Jon Skolnik

J.D. Vance has a Big Pharma problem

JD. Vance, the billionaire-backed U.S. Senate candidate in Ohio, has routinely positioned himself as an anti-opioid China-hawk, promising to rein in Big Pharma and bring jobs back to the U.S. But in recent weeks it has been revealed that Vance, a Trump-backed author, worked for a white shoe law firm that represented multiple Chinese companies and lobbied for Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. Vance then hired an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) resident who cited Purdue-funded studies to downplay the role overprescribing painkillers plays in the opioid crisis as the addiction specialist to Ohio's Appalachian region for his nonprofit, "Our Ohio Renewal."

The apparent contradiction, first reported by Politico, stems from a "vulnerability analysis" posted online by Protect Ohio Values (POV), the Super PAC through which Vance has raised millions of dollars for his Senate campaign. Because campaign finance law bars any candidates from communicating with their associated Super PACs, POV appears to have posted a trove of polling data, strategic documents, and opposition research on a low-profile Medium account for Vance to reference, detailing potential weak spots in his competitors' campaigns as well as his own.

Vance's vulnerability analysis reveals that the lawyer-turned-author, who founded a non-profit dedicated to curbing the opioid epidemic, had at one point worked for law firm Sidley Austin LLP in Washington, D.C. During Vance's time there, the firm's lobbying arm was working on behalf of Purdue Pharma, which pleaded guilty in 2020 to criminal charges and faced penalties of roughly $8.3 billion. During that same time, Sidley Austin also reportedly represented "a Chinese real estate company" and lobbied Alibaba Group, a massive Chinese e-commerce platform. But as a Senate candidate, Vance has repeatedly called for the U.S. to sever its economic ties with the country, calling globalization a "gravy train" for China.

"On one side you have people who want to go back to the America Last foreign policy, the weak on China trade policies," as Vance said in a recent Fox News interview. "And on the other side you have me, supported by President Trump, trying to bring back our manufacturing jobs from China."

The Associated Press (AP) then reported this week that Vance's charity suffered a major conflict of interest when it recruited an AEI resident who never disclosed Perdue's financial contributions to AEI while favorably citing Perdue-funded studies to argue that prescription painkillers played a significant role in the region's drastic uptick in opioid addiction. According to the AP, Dr. Sally Satel "occasionally shared drafts of the pieces with Purdue officials in advance." And as ProPublica reported in the past, AEI received financial support from Purdue totaling $800,000.

Vance's past work may prove a problem with other areas besides Big Pharma. He was with Sidley Austin while the firm filed an amicus brief in support of gay marriage back in 2015, while the Supreme Court was ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges. Since then, Vance has taken countless swipes at the LGBTQ+ community. AIn 2020, Vance excoriated the "conservative legal movement" after Supreme Court ruled that gay and trans workers cannot be fired for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

"The conservative legal movement has accomplished two things: libertarian political economy (enforced by judges) and betrayal of social conservatives and traditionalists," he wrote at the time in a since-deleted tweet.

Since the beginning of his campaign, numerous critics have also called out Vance's funding as problematic. Vance has repeatedly blasted Big Tech, claiming that the industry systematically censors conservative voices. But the Republican's chief benefactor is Peter Thiel, a prominent tech billionaire responsible for co-founding PayPal, Palantir Technologies, and Founders Fund, through which he was one of the first investors in Facebook.

Meghan McCain melts down after Kari Lake and other GOP extremists win in Arizona elections

Meghan McCain on Wednesday dialed back her excitement around the Arizona's GOP gubernatorial primary after pro-Trump Kari Lake, one of McCain's political enemies, made an overnight comeback in the polls.

On Tuesday, early results showed Karrin Taylor Robson, the Arizona Board of Regents member running against Lake, ahead by 8 percentage points. As a result, McCain, a critic of Trump, took to Twitter to celebrate.

"Wow…Lake is getting crushed so far!!! Incredible!" she wrote in a since-deleted tweet. "Everybody better tune in to primetime if this lunatic loses cause she's gonna go absolute insane on live tv. Like one for the books, makes Trump look normal insane."

By Wednesday morning, however, Lake's chances of victory had seemingly rebounded, and the former Fox News pundit was pulling ahead by 12,000 votes, with 81% of the tally counted. In response, McCain quickly backtracked, claiming that "my initial predictions were right despite the initial excitement of Robson pulling ahead."

"Congratulations to my home state for full making the transition to full blown MAGA/conspiracy theory/fraudster," she wrote in a tweet. "The voters have spoken - be careful what you wish for…"

Arizona's primary election marks one of the latest proxy wars between Donald Trump's base and establishment Republicans, whom the former president had repeatedly disparaged as "RINOS," or Republicans in name only.

Trump, for his part, has also had a long-running beef with the McCain family, which spans back to the 2016 presidential race, during which the former president leveled vicious attacks at McCain's father, the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. At the time, Trump provoked outrage after saying that he likes "people who weren't captured," suggesting that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, was a lesser candidate for his time spent imprisoned.

In any case, much of the McCain-Trump conflict now appears to have spilled over into the Arizona primary.

Last month, Lake, a diehard MAGA hopeful, suggested that Meghan McCain's mother, Cindy, is running a clandestine scheme with billionaire George Soros to destroy America by promoting a "globalist agenda."

"This is the Cindy McCain branch of the Republican Party," said of the establishment GOP on a podcast. "They're not Republicans. They're globalists and they want – I think they want an end to America."

Months earlier, Lake suggested in a campaign video that the party needs to "replace that disgusting, dirty McCain Swamp with, maybe, I don't know … a Lake? You need somebody who is going to represent 'we the people.' "

"What trash this woman is," McCain responded to the video at the time.

Lake shot back: "Thanks for sharing our video, Meg!"

Ivana Trump’s Bedminster burial site might be a secret tax windfall, experts say

The gravesite for Ivana Trump, Donald Trump's ex-wife who passed away last month, could mean a tax windfall for the former president, who owns the New Jersey golf course on which she is buried.

Ivana Trump, who was buried in Bedminster, a New Jersey township home to the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, died of blunt impact injuries at 73 after falling down a staircase in her Manhattan home last month. The New York Post reported that her funeral was held "not too far from the main clubhouse."

According to ProPublica, the Trump family trust previously worked to establish a non-profit funeral business in Hackettstown, New Jersey, located just twenty miles from Ivana Trump's gravesite. That business, if operational, is "exempt from the payment of any real estate taxes, rates and assessments or personal property taxes on lands and equipment dedicated to cemetery purposes," according to the New Jersey tax code. However, reports suggest that by burying his ex-wife on the course, Trump might be able to reclassify his golf course as a cemetery, qualifying the estate for those same exemptions.

For over a decade, the former president has planned to build a cemetery on the grounds of the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, as Insider noted. In 2007, Trump told the New York Post that he wanted to be laid to rest in the "beautiful land" of Bedminster. In 2012, NPR reported that Trump had been approved by the city's town council to build his own 500-grave mausoleum. The former president's original blueprints, which included "four imposing obelisks," were reportedly shot down after city officials deemed his plans "overwhelming and garish," The Washington Post reported. Since then, Trump has reportedly augmented the project into a "10 plot-private family cemetery," later deciding that it would accommodate as many as 284. Despite these changes, the memorial park has never materialized.

Following news of Ivana Trump's gravesite, reportedly in close proximity to the first tee, numerous experts postulated that the former president might be receiving tax advantages for choosing to bury his ex-wife on his golf club.

"As a tax researcher, I was skeptical of rumors Trump buried his ex-wife in that sad little plot of dirt on his Bedminster, NJ golf course just for tax breaks," tweeted Brooke Harrington, a professor of sociology at Dartmouth. "So I checked the NJ tax code &'s a trifecta of tax avoidance. Property, income & sales tax, all eliminated."

Harrington added that there is "no stipulation regarding a minimum # of human remains necessary for the tax breaks to kick in--looks like one corpse will suffice to make at least 3 forms of tax vanish."

Jay Soled, Director of Rutgers Masters in Taxation Program, was more skeptical of the idea that Ivana Trump's burial was a tax play, calling the notion "a bit overkill." Soled speculated that there was a "reasonableness standard" that the former president would probably not clear in a state audit. It's more likely, Soled added, that this a "typical Trump technique of expenditure, misclassification that he can much more readily classify otherwise personal expenses as being deductible."

It wouldn't be the first time the former president has attempted to lower his tax burden on the New Jersey estate.

Back in 2019, HuffPost reported that Trump slashed his tax bill by designating the golf course as a farm by owning livestock on the premises. Consequently, he was taxed that year at $6 an acre rather than $462. The property maintains a herd of goats as well as resources for farming and woodcutting, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The course is currently under federal scrutiny for possibly providing officials with erroneous asset valuations for tax reasons.

Reports about Ivana Trump's burial comes as the Bedminster course hosts a Saudi-funded LIV golf tournament, which this weekend featured Fox News host Tucker Carlson and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. The tour has been criticized over links between Saudi officials and 9/11 hijackers, as well as the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Trump used the presidential seal, apparently illegally, during the tournament.

New analysis sheds light on 'mini Trump' Blake Masters' plan to privatize (almost) everything everywhere

Since the beginning of his campaign, Blake Masters, the conservative venture capitalist turned U.S. Senate hopeful from Arizona, has been drawn to the kind of rhetorical extremism that now animates the Republican Party, bandying insults and talking points of the kind that require no specialized knowledge or experience but nevertheless leave an indelible impression on Republican voters. As far back as 2015, Masters told The Washington Post, he'd been entranced by the rhetoric of Donald Trump, a loud misogynist, who during one of his presidential debates proudly embraced accusations of sexism rather than deny them.

"You've called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals," then-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly said to Trump during a 2016 GOP debate. "Your Twitter account ––"

"Only Rosie O'Donnell," Trump interjected, before getting rapturous applause from the crowd.

It was during this now-notorious back-and-forth, Masters explained, that he had his lightbulb moment.

"Somehow he just busted through some wall," Masters recently told the Post of Trump. "He didn't apologize. He kind of just picked on her as this target."

Since then, Masters has largely emulated the former president's brashness on all matters political. Just this May, in the wake of the Supreme Court's rescission of Roe v. Wade, the former tech executive stressed the need for nationwide ban on abortion, a practice that he called "demonic" just last year, according to The Tuscon Weekly. Masters also believes that the Capitol riot was an FBI-led "false flag operation"; that the American education system is pushing "gay sex ideology" onto students; and that Democratic elites are deliberately attempting to loosen borders and win future elections with a more pliant voting bloc from the Third World.

Of course, none of this is particularly unique to the MAGA agenda, which has for the most part set its sights on culture war issues like abortion, race, immigration, sex, and gender. But Masters also espouses a strange flavor of half-baked libertarianism that calls for the complete abolition of long-standing cornerstones for American welfare.

For one, Masters supports a generalized push to privatize the country's water supply, according to audio provided to Salon by American Bridge, a Democratic Super PAC.

"Would you support the transferring of water resources to private ownership?" a voter asked Masters two weeks ago during a campaign event in Sedona, Arizona.

"In general, yes," Masters responded, because "the state can't do it and you don't want the government doing a lot of this stuff."

To be sure, private water companies would be nothing new for the nation. But anecdotal evidence suggests that water is the kind of basic human right that has no business under Corporate America's thumb.

Back in 2017, The Washington Post reported that states that offload their publicly-owned water infrastructure to private corporations tend to see rate hikes for customers, adding to the millions of Americans whose sinks, toilets, and showers are routinely disconnected for unpaid bills, as The Guardian reported.

Janice Beecher, the director of Michigan State University's Institute of Public Utilities, told the Post that state officials "should ask good questions, and they should understand the trade-offs" before selling off their municipal water systems, because "once it's gone, it's gone."

According to a sweeping 2016 analysis from the Food & Water Watch, a consumer rights organization, private water companies charge 58 percent more than their publicly-owned counterparts. In states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the premium can be as high as 79 and 84 percent respectively.

And that's just pricing. Public Citizen, another consumer rights group, found that privatization leads to worse water quality, job losses, over-extraction, and corruption. To add insult to injury, $26.5 billion of the EPA's budget goes to for profit-water providers, which presently control 10% of the nation's water supply, suggesting that water companies have trouble sustaining themselves without the largesse of the government.

Meanwhile, cities all across America are now attempting to expropriate water infrastructure they sold off in response to complaints about rate hikes and bad service. However, as the Post reported, exercising eminent domain in this area can be extremely costly, leading to municipal deficits that, ironically, might have been the original impetus for privatization.

