Roger Sollenberger

'Someone's reading our texts': Tucker Carlson, UPS and the non-stolen Joe Biden documents

Fox News personality Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson is being widely mocked after regaling viewers of his top-rated cable news program on Wednesday with a bizarre, evidence-free tale of deep state-style espionage directed against him by unknown forces who allegedly stole a sheaf of top-secret documents with "damning" information about the Biden family, as it was in transit to him via UPS.

Carlson can now rest assured: On Thursday morning a UPS spokesperson reported that the company had found the missing contents.

"After an extensive search, we have found the contents of the package and are arranging for its return," the spokesperson said by email. "UPS will always focus first on our customers, and will never stop working to solve issues and make things right. We work hard to ensure every package is delivered, including essential goods, precious family belongings and critical healthcare."

Carlson, however, immediately denied the claim in a text message to me as "not true." I sent him a screenshot of the email and followed up, but he has not replied.

Carlson told his audience Wednesday that a producer in New York had received the documents Monday from an unnamed source, and overnighted them to Los Angeles with a popular commercial shipper, later revealed to be UPS. But Carlson said that UPS informed them Tuesday morning that "the package had been opened and the contents were missing — the documents had disappeared."

UPS did not offer any details about what had happened to the package.

Carlson, however, had implied that the snafu had been a plot to steal the Biden documents before he could broadcast them to the world. Though the host was widely mocked for claiming to have lost history-shaping documents without having them copied first, he actually never said that.

When I asked him about that in a text later that night, he told me that "of course" he had made other copies.

"Hi, Tucker, it's Roger," I wrote. "Did you make copies of those documents? Or did anyone take photos?"

"Of course," Carlson replied. "The point is, someone's reading our texts," he said, suggesting that the package was intercepted because his communications were being monitored.

This struck me as a wild claim. Carlson and I have no rapport; I have his phone number because he called me once in July about a story I was doing. We have spoken only that one time. When I then asked if he would be willing to share the copies of the documents with me, he replied, "Which Roger is this?"

Notorious GOP trickster Roger Stone later said in a text that, while his relationship with Carlson goes back 30 years, he had played no role thus far in the Hunter Biden smear fiasco.

Stone did acknowledge to Salon that he had sent Carlson a "congratulatory text" following Carlson's Monday night interview with Tony Bobulinski, a former Hunter Biden associate who claims to have damaging information about the family. In July, President Trump commuted Stone's sentence on seven felony counts.

Republican operatives and Trump allies have spent nearly two years trying to make corruption allegations against Hunter Biden and his father stick with the American public. They appear to have failed in that regard: A recent poll shows that Americans find Biden more honest than Trump by a margin of 54% to 37%.

In fact, probably the most tangible result of the effort so far has been its spectacular, history-making backfire last year, when the plot led directly to Trump's impeachment by the House of Representatives.

The second wave of attacks this year does not appear much more successful. Trump's supposed personal attorney, former LifeLock spokesperson Rudy Giuliani, distributed contents to journalists of what he claims are the contents of Hunter Biden's old laptop. The FBI has reportedly now opened an investigation into those contents as being part of a possible Russian intelligence operation designed to influence the 2020 election.

Both writers credited the New York Post's original article about the Hunter Biden laptop had previously worked at Fox News, Carlson's network, which rejected Giuliani's pitch on the laptop, citing credibility issues. One of those writers, a former associate producer for Trump "pillow-talk" confidant Sean Hannity, had posted Instagram photos of herself with former Trum campaign CEO and White House strategist Steve Bannon, who shared a middleman role with Giuliani in the laptop's origin story.

That same writer has also posed for photos with Roger Stone.

Watch the "Tucker Carlson Tonight" clip about the UPS saga here.

Kayleigh McEnany's new volunteer role with the Trump campaign raises multiple ethics questions

President Donald Trump's White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany appears to have supplemented her government work with a new role as a senior adviser to the president's re-election campaign.

McEnany, who left her job as Trump campaign spokesperson to join the administration, was introduced in a Tuesday segment on Fox Business as "Trump 2020 senior adviser and White House press secretary." During a second appearance on the same day, Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney said the press secretary was "serving now as adviser for the Trump campaign" as he introduced her with an image of both the White House and the Trump campaign logo behind her.

A Trump campaign spokesperson told Salon that the campaign had instructed the cable news shows not to refer to McEnany with her White House title in advance.

The new shadow role, which the Daily Beast first reported on Tuesday, triggered criticism among government ethics watchdogs, who pinned it as a continuation of the history of the intercourse between Trump's government administration and his ostensibly separate political arm.

"People will probably be surprised to learn that both the Federal Election Commission [FEC] and the Hatch Act allow White House employees to campaign for federal candidates as long as they do it on their own time and don't use any White House resources," Brett Kappel, a top government ethics expert and attorney at Harmon Curran, told Salon in reference to the federal rule that bars government employees from politicking on the clock.

However, Kappel added that the nature of McEnany's duties at the White House — including on-demand rapid-response to urgent news and regular media interviews — made it difficult to draw the line.

"Given that working in the White House is a 24/7 proposition," he said, "it is hard to see how it would be possible to maintain the separation required by the Hatch Act."

Jordan Libowitz, spokesperson for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), echoed Kappel's point.

"People like Kayleigh McEnany can volunteer for the campaign, but obviously cannot appear for the campaign in their official government capacity or using their government authority," Libowitz told Salon. "Since she's essentially providing the same role for each, it raises questions about what efforts she is taking to prevent government resources from being used for her campaign activity."

