The network of election lawyers who are making it harder for Americans to vote
Peter Stone in Washington:
A powerful network of conservative election lawyers and groups with links to Donald Trump have spent millions of dollars promoting new and onerous voting laws that many battleground states such as Georgia and Texas have enacted.
The moves have prompted election and voting rights watchdogs in the US to warn about the suppression of non-white voters aimed at providing Republicans an edge in coming elections.
The lawyers and groups spearheading self-professed election integrity measures include some figures who pushed Trump’s baseless claims of fraud after the 2020 election. Key advocates include Cleta Mitchell with the Conservative Partnership institute; J Christian Adams of the Public Interest Legal Foundation; Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation; Jason Snead of the Honest Elections Project; and J Kenneth Blackwell with the America First Policy Institute.
These conservative outfits tout their goal as curbing significant voter fraud, despite the fact that numerous courts, the vast majority of voting experts and even former top Trump officials, such as ex-attorney general Bill Barr, concluded the 2020 elections were without serious problems.
Watchdogs say that tightening state voting laws endanger the rights of Black voters and other communities of color who historically back Democrats by creating new rules limiting absentee voting and same day registration, while imposing other voting curbs.
Among the election lawyers and groups advocating tougher voting laws, Mitchell, a veteran conservative lawyer , boasts the highest profile and has sparked the most scrutiny. She took part in the 2 January call where Trump prodded Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to “find” about 11,780 votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory there. After details emerged about Mitchell’s role on the call, Foley & Lardner, where she had worked for nearly 20 years, mounted an internal review, and she resigned.
Today so far
That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Maanvi Singh, will take over the blog for the next few hours.
Here’s where the day stands so far:
- The House is now debating the measure to refer Mark Meadows to the justice department for potential contempt charges. The vote comes one week after Meadows, the former chief of staff to Donald Trump, ended his cooperation with the House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.
- The records that Meadows turned over to the committee before ending his cooperation include text messages from Fox News hosts and Donald Trump Jr on January 6. In the messages, the Trump allies urge Meadows and the president to take action to end the insurrection. In one message, Trump’s eldest son told the chief of staff, “We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
- The attorney general of the District of Columbia, Karl Racine, has announced that his office is suing the far right groups the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers “for conspiring to terrorize the District” in relation to the Capitol insurrection. The lawsuit refers to the Capitol attack as a “coordinated act of domestic terrorism”.
- Jim McGovern, the Democratic chair of the House rules committee, warned of potential future coups if investigators are not able to uncover all the details of January 6. “Coups very rarely succeed the first go-around, but they oftentimes do the second time around,” McGovern said during a hearing on the contempt resolution. “If there’s ever a moment to be above politics, it’s now.”
Maanvi will have more coming up, so stay tuned.
Bennie Thompson, the chair of the select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection, argued that Mark Meadows’ refusal to cooperate with the panel forced investigators to advance this contempt resolution.
Meadows’ refusal to testify about the records he has already turned over to the committee amounts to not just obstruction but also an “attack on the rule of law,” Thompson said at the start of the floor debate over the measure.
“It’s regrettable that we are back to the floor considering another criminal contempt referral, but our former colleague, Mr Meadows, has left us no choice,” the Democratic congressman said.
“The select committee is investigating an attack on our democracy, and it’s essential that witnesses cooperate with our investigation to get answers.”
House begins debate on Meadows contempt charge
The House is now beginning one hour of debate on the measure to refer Mark Meadows to the justice department for potential contempt charges.
The House will then debate two other proposals before moving on to the full-chamber vote on the Meadows contempt resolution.
The vote on the contempt resolution is still expected to start in about an hour and a half, so stay tuned.
Pfizer says pill is effective in protecting against severe disease from Covid
A pill manufactured by the prominent Covid-19 vaccine provider Pfizer is highly effective in protecting against severe disease from coronavirus, the company said on Tuesday.
The experimental antiviral pill Paxlovid is also effective against the Omicron variant that is spreading rapidly across the world, the company announced, citing laboratory testing.
In clinical trials, Paxlovid showed almost 90% efficacy in preventing hospitalization and death in high-risk patients, Pfizer stated, replicating the results of a smaller-scale trial announced last month.
Those results prompted the company to seek authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the pill to become the first widely available oral medicine to combat coronavirus.
Regulators in the UK last month approved the twice-daily pill Molnupiravir, manufactured by Merck/Ridgeback, for use in elderly and at-risk patients, but its approval has stalled in the US amid safety concerns.
Pfizer hopes that Tuesday’s announcement will bolster its case with the FDA, allowing for an early US approval and infected Americans having access to the pill by early next year.
Programming note: the House is expected to vote later today on the motion to refer Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff to Donald Trump, to the justice department for potential contempt charges.
According to the latest update from House majority leader Steny Hoyer’s office, the chamber will likely start voting at about 6 pm ET, roughly two hours from now.
If the House passes the contempt resolution, the justice department will need to determine whether to prosecute Meadows over the matter. A federal grand jury has already indicted another Trump ally, Steve Bannon, for defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.