Apart from water, Masters also has a grand, albeit ill-defined, vision to privatize Social Security, the federal insurance program that provides benefits to 65 million retired, disabled, and unemployed people.

"We got to cut the knot at some point though because I'll tell you what, I'm not going to receive Social Security," Masters said at a primary debate back in June. "I'm a millennial."

"We need fresh and innovative thinking, maybe we should privatize Social Security," he added at the time. "Private retirement accounts, get the government out of it."

Make no mistake: Social Security security has been a perennial punching bag for the Republican Party for decades.

As early as 2004, then-President Bush campaigned on privatizing the program, arguing that young people should be able to take "ownership" of their future benefits by investing their tax withholdings into a private account that would be subject to the whims of market forces.

"We should make the Social Security system a source of ownership for the American people," Bush said in a January 2004 State of the Union address.

However, the plan ultimately unraveled once it became clear that it was massively unpopular amongst the American public, 96 percent of whom currently support Social Security as is.

Today, both parties agree that Social Security needs to be reformed, in part because the retirement funds are projected to run dry by 2034. But what that reform should look like breaks down across party lines.

Democrats, for their part, have argued that the program should be expanded – along with provisions that would create a minimum benefit and a cost-of-living adjustment – through tax increases. Unsurprisingly, Republicans have repudiated this plan as anti-business, instead proposing plans to raise the minimum age of retirement, establish "rescue committees" that would mull cuts behind closed doors, and even sunset the program every five years.

The right's enemies list: 'Woke heat maps' target and track progressives for crack down

A right-wing group in Missouri has launched a "woke heat map" documenting instances of "wokeness" in an attempt to fight back against "critical race theory" and alleged "grooming" in schools across the state.

The group, dubbed "Liberty Alliance," says it is "committed to fighting back against the Woke agenda that is permeating all across Missouri."

"The first step in fighting back is uncovering their crazy ideas – from Critical Race Theory to grooming toddlers with sexually explicit books," the organization states on its website. "That is why we have officially launched the Woke Heat Map – an interactive tool designed to expose the insane actions of the radical Left. This map will alert Missourians of craziness happening in their own communities."

"‘Liberty Alliance’ has launched a ‘Woke Interactive Map’ to warn MAGA about instances of woke behavior in a particular community. The site will alert people if either: 1. CRT, 2. Woke Extremism, or 3. ‘Action by a Crazy Leftist’ has taken place," Ron Filipkowski tweeted.

"This is the “Genderbread Person” & the latest example of the insanity that’s in Missouri schools," Eric Schmitt tweeted. "We launched The Students First Initiative to empower parents & bring transparency back to Missouri schools. This was submitted by a Fox C-6 parent We’ll keep exposing the extremism."

Another Twitter user added, "A reminder that on college campuses, anyone that doesn’t fall in line with the left are censored Where are you at @SLU_Official? These actions continued into the night and no one has been punished for vandalizing a peaceful #prolife@SLUSFL display #FreeSpeech [Students for Life]"

Liberty Alliance's map isn't the first of its kind. Over the years, numerous right-wing groups have created rankings, watchlists, and cluster maps to keep track of the left's alleged influence in healthcare and education as well as Corporate America.

Last October, Salon reported on a custom Google map created by trans activist Erin Reed that provides those seeking hormone replacement therapy with the names and locations of nearly 800 informed consent clinics throughout the country. By February of that year, Reed told Salon, her map was repurposed by anti-trans activist Alix Aharon as a resource for organizing protests against doctors who provide gender-affirming care. That new map, called "The Gender Mapper," was quickly taken down over apparent copyright infringement. However, a new one has since appeared in its place, cataloging roughly 200 clinics in total.

On its website, The Gender Mapper accuses "Big Gender" of testing "experimental medication" on "confused and vulnerable children."

"GenderMapper volunteers work in secret, around the world to collate evidence and document what is occurring," the site adds. "Gendermapper volunteers are unsung [sic] heros- and data is our truth."

Right-wing groups have also sought to crack down on left-wing "indoctrination" on college campuses.

Notable among them is Turning Point USA, a conservative youth advocacy group, which runs a "Professor Watchlist" designed to keep right-wing students abreast of "college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom."

"The project," its website says, "is comprised of published news stories detailing instances of bias, propaganda, or speech infringement on college campuses."

The site allows users to submit tips and search for professors by name or university. Some professors on the list include activist Angela Davis, linguist Noam Chomsky, author Ibram X. Kendi, and former FBI Director James Comey. As of 2016, there were roughly 200 academics on the list.

In the private sector, conservative are similarly hounding companies that engage in "woke" actions, arguing that Corporate America is prioritizing political correctness over profit.

Alliance Defending Freedom has its "Viewpoint Diversity Score," a 50-company index that "evaluates corporate policies, practices, and activities to determine whether companies respect their stakeholders' freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as a standard part of doing business." The list specifically breaks down each company's support of free speech in the market, the workplace, and the public square, analyzing everything from political giving to DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) policies.

On the index, companies like Facebook and Meta – which face baseless accusations of anti-conservative bias – have notably lower scores than most. None of the firms included on the list score higher than a 35 out of 100.

"The results of our inaugural Business Index reveal that there is much work to be done. Company scores ranged between 2% and 35%, with the average overall score an abysmal 12%," wrote Jeremy Tedesco, senior vice president of corporate engagement for ADF, in The Wall Street Journal. "The poor showing confirms that there is an alarming trend among major corporations to favor virtue-signaling even at the expense of fundamental American freedoms."

Corporations have no legal obligation to promote free speech, a constitutional right designed to protect Americans from governorship censorship and coercion.

'Cataclysmic': Conservatives on Supreme Court rule against EPA plan to combat climate change

In spite of the accelerating pace of global warming, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the Biden administration's attempts to slash emissions through regulatory powers resting in federal agencies. In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the federal government's authority to regulate in areas like climate policy or food and worker safety.

The case, first heard by the Supreme Court back in February, was a lawsuit filed last year by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who argued that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the power to regulate the state's power plant emissions. At the center of the court's debate was how much regulatory authority is enshrined in the Clean Air Act, a 1963 air quality law designed to reduce pollution. That act, Morrissey and 19 other attorneys general argued, does not grant the EPA the ability to put caps on power plant emissions – a matter which they've otherwise said should be settled by the legislature.

"Today, the court strips the EPA of the power Congress gave it to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in dissent. "The Court appoints itself— instead of Congress or the expert agency— the decision-maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening."

The case has its roots in the Obama era, when legislators drew from the Clean Air Act (CAA) to enact the Clean Power Plan (CPP), a 2014 policy that put formal limits on greenhouse gas emissions, with the explicit goal of mitigating climate change. At the time, numerous coal companies fired off legal challenges against the law, though a court ordered a stay on the law. In 2017, after withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Donald Trump ordered the EPA to review the CPP and had the CPP repealed with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, a watered-down version of the CPP that was ultimately shot down by a federal appeals court. Since then, the Biden administration has not explicitly addressed whether the EPA can put restrictions on power plant emissions.

Historically, the authority to administer restrictions under laws like the CAA and the CPP had been broadly vested in the executive branch through various federal agencies. That authority was affirmed in a ruling handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit at the beginning of the Biden administration, allowing the EPA to recommend that states use a "best system of emission reduction" as part of the president's push for more renewables.

Last year, President Biden's solicitor general, Elizabeth B. Prelogar, asked the Supreme Court not to intervene on the matter, saying that the administration was "taking into account all relevant considerations, including changes to the electricity sector that have occurred during the last several years." She also assured plaintiffs that Biden would not resurrect the CPP.

But that didn't stop the court from taking up the case. During oral arguments in February, many of the court's justices cited the major question doctrine, which holds that an agency lacks the authority to regulate something that is not directly addressed in statutory law. At the time, Politico reported that the proceeding suggested the court might ax the EPA's broad authority to regulate power plants and punt the issue to Congress.

John Eastman runs to Fox News to beg for donations after avoiding Jan. 6 testimony

John Eastman, the right-wing lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election, is raising thousands of dollars for a legal defense fund ostensibly designed to shield him from the House select committee investigation into the Capitol riot.

Eastman plugged his defense fund in a Tuesday interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who asked him to explain why the FBI recently seized his phone in connection with the probe.

"What exactly did you do wrong to be treated like a dangerous criminal by your government, that you paid for?" asked Carlson.

"Well, we don't know because the warrant doesn't say," Eastman replied. "But there's no indication of any crime that this is connected to. That's apparently attached in an affidavit, but the affidavit isn't attached to the warrant."

Estman also called the seizure an "abuse" of the Fourth Amendment, claiming that Biden was acting like a "British king."

"And it's just another reminder for anyone that didn't vote for Joe Biden to erase your texts and emails every single day," Carlson said.

Toward the end of the interview, Eastman directly asked the audience to donate to his legal defense fund. "Help us," he said. "Help us fight this abuse. We've got to stand together to fight against this."

Over the past year, Eastman has refused to cooperate with the committee's investigation.

Back in January, Eastman fought to court to shield his private emails with members of Trump's inner circle, in which the right-wing attorney helped the former president concoct a legally dubious scheme to reverse the election.

By June, a judge had ordered Eastman to submit 159 documents to the panel. Some of the materials obtained by the committee revealed that Eastman had coordinated with conservative activist Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who pressured former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to buttress Trump's election conspiracy, according to The Washington Post.

During the January 6 hearings this month, committee member Pete Aguilar, D-Texas, noted that Eastman pleaded the 5th Amendment dozens of times while providing closed-door testimony to the panel months ago.

Donald Trump attacks Republican Arizona House Speaker for cooperating with January 6th panel

Donald Trump on Tuesday tore into Arizona state House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican who refused to go along with the former president's election coup, just ahead of the January 6 committee's fourth hearing, during which Bowers delivered intense testimony about his role in stopping Arizona's election from being overturned.

"Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers is the latest [Republican in name only] to play along with the Unselect Committee," Trump said in a statement issued by his Save America PAC, claiming that Bowers is a "RINO," or a Republican in name only, who told him that "the election was rigged."

Bowers was a key target of Trump's extensive pressure campaign to have various Republican state legislators to replace the duly-appointed slate of electors with an cohort of pro-Trump partisans, according to The New York Times. Shortly after Trump lost the election, ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani repeatedly called Bowers to discuss Trump's baseless allegations of election fraud, claiming that roughly 200,000 unauthorized people had voted in the election in addition to "5,000 or 6,000 dead people."

During his testimony on Tuesday, Bowers adamantly denied ever telling Trump that he had won the election. "Anywhere, anyone, anytime has said that I said that the election was rigged, that would not be true," he said.

Bowers also said that the former president's legal team "never" presented evidence of widespread fraud even though Giuliani promised that he would do so. "We've got lots of theories," Giuliani allegedly told Bowers at one point. "But we just don't have the evidence."

Ultimately, Bowers refused to go along with Trump's claims of election fraud. "You're asking me to do something against my oath and I will not break my oath," Bowers said he told Giuliani. "I do not want to be a winner by cheating."

Bowers testified that since the election, he, his office, and his family have faced a wave of threats that have put a significant burden on his personal and professional life. On many occasions, he said, "various groups" have come to his house to harass Bowers and his neighbors, accusing the lawmaker of being a "pedophile, a pervert, and a corrupt politician."

MAGA v. McConnell: Why Kimberly Guilfoyle is going after the GOP leader

Kimerly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.'s fiancé, on Thursday accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of waging a "smear campaign" against former Missouri governor Eric Greitens, who is running to represent the state in the U.S. Senate.

The attack came this week in an email blast by Guilfoyle, Greitens' campaign chair, who alleged that the Senate Minority Leader "made a backdoor deal to try and have [Greitens] REMOVED."

"[McConnell has] gone to unimaginable lengths to keep a MAGA warrior like Eric from winning the 1 SEAT we need to take back the 50-50 Senate," she exclaimed. "He even launched a smear campaign targeting Eric's children. When the RINO establishment employs the exact same tactics as the radical Left, enough is enough!"

Guilfoyle's remarks are the latest in a broader response to claims that Greitens subjected his ex-wife, Sheena Greitens, and their kids to physical abuse during their time together. Those abuse allegations were first levelled back in April 2020, shortly after the couple divorced.

Eric Greitens, for his part, has adamantly denied his ex-wife's account, arguing that if he had been abusive, the two would not have arranged a divorce settlement granting him joint physical custody of the children. Greitens has also alleged that his ex-wife's allegations, which were outlined in a signed affidavit, are part of a coordinated smear campaign waged by McConnell and GOP operative Karl Rove.

