoman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, told the Associated Press that Meadows' "hypocrisy of helping to spread false claims of voter fraud in 2020 in an attempt to overturn the election" combined with his voter registration information was "unparalleled."

The Washington Post editorial board skewered Meadows last week, calling him out for exposing the "hypocrisy of Republicans on voter fraud."

"For the past year, the Republican Party has gone to great lengths to restrict absentee voting in state legislatures, claiming that mail-in ballots allow nefarious actors to influence the elections," the board wrote. "This was always misdirection; fraudulent behavior is extremely rare, and election audits have repeatedly shown that the few cases that do occur do not affect elections. Will Republicans now denounce one of their own for engaging in such activity?"

Dark-money groups that funded Trump SCOTUS picks and Jan. 6 set sights on bringing down Ketanji Brown Jackson

Conservative dark money groups that are fighting President Joe Biden's nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court also helped fund conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and rallies leading to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, according to a new report from the watchdog group Accountable.US.

The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), which played a key role in shaping Trump's Supreme Court nominations, last month launched a preemptive $2.5 million strike before Biden even named his nominee, accusing Biden of caving in to leftists by promising a "Supreme Court nominee who will be a liberal activist." The organization is one of many linked to a network of dark-money groups around conservative activist Leonard Leo, the co-chairman of the Federalist Society who was dubbed Trump's "Supreme Court whisperer." Other groups affiliated with Leo, like the 85 Fund, have donated hundreds of thousands to the Independent Women's Forum, another group that has run ads attacking Democrats for picking judges to advance a "woke agenda."

JCN, the 85 Fund and other affiliates have spent tens of millions to shape the Supreme Court — but have also funded groups that played a role in the Capitol riot, according to Accountable.US.

"It should worry us all that the groups leading the fight against Biden's historic nomination of Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court are tied to the Jan. 6 insurrection and efforts to undermine confidence in the 2020 election," Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, said in a statement to Salon. "With American institutions and our democracy itself under constant attack from every direction, the importance of Judge Jackson's swift and successful confirmation cannot be overstated."

JCN was the public face of a secretive network of dark money groups that spent millions to confirm Trump's Supreme Court picks. JCN spent tens of millions helping to confirm Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, according to Open Secrets, and launched a $25 million effort to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett just weeks before the 2020 election.

JCN is closely affiliated with Leo, who also founded the 85 Fund, which he uses to funnel money to other conservative groups, which all appear tightly connected to each other. Gary Marx, the president and treasurer of the 85 Fund, is also a senior adviser at JCN, according to CNBC. JCN president Carrie Severino is also involved with the Honest Elections Project, which is part of the 85 Fund.

These groups are also tied to other groups in the right-wing donor universe. Donors Trust, a dark-money group backed by the Koch network that gave more than $20 million to at least a dozen groups that questioned the election, donated more $48 million in 2020 to the 85 Fund, according to Accountable.US. The Rule of Law Trust, a little-known conservative group that appears to have no employees, gave nearly $22 million to JCN in 2020 and another $6 million to Donors Trust. The Bradley Foundation, whose board includes Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who helped Trump try to overturn the election, donated more than $3.5 million to Leo-connected groups in 2019 and 2020, including over $1 million to the Federalist Society. Donors Trust also donated more than $700,000 to the Federalist Society in 2020.

Members of the Federalist Society played key roles in Trump's attempts to overturn the election. Attorney John Eastman, who was a senior Federalist Society fellow, worked with Trump to draw up a six-point plan to convince Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election, and later appeared at the Jan. 6 rally ahead of the Capitol riot to claim the election had been stolen.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, another Federalist Society member, filed a lawsuit aimed at throwing out the election results in a number of key states, effectively overturning Biden's victory. Of the 17 other Republican attorneys general who joined Paxton's suit, 13 were members of the Federalist Society.

Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, both Federalist Society members, led the objections to the certification of Trump's loss after the riot.