"Ultimately, I think we need a little more information about what's going on here," he added. "But I've never seen something like this before."

A Trump campaign spokesperson confirmed to Salon that McEnany "appears in her personal capacity on a volunteer basis," and she speaks only "as a private citizen" unrelated to her White House role.

But on Varney's show, McEnany discussed official administration policy, including offering insight to elements that "we're providing" in the ongoing negotiations for a new coronavirus relief bill.

"The chances are slim when you have someone like Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House," she said. "If we're providing stimulus relief for the American people, it should be just that — for American people, for United States citizens — not a wish-list from the liberal left."

The White House has caught relentless flak from ethics advocates for repeated violations of the Hatch Act, most recently for hosting the extravagant Republican National Convention in August, in which numerous administration officials stumped for the president, who himself accepted the party's nomination from the White House lawn.

Former senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway had been accused of violating the rule 50 times on Twitter alone — before 2019 — a pattern so brazen that the Office of Special Counsel recommended her removal. The White House, which appears to bask in the controversy stirred by Hatch-related controversies, declined to act.

While the White House waived McEnany's ethics pledge ahead of her Republican National Committee appearance, Kedric Payne, the general counsel and senior ethics director at the Campaign Legal Center, told Salon that her role as former campaign spokesperson complicated that rationale — and smacked of desperation.

"White House officials are generally permitted to volunteer for the campaign, but McEnany's ethics pledge was intended to bar her from working with the campaign because it is her former employer," Payne said. "The overlooked legal rationale the White House gave for waiving the pledge is that it doesn't matter that this raises ethics questions, because her services are desperately needed. Ethics does not appear to be the priority this close to an election."

In July, Salon reported that the campaign had continued to pay McEnany for two paycheck cycles after she went to work for the White House. McEnany and the campaign insisted that the funds had been restored and properly accounted for, in spite of Salon's joint review of the campaign's filings with campaign finance experts.

"The campaign overpaid me, and I immediately paid them back," McEnany said, claiming that "every penny has been paid back in the overlap." Neither McEnany nor the campaign provided documentation that the campaign had received the money.

"Campaign funds are meant for bona fide campaign expenditures," Ciarra Torres-Spelliscy, campaign finance law expert at Stetson University and former fellow at Brennan Center for Justice, told Salon at the time.

But Torres-Spelliscy,pointed out exceptions. For instance, 18 U.S.C. § 209 — "Salary of Government officials and employees payable only by United States" — prohibits officials and employees of the U.S. government from being paid "by someone other than the United States for doing their official Government duties," but it includes a carveout for "special government employees" and "employees serving without compensation."

Such examples include former Ambassador Kurt Volker, who served the administration as an unpaid "special envoy" to Ukraine while keeping his full salary as an executive at the lobbying firm BGR. McEnany's dual roles reverse that arrangement: serving the administration in a paid capacity while volunteering outside of it.

Weeks after Salon published its July 27 report, a refund from McEnany dated mid-July appeared in the Trump campaign's financial statements filed with Federal Election Commission at the end of that month. Salon asked the campaign to explain the 10-week lag between McEnany's alleged repayment and the campaign's documentation but received no response.

Two campaign finance experts told Salon that given data included with the filing itself, the entry might have been backdated, but allowed that a set of unusual but still-unknown circumstances could explain it.

The campaign has still not provided documentation to Salon.

You can watch McEnany's appearance on Fox Business below via YouTube:


McEnany: We 'strongly encourage' people to wear masks at Trump rallies youtu.be

Right-wing fraudsters Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman hit with 15 new felony charges day after testifying in related case

Weeks after Michigan prosectors hit the pair of right-wing provocateurs with charges in an alleged voter-intimidation robocall scheme, Jacob Wohl, 22, and Jack Burkman, 58, have been indicted by an Ohio grand jury on separate felony counts.

Local prosecutors charged Wohl and Burkman each with eight counts of felony telecommunications fraud and seven counts of felony bribery for allegedly sowing false fears about voting by mail in targeted minority communities in Ohio, plus multiple other states. Warrants were issued for the pair's arrest, who face up to 18 years and six months in prison if convicted.

(Ohio defines "bribery" in this instance as "attempt by intimidation, coercion or other unlawful means to induce such delegate or elector to register or refrain from registering or to vote or refrain from voting at a primary, convention or election for a particular person, question or issue.")

The duo, representing themselves, testified one day earlier before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in a civil lawsuit brought on behalf of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation in relation to the same alleged scheme. The suit alleges that Wohl and Burkman violated the Ku Klux Klan Act with the calls. (Wohl and Burkman are both Jewish.)

Recordings featuring a woman's voice falsely told recipients that mail-in ballots could be used to "collect outstanding debt," "track down old warrants" and "track people for mandatory vaccines." The recording cited in the lawsuit said the calls were made on behalf of Project 1599, Burkman's group.

"Stay safe," the calls concluded, "and beware of vote by mail."

Burkman, who in August denied involvement, appeared to confess to placing the calls during the New York hearing. When the judge asked whether he had been "acting alone or with anyone else prepared that message and caused it to be sent," Burkman replied in the affirmative.

"Oh, yes, your honor. Yes," he said, adding: "Yes. Yes. Yes."

And indeed, Wohl and Burkman were reported to have conspired with a notorious election trickster just this year: leaking grand jury information in the trial of longtime Trump associate GOP operative Roger Stone, whose prison sentence was commuted by President Trump in July.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors allege that 8,100 calls were placed to phone numbers located in Cleveland and East Cleveland, more than 3,400 of which were answered by a live person or voicemail.