"I want to tell you directly, Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell," Greitens tweeted back in March. "Hear me now. You are disgusting cowards. And we are coming for you. We are no longer going to allow you to attack me and attack my kids and to destroy this country."

To support that claim, Greitens has cited a report by right-wing news site Breitbart alleging that Rove had forehand knowledge of Sheena Greitens' abuse allegations. The article also reported that Sheena Greitens' sister is employed by McConnell at the three different political consulting firms. Neither of these details clearly suggest that both McConnell and Rove mounted a coordinated attack against Eric Greitens' Senate campaign.

Both Rove and Sheena Greitens have denied conspiring against the former Missouri governor. Still, Breitbart has continued to suggest such involvement, most recently reporting on claims by Missouri Republican Rep. Billy Long that McConnell meddled in the GOP Senate primary by pressuring Long to drop out of the race.

"McConnell's efforts to get Long to drop out of the race could be an attempt to take away votes from former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, the frontrunner in the race," the outlet suggested. "McConnell has a vested interest in stopping Greitens candidacy as the former Missouri governor has campaigned on voting against McConnell as Republican Senate leader."

Eric Greitens is currently coming out on top in the Senate primary, according to a recent poll by The Hill and Emerson College. The Senate candidate is the only one in the race to boast double-digit support.

For the most part, the former governor has attempted to align himself with MAGA values, even though he was reportedly reluctant to back Donald Trump in the 2016 election, according to Politico. Still, Eric Greitens has not yet received an official imprimatur from the former president.

'Garbage in. Garbage out': Mick Mulvaney shares his deep feelings about Donald Trump's 'inner circle'

Donald Trump's former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Monday called members of the former president's inner circle "garbage" during the January 6 hearings.

"Trump's inner circle at the end was … [Rudy] Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, Peter Navarro," Mulvaney tweeted. "Garbage in. Garbage out."

Mulvaney's comments come as the select committee investigating the Capitol riot holds its second day of televised hearings, during which new evidence was brought to light surrounding Donald Trump's failed efforts to overturn the election.

During the hearings, Bill Stepien, Trump's former campaign manager, revealed that Trump allies like Giuliani and Powell had fed the former president grandiose, yet baseless, stories of widespread voter fraud with which Trump could create a narrative that the election had been "stolen" by President Biden.

Mulvaney, a former U.S. representative, was once a staunch Trump backer. In February 2020, Mulvaney claimed it was "absolutely 100% true" that the deep state – a shadowy body of non-elected and influential conspirators – was plotting to undermine Trump's presidency. After Trump lost the 2020 election, Mulvaney predicted that the former president would concede "gracefully" and will "fight to make sure the results are fair."

Since then, Mulvaney, who stepped down in the wake of the Capitol riot, has become a vocal critic of Trump.

Back in July, the former Trump aide slammed Trump for failing to ramp up COVID-19 testing to his liking, calling the delay "inexcusable."

"I know it isn't popular to talk about in some Republican circles, but we still have a testing problem in this country," he wrote in an op-ed at CNBC. "That is simply inexcusable at this point in the pandemic."

And last March, after the former president claimed that the Capitol rioters posed "zero threat" to the Capitol police, Mulvaney trashed Trump's allegations as "manifestly false."

"I was surprised to hear the President say that," Mulvaney said in a CNN interview. "Clearly there were people who were behaving themselves, and then there were people who absolutely were not, but to come out and say that everyone was fine and there was no risk, that's just manifestly false – people died, other people were severely injured."

GOP finds new scapegoat for baby formula outrage

On Wednesday, nine House Republicans voted against a bill to help low-income families access baby food amid the nation's formula shortage, arguing that parents on federal food assistance benefits would be depriving middle-income families of the products they need as well. Now those same Republicans are defending their vote by pointing to America's most vulnerable families as the true cause of outrage.

The bill, dubbed the "Access to Baby Formula Act" (HR 7791), would allow the U.S. government to waive a number of restrictions for families on Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which helps low-income families access baby food. Roughly half of all formula products are purchased through the program.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the bill's detractors, called WIC a "problem" and implied that low-income families might hoard the products for themselves. The Biden administration, Greene said during her radio program this week, aims to make WIC "an even bigger customer, when in reality many of the parents that can't buy baby formula for their baby, they're not on the WIC program."

"The WIC program is making it more difficult for them to buy baby formula because if you're on WIC, if you're someone that needs to be on that government assistance, you're allowed to buy as much baby formula as you want to with your WIC vouchers and they're increasing that for those parents," the conservative freshman added.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., echoed Greene's sentiment, saying that the bill "would make baby formula shortages worse for most Americans."

"It will allow WIC to utilize a far greater portion of the baby formula market, crowding out many hard-working American families," he added.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., also joins the chorus, parroting Biggs' talking point to a tee.

Though Republicans have sought to paint low-income families as potential opportunists amid the shortage, families on WIC are in fact most likely to be impacted by the scarcity. That's because the shortage is in large part driven by a recall recently issued by Abbot labs, America's chief manufacturer of baby food, whose products serve 90% of families using WIC, according to the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service.

According to Roll Call, the Department of Agriculture has urged states to have "maximum flexibility" for families on WIC, encouraging states to allow recipients to purchase different brands and sizes of formula. However, that order is legal only because the U.S. is still in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, meaning that once the public emergency declaration is lifted, Congress would have to pass a bill providing WIC recipients with more formula options.

Billionaires turn their backs on Biden — just as labor forces take hold

For years, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, who recently became the richest man in the world, has positioned himself as something of an ideological enigma. Online and in the media, the eccentric and outspoken billionaire has at various points in his life called himself a "socialist," a "registered independent," a "moderate,"and a "fiscal conservative." When it comes to political giving, Musk has donated to both former Presidents Barack Obama, a Democrat, and George Bush, a Republican. And in the 2020 presidential election, the Tesla executive threw his support behind Andrew Yang, an independent, and Kanye West, the pro-Trump turned anti-Trump rapper who received 70,000 votes on Election Day.

But this week, as Musk angles to acquire Twitter, a financial undertaking that has sounded alarms amongst liberals and free speech advocates, the tech billionaire sought to put an end to all the speculation, unveiling himself as, low and behold, a Republican.

"In the past I voted Democrat, because they were (mostly) the kindness party," Musk tweeted. "But they have become the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican. Now, watch their dirty tricks campaign against me unfold."

Musk's political unmasking could prove incredibly consequential in the coming election cycle. For one, the billionaire's conservative leanings might portend a significant rollback of Twitter's content moderation policies. This is especially concerning when past elections have shown that conservatives are far more inclined than liberals to use Twitter as a means of spreading misinformation.

But for the most part, Musk has handwaved concerns about fake news, repeatedly stressing the value of "free speech" on Twitter.

"I think it's very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech," Musk said during a TED conference last month. "Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square, so it's just really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law."

Back in April, Musk likewise implied that too many people on Twitter "fear free speech," saying, "I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law."

To be clear, Twitter, a privately-held company, has no legal obligation to uphold free speech, a constitutional right that ensures citizens can express themselves without government coercion or censorship. But conservatives like Musk have nevertheless insisted that the company systematically "censors" unpopular viewpoints. That sentiment became especially salient after Donald Trump was officially banned from Twitter back in January of last year, just days after a 2,000-strong horde of Trump supporters violently raided the Capitol building.

At the time, Twitter made clear that it removed Trump to prevent the risk of "further incitement of violence." But Musk has promised to reverse the action, saying it was a "mistake" to ban the former president because it ostracized his base.

"Permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved for accounts that are bots, or scam, spam accounts," he said at a conference earlier this month. "I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump," Musk said. "I think that was a mistake, because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice."

According to Zignal Labs and CrowdTangle, mentions of Trump plummeted by 34% on Twitter after the ban, and the circulation of misinformation dropped by 73%. But those numbers might increase if the former president's account is restored, potentially improving his odds of being re-elected.

Apart from election and misinformation concerns, Musk's impending ownership of Twitter is also likely to spell adversity for labor advocates, who have in recent years steered unprecedented union efforts across a spectrum of corporate goliaths, including Amazon, Starbucks, Apple and Alphabet (which owns Google).

This week, in his rebuke of the Democrats, Musk said that the party is "overly controlled by the unions and … class-action lawyers," calling unions "another form of a monopoly" that have "captured" President Biden.

Musk's remarks presumably come in response to the president's apparent solidarity with various union efforts throughout the country. On the campaign trail, President Biden vowed to be "the most pro-union president" in American history. That promise was tested this month, when the president arranged a meeting with Christopher Smalls, the face of union election victory by Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York. Biden said that Smalls was "making good trouble and helping inspire a new movement of labor organizing across the country."

nd while Musk is now well-known for sensationalistic ribble-rabble, his anti-union rhetoric is not just bluster. Up until 2021, the tech billionaire had been under a three-year federal investigation by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over possible union-busting at Tesla. The agency ultimately found last year that Musk threatened to strip workers of their pay and benefits, ordering the CEO to rehire an employee who was illegally fired for leading a union effort. The NLRB has also filed a complaint against Musk over the company's alleged surveillance and intimidation of workers attempting to join a union. "Anything union or pro-union is shut down really fast," one Tesla employee told The Guardian back in 2018. "Pro-union people are generally fired for made-up reasons," said another. "We are told Tesla would go bankrupt if we unionize because we are not a profitable company yet."

As of this writing, it remains unclear whether Musk's acquisition of Twitter will come to pass. This week, the executive said that there would be no deal until the site can prove that fewer than 5% of its user base is made up of bots. To make matters more complicated, on Thursday, the billionaire was freshly accused of sexual misconduct by one of his former flight attendants, who alleged that the tech magnate exposed himself to her, rubbed her leg without consent, offered to buy her a horse in exchange for sex acts, and had Tesla arrange a $250,000 settlement to keep her silent over the incident, according to Business Insider.

Musk, who also owns and operates SpaceX, is not the only billionaire to lock horns with the Biden administration as of late.

On Monday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the world's second richest man, got into an online scuffle with Biden over inflation after the president suggested that he would combat the soaring cost of food and fuel with corporate tax hikes.

"You want to bring down inflation?" Biden tweeted. "Let's make sure the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share."

Bezos immediately called the president's tweet "misdirection," suggesting that the Department of Homeland Security's newly-formed Disinformation Governance Board should flag the post.

"Raising corp taxes is fine to discuss. Taming inflation is critical to discuss. Mushing them together is just misdirection," Bezos tweeted.

The exchange set off vigorous debate around the apparent link between inflation and corporate taxes, with many conservative punditsarguing that hikes might exacerbate price increases.

However, Lindsay Owens, Executive Director of the Groundwork Collaborative, told Salon that corporate tax hikes would disincentivize companies from applying excessive markups to their products.

"Since the pandemic, about 54% of the price increases we're seeing are coming from what we call the markup," she said in an interview. "That piece gets a lot less fun and a lot less lucrative," she added, when "it's taxed back and shipped off to the Treasury."

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told CNBC that "it doesn't take a huge leap" to figure out why Bezos would disapprove of higher corporate taxes. Bezos, he said, "opposes an economic agenda for the middle class that cuts some of the biggest costs families face … by asking the richest taxpayers and corporations to pay their fair share."

GOP senator denies he's heard of 'great replacement' — while espousing replacement theory

Last month, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., went on Fox News to deliver a diatribe about the apparent ills of open borders, a policy that President Biden has never supported but was nevertheless cited by the senator as an attempt to "remake the demographics of America."

But now, in the wake of a deadly mass shooting carried out by white supremacist who echoed a similar sentiment, Johnson's comments are coming back to bite him, with many commentators arguing that the senator supports a racist conspiracy theory that's likely to lead to more violence in the months to come.

The uproar stems from a shooting this weekend in Buffalo, New York, where ten people were killed and three were injured as part of a racially-motivated attack on a predominantly Black neighborhood in the city. Prior to the attack, the 18-year old killer, Payton Gendron, published a 180-page manifesto online, making multiple references to the "Great Replacement," a baseless right-wing conspiracy theory alleging that the Democrats are attempting to loosen borders in order to replace the white electorate with more pliant citizens from the Third World.

Two days after the shooting, Johnson took to Twitter to express his condolences, saying that "Americans around the country are praying for the victims of the horrific attack that occurred in Buffalo. We mourn for their loved ones and thank law enforcement for their heroism."