Barber: Manchin is committing ‘political policy violence’
Rev. William Barber II, the prominent North Carolina civil rights leader, accused Senator Joe Manchin of committing “political policy violence” on Tuesday over his blockade of voting rights and infrastructure legislation in the US senate.
Barber made the comments as he led a demonstration outside of Manchin’s Washington, DC office with several activists, including some who traveled from West Virginia, demanding a meeting with the senator. The group was denied entry into the office building and wound up leaving signs and 10,000 petitions at the building’s entrance.
In fiery remarks, Barber accused Manchin of lying to John Lewis, the civil rights icon who died last year. Manchin, Barber said, had told Lewis he supported two sweeping pieces of voting rights legislation. But Manchin’s support for the filibuster, the senate rule that requires 60 votes to advance legislation, has blocked Democrats from passing either bill.
“His delay on voting rights is allowing a political coup d’etat to sweep through our state legislatures,” Barber said. He added Manchin’s actions were directly harming the nation’s poor and most vulnerable communities.
The meeting came on the same day Manchin was reportedly meeting with a small group of Democratic senators to try and see if there was a path forward on the filibuster.
Barber has been among several activists who have been arrested in Washington recently as they push for voting rights legislation.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell was asked about the texts that Mark Meadows received from Republican lawmakers as the Capitol insurrection unfolded on January 6.
The Republican leader told reporters on Capitol Hill that he was not in contact with Donald Trump’s chief of staff on the day of the insurrection.
McConnell also expressed interest in the findings of the House select committee investigating the insurrection, saying, “We’re all watching, as you are, what is unfolding on the House side, and it will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.”
It is worth noting that Senate Republicans blocked the bill to create a 9/11-style commission to investigate the insurrection earlier this year.
One reporter asked Jen Psaki how Joe Biden plans to mark the one-year anniversary of the Capitol insurrection, which will occur in three weeks on January 6.
Psaki said she did not have any specific plans to share about the president honoring the day of the Capitol insurrection, which she described as “one of the darkest days in our democracy”.
But the White House press secretary added, “I think there’s no question you’ll see us commemorate that day.”
‘Disappointing, not surprising’: White House reacts to January 6 texts to Meadows
Jen Psaki was asked about the revelation that Republican lawmakers and multiple Fox News hosts sent texts to Mark Meadows on January 6, urging Donald Trump’s chief of staff to take action to end the Capitol insurrection.
“It’s disappointing, and unfortunately not surprising, that some of the very same individuals who were willing to warn, condemn and express horror over what happened on January 6 in private were totally silent in public or, even worse, were spreading lies and conspiracy theories and continue to since that time,” the White House press secretary said.
Psaki added, “Unfortunately we’ve seen a trend from some of the same individuals.”
The House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection held a hearing yesterday to vote on a recommendation that Meadows be held in criminal contempt for defying the panel’s subpoena.
At the hearing, Liz Cheney, the Republican vice-chair of the committee, read some of the texts that Meadows received on January 6 as the insurrection unfolded. The texts were included in the documents that Meadows turned over to the committee before ending his cooperation with investigators.
In one text, Fox News host Laura Ingraham said, “Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
In another, Donald Trump Jr told the chief of staff, “We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
This is Joan Greve in Washington, taking over the blog from Joanna Walters.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, is now holding her daily briefing, and she was asked about Joe Biden’s meeting with centrist Senator Joe Manchin yesterday to discuss the Build Back Better Act.
The press secretary said the negotiations overs the $1.75tn spending package continue, but Democrats are “not quite there yet” to get the bill passed.
Democratic leaders have been pushing to pass the final bill before the end of the year to ensure families can receive checks from the expanded child tax credit program next month, but it’s unclear whether they will be able to meet that deadline.
It’s been a busy morning in political news in Washington and there’s more to come. Reverend William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign led a press conference a little earlier and we’ll bring you the highlights of that shortly. Please stay tuned.
Meanwhile, here’s where things stand so far:
- The lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, by the office of the attorney general of the District of Columbia, calls the Capitol attack by Trump fanatics trying to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory a “coordinated act of domestic terrorism”.
- The attorney general of the District of Columbia, Karl Racine, has announced that his office is suing the far right groups the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers “for conspiring to terrorize the District” in relation to the insurrection by extremist Donald Trump supporters at the US Capitol on January 6 this year.
- Jim McGovern, the Democratic chair of the House rules committee, warned of potential future coups if the right wing are allowed to continue to downplay and hide the truth of the attempt to stop the peaceful transition of power from Trump to Biden.
- The House rules committee met to take up the special House panel’s resolution calling for Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to be held in criminal contempt for defying a subpoena from those investigating the Capitol insurrection.
The lawsuit from the DC attorney general’s office against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers hard right groups came as the House rules committee had been discussing this morning the “frantic” texts sent by Republican lawmakers and Fox News star punditry hosts while the Capitol insurrection was underway on January 6.