"The right to vote is the most fundamental component of our nation's democracy," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley said in a statement. "These individuals clearly infringed upon that right in a blatant attempt to suppress votes and undermine the integrity of this election. These actions will not be tolerated. Anyone who interferes with others' right to vote must be held accountable."

In a statement announcing the charges in Michigan — where the pair went free after pleading not guilty and posting $100,000 bail — state Attorney General Dana Nessel described similar robocalls targeting areas with "significant minority populations" in the state. Nessel had indicated that investigations were ongoing in Ohio and New York, as well as in Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Wohl and Burkman achieved internet infamy through a series of hapless attempts to tag their political enemies with absurd allegations of sexual impropriety, in which they coerced, paid or otherwise convinced real people to make the false accusations. An ill-devised but elaborate plot against former special counsel Robert Mueller collapsed in spectacular fashion, possibly leading the FBI to open an investigation into a fake intelligence company Wohl created for the purpose.

Shortly after his Monday testimony before the SDNY, Wohl had to attend a hearing in California Superior court, where he was charged last year for felony securities fraud. The hearing was subsequently pushed to mid-November, according to court records.

Salon reported in May that the attorney general of Arizona was coordinating with California officials in pursuit of tens of thousands of dollars in fines and court fees assessed to Wohl in a separate securities fraud case.

Wohl and Burkman did not immediately respond to Salon's requests for comment.

Listen to a recording of the robocall here.


Example of false information being used to suppress voting in Detroit youtu.be


Here's how the GOP is using suppression and intimidation in 2020

This is the first in a series of reports that explore various ways Donald Trump and the Republicans could try to influence, discredit or steal the election.

Ayear ago, Trump campaign senior adviser Justin Clark told a roomful of Republican lawyers in a closed-door meeting in Wisconsin that they had a "huge, huge, huge, huge" opportunity for what he characterized as the campaign's "Election Day Operations" for 2020 — one that had not been available to them for decades: "The consent decree's gone."

Clark was referencing a recently lapsed decades-old court order that had barred GOP operatives from a number of voter-intimidation activities after a 1981 lawsuit, when the Republican National Committee was reprimanded for hiring off-duty law enforcement to intimidate voters at polling places in minority communities. As part of that decision, Republicans had to obtain advance approval for any further "ballot security" measures at the polls.

But a federal judge let the rule, called the "consent decree," expire in 2018. The reasoning: There was no proof that Republicans had recently violated it — a conclusion that some have argued proves that the rule had been working as intended.

The decision set up Election Day in 2020 to be the first in nearly four decades when the RNC will not need to have poll security measures cleared in advance.

President Trump has in recent months repeatedly told supporters to watch the polls "very carefully," a directive that, when combined with the images of militia groups gathered at state capitols this spring, has invoked fears that the president is greenlighting or even encouraging election violence.

"We're going to have everything," Trump said in August, in remarks widely observed as illegal. "We're going to have sheriffs, and we're going to have law enforcement. And we're going to have hopefully U.S. attorneys, and we're going to have everybody and attorney generals."

This was Clark's "huge deal," which the Trump campaign has spun into a not-so-subtle attempt at a show of force intended to deter Democratic turnout ahead of an election where the president's chances appear increasingly dim. Experts and officials have repeated that point in conversations with Salon: The risk is not violence itself, but the fear of it.

A few months after Clark's backroom meeting, the campaign launched "Army for Trump," an official website where supporters can register to pitch in with voting operations, including on Election Day.

Drawing heavily on military language and iconography — alternate URL: "defendyourballot.com" — the site calls on supporters of the commander-in-chief to "fight with the president" and "enlist" in a number of election activities, working alongside "battle tested Team Trump operatives" on the "frontlines" of the campaign.

Trump promoted the site in a Sept. 29 tweet, after the first debate, inviting supporters to become "a Trump Election Poll Watcher." The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., also recently stumped for the project with a selfie video asking "every able-bodied man and woman" to join the "army for Trump's election security operation."

A Trump campaign email from June read: "You've been identified as one of President Trump's fiercest and most loyal defenders, and according to your donor file, you'd make an excellent addition to the Trump Army." The email offered donors "exclusive" camouflage hats as something of a campaign uniform.

"The President wants YOU and every other member of our exclusive Trump Army to have something to identify yourselves with, and to let everyone know that you are the President's first line of defense when to come to fighting off the Liberal MOB," it said.

Last month, Forbes reported that the #ArmyForTrump Twitter hashtag featured "a large number of posts promoting violence against the president's opposition, in some cases specifically naming Biden and other leading Democrats as enemies." The hashtag, Forbes said, was used in posts attacking "a wide range of targets, including Jewish financier and philanthropist George Soros, Black Lives Matter leaders, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and others."This week the president tweeted the URL again.

With a number of recent reports detailing plots to capture and kill Democratic officials, the rhetoric raises questions about cause and effect. Still, some experts say fears of Election Day violence are likely overblown. The intended effect, they believe, is simple suppression — to scare people from showing up to begin with.

Corey Goldstone, spokesperson for the Campaign Legal Center, a group that advocates for fair elections, told Salon that chances of Election Day violence, a rarity, are still low this year.

"Five states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Oregon — have the highest risk of seeing increased militia activity around the elections: everything from demonstrations to violence," Goldstone said, referencing conclusions from a new report from the crisis mapping project ACLED and MilitiaWatch researchers.

He does, however, see a threat to turnout — a typical election-year hurdle, in an atypical year.