But with no apparent segue, Johnson then turned his attention to Biden's "open border policies," arguing that criticizing the administration's stance on immigration is not tantamount to subscribing to the "Great Replacement."

"Pushing the lie that criticizing this admin's policies in any way supports 'replacement theory' is another example of the corporate media working overtime to cover up the Biden admin's failures," Johnson tweeted.

But the conservative lawmaker has, at the very least, tacitly supported the theory without naming it directly.

In one Fox Business interview last month, the senator baselessly claimed Biden "wants complete open borders," adding: "And you have to ask yourself why? Is it really they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure their – that they stay in power forever? Is that what's happening here?"

And on Tuesday, Johnson employed a similar line of inquiry after being asked to condemn the "Great Replacement."

"Why are [the Democrats] letting millions of people in this country … [Biden] ought to answer why are they doing that?" he told the Wall Street Journal. "It doesn't make any sense to me at all. None. It makes no sense. I can't explain a lot of things. Why are they pushing for mail-in ballots?"

Johnson's spokesperson, Alexa Henning, has described any allegations of Johnson's belief in the "Great Replacement" theory as "100% false."

"The senator has spoken extensively on the inhumanity of the Biden administration's open border policies, not some racist 'theory,'" she said in a Tuesday statement, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Johnson, elected in 2011, as an adamant opponent of illegal immigration. Back in 2017, the senator supported Donald Trump's decision to defer the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provided children with temporary relief from deportation

'Is that legal?': New analysis explores Republicans' push for Supreme Court demonstrators to be arrested

Hundreds of pro-choice demonstrators have gathered outside the homes of conservative Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and John Roberts since a draft decision reversing Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision affirming America's constitutional right to abortion, leaked. The protests – featuring signs, chants, and candle-lit vigils – have remained peaceful demonstrations. But while no threats or acts of violence have been reported in connection to these demonstrations, Republicans are already tarring them as immoral, illegal, and even terroristic, going so far as to call on the Justice Department to prosecute individuals.

On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said that the protesters "should be arrested for protesting in the homes of judges, jurors, and prosecutors."

"There is a federal law that prohibits the protesting of judges' homes," Cotton told NBC News. "Anybody protesting a judge's home should be arrested on the spot by federal law enforcement. If [protesters] want to raise a First Amendment defense, they are free to do so."

"The President may choose to characterize protests, riots, and incitements of violence as mere passion," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, echoed in a Wednesday letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. "But these attempts to influence and intimidate members of the federal judiciary are an affront to judicial independence."

The Republican governors of both Virginia and Maryland, where the three justices' homes are located, have also joined the chorus, urging Garland to "provide appropriate resources to safeguard the justices and enforce the law as it is written."

Even some Democrats came forward to condemn the demonstrations, including most notably Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who this week went so far as to call the protests "reprehensible."

"Stay away from the homes and families of elected officials and members of the court," Durbin told CNN. "You can express yourself, exercise your First Amendment rights, but to go after them at their homes, to do anything of a threatening nature, certainly anything violent, is absolutely reprehensible."

To make their case, Republican pundits and politicians have for the most part hung their hat on an esoteric legal statute, first enacted in 1950, that makes it illegal to picket or parade "in or near a building or residence occupied or used by [a] judge, juror, witness, or court officer" with "the intent of influencing [that] judge." The statute, 18 U.S. Code § 1507, is seemingly designed to protect members of the judiciary from protests that might obstruct justice through fear or intimidation and was first enacted as part of the "Internal Security Act of 1950," a McCarthy-era law that sought to address fears that communism was creeping into the judiciary.

Historically, the courts have hewed closely to laws that protect juries and justices from any outside political influences, as Law & Crime noted. Still, the legality of the protests remains something of an open question.

Alvin B. Tillery, Jr., an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, told Salon that it's unlikely this week's demonstrations would be ruled illegal under 18 U.S. Code § 1507.

"I always have read [that statute] as 'impeding the officers ability to get to the court, or from the court to take part in proceedings' ... or terrorizing them with loudspeakers in front of their houses," he explained in an interview. "There's really no interpretation by which one could say that [the protests are] untoward or illegal in my understanding of the law and the Constitution and the history of protest in our country."

Anuj C. Desai, a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin, expressed a little more doubt, arguing that the statute could be applied. But still, he added, very little case law in the U.S. has actually ventured into the territory of the situation at hand.

"I think if [the protesters] did get prosecuted, there would be reasonable arguments about the interpretation of the statute that have not played out in the courts."

One pertinent legal case, Desai said, is Cox v. Louisiana, a 1965 case in which the Supreme Court affirmed a state law that made picketing before a courthouse illegal. The case specifically centered on Benjamin Elton Cox, a civil rights activist who was convicted of disturbing the peace after organizing a thousands-strong march outside of a Baton Rouge courthouse. The facts around Cox v. Louisiana "were relatively sympathetic" for the protestors, DeSai said, "and the Supreme Court still said [Louisiana's statute] is carefully drawn."

Another past case that stands out, as The Washington Post notes, is Frisby v. Schultz, which stems from a 1988 picket organized in Brookfield, Wisconsin by two anti-abortion activists outside the home of an abortion doctor. Both activists claimed that a town ordinance banning the demonstration violated their First Amendment rights. Citing "a special benefit of the privacy all citizens enjoy within their own walls," the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the ordinance, arguing goals of the protests could be achieved through other means of communication.

"I do not believe that picketing for the sole purpose of imposing psychological harm on a family in the shelter of their home is constitutionally protected," wrote then-Justice John Paul Stevens, adding that there is "little justification for allowing them to remain in front of his home and repeat it over and over again simply to harm the doctor and his family."

Apart from local ordinances, like Wisconsin's, a judge might also consider state codes. This strategy could prove especially successful in Virginia and Maryland, both of whose criminal statutes put a strong emphasis on the preservation of the home as a place of tranquility.

"The practice of picketing before or about residences and dwelling places causes emotional disturbance and distress to the occupants," states the Maryland criminal code. "The purpose of this practice is to harass the occupants of the residences and dwelling places."

Virginia statutory law imposes a similar restriction: "Any person who shall engage in picketing before or about the residence or dwelling place of any individual, or who shall assemble with another person or persons in a manner which disrupts or threatens to disrupt any individual's right to tranquility in his home, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor."

All a prosecutor would need to do, then, under Virginia or Maryland law is establish that the demonstrations disrupted the tranquility within Alito, Kavanaugh, or Roberts' homes.

But if prosecutors were to argue that the demonstrations violated 18 U.S. Code § 1507, they would have to establish that the protesters intended to distress these three justices – a task which would likely require a lot of heavy lifting, suggested Sheila Bedi, a clinical professor of law at Northwestern University.

"A prosecutor could look at things like notices of the protest, if there's any social media posts, but again, I think it's highly unlikely that anybody out there protesting really believes that Justice Alito is going to change his opinion as a result of the protests. And because of that, I think anybody who was charged under the statute would have a strong defense," Bedi said. "I think the reality is that the movement has known that this was a possibility for a long time because of the organizing that happened on the right. And this is about harnessing the political moment far more than it is about trying to influence the judges."

Desai likewise said that prosecutors would be bedeviled with "proof problems" relating to mens rea, or the state of mind protesters were in during the demonstrations. "This one just looks like it would be that aspect of it that would be hard to prove," Desai said.

Thus far, the Justice Department has not signaled that it will be pursuing legal action against any of the demonstrators, and there have been no arrests at this point. Department spokesperson Anthony Coley on Wednesday said that the agency "continues to be briefed on security matters related to the Supreme Court and Supreme Court justices.

How the GOP’s rush to block Biden from forgiving student debt backfired

Over the last two years, Republicans argued that President Biden, who made a campaign promise to cancel student debt, does not have legal authority to fulfill that pledge, insisting that the tens of millions of Americans currently crushed by student loans should be forced to pay them down. But now, amid new reports that Biden is considering a partial jubilee, Republicans are backing a bill that would prevent the president from pulling the trigger – a tacit acknowledgment Biden appears to have the power to finally make good on his promise.

On Wednesday, five Senate Republicans introduced the "Stop Reckless Student Loans Action Act," a measure that would end Biden's ability to continue suspending debt payments (for debtholders of a certain income) and prohibit the president from canceling the debt altogether in the case of a national emergency.

The bill's sponsors – Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Mike Braun, R-Ind., Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Roger Marshall, R-Kansas – have attempted to frame the measure as a bulwark for American taxpayers.

"As Americans continue to return to the workforce more than two years since the pandemic began, it is time for borrowers to resume repayment of student debt obligations," Thune said in a statement. "Taxpayers and working families should not be responsible for continuing to bear the costs associated with this suspension of repayment. This common-sense legislation would protect taxpayers and prevent President Biden from suspending federal student loan repayments in perpetuity."

Braun has meanwhile claimed that a jubilee would force people without college degrees to "pick up the tab" for graduates.

"This transfer of wealth is not a move to 'advance equity,' but rather a taxpayer handout to appease far-left activists," he said.

The Republican-led measure comes just weeks after Biden extended his student loan repayment pause for the sixth time over the course of his administration. According to the Federal Reserve, Biden has saved borrowers, who hold roughly $1.7 trillion debt, about $5 billion in interest a month. Those savings have been a lifeline for over 40 million student debtholders, 11.1% of whose loans prior to the pandemic were in default or delinquent by at least 90 days.

Toward the beginning of Biden's presidency, many Republicans and establishment Democrats were adamant that the president could not forgive student debt by executive order. Some experts suggested that only Congress could rubber-stamp such a move, in part because it was the legislature – not the president – that appropriated the funds loaned out to borrowers.

But now, with the GOP waging a pre-emptive counteroffensive amid reports that Biden might relieve the debt, there's more reason to believe that the president has that very authority, as The American Prospect's David Dayen wrote this week.

"There would be no need for such [the GOP's] bill if there was not already authority granted by Congress to the executive branch to suspend, defer, or cancel student loan payments," Dayen argued. "The bill represents an effort to claw that authority back, or at the very least clarify the statute to remove all doubt."

Republicans appear to be targeting provisions contained within the HEROES Act of 2003, an amendment to the Higher Education Act that "allows the secretary of education to waive or modify any requirement or regulation applicable to the student financial assistance programs" in a time of national emergency.

The Stop Reckless Student Loans Action Act would prohibit the president from using the HEROES Act to pause repayments for any longer than 90 days. It would also means-test these pauses and make them subject to the Congressional Review Act, an esoteric law that allows the legislature to overturn actions taken by federal agencies, like the Department of Education.

To be sure, it's unlikely that the Stop Reckless Student Loans Action Act will be approved by a Democratic-majority Senate, paving the way for Biden to leverage the HEROES act without opposition. But even then, Biden will undoubtedly face a deluge of legal challenges, which could stop a jubilee in its tracks.

At present, very little legal precedent exists on whether Biden has the unilateral power to forgive student debt. No president before him has attempted the move, and "no court has considered where the outer boundaries of the Secretary's HEROES Act authorities lie," as the Congressional Research Services wrote last year.

Luke Herrine, Yale Law Ph.D. who has studied the legality around a potential jubilee, describes the predicament as "a vague terrain."

"Who would sue? I mean, that's the real question," Herrine said. "The [debt] servicers are probably the most plausible, but there are a number of problems with them having standing [...] They are not guaranteed any amounts of payments under their contracts with the Department of Education, so it's not really clear what their claim is."

There's also the question of whether sweeping debt relief would qualify as a mere "modification" or "waiver," as the Congressional Research Services noted. In the 1992 case MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. AT&T, the Supreme Court declined to defer to the Federal Communications Commission's interpretation of what the company felt was a modification to its tariff policies.

"If a court deemed the HEROES Act sufficiently analogous to the statute in MCI, it might conclude that the power to 'modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the' Title IV programs likewise does not authorize the Secretary to make fundamental changes to statutes or regulations," the Congressional Research Services wrote.

And all of this legal analysis, Herrin said, will have to be weighed against the "political calculus" of issuing a jubilee whose economic implications are still ill-defined.

"First of all, do we think this is good policy? Is it regressive or is it progressive? Is it good politically?" Herrine explained. "I think that's the calculus that's really changed over the past few months."

Biden's pause on student debt repayments is set to expire on May 1. On Monday, Biden indicated to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he is open to both extending the repayment suspension and wiping away a portion of the debt, according to The Washington Post.