Donors Trust, which has been described as the "dark money ATM of the right," funnels money from anonymous wealthy donors to a variety of right-wing causes. The group gave nearly $8 million to the State Policy Network, which helped push voting restrictions in Georgia and other states in the wake of Trump's campaign of lies following the election, according to the New York Times.

Donors Trust in 2020 also gave nearly $1.6 million to the Government Accountability Institute, a group co-founded by Trump ally Steve Bannon and backed by Trump megadonor Rebekah Mercer, which has repeatedly pushed false voter fraud claims. Since the Capitol riot, Bannon has urged his followers to seek local offices that could allow them to oversee future elections.

Also that year, Donors Trust gave over $1.45 million to the Wyoming Liberty Group, which pushed baseless claims of voter fraud while demanding a so-called election audit. It also gave $1.27 million to the Metric Media Foundation, which ran more than 1,000 partisan news sites that spread claims about voter fraud ahead of the election. Donors Trust gave over $1 million to the Thomas More Society and its Amistad Project, which filed election challenges in five states. Another $1 million went to Project Veritas, the conservative media group that publishes undercover "sting" videos which have frequently been accused of deceptive edited. Before the 2020 election, Project Veritas launched a campaign to discredit mail-in voting, which has been shown to be secure.

Donors Trust also gave $839,000 to the conservative Club for Growth, which doled out millions to 42 members of Congress who voted to overturn the 2020 election. Another $780,000 went to Turning Point USA, the conservative youth group that bragged about sending 80 buses to the rally ahead of the Capitol riot.

In all, Donors Trust has funneled more than $28 million to groups that pushed election lies or in some way funded the rally ahead of the Capitol riot, according to Accountable.US.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation also helped fund groups that backed election lies or efforts to impose voting restrictions. Going back well before the Trump era, the Bradley Foundation spent millions to back voting restrictions, The New Yorker reported last year. Its affiliate, the Bradley Impact Fund, also fund groups that promoted election conspiracy theories, including Turning Point USA, Project Veritas and the Heritage Foundation, according to tax filings obtained by The Intercept. The Bradley Impact Fund also donated $2.5 million to the 85 Fund and over $1 million to the Federalist Society, as well as smaller donations to numerous other groups, according to Accountable.US. Cleta Mitchell, who serves on the board of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, was the attorney who participated in Trump's infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, when Trump demanded he "find" enough votes to overturn the election. That effort is currently under investigation by the Fulton County district attorney's office.

A second report from Accountable.US raised questions about ties between Leo's network and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is set to hold hearings on Jackson's nomination later this month.

Cruz, Hawley, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who all sit on the panel, all "grew up" in the Federalist Society, Law & Liberty reported in 2018, dubbing the group the "Federalist Society Caucus." Cruz, Hawley and Cotton were even on Trump's Supreme Court shortlist, which was shaped by Leo and the Federalist Society.

Cruz's nonprofit, the Conservative Action network, has received at least $500,000 from Leo's Freedom and Opportunity Fund, according to Open Secrets. Leo's Concord Fund also donated $200,000 to American One Policies, a group tied to Cotton, according to the Daily Poster.

Other Republicans on the committee have links to the group as well. Leo praised Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the committee, as a "long friend of the Federalist Society." Grassley, who previously chaired the committee during Trump's tenure, helped speed through confirmations for Federalist Society-approved judicial nominees, and Mike Davis, Grassley's former nominations counsel, oversaw a record number of circuit-court judicial confirmations during Trump's first two years in office, according to his online biography. Davis has since joined the Article III Project, another dark money group linked to Leo's network.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who replaced Grassley as the committee's chairman during Trump's last two years in office, oversaw Barrett's lightning-quick confirmation ahead of the 2020 election. Graham received a maximum donation from Federalist Society co-founder and board chairman Steve Calabresi during Barrett's confirmation process. Graham also headlined a Federalist Society event held at the Capitol building in 2019.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, another member of the committee, attended a Koch network summit in 2018 with Leo to discuss Trump's judicial nominations, according to CNBC. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has been featured in at least four Federalist Society events since 2016, and has repeatedly defended and praised the group. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., received at least $7,800 from Federalist Society leadership last election cycle, including $1,500 from Leo on the day Gorsuch's confirmation proceeding began, according to Accountable.US. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., has also appeared in at least four Federalist Society events since 2009 and defended the group when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., criticized the influence of Leo, the Federalist Society and their related dark money groups during Barrett's confirmation hearing.