These came up in the closed-door meeting of the special House panel last night over whether to recommend that then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows should be criminally charged with contempt of Congress for halting his cooperation with the panel’s investigation into the Capitol attack.
Congressman Jamie Raskin read some of them out at the rules committee public hearing this morning, recounting how certain Republican lawmakers, Fox hosts and even Donald Trump’s eldest son, Don Trump Jr, contacted Meadows begging him to get the-then president to take decisive action to call on the insurrectionists to cease their riot and invasion.
It’s not clear why Don didn’t call his dad directly, nor did Sean Hannity, who has talked to Trump on the phone probably hundreds of times at this point.
Raskin cites the texts referring to: “GOP lawmakers and others sending frantic messages, saying ‘we are under siege…Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol, breaking windows…our doors, is Trump going to do something?”
Raskin says: “Donald Trump Jr – ‘he’s got to condemn this…’ excrement [Jr wrote shit, not excrement, but Raskin is being polite on Capitol Hill] ‘asap. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.’ Jr saying ‘we need an Oval Office address’.”
To go back a little way, prior to today’s lawsuit by the attorney general of the District of Columbia, the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack just last month issued subpoenas to the leaders of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups, with its investigation directly focusing for the first time on the instigators of the violence at the 6 January insurrection.
The chair of the select committee, Bennie Thompson, the Democratic representative from Mississippi, said in a statement those subpoenas reflected the panel’s interest in uncovering possible connections between the paramilitary groups, efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election and the Capitol attack, Hugo Lowell reported at the time.
And going a bit further back, in looking at how these groups are powerfully driven by white supremacist beliefs, the Guardian’s Lois Beckett drew a line from January 6 to the groups at the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 that tried to stop the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee (which stayed up until July this year), chanted racist slogans and violently attacked anti-racism protesters and liberal activists.
As she wrote on January 8: The playbook for the Maga [the Make America Great Again Trump campaign slogan] invasion of the nation’s Capitol building has been developing for years in plain sight, at far-right rallies in cities like Charlottesville, Berkeley and Portland, and then, in the past year, at state capitols across the country, where heavily armed white protesters have forced their way into legislative chambers to accuse politicians of tyranny and treason.
“No one should be surprised,” said Sarah Anthony to the Guardian back in January, a Black state lawmaker who was on the legislative floor in Michigan’s Capitol on 30 April 2020, when hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters, including white militia members with guns, tried to force their way inside. “This has been escalating in every corner of our country for months.”
Read the report here on: From Charlottesville to the Capitol: how rightwing impunity fueled the pro-Trump mob.
The DC lawsuit adds: “In the weeks leading up to the 2020 Presidential Election, the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, their leadership, and certain members and affiliates of both groups openly advertised their willingness to use violence to support their political agenda, including their efforts to reelect then-President Trump.
It also reminds us of Donald Trump’s instruction from the debate podium in the fall of 2020, during the peak final months of the election campaign, that the Proud Boys should “stand by” and notes that: “During and following the debate, the Proud Boys leadership immediately took to the social media application Parler to show support for a violent response following President Trump’s statement.”
The Oath Keepers group, the lawsuit notes sought to preserve Trump’s power after he lost the White House by saying: “All he has to do is call us up. We WILL answer the call” and the DC attorney general’s office pointing out that: “Based on past behavior, Oath Keepers members were willing to uphold that pledge using violence” and part of a plan of action should Joe Biden win the 2020 election would be “looking down the sights of a rifle at our fellow Americans.”
“Oath Keepers publicly trumpeted the idea that members were standing ready to engage in a civil war, tweeting from the group’s account: ‘We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. That’s where we are’,” the lawsuit states.
DC lawsuit calls Capitol attack ‘coordinated act of domestic terrorism’
The lawsuit filed against the far right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups says that as a result of those groups’ actions:
The January 6th Attack on the Capitol, was not a protest or a rally. It was a coordinated act of domestic terrorism.
Would-be insurgents from across the country came to the District, marched through its streets, and ultimately gathered at the United States Capitol, ready and eager to carry out a violent attack on the lawful operation of government.
Then, as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, their leadership, and certain of their members and affiliates had planned, Defendants and others rioted, broke through police barricades, and physically forced their way into the Capitol. In doing so, they threatened, assaulted, and injured those who tried to stop them, including officers of the District’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and incited terror among those inside and around the building, including members of Congress who were discharging the official duties of their offices.
In the wake of this assault, the Capitol was left in shambles, with the District left to deal with the aftermath of the violent disruption to what should have been the peaceful transition of presidential power.
The lawsuit says Proud Boys International “is a US-based group that promotes and engages in political violence, including in service of its hate-motivated agenda”. And it describes the Oath Keepers as “a militia movement group united by baseless conspiracy theories arising from the idea that the federal government has been coopted by a nefarious group that is trying to strip United States citizens of their rights.”
It further notes that: “Violence is an inextricable part of both organizations and a common link between them.”