"I feel very confident that he is pushing on his team to do something, and to do something significant," Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., a member of the caucus, told the Post. "That's my feeling.t

Far-right Michigan candidate for Senate: 'Family should be a white mom, a white dad and white kids'

A far-right radio host running for the Michigan state senate is claiming that he's "not racist" after complaining about how the nuclear family is no longer portrayed as "a white mom, a white dad, and white kids."

The host, Randy Bishop, who is running as a Democrat, lamented the racial makeup of America on his radio show "Your Defending Fathers" last month, according to The Detroit News. In the episode, Bishop argued that the mainstream media is attempting to "destroy the nuclear family."

"Can't even watch a college basketball tournament without commercials telling me I have to feel guilty because I think a family should be a white mom, a white dad and white kids," Bishop said. "They want us to die and go away and they're going to try and do it through politics this year. Well, we have got to be just as smart."

Media outlets immediately jumped on his comments, leading Bishop to claim that his remarks were taken out of context.

"I don't have a racist bone in my body," Bishop told MLive.

During the episode, Bishop also made a number of other inflammatory remarks.

At one point, he said that the "LGBTQXYZ" community is "confused" about "what's between their legs." And in another comment, he baselessly claimed that Vice President Kamala Harris is "not Black," saying that she doesn't belong to the same group as "real African African-heritage Black people."

This week, the Michigan Democratic Party firmly rebuked Bishop's comments, saying that his views "have no place in the Democratic Party."

"He is a dishonest minor social media personality that enjoys getting attention from making outrageous statements," the party tweeted. "He shows nothing but disrespect to our system of government by using a run for office to promote his personal agenda, entirely based on lies, hate and fear."

According to MLive, Bishop has filed to run in Michigan's 37th Senate District, which covers certain areas of the Lower Peninsula and the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula. The district is 88% white and 2% Black.

Although Bishop is running as a Democrat, his politics broadly align with those of the Republican Party. He is currently the chair of the Antrim County Conservative Union and is reportedly sponsored by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, one of Donald Trump's most vocal election conspiracists.

Corporate America steps up to fight for abortion access —⁠ after backing anti-abortion Republicans

Just after the Texas GOP's near-total abortion ban (S.B.8) officially took effect last September, companies like Uber, Lyft, Bumble, and Match parachuted into the political fray by providing their Texas-based employees with benefits packages designed to dampen the impact of the bill. Uber and Lyft, for instance, created legal defense funds for drivers who might be sued for providing rides to abortion doctors. And Match, which owns Tinder, created a relief fund for staffers and their dependents seeking to get an abortion outside the Lone Star State. This week, Citigroup and Yelp vowed to cover similar out-of-state care for their employees, a move that no doubt reinforces Corporate America's veneer of progressivism as more Republican-led states – like Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, South Dakota – join the race to pass draconian restrictions.

But campaign finance records reveal that at least four out of the six named companies donated heavily to anti-abortion Republicans over the past three decades, underscoring the ongoing disconnect between Corporate America's professed principles and its pocketbook.

Over the past three decades, Citigroup has donated over $6.2 million to the Republican Party, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In Texas, for instance, Citigroup has given at least $452,370 to various GOP candidates, including the state's vehemently anti-abortion governor, Greg Abbott ($258,370), as well as many of the S.B.8's legislative sponsors. Most notably, the company has directed at least $2,000 toward the bill's chief architect, state Sen. Bryan Hughes.

In Oklahoma, which made abortion provision a felony by up to ten years in prison, Citigroup has lined up the campaign coffers of state Rep. Frank D. Lucas ($27,500), who has consistently voted to undermine abortion access, as well as U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. ($7,000), who just this year described himself as "the leading voice in Congress for the protection of life."

Citigroup declined to respond to Salon's request for comment.

Yelp's political contributions similarly fly in the face of its recent stance on abortion, despite the company's reported "progressive" workplace.

Since 2014, Yelp has contributed at least $71,600 to both state and federal Republicans across the country, donating thousands to anti-abortion lawmakers like U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah ($5,400), Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry ($5,000), Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes ($8,000), and former U.S. Rep. Randolph Farenthold, R-Texas ($5,500). The company has also donated to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, whose current chair, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., rolled back abortion protections as the governor of Florida in 2016, imposing heightened requirements on abortion clinics and prohibiting them from collecting taxpayer dollars.

Asked about these donations, a Yelp spokesperson told Salon that the company's "limited and bipartisan government relations effort is focused on advocating for antitrust policies that rein in Big Tech."

"We take action against abortion bans that violate women's individual freedoms in a number of ways, including evaluating our employee benefits, using our voice to call out these inequities, making sure that when people visit our platform they can find the trusted information they need about the services they are looking for, and donating to organizations that are fighting the legal battle against abortion bans, as well as those that provide reproductive health services and financial support to underserved women," they said.

Needless to say, none of this is untrue – at least on paper. In 2019, for example, Yelp signed the "Don't Ban Equality" letter condemning S.B. 8. And last year, it began double-matching employee donations to organizations that are pushing back against the measure. But still, these kinds of gestures are incredibly misaligned with the company's political contributions, said Jennifer Stark, Senior Director of Corporate Strategy at the Tara Health Foundation.

"Companies need to align their political giving with [their rhetoric and benefits policies] so that women and people of color and LGBTQ+ community are no longer the collateral damage of corporate political giving," Stark told Salon in an interview. "You can't really 'op-ed' or 'statement' your way out of where we're at. It takes structural reform on multiple levels."

Even ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which profit disproportionately from users in Democratic-led cities, bear responsibility in fueling the GOP's war on reproductive rights.

Uber has spent at least $78,000 on state and federal Republicans over the span of eight years, including anti-abortion advocates such as Illinois state Rep. Jim Durkin ($7,500), former Illinois state Sen. Bill Brady ($7,500), Georgia state Sen. Steve Gooch ($5,000), and California state Rep. Janet Nguyen ($4,900). The company has also given $100,000 to the Florida Republican Senate Campaign Committee, whose beneficiaries in the legislature recently passed a ban on abortion after fifteen weeks into pregnancy.

Uber did not respond to Salon's request for comment.

Lyft has followed a similar pattern, donating at least $175,614 to state and federal Republicans over the past eight years. Among its most notable beneficiaries are Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ($3,000), who signed a "fetal heartbeat" bill in 2019, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens ($2,500), who in 2017 signficantly curtailed the state's access to abortion options; Gerogia Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller ($2,000), who is angling to pass a state measure along the lines of S.B.8; and Tennessee state Rep. Glen Casada ($2,000), who has consistentlyfought for a total ban on the abortion.

Likewise, Lyft has donated $101,100 to various GOP groups, like the Florida Republican Party ($30,000), the Texas Republican Legislative Caucus ($20,000), and the Senate Republican Caucus of Tennessee ($5,500).

Asked about these donations, a Lyft spokesperson told Salon that the company "could not be clearer about our stance on this issue."

"We believe women should be able to exercise their right to choose and have access to the healthcare they want and need," they added. "We are committed to providing support for the drivers on our platform which is why we created a Driver Legal Defense Fund to cover 100% of legal fees for drivers sued while driving on our platform."

While abortion may be the latest issue in which Corporate America has found itself torn between good business and bad politics, it's certainly not the only one.

Last year, Popular Information reported that 25 major U.S. corporations who advertised their support of Pride month donated over $10 million to lawmakers who have fought to curtail LGBTQ+ rights.

And while big companies like Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft issued commitments to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, many continue to sit on and donate to police foundations, which allow police departments secretly green-light off-the-books expenditures for initiatives that disproportionately harm people of color.

Most notably, after the Capitol riot, much of big business announced that it would halt donations to any lawmakers who objected to the 2020 presidential election. Two years later, dozens of companies have completely reneged on this pledge, donating nearly $5 million to insurrectionist political groups and members of the Sedition Caucus, according to the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

"We've only seen a handful of companies stick to their commitments to quit giving to folks that wouldn't certify the election," Stark said. "We want corporate America, who will continue to give to both sides for as long as it's in their interest … to demand candidates that are less extreme, to demand a better quality of moderate. I think that is what we can and should hope for.

Paul Gosar blames staff for his appearance at white nationalist conference after attending same event last year

After weeks of avoiding the subject, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., is now blaming his own staff over his appearance at a white nationalist conference, claiming that "there was a miscommunication."

Gosar's comments, originally reported by Politico, stem from his controversial virtual appearance at the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), held in Washington back in March by white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

"It wasn't supposed to go to Nick's group," Gosar claimed, alleging that his staff sent a pre-recorded "welcome video" to AFPAC.

"We're kind of short-handed," the conservative said. "And there was miscommunication."

Gosar added that he's "given up … on dealing with Nick. Nick's got a problem with his mouth."

It remains unclear why Gosar apparently waited five weeks to address the matter.

Gosar's remarks are also dubious considering his attendance at AFPAC last year, which led to him missing a House vote on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

"There is a group of young people that are becoming part of the election process and becoming a bigger force," Gosar said to a crowd of white nationalist youths at the time. "So why not take that energy and listen to what they've got to say?"

After that year's event, Fuentes posted a photo of the two men sharing drinks.

"Great meeting today with Congressman Gosar!" Fuentes wrote. "America is truly uncancelled."

After Gosar's AFPAC appearance this year, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy condemned the Arizona lawmaker, calling his conduct "unacceptable."

"For me it was appalling and wrong. And there's no place in our party for any of this," McCarthy said at the time. "The party should not be associated any time any place with somebody who is anti-Semitic.

'I'm always going to be perceived as an outsider': Rick Scott equates himself with Ulysses S. Grant

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., on Thursday compared himself to the union general and former President Ulysses S. Grant in defense of his much-reviled "11-point plan to rescue America," calling himself an "outsider" who will do whatever it takes to push his agenda forward.

"I think of myself more like Grant taking Vicksburg, and I think as a result of that, I'm always going to be perceived as an outsider," Scott told the Associated Press. "I'm going to keep doing what I believe in whether everybody agrees with me or not."

Despite receiving considerable pushback from his GOP colleagues, Scott has continued to advocate for a right-wing agenda that clarifies what Republicans stand for. His plan includes provisions like completing Trump's now-abandoned border wall; limiting federal workers to twelve years of service; providing foreign aid to "countries that are willing to defend themselves, like Israel"; requiring that all children to say the Pledge of Allegiance and stand for the National Anthem; and ending the practice of racial and ethic disclosures on government forms.

"Hopefully, by doing this, we'll have more of a conversation about what Republicans are going to get done. Because when we get the majority, I want to get something done," Scott said in a February interview with Politico. "There's things that people would rather not talk about. I'm willing to say exactly what I'm going to do. I think it's fair to the voter."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., by contrast, has insisted that the GOP refrain from spelling out a concrete agenda ahead of this year's midterms, instead opting to pick apart any action items the Democrats have and will put forward. McConnell made this clear during a private function with Republican donors and lawmakers back in December, according to Axios.

Most notably, the Senate minority leader has criticized the sweeping tax hikes laid out in Scott's plan, claiming that they would impact a large swath of the GOP's voting block. "We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets social security and Medicare within five years," McConnell has explained.

According to the non-partisan Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy (Itep) Scott's plan "would increase taxes by more than $1,000 on average for the poorest 40% of Americans."

Still, Scott has seen praise from a small contingent of Beltway Republicans who stand in support of a more forthright messaging strategy.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., who recently suggested the Supreme Court was wrong to legalize same-sex marriage, defended Scott's platform in an interview with the Associated Press, arguing that Republican voters need to know what they're voting for – not just against.

Republicans should "stake a little ground out that gives independents who elect swing-state senators and the president something other than the party of 'No,'" Braun said.

Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, also gave Scott plaudits, saying that the GOP's current debate about taxes is "not an honest conversation."

"It's about the establishment self-appointed ruling elites – I mean that generally – inside and outside the Capitol telling a great member of the Senate who's working on behalf of his constituents that he just needs to stop talking about this because it's not the plan they've decided," Roberts told the Associated Press.

'Actual Russian propaganda': Conservatives pile on as Tulsi Gabbard named 'most influential' spreader of disinformation

Republicans are attacking former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for spreading "Russian propaganda" after she posted a video claiming that the U.S. is funding and operating bioweapons labs in Ukraine.

On Sunday, the Hawaii Democrat published a two-minute video laying out the completely unproven conspiracy theory that the U.S. is funding between 25 and 30 biolabs in Ukraine to develop "dangerous pathogens".

"Like COVID, these pathogens know no borders," Gabbard said. "If they are inadvertently or purposely breached or compromised, they will quickly spread all throughout Europe, the United States and the rest of the world, causing untold suffering and death."