"There are strict limits on what the military, law enforcement and poll watchers can do at the polls," said Goldstone. "Voting rights advocates have dealt with these types of thinly veiled efforts to disenfranchise communities, especially Black and brown communities, for decades. Democracy will prevail. It's important that people aren't silenced by the threat of intimidation and that everyone makes a voting plan now."

Turnout has long been a target of Republican operatives, as data shows that when more people vote, the electorate skews Democratic. Trump himself acknowledged this open secret in March, when he said that if voting were expanded, "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

It's the chief reason that Trump and his allies have been pushing misinformation about election fraud for months, especially regarding mail-in ballots, which Republicans fear will boost an already supercharged 2020 turnout. Election law expert Rick Hasen finds the decision baffling.

"It is simply astounding to me that so many people are working so hard to make it more difficult to vote during a pandemic," he told Salon.

Hasen points to heavily Republican South Carolina's post-primary rule change as a particularly maddening example.

"Elected officials and the [state] Republican party didn't mind when a federal court got rid of the signature requirement for absentee voting in the primaries, but they got the Supreme Court to kill it in the general," he said, adding that any rules that increase voting burdens during this public health crisis "are just disingenuous."

"Others are sincere but elevate other, lesser values over the right to vote. It's wrong," he concluded, "and especially during a pandemic."

But Goldstone argues that the majority of states have been trying to make it easier to vote during the pandemic. "Many secretaries of state are recognizing that they should be doing all they can to ensure that citizens can vote safely and securely," he added, while agreeing that some states are going in the opposite direction.

"In Texas for example, Gov. Greg Abbott has gone to extreme lengths to suppress voting, canceling the plans of its most populous counties to offer convenient drop boxes for voters to return their ballots," Goldstone said, referring to Abbott's controversial rule currently working its way through the courts. "Rather than letting the counties go through with their plans, the governor has insisted on only one dropbox per county. This is voter suppression in its simplest form. That's why Campaign Legal Center sued the state, so that Texas voters could fight back."

"Obviously there's historically been suppression and barriers to voting long in place in Texas," Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, told Salon, adding that Abbott's abrupt crackdown on the drop-off sites offered a particularly sinister and novel example.

Like Goldstone, Adler believes the rumblings of violence have compounded the threat, but made clear that, in his official position, he had seen no evidence of any real and immediate risks.

"In our city we need to be prepared and wary in the event that there is voter intimidation at polling places, but I haven't seen any indications that this is actually going to happen," he said. "But the fear it's designed to create, the suggestion that there will be problems — those are real concerns."

Adler believes that this year, however, voters simply might not be intimidated.

"I'm not sure it will work this time," he said. "People have had four years of frustration, of waiting for this moment, and at this point they're willing to crawl across broken glass to cast their ballot."

That argument seems to apply to Georgia, another state where Republicans have deployed notorious tactics, particularly in the Black community, which saw intense suppressive efforts when Democrat Stacey Abrams, a Black woman, lost the 2018 gubernatorial race by 60,000 votes. That plan appears to be backfiring this year, inspiring a historic turnout.

"The thing is, this is the largest turnout, I think, statewide that I have ever seen. And that's usually a very good sign. It's a good sign for democracy," former UN ambassador Andrew Young recently told Politico. "Whoever they voted for."

Adler, the Austin mayor, also sees hope in the backlash.

"A lot of people want you to think your vote won't count," he said, "but the amount of energy they're putting into those efforts is an indication of how much it does count."

Top brass at Fox News told to quarantine ahead of Election Day as COVID-19 cases hit network

The president of Fox News and several of the network's top stars were advised to quarantine and undergo testing for COVID-19 after "a few" network employees were diagnosed with the disease.

Variety on Monday obtained an internal memo from Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and Fox News President Jay Wallace, which states that anyone at the network who tests positive will be required to quarantine and adhere to "mandatory guidelines" before entering any company building. The New York Times earlier reported that Wallace was among those whom had possibly been exposed during the flight.

"Please know that we stay in close contact with those employees who have been affected and offer our complete support," the memo, which was later published in full, read.

The exposures reportedly included top political anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, who host the 6 and 7 p.m. ET weekday time slots. The two hosts shared a private flight last week with an infected individual while covering the final presidential debate in Nashville, according to The Times.

News of the potential high-profile exposures arrives as the network gears up for coverage of Election Day. The internal memo stated that the cable news giant would "be further reducing some of the workforce in our building and operating virtually wherever possible" throughout the week ahead.

And it appears to have necessitated coverage changes. "Only those employees who are critical to that night's production will be permitted" inside the network's New York headquarters on Nov. 3, the memo obtained by Variety read. It added that "enhanced testing procedures" and "increased safety protocols" would be put into place.

"Yeah, it is crunch time," Baier told colleague Brian Kilmeade, acknowledging his exposure in a Monday radio interview.

"I've tested negative three times now, and I'll be doing the show from home this week," he added. "And we'll be in preparation for Election Day."

Citing the network's desire to keep personal health information private, a Fox News representative declined to confirm any details about the reports to Salon.

"Fox News Sunday" anchor Chris Wallace recently moderated the first debate in close proximity to President Donald Trump, who announced his COVID-19 diagnosis a few days later.

According to The Times, Fox News had "one of the largest in-person footprints" of the outlets that covered the debates this year. In addition to Baier, MacCallum, and Wallace, the private flight included Dana Perino and Juan Williams, both co-hosts of "The Five." Per the report, the on-air personalities were asked to carry out their hosting duties remotely from quarantine.