Last month, Whitehouse called out Leo's dark-money network for spending money to attack Biden's nominee before he had even selected one, and also for accusing liberal groups that support Biden's nominee of doing exactly what Leo's network has done for decades.

"When Supreme Court vacancies occur, a Republican dark-money operation swings into action. … Their accusations of dark-money corruption are a bizarre reimagining of the very strategy that they, themselves, hatched and executed," Whitehouse wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. "But that's not all. It takes the public eye off the Roberts Court's pattern of more than 80 partisan 5-to-4 and 6-to-3 decisions benefiting easily identified Republican donor interests. Those wins often come at the expense of regular Americans, stripping away protections for minority voters, reproductive rights, the environment, public health and workers. And they often degrade our democracy: greenlighting gerrymandering, protecting dark money and suppressing the vote."

Ex-Fox News director who helped Russian oligarch launch propaganda network arrested for violating sanctions

A former Fox News director who helped a Russian oligarch launch a propaganda network was arrested last month in London on charges that he helped the oligarch dodge sanctions, according to newly unsealed court documents.

John Hanick, who worked at Fox News for 15 years, beginning when the network first launched in 1996, was charged with violating sanctions and lying to the FBI in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Hanick, who left Fox in 2011, spent four years working for sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, who is "closely tied to Russian aggression in Ukraine," the Justice Department said in a news release.

The DOJ said that Hanick's work for the oligarch had violated sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department in 2014 in response to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea territory. The Treasury at the time called Malofeyev "one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea."

"Hanick knowingly chose to help Malofeyev spread his destabilizing messages by establishing, or attempting to establish, TV networks in Russia, Bulgaria and Greece, in violation of those sanctions," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, who oversees the National Security Division, said in a statement.

Though the charges stem from past sanctions and not the latest slew of economic sanctions imposed on Russian oligarchs in response to the invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams stressed that Hanick's indictment shows the department's commitment to the "enforcement of laws intended to hamstring those who would use their wealth to undermine fundamental democratic processes. This office will continue to be a leader in the Justice Department's work to hold accountable actors who would support flagrant and unjustified acts of war."

Malofeyev, a banker, is a prominent right-wing figure in Russia with ties to far-right politicians in the U.S. and Europe, according to the New York Times. Malofeyev hired Hanick in 2013 to build a Russian cable news network, according to the DOJ. The network was called Tsargrad TV and was intended to be a Russian version of Fox News, according to the indictment.

"In many ways, Tsargrad is similar to what Fox News has done. We started from the idea that there are many people who adhere to traditional values and they absolutely need a voice," Malofeyev told the Financial Times in 2015.

Hanick later moved to Greece to launch a TV network that would provide an "opportunity to detail Russia's point of view on Greek TV," Hanick wrote to Malofeyev, according to the court documents. He also traveled to Bulgaria to purchase a TV network on behalf of the oligarch, the DOJ alleged.

In an interview with FBI agents in February 2021, Hanick admitted that he knew that his boss was under sanctions, but falsely claimed he did not know about Malofeyev's connection to the Bulgarian network, according to the indictment.

The DOJ alleged that Hanick "reportedly directly back to Malofeyev" about his efforts in Greece and Bulgaria but "took steps to conceal Malofeyev's role in the acquisition by arranging to travel to Bulgaria with another person identified by a Greek associate of Malofeyev, so that it would appear the buyer was a Greek national rather than Malofeyev."