Those comments did not sit well with many Republicans, some of whom accused the former lawmaker of playing into the hands of Kremlin-backed disinformation.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., called Gabbard's remarks "actual Russian propaganda." "Traitorous. Russia also said the Luger center in Georgia was making zombies," he said on Sunday. "Tulsi should go to Russia."

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, expressed similar thoughts, accusing Gabbard of "parroting false Russian propaganda."

"Her treasonous lies may well cost lives," he wrote on Sunday over Twitter.

On Monday, Alyssa Farah, the former director of strategic communications under Donald Trump, said that Romney was "absolutely right."

"What this is, is the Russians are spreading propaganda to try to create a pretext for potentially using chemical weapons against the Ukranians," Farah said during a segment of ABC's "The View."

"What Tulsi Gabbard is spreading is actually helping Putin get away with criminal acts against innocent Ukrainian civilians," she added.

The U.S. has repeatedly dismissed claims that it is holding or developing bioweapons in Ukraine. However, there are a number of biological labs in Ukraine, which the U.S. funds, to prevent the deployment of bioweapons, according to The New York Times. The funding of those labs stems from the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), founded in 1998. In 2005, the U.S. and Ukraine signed an explicit agreement ensuring that the labs would not be used to develop bioweapons.

Back in 2018, Filippa Lentzos, a Norwegian scientist researching threats posed by biological agents, called the Kremlin's claims "unfounded" after visiting a number of Ukrainian biolabs herself.

"We were given access to all areas of the site, examined relevant documentation, and interviewed staff, and concluded that the Center demonstrates significant transparency," Lentzos said. "Our group observed nothing out of the ordinary, or that we wouldn't expect to see in a legitimate facility of this sort."

Gabbard has since scrambled to explain her tweet and called on Romney to resign.

Suggesting that there might have been some "miscommunication and misunderstanding" about the terms bio labs and bio weapons labs, Gabbard tweeted: "'Biolabs' are facilities which contain and experiment with dangerous pathogens, ostensibly for the purpose of serving the public good (i.e. vaccines, etc.). 'Biological weapons labs' are facilities which exist for the purpose of turning pathogens into weapons so they can be used against an enemy (i.e. 'bioweapons')," Gabbard tweeted.

On Wednesday, Gabbard was listed alongside GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA and Fox News' Carlson asthe "most influential" in spreading anti-Ukraine disinformation and misinformation. Disinformation and digital authoritarianism researcher Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor of Middle East studies and digital humanities at Hamad bin Khalifa University, featured Gabbard's tweets about Ukraine and "biolabs" as the latest Russia conspiracy theory propagated by right-wing media in the U.S.

Trump judge strikes down challenge against Cawthorn’s election eligibility

A federal judge on Friday struck down a legal challenge against Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., who a group of North Carolina voters argued was ineligible for re-election due to his apparent role in fomenting the January 6 Capitol riot.

The decision was handed down by Judge Richard Myers, a Trump-appointee in the eastern district of North Carolina, who rubber stamped Cawthorn's request for a preliminary injunction against the petitioners.

Myers is a member of two conservative advocacy groups, including the Federalist Society and the National Rifle Association. He also serves as a faculty advisor for the Christian Legal Society, whose members profess to be "dedicated to serving Jesus Christ through the practice and study of law."

The case originally stems from a lawsuit filed by a group of voters and advocacy groups back in January, alleging that Cawthorn should be disqualified from re-election over his conduct before and during the Capitol insurrection

In the leadup to the insurrection, Cawthorn encouraged his followers to "lightly threaten" their representatives if they didn't validate Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud. The conservative firebrand also made an appearance at the "Stop the Steal" rally, held just hours before the riot, where he blasted Republicans for "not fighting" hard enough. When the rioters had finally made their way inside the House chamber, Cawthorn appeared to be brimming with pride over Twitter, writing gleefully that "the battle is on the house floor."

The lawsuit, now all but dead, hangs its hat on the 14th Amendment's "disqualification clause," which prohibits any officeholders who "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same" from holding a seat in government.

But in a countersuit filed in February, Cawthorn's lawyers argued that the Amnesty Act of 1872 – which allowed ex-Confederates to serve in office after the Civil War – effectively validates Cawthorn's re-election bid. In fact, that law only applied to ex-Confederates – not future insurrectionists, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern noted.

Still, Myers sided with Cawthorn's abstruse logic, claiming that "we are at a moment in which interest in free and fair elections is at its peak." The judge added that he felt too responsible for protecting "the soapbox … the ballot box … and the jury box … And when those fail, that's when people proceed to the ammunition box."

Rob Fein, the legal director of Free Speech For People, which is representing the voters who filed the suit against Cawthorn, has called for the decision to be appealed.

"This ruling, by Chief Judge Richard Myers II, a Trump appointee, is wrong on the law and would block the State Board of Elections from determining whether Cawthorn is ineligible under the Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause of the US Constitution," he said in a statement. "The ruling must be reversed on appeal, and the right of voters to bring this challenge to Cawthorn's eligibility must be preserved.

The Trump probes: What the hell is going on?

State and federal investigators across the country are still working to untangle Donald Trump's web of improprieties, pursuing a multitude of investigations that offer differing levels of promise in the legal arena. Currently, Trump faces nineteen active inquiries, although much of his focus has been devoted to just four. Let's take a deeper look at the four cases he has strenuously worked to extinguish at every turn.

In Manhattan, one probe is showing signs of letting up, all but dashing hopes that the president and many of his business associates will face criminal charges for their work in the Trump Organization. Still, the president is struggling to fend off a civil suit led by New York's attorney general. He also remains under state and federal scrutiny over his role in fomenting the January 6 Capitol riot and attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Last month, Salon provided a status update on all of these probes, but since then, many have developed in ways that bring greater clarity to the possible extent of Trump's corruption.

Washington, D.C.

Let's start with the January 6 select committee, which on Wednesday publicly declared, for the first time ever, that it has enough evidence to believe that Trump violated multiple election laws in his crusade to reverse in the 2020 election.

"The Select Committee also has a good-faith basis for concluding that the President and members of his Campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States," the panel wrote in Wednesday court filing.

The declaration is by far the closest that the committee has come to laying out potential charges against the former president, putting all the more pressure on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is actually defending Trump in several lawsuits, to take up the case.

The committee's court filing is largely a product of evidence gathered around ex-Trump legal advisor John Eastman, now notorious for concocting a specious scheme to have former Vice President Mike Pence reject certain electoral votes on the basis of Trump's election fraud claims. Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence in the filing, according to CNN, is a January 2021 email exchange between Eastman and Greg Jacob, then a top lawyer for Pence, who aggressively pushed back on Eastman's plan, arguing that it had no basis in constitutional law.

"I have run down every legal trail placed before me to its conclusion, and I respectfully conclude that as a legal framework, it is a results-oriented position that you would never support if attempted by the opposition, and essentially entirely made up," Jacob wrote to Eastman at the time. "And thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege."

Eastman responded: "The 'siege' is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so the American people can see for themselves what happened."

While the committee did recommend any charges, Norm Eisen, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told Salon that he believes the panel's recent filing portends poorly for Trump.

"I have taken the view – and I think this filing reinforces that view … that there's an adequate basis here for charging," Einstein said in an interview. "The evidence seems to be evolving in that direction. And this is another step in that direction."

Apart from Eastman, the committee also homed in a new coterie of Trump associates this week, subpoenaing six conservative lawyers who played key roles in Trump's failed campaign to reinstall himself as the president. Among them are Cleta Mitchell, a former Oklahoma state representative; former Kansas Attorney General Phillip Kline; Christina Bobb, a host on the pro-Trump One America News network; and three low-profile attorneys: Kenneth Chesebrom, Katherine Friess, and Kurt Olsen.

"The six individuals we've subpoenaed today all have knowledge related to those matters and will help the Select Committee better understand all the various strategies employed to potentially affect the outcome of the election," select committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Mo, said on Tuesday. "We expect these witnesses to join the hundreds who have cooperated with the Select Committee as we work to provide the American people with answers about the violence of January 6th and its causes."

According to the panel's findings, Mitchell was on a call with Trump when he pressured the Georgia secretary of state to "find" just enough votes in Fulton County to tip the election in his favor. Kline, meanwhile, helped convene a meeting between the former president and 300 state legislators "in an attempt to disseminate purported evidence of election fraud," according to The New York Times. Friess, Chesebro, and Olsen allegedly liaised in similar capacities, drafting directives to have federal agencies seize voting machines and ginning up spurious legal theories about how the Electoral College could be reshuffled in Trump's favor.

Just this past quarter, the select panel reportedly spent $1.6 million dollars on its sweeping investigation, according to ABC News, indicating that the probe's activities are ramping up, with nearly 600 interviews and over 75 subpoenas. Still, the panel remains bedeviled by Trump's most uncooperative associates.

Last week, former Trump advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle abruptly ended a deposition with the committee midway through due to alleged ambiguity around the meeting's ground rules, as CBS News reported.

"Kim balked and said this isn't my understanding," one person familiar with the exchange told the outlet. Another person described Guilfoyle as "outraged" since she apparently thought the meeting would not amount to a formal deposition.

And this week, Roger Stone, Trump's former campaign advisor, filed a lawsuit against the panel in a move to block them from gaining access to his text and phone call logs. Stone is one of at least nineteen potential witnesses using the courts to stonewall the select committee's subpoenas, according to the Times.

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump, the former president's daughter, is reportedly in talks with the committee, which has yet to issue her a subpoena, over the possibility of sitting down to provide testimony, according to the Times. Ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who may be verging on bankruptcy, is reportedly in a similar position, weighing whether to participate in an informal interview or a deposition.

Albany, New York

As Trump and his associates remain embroiled in an escalating probe on Capitol Hill, they are also facing an aggressive civil inquiry in Albany, New York, where the state's attorney general, Letitia James, is uncovering more evidence around possible fraud that ran rampant within the Trump Organization.

Last month, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron ruled that Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump must agree to answer James' questions under oath, a significant victory for James' office, which had issued subpoenas to all three of them back in December and January. James' probe is specifically interested in the family business' accounting practices, which may have allowed the former president to overvalue and undervalue certain assets for tax, insurance, and lending reasons.

During Engoron's virtual hearing, the Times reported, Trump's lawyers reportedly grew so furious with the proceeding that the judge and his clerk had to call time-outs on several occasions, often "raising their hands in the shape of a T."

Trump, for his part, has repeatedly tarred James' probe as being politically biased. But Engoron said that the former president's claims "completely misses the mark," noting that the attorney general has found "copious evidence of possible financial fraud."

On Friday, Trump, who has appealed the ruling, successfully delayed the case by several months, pushing his appeals hearing to May.

Engoron's ruling came about a week after Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, claimed that ten years' worth of the Trump Organization's financial statements could not be relied upon.

"While we have not concluded that the various financial statements, as a whole, contain material discrepancies, based upon the totality of the circumstances, we believe our advice to you to no longer rely upon those financial statements is appropriate," the company wrote.

Further, Mazars has dropped the former president as a client, citing a "conflict of interest."

Manhattan, New York

Though James' probe is no doubt ramping up, Trump appears to be weaseling his way out of a parallel criminal probe led by newly-elected Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Bragg, who is also looking into the Trump Organization's finances, recently replaced former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who last July formally indicted the Trump Organization as well Allen Weisselberg, the company's ex-chief financial officer, for allegedly running a 15-year employee tax evasion scheme.

Many saw that indictment as an indication that the case was progressing swiftly. But last week, two of Bragg's prosecutors abruptly resigned from their roles in the investigation, casting an unexpected pall over the case's general outlook.

According to the Times, their resignation came on the heels of a month-long pause in presenting evidence to a grand jury, the second one to be impaneled in the case. The prosecutors, Carey R. Dunne and Mark F. Pomerantz, reportedly held strong doubts about the case under Bragg, who allegedly took weeks to read their memos and often delayed meetings with both prosecutors despite the jury's looming expiration date in April, according to the Post. Bragg also reportedly raised doubts about pursuing Trump himself.

Last month, a spokesperson for Bragg disputed any speculation that the district attorney is not interested in the case, but has declined to provide any more details.

"We are grateful for their service," Bragg's spokeswoman, Danielle Filson, said of Dunne and Pomerantz. She added that the probe remains "ongoing."

Atlanta, Georgia

Trump's civil and criminal probes in New York will likely be a long shot. But the former president is also facing another election probe in Atlanta, Georgia, which some commentators have said is the dark horse amongst all of the investigations.