Network employees told The Times that their colleagues adhere to public health guidelines, including on travel to events such as the debates. Staff in Nashville were reportedly tested by the network, as well as by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The network's star personalities, including Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, appear to have gone out of their way to discredit advice from medical and public health experts. This spring, the network as a whole demonstrated a far shorter attention span for the crisis than its competitors, significantly cutting back on air-time dedicated to the pandemic.

Viewers of Hannity, who frequently pushed coronavirus misinformation on his audience, were more likely to die of COVID-19 than viewers of colleague, Tucker Carlson, according to a study released this spring. New research later showed that Fox News hosts and guests had peddled misinformation about the coronavirus more than 250 times in the span of one five-day bloc.

The trend appears to apply to the network's viewers, as well. A study published in the British Medical Journal earlier this month found that Fox News viewers take fewer coronavirus safety precautions than CNN viewers.

A Fox host throws Lindsey Graham under the bus as he struggles to keep his Senate seat

Fox Business host and indefatigable Trump ally Lou Dobbs ripped into Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., over the weekend, telling his overwhelmingly conservative audience in the final countdown to Election Day that he did not know "why anyone" would vote for a candidate who had "betrayed the American people."

"Just to be clear I don't know why anyone in the great state of South Carolina would ever vote for Lindsey Graham," Dobbs said on his Friday broadcast. "It's just outrageous. This is the guy who keeps saying, 'Stay tuned.' He said he was going to get to the bottom of Obamagate with the Judiciary Committee, which has been a year and a half, actually longer, of absolute inert — inert — response to these pressing issues of our day."

"Obamagate" is a reference to a widely discredited conspiracy theory alleging that former President Barack Obama ordered his administration to spy on then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

Dobbs then invoked President Trump's own words in a stinging series of critiques of the Republican senator, who a recent poll found trailing Democratic rival Jaime Harrison, a fundraising powerhouse, for the first time.

"I believe that the president's words about the senator then apply today," Dobbs said, reading Trump's remarks from a Feb. 17, 2016, campaign event in Graham's home state of South Carolina:

I think Lindsey Graham is a disgrace, and I think you have one of the worst representatives of any representative in the United States. I don't think he could run for dogcatcher in the state and win again. I really don't. Other than that, I think he's wonderful. He's one of the dumbest human beings I've ever seen. That guy is a nut job.

At the time, Trump was responding to Graham's prediction that the Republican Party would get "slaughtered" if Trump won the nomination.

Casting Graham as a turncoat on the Trump administration, Dobbs again invoked Obamagate as his sole example.

"Graham has betrayed President Trump at almost every turn. He has betrayed the American people and his oath of office," Dobbs concluded. "He's done absolutely nothing to investigate Obamagate, except to tell everyone stay tuned time and time again: 'Stay tuned.' Senator Graham needs to be tuned out in South Carolina."

Graham has found his campaign foundering in recent weeks under the pressure of Harrison's war chest and strong debate showing. A Morning Consult poll released Thursday showed Harrison ahead of Graham 47% - 45%, with 12 campaign days remaining.

"Lindsey Graham is scared right now, and he should be," campaign spokesperson Guy King told Salon in a statement. "As Lindsey scurries off to Washington to play another round of political games, our grassroots movement is catapulting forward. South Carolina is ready for a leader who will stand up and fight for them — something Lindsey Graham fails to do."

Harrison has sought to cast Graham as out of touch and divorce him from the interests of voters in the state, and that strategy appears to have yielded results. Graham's slipping poll numbers coincide with his return to Washington to chair the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Quinnipiac polls have shown the two neck-and-neck for months, and the pollster recently acknowledged that Graham was in "the fight of his political life." Election analysts at Cook Political Report recently shifted the race in the typical GOP stronghold to "toss-up."

"It's a jump ball at this point," a Republican strategist in the state told Cook. "Jaime is peaking at exactly the right time, and he's got a deluge of money. [Harrison] is blocking every pass there is from Republicans."

After one hearing last week, Graham, who has begged for cash in several recent Fox News appearances, was accused of illegally soliciting campaign donations in the halls of the Senate building.

"I think people in South Carolina are excited about Judge Barrett," Graham said. "I don't know how much it affected fundraising today, but if you want to help me close the gap . . . Lindsey Graham dot com — a little bit goes a long way."

After congratulating Harrison on a record-setting $58 million raised last quarter, he added: "I never felt better about my campaign than I do right now."

The RNC has spent nearly $1 million making Sean Hannity's book a bestseller

The Republican National Committee continues to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for copies of the latest book by Fox News personality Sean Hannity, which was published in August These efforts have helped boost the book up bestseller lists, according to recent Federal Election Commission filings.

This week the RNC reported $492,308 in expenditures on "donor mementos" at book retailers, all of it spent on Sept. 16. Salon has confirmed that at least $159,000 of that amount went for bulk retail purchases of Hannity's book, "Live Free or Die," which have been offered to GOP donors who gave $75 or more.

Additionally, a retail representative told Salon that the RNC placed at least one more recent order for the book, on Oct. 22: an additional 1,500 copies for $26,100. That purchase will not appear in public filings until after the election.

While the RNC did not send Salon the data it originally promised, evidence suggests that all of the $492,308 in expenditures went to Hannity's book. Combined with August receipts, it is possible that the RNC has spent more than $900,000 on Hannity's book over the last three months.

Outside of Hannity and Donald Trump Jr.'s recent book, "Liberal Privilege," the RNC has not recently promoted any other such deals. Both landing pages (here and here) are hosted by Winred, the Republican online fundraising platform, and a Winred representative confirmed to Salon that the platform had only recently been promoting the Hannity and Trump Jr. books. Other books were available for purchase, according to both GOP and Winred representatives, but not as promotional items.