Prosecutors learned about Hanick's activities from an unpublished memoir that was "discovered by investigators through a judiciously authorized search of Hanick's email account," according to the indictment.

Hanick was arrested in London last month and is awaiting extradition. He faces up to 25 years in prison in convicted on both charges.

The indictment described Hanick as a former Fox News producer, although a Fox News spokesperson describes him as a "weekend daytime director."

Hanick and Malofeyev appear to have connected over religion. The Times reported that Malofeyev is a "devoted follower" of the Russian Orthodox faith and Hanick and his family joined the Russian Orthodox church after moving to Moscow. Hanick complained in a 2013 interview flagged by Right Wing Watch that in the U.S., "serious problems, including the decline of morals ... brought the separation of church and state" and praised Russia for its state embrace of religion.

Malofeyev, who sought to launch a Russian Orthodox-based news network, is also a proponent of bringing back Russia's monarchy.

"The quasi-monarchy that we basically now have is a very good thing," he told the Times in 2020, after Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected. "If we were now to start calling him emperor, not president, then we wouldn't have to change much in the Constitution."

The indictment was unsealed after the Justice Department launched Task Force KleptoCapture as part of the Biden administration's sanctions on Russia over its brutal invasion of Ukraine. Attorney General Merrick Garland said last Wednesday that the task force will "use all of its authorities to seize the assets of individuals and entities" who violate sanctions against Russia.

President Joe Biden, during his State of the Union address last week, said that his administration would move to seize assets from sanctioned Russian oligarchs.

"We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts your luxury apartments your private jets," he said. "We are coming for your ill-begotten gains."

Lauren Boebert disrupts Joe Biden’s first State of the Union as he discusses his son’s death

President Biden gave his first State of the Union address against the backdrop of all-out war in Europe, vowing to make Russian President Vladimir Putin "pay a price" for his brutal invasion of Ukraine and listing his domestic priorities before his speech was disrupted by Republican rancor.

Biden used his address to Congress to reset his stalled domestic agenda, address inflation concerns, renew his call for gun control legislation and tout the qualifications of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, but the crisis in Ukraine overshadowed the event. Many lawmakers wore Ukrainian flag lapel pins and blue-and-yellow clothing in a show of bipartisan support — at least before the night was ultimately disrupted by overtly partisan heckling from Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

Boebert and Greene interrupted Biden's speech as he discussed border policy to start a brief "Build the wall" chant that received no support from anyone else in the chamber.

Later in the speech, Biden discussed his administration's efforts to help troops and veterans affected by toxic burn pits, noting that health ailments like cancer "put them in a flag-draped coffin."

Boebert again heckled Biden, shouting, "you put them in, 13 of them," apparently referring to 13 service members who died during Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan, moments before the president began discussing his son Beau Biden, who served in Iraq as an Army officer and died of cancer in 2015. Boebert's interruption was met with a chorus of boos.

Biden kicked off his speech with a warning to Putin and a message of support for Ukraine, calling on Congress to approve billions in military and humanitarian aid as Russian missiles rained down in civilian areas. Biden also said the U.S. would ban Russian aircraft from its airspace amid a slew of sanctions aimed at crippling the country's economy. "We're coming for your ill-gotten gains," he said, vowing to target Russian oligarchs' yachts and assets. But Biden warned Americans to prepare for potential economic pain at home as a result of the war.

"Throughout our history we've learned this lesson: when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos," Biden said. "They keep moving. And the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising."

Biden's guests for the event included Oksana Marakova, Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S., who received a lengthy standing ovation. The president touted the heroism of Ukraine's troops and citizens and the near-universal support for the country from the international community.

"Six days ago, Russia's Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated," he said. "He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met a wall of strength he never imagined: He met the Ukrainian people."

Still, Biden reasserted his promise not to send U.S. troops to help fight Russian troops, vowing that "our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine."