The probe, led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, stems from a call made by Donald Trump in January 2021 to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. During the call, first leaked by the Post, the former president asked the state official to "find" just enough votes cast in Fulton County to tip the 2020 election in his favor. That request was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Raffensperger into breaking multiple federal laws by depriving his own state of a free and fair election. (In the end, Raffensperbger refused to take Trumps' request.)

Last February, Willis opened a formal inquiry into the call, calling it a matter of "high priority."

In her letter at the time, she wrote that the probe "includes, but is not limited to, potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election's administration."

Since then, Willis has convened a special grand jury, and has said that the investigation will heat up over the summer.

"There's a possibility that after two months we'll have all the information we need to press forward," she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month. "There's a possibility that, after week one, that some appellate issue will come and there's a halt," Willis told the Georgia newspaper."

Willis added: "But what I do think is within a year we will have all the information that we need."

The District attorney has also said that Trump will not be protected by presidential immunity, even if the call was made during his presidency.

It remains unclear whether Willis will ultimately charge Trump, though Eisen, the senior fellow at Brookings, said that hers is a "powerful potential case."

"We already have the most compelling evidence there, which is the tape of the Raffensperger call," he said, referring to his October analysis on the matter. "Georgia law…does not allow a candidate who has lost an election to say, 'Can you just find 11,780 votes that do not exist?' Nor does it permit you to use the weight of office and the kinds of veiled and not-so-veiled threats of coercion that can be heard on that tape to attempt to eliminate the legitimate outcome of an election."

Jim Jordan vows to 'investigate' Anthony Fauci if GOP retakes Congress

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on Tuesday said that investigating Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading expert on infectious disease, will be one of his top priorities if the GOP retakes the House in this year's midterm elections.

The probe, Jordan told Just the News, will aim to untangle "all the lies [and] the misinformation, the disinformation" that he claims Fauci has spread about the origins of the COVID-19 virus.

"That is because they knew from the get-go [coronavirus] came from the lab, likely came from a lab, gain-of-function likely done, and our tax dollars were used," the lawmaker added.

Jordan, an ardent supporter of Donald Trump, has been one of the leading Republican proponents of the "lab leak" theory, the unproven and dubious notion that the coronavirus was leaked, accidentally or otherwise, from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.

At the center of this theory is the allegation that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at one point provided a grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for "gain-of-function" research, a process in which a virus is genetically altered in order to anticipate ways it may mutate in the future. Supporters of the lab leak theory contend, by that logic, that the coronavirus which causes COVID-19 is a man-made "supervirus," generated in a lab, whose origins have been covered up by leading health officials, including Fauci.

According to the Washington Post, there is no clear evidence that the NIH funded any such research. Furthermore, most scientists have concluded that the lab leak theory is unlikely, although it cannot entirely be ruled out. The dearth of evidence for the claim hasn't stopped conservatives from repeatedly accusing Fauci of masterminding the pandemic.

During a Senate hearing just last month, Fauci and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., got into a heated exchange over the matter, with Fauci accusing Paul of promoting the theory for political reasons.

"You are making a catastrophic epidemic for your political gain," Fauci told the senator at the time. "What happens when [Paul] gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue is that all of a sudden that kindles the crazies out there, and I have threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children, with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me."

On Sunday, the New York Times cited two extensive new studies backing the idea that COVID-19 originated from a live animal market in Wuhan, China. This was largely the consensus earlier into the pandemic.

Jordan appeared unconvinced, writing of the report this week: "These aren't new facts or new studies. This 'new' info is from the same crew that told Fauci it came from a lab but suspiciously changed their tune and were rewarded with a 9 million dollar grant."

According to the Times, the two novel studies have been verified by multiple independent experts, which renders the lab leak increasingly unlikely.

"When you look at all of the evidence together, it's an extraordinarily clear picture that the pandemic started at the Huanan market," said Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona.

Texas GOP governor seeks to erase transgender kids from existence

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered the state's agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for transgender children, arguing that such services constitute a form of "child abuse."

"I hereby direct [the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services] to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas," Abbott wrote in a letter to the agency on Tuesday.

The letter cited an opinion written on Monday by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who argued that a new interpretation of state law makes gender-affirming care – including sexual reassignment surgery, puberty blockers, and hormone replacement therapy – outright illegal.

"There is no doubt that these procedures are 'abuse' under Texas law, and thus must be halted," Paxton said earlier this week. "The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has a responsibility to act accordingly. I'll do everything I can to protect those who take advantage of and harm young Texans."

On top of criminalizing the practice of gender-affirming care, Abbott's letter also notes that state law "provides criminal penalties for failure to report such child abuse," suggesting that any doctors, teachers, or nurses who fail to report a "reasonable cause" to believe a child is getting gender-care will be prosecuted.

The precise implications of Abbott's directive remain unclear at this point. But a spokesperson for the state's Department of Family and Protective Services told The Dallas Morning News that the agency "will follow Texas law as explained [by Paxton's opinion]," adding: "At this time, there are no pending investigations of child abuse involving the procedures described in that opinion."

Randall Erben, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told the outlet that the now-illegal use of gender-affirming might be adjudicated by a judge on a case-by-case basis.

"It's up to the judge. You could find a judge that may interpret that provision of the family code the same way that Paxton does," Erben said. "It could play out in any number of ways … It certainly sets up an uncertain future for things of this nature."

Paxton's missive marks the second legal attack waged against the state's trans youth in recent months, as the Washington Post noted. Back in October, Abbott signed a bill prohibiting trans girls from participating in female sports teams in public schools.

In general, gender-affirming care has been shown to vastly improve the mental health of trans youth, a point Dr. Juanita Kay Hodax, Interim Clinical Director at Seattle Children's Hospital, affirmed with Salon back in October.

Most of the time, she said, "the patient has been talking to family members about gender for at least several months, if not, a year," Hodax said. "During the clinic appointments, we spend a lot of time discussing the benefits and risks of the medications that we're using. We talk a lot with patients about their goals."

According to the Dallas Morning News, both the Texas Pediatric Society and Texas Medical Association urged Paxton not to criminalize gender-affirming care.

Ricardo Martinez, CEO of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Texas, told the outlet that the Abbott and Paxton's moves are "campaign stunts disguised as legal opinions," largely because the governor and attorney general face primary challengers in 2022.

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The troubling role of Clarence Thomas’ wife in Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election

For decades, Ginni Thomas, a top brass conservative activist, has devoted her life to advocating for right-wing causes, aligning herself with donor networks and advocacy groups that have and continue to play a key role in maintaining Republican authority. But Ginni Thomas is no ordinary Republican operative; she is also the wife of Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. And as her political activities extreme, critics fear that, given the recent rash of partisan Supreme Court rulings, she may have concerning sway over her husband's jurisprudence.

On Tuesday, The New York Times Magazine reported that the couple has "defied" the ethical "norms" of the Supreme Court, particularly when it comes to Ginni Thomas' political projects, whose goals almost always align with her husband's professed ideological leanings.

"She's an operator; she stays behind the scenes," ex-Trump advisor Steve Bannon told the Times. "Unlike a lot of people who just talk, she gets shit done."

For one, Ginni Thomas reportedly serves in a prominent role in the Council for National Policy, a shadowy umbrella organization that brings together a number of leaders from groups like the Federalist Society, the National Rifle Association and the Family Research Council. According to the Times, Thomas specifically serves on the C.N.P. Action, the 501(c)(4) arm of the organization, which "allows for direct political advocacy."

Following Donald Trump's election loss in November 2020, C.N.P. Action reportedly circulated "action steps" aimed at pressuring state officials in Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania to go along with the former president's campaign to reinstall himself as president.

"There is historical, legal precedent for Congress to count a slate of electors different from that certified by the Governor of the state," the group reportedly wrote in a December memo.

In the aftermath of the January 6 Capitol riot, fomented by the very election fraud claims C.N.P. Action espoused, the group reportedly sought to "drive the narrative that it was mostly peaceful protests" and "amplify the concerns of the protestors and give them legitimacy," according to documents obtained by the Times.

By February, a coalition of Pennsylvania Republicans brought Trump's election fraud claims to the Supreme Court, arguing that the ballots had been systematically compromised. While their allegations were ultimately shut down by the court, Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, writing that his own colleagues' reasoning was "inexplicable."

Ginni Thomas has also advocated on several other issues that recently made their way to the Supreme Court. In particular, the Council for National Policy campaigned aggressively against abortion and lockdowns during COVID-19. Incidentally, in January, the Supreme Court in insulated a near-total ban on abortions. And the next month, it prohibited a ban on indoor church services despite the spread of the coronavirus.

Though much of her work is reserved to the world of advocacy, Ginni Thomas also reportedly meddled in the Trump administration's staffing, a habit that at times irked White House aides.

"In the White House, she was out of bounds many times," one of Trump's senior aides told the Times. "It was always: 'We need more MAGA people in government. We're trying to get these résumés through, and we're being blocked.' I appreciated her energy, but a lot of these people couldn't pass background checks."

Another aide, more tersely, called her a "wrecking ball."

According to the Times, Trump told Ginni Thomas that she was welcome to drop in for visits to the White House. Numerous aides said that "she was also reportedly known to pass "notes" to the president "on her priorities through intermediaries."

In one alleged meeting with the president, held back in 2019, Ginni Thomas brought in members of Groundswell, a conservative group that, according to Mother Jones, is planning "a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation."

"It was the craziest meeting I've ever been to," a Trump aide told the Times. "She started by leading the prayer." The aide also recalled talk of "the transsexual agenda" and of parents "chopping off their children's breasts."

The following year, the Times noted, Justice Thomas joined his conservative colleagues in a dissent arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

​Republican Senate hopeful Josh Mandel makes debate audience 'groan' after clueless remark about slavery

Ohio Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel on Monday claimed that Israel was "the only country" in which "Africans were not brought as slaves," neglecting to mention that the Jewish state was formed in 1948, over a century after the Atlantic slave trade ended.

Mandel's dizzying remarks came in a Cleveland debate against his Democratic opponent Morgan Harper, who had just answered a question about whether she'd give unconditional support to defend Israel if Iran attacks the Jewish state.

"Morgan, do you know the only country on the whole planet where Africans were not brought as slaves?" Mandel asked Harper. "The Jewish state of Israel."

Throughout the debate, Mandel and Harper engaged in several heated exchanges, with Mandel, in typical fashion, waging an array of personal attacks.

In one back-and-forth, Mandel told Harper that he expected her to be "like [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], only smarter." But after hearing her debate him, Mandel added, "I actually think she's like AOC, only dumber." The audience immediately let out a wave of groans.

In another exchange, Harper called Mandel a career politician, who is "funded by corporate interests" and spouts "whatever Big Lie Donald Trump is forcing [him] to talk about." (Mandel has whole-heartedly endorsed Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud.)

In response, Mandel tarred Harper as an "angry radical leftist" who is "all about political gameship."

"You get up here and you call me names, call others names," he told her. "But the reality is you sound like you've been in Washington for thirty years."

Monday marked the two candidates' second debate along the campaign trail, with both of them seeking to replace Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who has promised to bow out of re-election bid.

Along the campaign trail, Mandel, the former treasurer of Ohio, has openly acknowledged his desire for an endorsement from Donald Trump. However, the former president has apparently been reluctant to give the candidate his imprimatur. According to the Daily Beast, Trump reportedly thinks of Mandel as being "f**king weird."

Meanwhile, Mandel and Harper both face a crowded field of primary opponents, including J.D. Vance, the conservative venture capitalist and author of "Hillbilly Elegy"; Jane Timken, the former chair of the Ohio Republican Party; Ohio state Senator Matt Dolan; and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.

Why Joe Biden is afraid to blame Big Business for inflation

The White House is reportedly split on why American consumers are facing record inflation, with numerous officials apparently reticent to blame corporate greed despite remarks made by executives indicating that Corporate America is raising prices higher than it needs to.

According to The Washington Post, congressional testimony of a senior administration official was reportedly altered in recent weeks to omit claims linking inflation to monopoly power. The subtle move underscores the apparent tensions between officials in the White House around how to balance sound political messaging with what some see as hard economic realities.

"It's been the war of the 'track changes' inside the administration over how much the White House can lean in on the extent to which competition and greed are driving inflation," one official told the Post. ("Track changes" refers to a feature built into Microsoft Word that allows users to see who made what edits to a shareable document.)

In recent weeks, Democratic politicians and progressive groups have condemned Corporate America's role in driving inflation, which reached 7% by the end of 2021 – the largest 12-month increase since 1982.