Further, an RNC spokesperson told Salon in an email that none of the Sept. 16 purchases were for Trump Jr.'s book — which would appear to narrow the options to Hannity.

"The RNC appears to be personally enriching Hannity while he dedicates airtime to promoting Trump," said Brett Kappel, campaign finance and government ethics expert at the law firm Harmon Curran.

Hannity, a close confidant and informal adviser to President Trump, also styles himself as a prime-time journalist who hosts an influential news and opinion program on Fox News, which experts say raises new ethical questions.

"President Trump and his campaign have had an interesting relationship with books," Jordan Libowitz, head of communications at the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Salon.

"Whereas President Obama's book recommendations are all books he read that he liked, President Trump often takes to Twitter to recommend books that say nice things about him, creating an incentive for books by reporters that play to his ego," Libowitz said. "This was taken to a whole new level when the RNC emailed an ad for Hannity's new book to the Trump campaign's list and offered signed copies in exchange for donations. Spending thousands on Don Jr.'s book plays into the general grift of campaign funds by the Trump family, but this is something new: a campaign essentially putting a major reporter on the payroll."

"The RNC regularly uses new books as part of our record-breaking fundraising efforts as we work to deliver victories across the country in November," an RNC spokesperson told Salon in an email. "We have netted a significant amount off of book promotions and have more resources, not less, because we have incorporated them into our fundraising efforts."

The GOP has altogether poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the purchases, propelling both Hannity's and Donald Trump Jr.'s books to exalted positions on a number of bestseller lists.

Hannity's book hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list in August, and debuted at No. 2 on Amazon's overall bestseller list, hitting No. 1 in a few sub-categories such as "political commentary" and "elections." Barnes & Noble — where the RNC placed tens of thousands of dollars in orders — ranked Hannity's book third upon debut.

"Live Free or Die" went to press for a fourth printing, and currently ranks at No. 444 on Amazon.

It is less clear, however, how the RNC secured copies of Trump Jr.'s book, "Liberal Privilege." The president's eldest son, who self-published his second book, at first eschewed traditional retailers and only sold copies through his own website and Amazon.

"While I was offered a generous book deal by my previous publishers, I turned it down and decided to self-publish," Trump Jr. said in July, in a statement sent by the RNC to The Hill. "The RNC was able to raise almost a million dollars from their fundraising campaign with my first book, 'Triggered.' I look forward to helping them fundraise once again for the benefit of the Republican Party."

By self-publishing, Trump Jr. trades the distribution, marketing and publicity support afforded by a top publisher for a more lucrative royalty haul.

As the New York Times reported last month, Trump Jr.'s distribution plan appeared to avoid traditional retailers almost entirely:

Unlike Mr. Hannity's book, "Liberal Privilege" will not be in bookstores. A person with knowledge of the project said that it will be $29.99 on Mr. Trump's website, where presales are being handled, and on Amazon, along with an e-book and an audiobook narrated by Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior campaign adviser and Mr. Trump's girlfriend. It's unclear if any major retailers will carry the book, though managers at some traditional distribution channels said last week that they hadn't heard anything about it. ReaderLink, a company that supplies books to more than 80,000 stores, including big-box chains like Walmart and Target, said it had no plans to distribute it.

It's possible that the entire $405,000 that the RNC itemized to book retailers in August went toward Hannity's book, and given that the committee says that it has not purchased Trump Jr.'s book, the same appears true of September's $492,000.

The RNC did not report payments to Trump Jr. in August, so it might have fulfilled its preorder promise through Amazon. The committee's August filings reveal an unusually large $126,423 expenditure to Amazon on Aug. 10, for "office supplies."

Trump Jr.'s book has branched out to some traditional retailers since its Sept. 1 debut. "Liberal Privilege" currently ranks at No. 3,080 in Amazon books overall, a steep drop from eighth place in early September.

RNC press secretary Mandi Merritt told the New York Times that signed copies of "Triggered," which Trump Jr. published with Center Street, an imprint of Hachette, raised nearly $1 million for the party. As mentioned above, Trump Jr. claims turned down the publisher's offer for his second book.

Trump Organization renewed the domain name for its proposed Moscow development — this year

The Trump Organization reregistered the domain name TrumpTowerMoscow.com this June, internet records show, suggesting that contrary to President Trump's claims, the company has not necessarily abandoned its pursuit of the lucrative real estate deal that figured prominently in multiple investigations into his connections with Russia.

The Trump Organization has re-upped the domain every year of his presidency. This year it renewed its ownership on June 9, under a company called DTTM Operations, which Trump's financial disclosures show manages more than 100 company trademarks. DTTM Operations appears now to have registered a total of more than 3,000 domains, according to a whois search, including renewals for TrumpRussia.com, TrumpTowerLondon.com and DonaldTrumpSucks.com — 2,000 more than reported in 2017.

The domain was first registered in 2008, according to internet "whois" lookups, but the Trump Organization was not the first buyer. Longtime Trump associate Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman whose efforts to build the Moscow tower date back to the early 2000s, told Salon that he turned ownership of the domain over to the Trump Organization in 2015, when Trump signed a letter of intent to develop the project.

The domain was first reported in early July 2017, about two months before the Washington Post's bombshell report that during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Trump Organization had tried to strike a deal with Russian developers to build the luxury hotel and condo tower. A series of BuzzFeed News reports starting the next year illustrated the significant progress the project had made and the extent of Donald Trump's involvement.

Initially envisioned as the tallest building in Europe, Trump Tower Moscow was spearheaded on the Trump side by Sater and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, and included the personal involvement of Ivanka Trump. But even with a Russian developer on board, the project needed the blessing of government officials to get off the ground, a responsibility that fell to Cohen.