The bipartisan support for Biden's fiery rhetoric on Ukraine quickly fizzled when Biden sought to tout the success of his pandemic relief bill, drawing boos from Republicans as he drew a contrast with former President Donald Trump's lone major piece of legislation.

"Unlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefited the top 1 percent of Americans, the American Rescue Plan helped working people — and left no one behind," he said.

Biden also touted the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed, taking another jab at Trump.

"We're done talking about infrastructure weeks. We're talking about an infrastructure decade," he said.

But the crisis in Ukraine has upended the administration's domestic plans, which were already on life support. Biden's agenda has stalled since last year after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and a deep-pocketed lobbying campaign blew up Build Back Better negotiations. Manchin notably sat on the Republican side during the president's address. Biden sought to reset his effort to pass a big spending bill (no longer described as "Build Back Better"), urging Congress to overcome party frictions and approve popular components of the plan such as lowering prescription drug costs, cutting energy and child care costs, and funding affordable housing. Biden also called on Congress to increase the minimum wage to $15, enact paid family leave, extend the child tax credit and pass the PRO Act to help working families. He called on Congress to pass legislation to "make corporations start paying their fair share" and increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for the party's agenda.

"My plan will not only lower costs and give families a fair shot, it will lower the deficit," he said. "The previous administration not only ballooned the deficit for very wealthy corporations, it undermined the watchdogs, the job of those to keep pandemic relief funds being wasted."

Biden announced that the Justice Department would appointed a special prosecutor to target "pandemic fraud."

"The watchdogs are back," he said. "We are going to go after the criminals who stole billions of relief money meant for small businesses and millions of Americans."

The president also used the speech to address economic and crime concerns, issues that threaten to complicate his party's chances in the upcoming fall midterms as his poll numbers continue to fall. Under fire from Republicans over rising inflation, Biden called on Congress to pass his bill to expand the production of microchips and other products in the U.S., which he said would "lower your costs, not your wages."

"One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation," he said. "Lower your costs, not your wages. Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America. And, instead of relying on foreign supply chains — let's make it in America."

Biden blamed corporate greed for stifling competition and contributing to widespread price increases, announcing a "crackdown on companies overcharging American businesses and consumers."

He also touted his administration's COVID response, commending the CDC for easing masking guidelines and announcing a new round of free home COVID tests the administration plans to send out to anyone who requests them. He also announced a "test to treat" initiative so that people who test positive for COVID at pharmacies can receive antiviral pills at no cost.

"I cannot promise a new variant will not come, but I can promise you we can do everything within our power to be ready if it does," he said.

Biden also highlighted his administration's support for police officers in an apparent attempt to undercut frequent Republican claims that Democrats want to "defund the police," calling for local governments to use COVID relief funds to hire more cops and increase police overtime in response to rising crime rates in some cities.

"Let's not abandon our streets or choose between safety and equal justice. Let's come together to protect our committees, restore trust and hold law enforcement accountable," he said. "The answer is not to defund the police, it is to fund the police," he added.

Biden renewed his call for Congress to pass gun safety legislation, including universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and a repeal of the liability shield that protects gun manufacturers from liability in shootings.

He also called out Republican-led states that have passed legislation "not only to suppress the vote but to subvert the entire election." He urged Congress to pass voting rights legislation to preserve "the most fundamental right in America."

Biden later in the speech praised retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and lauded Jackson as "one of our nation's legal minds" with support from a raft of conservative groups.

Underscoring the divisions in both parties, Biden's speech was not only met with a traditional Republican response from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds but also an "America First" response from Greene, who recently headlined a white nationalist conference. Democrats also aired three different responses, including a progressive response from Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., a Congressional Black Caucus response from Rep. Collin Allred, D-Texas, and a response sponsored by the bipartisan moderate group No Labels from Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.

In a speech heavily focused on inflation, an issue Republicans plan to hammer in the midterms, Reynolds argued that Biden and Democrats "have sent us back in time to the late '70s and early '80s, when runaway inflation was hammering families, a violent crime wave was crashing on our cities, and the Soviet army was trying to redraw the world map."