"Giant corporations are making record profits by increasing prices, and CEOs are saying the quiet part out loud: they're happy to help drive inflation," Warren tweeted on Monday. "American families pay higher prices and corporate executives get fatter bonuses."

Warren highlighted remarks made by several executives at food and grocery companies like Kroger, Tyson, Procter & Gamble, who have openly crowed about inflation being good for business despite consumers feeling squeezed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the prices of meat, poultry, fish and eggs collectively shot up by 12.5% throughout last year. Meanwhile, meatpackers' profit margins skyrocketed by 300% during the pandemic, according to Reuters.

In recent months, the White House has made commitments to cracking down on meat producers, particularly when it comes to price-fixing. Back in September, Biden announced a broad vowed to heighten enforcement of antitrust laws and improve transparency in labeling.

Still, the administration has come short of blaming Big Business as the chief culprit for inflation on the whole.

"I think they've tried to be honest about the economic situation, and I, for one, appreciate that," liberal economist Dean Baker told the Post. "They have to make a political call about whether that's the right decision, but I think it's best for them to be honest and I think they've done that."

Officials in the Council of Economic Advisers have reportedly advised that financial opportunism only accounts for one component of the recent price increase, the Post reported. But according to a joint missive penned by American Economic Liberties Project and the Groundwork Collaborative, corporate consolidation costs the average American household $5,000 annually.

"There is now overwhelming evidence that large corporations with significant market power are exploiting the broader supply chain crisis to raise prices," the letter stated, "even when no bottleneck or shortage seems to exist."

Republican senators berate, get schooled by judicial nominee

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., along with fellow Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, on Wednesday attacked a judicial nominee who works to free wrongfully jailed people for advising "radical district attorneys who let violent criminals go," which he said results in "skyrocketing homicide rates."

"Do you care about the innocent people being killed because of the policies you're implementing?" Cruz asked Nina Morrison, a senior litigation counsel with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to exonerate individuals who have been wrongly convicted.

Morrison, who was tapped by President Biden for a lifetime seat in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, faced a series of acrimonious questions from Senate Republicans, who were determined to blame her progressive record for unrelated crime rates.

In the hearing, Hawley reportedly barraged Morrison with an array of scare-mongering snarl words like "murders" ,"throwing rocks", "gasoline", "assault", "looters," and "rioting," according to HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery.

"I cannot support your nomination," Hawley apparently said, citing her "soft-on-crime" policies – which he alleged were a "pattern with [the Biden] administration."

The record shows, however, that the federal prison population and police funding has expanded under President Biden despite progressive calls to limit both.

Cotton, notorious for his call to set the military on George Floyd protesters, also threw out fighting words during the hearing.

"Are you proud that you encouraged such defiance in convicted murderers?" the Republican senator asked Morrison, whose work has led to the exonerations of at least 30 people who were wrongfully convicted. In one exchange, Cotton challenged Morrison over the execution of Ledell Lee, an Arkansas man who was convicted for the murder of his neighbor in 1993. Back in 2017, Morrison casted strong doubt over Lee's prosecution, which she said overlooked "significant" DNA evidence suggesting that Lee was innocent.

"[Lee] was convicted based on eyewitness testimony," Cotton fumed during the hearing.

"Eyewitness identification, which you referenced, is actually the single leading proven cause of wrongful convictions," Morrison responded.

Watch the exchange below:

How Kyrsten Sinema became an insurmountable roadblock to Joe Manchin’s BBB revival

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is attempting to revisit conversations about a corporate tax hike with Democrats – but he's likely to face steep opposition from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who has fashioned herself as a stalwart guardian of corporate interests.

Last year, Manchin proved an insurmountable roadblock in negotiations over President Biden's $2.2 trillion social spending plan, also known as "Build Back Better." The House-passed bill, arguably the centerpiece of Biden's agenda, was officially torpedoed by Manchin back in December after Manchin and Biden met privately to hash out their differences but could not come to any agreement.

Now, Manchin is attempting to revive the issue of raising the corporate rate – a move that was designed to finance the provisions contained in Build Back Better.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Manchin suggested that the Democrats should discuss a revised version of the bill, hiking corporate taxes to combat inflation, reduce the national deficit, and pay for its own provisions.

"Why can't we just get a good solid tax plan that works?" Mr. Manchin told the Journal last week. "That's the first thing to do."

Specifically, Manchin has proposed raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 25% and raising the top capital-gains rate to 23.8% to 28%.

But last year, Sinema, along with a number of conservative and corporate-funded Democrats, dashed any hopes of imposing such hikes, opposing progressive proposals to pare back Donald Trump's corporate tax cuts from 2017.

"I respect [Sinema] and what her concerns may be, but I think basically our financial situation is getting worse, not better, so maybe we can take another look at it," Manchin told the Journal. "I would hope so."

It remains unclear whether Sinema shares Manchin's newfound willingness to come to the table. A spokesperson for her office told the Journal that "there are many ways to pay for [social spending plans] that do not include tax-rate increases that hurt small businesses and our economic competitiveness while we continue to emerge from a pandemic and economic downturn."

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said in October that negotiating with Sinema is like playing a "guessing game."

"We're all supposed to be on the same team. And that means transparency, communication and collaboration," she told Politico. "I don't know what the red lines are for one U.S. senator who has an amazing amount of power."

Who's actually investigating Donald Trump, and will they nail him? A starter guide for the perplexed news consumer

Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election — which involved pressuring countless officials to do all sorts of dubious things, as well fomenting a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol — has come into greater focus this past week as state and federal officials continue to investigate the former president and his allies on numerous different legal fronts.

But investigations of the ex-president's conduct around the Jan. 6 uprising don't represent all the potential legal trouble Trump faces. At the very least, there are also both civil and criminal investigations in New York into his company's business practices — mostly or entirely unrelated to his presidency — along with a criminal probe in Atlanta that might be the sleeper in this panoply of potential jeopardy

Washington, D.C.

Let's start with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which this week opened a formal probe into the 15 boxes of official documents found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida — which he reportedly took with him, in apparent violation of federal law, after leaving office last January.

Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said this week that she was "deeply concerned" that the documents, now back in the hands of the National Archives and Records Administration, had not been officially turned over by Trump during the transition period. The former president's conduct, she added, "[appears] to have been … in violation of the Presidential Records Act."

The committee's inquiry comes on the same day that Maggie Haberman, the New York Times reporter known for her suspiciously close rapport with the former president, alleged that White House staff repeatedly found "wads of printed paper" clogging Trump's toilet in his own residence.

"I learned that staff in the White House residence would periodically find the toilet clogged," Haberman told CNN on Thursday. "It could be Post-Its, it could be notes he wrote to himself, it could be other things, we don't know," she added. "But it certainly does add … another dimension to what we know about how he handled material in the White House."

Last week, the National Archives acknowledged that some of the documents it had preserved from the Trump administration were literally torn up and taped back together. Numerous officials likewise confirmed with The Washington Post that Trump habitually destroyed official documents himself, often leaving aides to salvage the scraps.

"He didn't want a record of anything," a former senior Trump official told the Post. "He never stopped ripping things up. Do you really think Trump is going to care about the Records Act? Come on."

The House Oversight panel's findings are likely to overlap with those of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, which this past week received some of the compromised documents. More broadly, the Jan. 6 panel remains laser-focused on Trump and his affiliates' communications before and during the insurrection.

This week, the committee uncovered large and unexplained gaps in White House call logs during the insurrection, according to The New York Times — a report that appears to contravene claims made by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy who acknowledged last year that they had spoken with Trump as the riot was underway. Trump was widely known to take calls on his personal cell phone — or those of aides — circumventing more secure channels of communication.

This week, the Jan. 6 committee also subpoenaed former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has in the past proudly divulged his failed (and distinctly illegal-sounding) plan to reinstall Trump as president after the 2020 election.

Navarro is just the latest in a list of Trump associates to be subpoenaed, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon, since indicted for contempt of Congress; former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; and ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, a central player in Trump's election-unskewing conspiracy. According to CNN, the committee has thus far invited 80 people of interest to testify.

Navarro, for his part, played a key role in encouraging former Vice President Mike Pence (whose "team" has reportedly been cooperative with the Jan. 6 panel) to delay the election certification process — a maneuver intended, in Navarro's account, to throw the election into the House. As we know, Pence concluded what was already obvious: His role in the vote count was purely ceremonial.


Now we move on to the criminal investigation in Georgia led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is exploring Trump's infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump asked to "find" enough votes to tilt the Peach State in his favor. (Raffensperger works in Atlanta, the state capital, which is Willis' jurisdiction.) Last Friday, Willis told CNN that she expects to impanel a grand jury probe and start serving subpoenas this summer. She also said this week that Trump won't be able to delay the case or invoke any form of executive privilege or immunity. "This is a criminal investigation. We're not here playing a game," Willis said. "I plan to use the power of the law. We are all citizens."

Willis' probe may go beyond Trump to a number of his associates, including Meadows, Giuliani, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who called Raffensperger last November, reportedly to ask whether he could find a way to exclude a large proportion of absentee ballots from Georgia's final vote count.

New York City and Albany

Moving north several hundred miles, Trump faces two investigations, one civil and one criminal, into the Trump Organization's finances and business dealings. (Whether either of these probes is focused on Trump personally remains unclear.) In the civil probe being led by New York state Attorney General Letitia James, the central question is whether Trump's company inflated and deflated certain assets for tax and lending reasons, which is a form of fraud.

James recently subpoenaed the federal government's General Services Administration to gather information about how the agency selected the Trump Organization to lease the historic post office building in Washington that became the Trump International Hotel. Last month, James' office said it had found "significant evidence" of financial fraud that "permeated" the Trump Organization — an indication that the state is edging closer to filing a formal lawsuit. Trump has already sued James' office in an effort to stonewall the proceeding, calling her investigation a politically-motivated "witch hunt."

Downriver in New York City, the criminal probe of the Trump Organization launched by former Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, and now led by his successor, Alvin Bragg, has been quiet since mid-December, when one of Trump's accountants appeared before a grand jury to answer questions about the company's business practices. Last summer, that probe produced an actual indictment, when Vance charged Allen Weisselberg, longtime CFO of the Trump Organization, with 15 felony counts for evading $344,745 in taxes over more than a decade. Bragg has only been in office about six weeks, and so far has said nothing about whether he intends to push the investigation further or pursue criminal charges against the Trump empire. Stay tuned!

Republican lawmaker introduces resolution to "reprimand" the Associated Press for racism report

A Tennessee state legislator introduced a joint resolution to "reprimand" the Associated Press (AP) for publishing an article highlighting racism within the military's ranks, saying the outlet "engaged in the lowest form of yellow journalism."

The bill, reported by a CBS/ABC-affiliate, was proposed by Republican state Rep. Bud Hulsey, who objected to an AP story that ran back in May, entitled "Deep-rooted racism, discrimination permeate US military."

In the article, AP reporters Kat Stafford, James Laporta, Aaron Morrison and Helen Wieffering interviewed "current and former enlistees and officers in nearly every branch of the armed services" who "described a deep-rooted culture of racism and discrimination that stubbornly festers, despite repeated efforts to eradicate it."

Additionally, the AP found that the military "processed more than 750 complaints of discrimination by race or ethnicity from service members in the fiscal year 2020 alone."

Hulsey's resolution contends that because the AP found 750 complaints – when there are 425,000 members of the active-duty military – racism in the ranks, by his accounting, is "uncommon and not a largescale problem."

The "allegations that members of the U.S. military are racist and that the military itself accepts a culture of discrimination are not only blatantly false," the resolution reads, "but an insult to the brave men and women who combat racism and discrimination at home and around the globe."

It also adds that "the AP has engaged in the lowest form of yellow journalism and should be held accountable by the American public and their elected officials."

The publication, for its part, has firmly stood by the article in question. Kat Stafford, one of its authors, tweeted weeks ago that she and her colleagues "spent nearly a year interviewing dozens of service members and experts – some of whom could not speak publicly out of fear of retribution. We poured over copious documents & FOIAs. We did our homework. No matter how much one tries [to] deny it, racism does exist."

AP spokesperson Lauren Easton likewise said that "the Associated Press stands by its reporting."

The Tennessee resolution does not make clear precisely what a "reprimand" would entail from a legal perspective. As the CBS/ABC-affiliate noted, the state legislature has only reprimanded judges, lawmakers, and doctors. In 2020, the legislature considered a bill that would have legally recognized CNN and The Washington Post as "fake news," but the measure ultimately failed to see enough support.

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