At one point the company proposed awarding Russian President Vladimir Putin the $50 million penthouse suite for free, a quid pro quo for the green light to break ground, and which had Trump's approval.

While Trump repeatedly denied having any "deals" with Russia, documents show that tower plans progressed well into the design phase. That proposal became a focal point of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which eventually charged Cohen with lying to Congress, largely to minimize the extent of Trump's involvement in the deal. (Cohen says he was encouraged in this by one of Trump's attorneys, and Ivanka Trump reportedly reviewed his testimony in advance.)

Trump has insisted throughout his term that the Russia probe was a "witch hunt," but the continuing annual domain purchases indicate that his company has put money into the idea each year of his presidency.

"He's as bad a liar as he is a president," Cohen told Salon. "How stupid can someone be who refutes over and over again the continuation of a real estate project, while simultaneously paying to keep the domain name active? What's more, they're not even bothering to anonymize it, but slapping the Trump brand on it. Hence why I use the term stupid: His arrogance translates into idiocy. Does Trump really believe that the people of this country are ignorant?"

"It would be comical," Cohen said, "if it weren't really happening."

The annual domain registries, and especially the 2015 handoff to the Trump Organization with Trump's commitment to the project, are new dots in a constellation of redemption for Cohen, who, after pleading guilty to lying, has since launched a campaign to tell the truth about his former boss — claims that to date have led directly to at least two government investigations into the president's business dealings.

Cohen's confessions, moored by corroborating documents, have even pulled Trump a few steps closer to the truth.

"We were thinking about building a building," Trump admitted to White House reporters in November 2018, after years of denials and months after Cohen's perjurious testimony to protect him.

"I decided ultimately not to do it. There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it," Trump said. He repeated three times something he had denied throughout his campaign: "Everybody knew about it."

"Everybody knew about it. It was written about in newspapers. It was a well-known project," Trump said, none of which is true. "It was during the early part of '16 and, I guess, even before that. It lasted a short period of time."

According to Cohen, Trump wanted to visit Russia during the 2016 campaign in order to personally meet Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations — a plan Sater confirmed to Salon in a phone call.

"Make it happen," Cohen said Trump told him.

However, Trump and his associates in the U.S. and Russia kept a lid on the story through the election and beyond. (Russia granted Trump six trademarks in 2016, including four on Election Day.)

"I have no dealings with Russia," Trump said shortly before his inauguration in 2017. "I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away."

This week the New York Times reported that Trump's tax returns show that the president maintains a previously unknown bank account in China, which according to a company spokesperson was opened "to explore the potential for hotel deals in Asia" and which has incurred nearly $200,000 in local taxes.

"Though the bank account remains open, it has never been used for any other purpose," the spokesperson claimed.

Asked whether the domain renewals, amid years of fending off allegations of improper ties with Russia, suggest that Trump was keeping his post-presidency options open, Cohen dismissed the idea.

"The business does not survive" after Trump leaves office, he said. "There's too much scrutiny, and too much knowledge."

New filings reveal Kellyanne Conway is still raking in cash on the GOP payroll — but for what?

Citing a need to devote time to her family, Kellyanne Conway announced her departure from the Trump administration only one month ago. Nonetheless, the Republican National Committee is paying the former White House counselor $15,000 a month, according to new federal filings.

Conway left the White House in late August amid a publicly unfolding family drama after her daughter declared her intention to seek emancipation over alleged "trauma and abuse" in multiple social media posts. In an exit statement, Conway said she would be stepping down "gratefully" and "humbly."

Her husband, the attorney George Conway, simultaneously announced that he would withdraw from his role as chief agitator at The Lincoln Project, a big-money group of conservative Trump critics, to "devote more time to family matters."

"We disagree about plenty, but we are united on what matters most: the kids," Kellyanne Conway said of her husband in her statement, adding: "For now, and for my beloved children, it will be less drama, more mama."

Kellyanne Conway, who carried Trump's 2016 campaign over the finish line before assuming a role as the administration's most facile TV sophist, would bring a range of experience and insight in national politics. But the scope of her Republican National Committee responsibilities is unclear. The veteran pollster was paid for "political strategy services," according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings released on Friday.

The monthly amount — $15,000 — is the equivalent of a top White House salary. Indeed, Kellyanne Conway previously earned almost the same amount during her time at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It's also a common monthly salary handed out by the GOP to former officials who exit through the Trump administration's revolving door.

Filings show the RNC still pays $15,000 a month to former presidential security chief and Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller — originally for "security services" connected to the 2020 Republican National Convention, which has since come and gone. The new records also show a $20,000 Oct. 13 expenditure to Pinkerton, the famed private investigation and protection agency, also for "security services."

The GOP paid that same $15,000 monthly stipend to Ric Grennell after he left the Trump administration, but the latest round of filings reveal the chief Republican LGBTQ+ adviser got an unexplained October bump to nearly $22,000.

Former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault-Newman was reportedly offered $15,000 for RNC work when she left the administration. ABC News also reported that the committee paid former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale in monthly installments of the same amount for strategic development.

The Conways own a New Jersey beach home, as well as an $8 million mansion in the posh Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, which their teenage daughter, Claudia, often features in social media videos.

Former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault-Newman was reportedly offered $15,000 for RNC work when she left the administration. ABC News also reported that the committee paid former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale in monthly installments of the same amount for strategic development.

The Conways own a New Jersey beach home, as well as an $8 million mansion in the posh Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, which their teenage daughter, Claudia, often features in social media videos.