'Back the blue' MAGA gubernatorial candidate campaigns with violent felon

Donald Trump's pick to be the next governor of Arizona, Kari Lake, a former local television reporter with no political experience, praises cops, touts "back the blue" on her campaign website and vows to increase resources to tackle violent criminals. She's also hit the campaign trail multiple times with a convicted felon who was accused by the Justice Department (DOJ) of trying to kill an FBI informant.

According to a finance report recently amended by Lake's campaign, the former TV news anchor who has repeatedly echoed Trump's election lies paid $2,000 to Kenneth Ulibarri, a repeat violent offender who pleaded guilty after the DOJ accused him of trying to hire a hitman to kill an FBI informant and an unrelated state charge of battery on a peace officer.

Ulibarri spoke at Lake's "Stand for Freedom" rally in Scottsdale last July, the first rally of her campaign. He was introduced as a man who's "been addicted to drugs, imprisoned, and totally hopeless" before a "miracle came" and he became a small business owner "on a mission to help others break free from addiction." Ulibarri used his rally speech to rail against "liberal policies that are destroying our country" and a laundry list of conservative culture war issues while touting his nonprofit work helping teenagers become "soldiers for Christ."

"She stands for all the things that I believe in," Ulibarri said, adding that he would not send his kids to public school or college because they might "come back with purple hair and gay."

Campaign finance records show that the campaign paid $2,000 to Ulibarri at an address where he is listed as the statutory agent for a natural hair services business.

Ulibarri also appeared at a roundtable event with Lake earlier this month, according to images posted to Instagram. It's unclear how many campaign events in total Ulibarri has appeared in. Ulibarri and Lake's campaign did not respond to questions from Salon.

During his July speech, Ulibarri made references to his past but did not mention the extent of his criminal record. As the Justice Department alleged, in 2015 Ulibarri "attempted to murder an FBI informant to prevent that informant from testifying" in a New Mexico trial related to a drug distribution ring. Ulibarri admitted in a plea agreement that he told another FBI informant that he and others "were hiring a hitman to kill" the FBI informant, though he denied that he was serious and claimed that he only wanted to get money from the second informant under the guise of hiring a hitman, court documents show.

Ulibarri in 2019 pleaded guilty to a 2014 charge of battery upon a peace officer, New Mexico court records show. In 2006, he was arrested on a felony drug warrant after he was found with a known associate of a man charged with killing a New Mexico sheriff, according to KRQE. He was also convicted in 2014 on a charge of driving under the influence, according to state records. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle and criminal damage to property. In 1999, he and others were accused of beating another inmate at a New Mexico jail, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Ulibarri was also charged with two counts of assault on a peace officer in 2002, though those charges were later dropped, and hit with a litany of drug offenses and evidence tampering charges between 2002 and 2013 that were also dropped.

Fellow Republican primary contender Karrin Taylor Robson's campaign called out Lake over her ties to Ulibarri. "Real conservatives who support a secure border and back the blue don't pay a campaign operative with a criminal history that includes drug trafficking, battery of a female officer and attempted murder of an FBI informant," Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Robson's campaign, said in a statement to Salon. "Like everything else involving Kari Lake, her words don't match her actions."

Wisconsin GOP at war with itself over 'illegal and unconstitutional' plot to jail elections officials

Wisconsin Republican lawmakers are seeking to jail election officials while a GOP gubernatorial candidate is calling to throw out the 2020 election results in the state more than a year later.

Michael Gableman, who is leading a review of the 2020 election ordered by state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, on Friday filed a petition asking a court to jail the head of the state's Elections Commission, several election officials, and the mayors of Green Bay, Madison, and Racine, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Gableman asked a judge to jail Ann Jacobs, the Democratic chairwoman of the bipartisan Elections Commission, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, Racine Mayor Cory Mason, the city clerks of Madison and Green Bay, and others targeted in his probe unless they agree to closed-door depositions.