"It's a violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows," she told the outlet, before trying to strike the conversation from the record.

In August, Kellyanne Conway said that she anticipated taking on a "significant role" in Trump's 2020 campaign, according to The Washington Post.

The Republican National Committee awarded Kellyanne Conway a top speaking slot this August at its convention in Washington, which stirred controversy for numerous likely violations of the Hatch Act, a law prohibiting federal employees from engaging in political activity. Conway was accused of violating the Hatch Act more than 50 times before 2019 — on Twitter alone. In 2018, the Office of Special Counsel ruled that she had violated the law on two occasions, but the White House let her off the hook.

Rudy Giuliani declined offer of compromising Hunter Biden emails and images in May 2019

Rudy Giuliani, the personal attorney for President Donald Trump, was approached by someone offering allegedly compromising emails and images belonging to Hunter Biden in spring 2019, according to two individuals familiar with the meeting.

Giuliani was approached with the offer while at a lunch in New York City in late May of last year, according to the sources. The content included emails, as well as allegedly salacious video. The offer was declined, one of the individuals said, amid credibility questions.

The content was rejected a year and a half before Giuliani received a hard drive in September 2020 containing what he alleges — without providing evidence — are emails and images pulled from Hunter Biden's hard drive.

Giuliani has not said when exactly he was first offered compromising content belonging to Biden. But the timing of the alleged lunch meeting — and Giuliani's apparent suspicions about the credibility of the content dangled in front of him — raise significant questions about the former mayor's intent when he opted to distribute strikingly similar content to news outlets earlier this month.

In a text to Salon, Giuliani said he had "no such recollection" of the meeting. "I don't remember anyone remotely like that," he added.

The alleged meeting also complicates key elements of the already hazy cover story Giuliani spun to journalists about how he first came into the alleged Hunter Biden hard drive. The New York Post covered some of the unverified contents in a dubious report last week after Fox News declined to do so over credibility concerns.

The newly revealed meeting also aligns with key aspects of new report from Time, in which two individuals alleged that emails and photos said to belong to Hunter Biden had been for sale for as much as $5 million on the Ukrainian black market while Giuliani and associates attempted to dig up dirt in the foreign country.

Giuliani's efforts to smear the Bidens with baseless allegations about business dealings in Ukraine led directly to his client's impeachment last year. Those accusations have been repeatedly debunked, and journalists quickly pointed out major errors and holes in The Post's report. The FBI has since opened an investigation into the story as part of a possible Russian disinformation operation, according to multiple reports.

The Trump administration also recently sanctioned one of Giuliani's key Ukrainian sources as an "active Russian agent" seeking to influence the 2020 election. The timeline of those efforts happens to align with key developments in the story of the alleged laptop. According to the Trump-supporting Delaware computer repairman who claimed that he gave a copy of the hard drive to Giuliani's lawyer, Robert Costello, in September, a man calling himself Hunter Biden dropped off three laptops at his store in April 2019. The repairman told reporters that a medical condition had prevented him from identifying the man.

Around this time, Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman had been making trips to Ukraine, where they carried out work on behalf of Giuliani — and, by extension, the president, whom Giuliani says he was defending. This work included a meeting in Kiev in mid-May 2019 where Parnas, at the direction of Giuliani, told a top Ukrainian official that "the United States would freeze aid" if the incoming administration did not announce an investigation into the Bidens, according to Parnas' lawyer in The New York Times.

The official confirmed that he had met with the duo in Kiev at the time but denied that Parnas had discussed the issue of aid. That month, compromising content on Biden was circulating in the country, according to Time. Giuliani was allegedly offered the content at lunch in New York City around the same time — and declined — which Salon first revealed. (An individual familiar with the meeting told Salon one concern was that the content might have included inauthentic material.)

In September, the emails were going for $5 million, but a person targeted for the sale declined mostly because he could not verify the authenticity, according to Time. "I walked away from it, because it smelled awful," the individual told the magazine. He claimed that the seller was looking to get it into the hands of Trump allies in the U.S.

According to Salon interviews with individuals familiar with the case and multiple reports, Giuliani's business dealings abroad have been under investigation over the course of the past year as part of a federal probe led by the FBI and the Southern District of New York — the very office he once led.

That probe grew out of the arrest last October of Parnas and Fruman, who were first booked on unrelated campaign finance charges at Dulles International Airport outside Washington as they waited to board a flight to Vienna, Austria. The duo were cuffed one day after they met Giuliani for drinks at Trump's D.C. hotel — just as impeachment hearings heated up in Congress.

The next month, with his former associates under indictment, Giuliani registered a new company, Giuliani Media, ahead of a dirt-digging trip to Ukraine to film a documentary on the Bidens with a One America News (OAN) production crew. While there, he interviewed Andriy Derkach, whom the Trump administration recently sanctioned after accusing the Ukrainian lawmaker of running a "covert influence campaign" directed at the 2020 U.S. presidential election since late 2019.

The FBI reportedly subpoenaed the alleged Hunter Biden laptop in December 2019, the same month that OAN aired the Giuliani documentary. Giuliani, who was embarrassed this week by political prankster Sacha Baron Cohen in a tawdry hotel scene with an actress posing as a young Eastern European journalist, later aired his own interview with Derkach.

Around that time, Giuliani confirmed to Salon that a strange text accidentally sent to this reporter in October had in fact been a password. When asked what the password protected, Giuliani said that it unlocked top-secret "files" that would one day spur Biden's downfall.

Giuliani did not reply to Salon's text messages seeking additional comment for this article.

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