The officials have said that the facts should not be hidden behind closed doors and that they would be willing to speak with Gableman publicly before a legislative committee. Gableman has sought to interview the officials for months about grants cities received from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit that donated millions to help local election officials administer elections amid the pandemic. The group has become a focal point of pro-Trump election conspiracy theorists because it received a large donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

Multiple recounts, court rulings, a legislative audit, and a study by a conservative group have all dug into the election results in Wisconsin, where President Joe Biden won by more than 20,000 votes, and found no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities. Republican lawmakers in the state have continued to cast doubt on the election results and are using taxpayer dollars to fund Gableman's review.

Rhodes-Conway, the Madison mayor, told the Journal-Sentinel that the bid to jail elected officials shows that Gableman's probe has "gone off the rails."

"It's an awfully bold move for someone we don't even know is authorized to conduct an investigation," she said.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, last year filed a lawsuit seeking to block Gableman's subpoenas, arguing that the review had no legislative purpose, were too broad, were unenforceable under the state constitution, and improperly sought to depose officials in private. A judge last month refused to immediately block the subpoenas but said she may do so if Gableman seeks to jail election officials.

Gableman was initially expected to wrap up his review last fall but the probe has continued to stretch for months. Vos said last week that Gableman is expected to publish a report this month, though the taxpayer-funded litigation over the review is expected to stretch for months.

Election experts and members of both parties have dismissed Gableman as a "partisan hack," according to the Associated Press, after he stoked conspiracy theories about Trump's loss before being appointed to lead the probe, and his subpoenas have been littered with "spelling errors and incorrect names" and requests for "data that cities don't have."

Gableman, a former state Supreme Court justice who traveled to Arizona to observe their failed "forensic audit" and attended an election conspiracy symposium hosted by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, acknowledged last fall that he did not have a "comprehensive understanding of how elections work."

Republican state Sen. Kathy Bernier, a former election clerk, slammed Gableman for trying to "falsely accuse election officials of cheating," calling his review a "charade." Genrich, the Green Bay mayor, asked a judge last month to sanction Gableman for making inaccurate statements to the legislature.

"It's obviously totally amateurish," former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who also served as attorney general, told the AP. "I don't know how the Republicans are looking at this now but after the way he's conducted it I bet they are wishing he would just go away and this would all disappear."

But Trump sycophants in the state are only going further down the election conspiracy theory rabbit hole. The Republican-controlled legislature is expected to pass more than a dozen new voting restrictions that would make it more difficult to cast a ballot in response to recommendations made by Gableman. Some Republican officials have called to dissolve the state's bipartisan election commission, which was created by Republicans. And state Rep. Tim Ramthun, who is running for governor, has called to decertify the 2020 election results, drawing praise from Trump.

"This is a real issue," Ramthun, who has frequently appeared on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon's podcast, told the New York Times. "We don't wear tinfoil hats. We're not fringe."

But even Vos, the Republican Assembly leader, dismissed Ramthun's demand to decertify the election.

"It is impossible — it cannot happen," he said in a radio interview last week. "I don't know how many times I can say that."

Kaul told CNN that the proposal would be "illegal and unconstitutional."

The increasingly extreme proposals from Ramthun and other Republican candidates seeking support from Trump's base have sparked something of a civil war inside the party. Trump supporters at town halls have increasingly targeted criticism at Vos and other GOP leaders they feel are not doing enough to oust Biden from the White House even though he has appeased election conspiracists with dubious investigations for months.

"It's simply a matter of misdirected anger," Vos complained to the Times. "They have already assumed that the Democrats are hopeless, and now they are focused on those of us who are trying to get at the truth, hoping we do more."

The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board on Monday highlighted the state Republican Party's "suicide watch," warning that the election extremists could "split Wisconsin conservatives" and result in Democratic wins.

"If that's what ends up happening, Mr. Trump won't regret it for a second, because he never does," they wrote. "Wisconsin Republicans will regret it for years."

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