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The same split that is dividing Republicans nationally, whether to embrace or reject the fiction that the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate, is now reverberating backstage at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Arizona, where pro-Trump contractors are leading a state-sponsored inquiry into the vote in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 60 percent of Arizona voters.
The state Senate's lead contractor, Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO Doug Logan had said that Joe Biden's victory was illegitimate, has been opposing an effort to widen the Arizona Senate's inquiry—via another assessment that vets the 2020 vote more thoroughly. Logan also has sought to muzzle and even oust the lead proponent of that more detailed inquiry, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican. Senate President Karen Fann asked Bennett to take the role of Senate audit liaison after she hired Cyber Ninjas. He is not taking any compensation for his role, unlike Cyber Ninjas and the subcontractors.
Beyond the personality clashes involved, which Voting Booth heard about while reporting from Phoenix as a hand count of 2.1 million paper ballots was nearing completion, is an emerging bottom line: Cyber Ninjas has spent several million dollars and two months conducting inquiries that are not poised to present sufficient analyses that can legitimately assess the presidential results.
Cyber Ninjas' inquiries, which include a hand count of all paper ballots and looking for forged ballots based on high-resolution and microscopic examination of the ballot paper and ink marks, are generating reams of information that could be cited in partisan propaganda—which is how pro-Trump media outlets have covered the audit from its inception.
Crucially, the data Cyber Ninjas is accumulating has not been compared to the building blocks of the state-certified vote count. At best, it is conducting a loosely constructed recount, which is not an audit—which is based on comparisons.
"There must be comparable results in sufficient detail, or else it is not an audit," said Larry Moore, the retired founder and CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified audit firm. "It is unacceptable to put out anything less."
Moore is not an unbiased observer in Phoenix. He has criticized the inquiries and is part of a team of seasoned election auditors that has parsed the same official records given to Cyber Ninjas after a Senate subpoena. The team's early analysis confirmed that Joe Biden won in Arizona and offered an explanation why. The official records revealed voting patterns showing that tens of thousands of voters supported most Republicans on their ballots—but did not vote for Trump.
Moore's team, which is locally led by Tucson's Benny White, who is a longtime Republican Party observer in state and local elections, has shared its findings with news organizations in Phoenix, whose coverage is beginning to reframe how the Senate's exercise should be evaluated.
The team has gone further in recent days. They challenged Cyber Ninjas to take their subtotals (gleaned from the official election data) and compare it to the subtotals in a sealed box of ballots. By June 11, there were several dozen boxes of ballots that had not yet been opened and hand-counted. Cyber Ninjas did not take up the challenge.
The auditors then gave their data to the press, including reporters who have observed Cyber Ninjas revising their procedures repeatedly in recent weeks. The evaluation pushed by Moore and White would directly compare the paper ballots marked by voters, the starting line, to the official election results, the finish line, to attest to the election's accuracy. Cyber Ninjas' process isn't making this comparison.
Growing Pressure Inside and Out
That fundamental procedural flaw, meanwhile, has bothered Bennett, the former Arizona secretary of state who says he volunteered to be Senate liaison because he felt that doubts about the election's legitimacy had to be put to rest. Since April, he has expressed interest in expanding the Senate's audit's inquiries to parse the electronic records that detect votes on the paper ballots and then compile the overall results.
Bennett has been pushing for a so-called ballot image audit to do this assessment, which would compare the digital images of every ballot created by vote-counting scanners to the electronically compiled vote totals. Bennett has attempted to hire a California nonprofit, Citizens Oversight, that happens to be run by a Democrat for that specialized assessment. But that prospect has been attacked in right-wing media and on social media, including by the audit's contractors led by Logan.
Inside the Phoenix arena, there are reports that Logan has told Bennett—who also is a former Arizona Senate president—not to talk to the press. Logan has reportedly bad-mouthed Bennett in closed meetings with pro-Trump activists and legislators visiting from out of state—who are seeking to bring similar privatized partisan assessments to their states (after Trump also lost there). It is clear, according to interviews by Voting Booth with witnesses to these incidents, that Logan's allies fear that more investigations would expose their shortcomings and undermine whatever report they issue.
Thus, among other things, pushing Bennett out of the inquiry would seem advantageous to pro-Trump Republicans' efforts to discredit the integrity of the 2020 election. In response, Bennett said that he is committed to examining Maricopa County's 2020 ballots and vote counts as thoroughly as possible, because he said that he is still a trusted messenger to enough Arizona Republicans who are awaiting his verdict.
"It's not what evidence is presented to most people, it's who it is presented to them by," Bennett said. He added that he wants to look at what Cyber Ninjas' analysis, the analysis by Moore and White, and what Citizens Oversight may do, and then present his judgment, and, if necessary, the details leading to his evaluation, to dispel any doubts.
"I believe that we can convince 90 percent of the people that are questioning the election [of its legitimacy], because it was the opposite party that was questioning the results in 2016. Ninety percent can understand that if Trump lost the election, it was Trump that lost the election," Bennett said. He mentioned several debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election in Arizona, saying, "It wasn't ballots flown in at midnight from China. It wasn't any fractional counting of votes on voting machines. It wasn't because Dominion [Voting Systems] was owned by China or Russia, or I don't know who… And similarly, when the Democrats lose, maybe it's because Hillary Clinton just wasn't what the American people wanted in 2016."
Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.
In a biting column for the Daily Beast, Molly Jong-Fast notes that that talk of a Trump family political dynasty has all but disappeared since Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election and his children slide into increasing irrelevance.
As Jong-Fast notes, it wasn't that long ago when Ivanka Trump was going to use the family name and her father's popularity with a rabid right-wing base to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) for his U.S. Senate seat, Lara Trump -- wife of Trump son Eric -- was looking at an open North Carolina Senate seat and Don Jr. was going to run for office -- somewhere.
Six months after the brutal Trump re-election loss none of those races are happening as Trump's star has fallen and he has taken his kids down with him.
According to the columnist, "The family that held the entire Republican Party in their death grips for the last four years is now doing what all formerly famous people do, signing autographs and being sort of pathetic," before adding, "Their father may not have power anymore, but the kids have even less."
With Don Jr. failing to provoke much outrage anymore on his Twitter account, Ivanka living the good life and staying out of the public spotlight in Florida after realizing Manhattan wouldn't welcome her back with open arms, Jong-Fast suggested that the only thing worse than having people hate you a is having people no longer care you exist.
"The baby Trumps and their lousy spouses are drifting off into the weird political afterlife of people who used to matter," she wrote before pointing out, "Remember when Don Junior posed with a 'Don Jr 2024' banner at the Fallon Nevada Livestock Auction? That was in October, or, as I think of it, a lifetime ago. Since then junior has been a busy bee, making apparently false statements in a deposition and maybe being investigated by Manhattan Attorney General Cy Vance's office for his role in the family crimi—oops, real-estate business."
As for Ivanka, the columnist wrote, "Remember Ivanka, the future of the GOP? Well, she's been in the witness protection program, not really but sort of. Since buying a $30 million empty parcel of land in Miami, the political genius has spent her time 'focusing on family time,' walking her tiny white dog on the beach and wearing hideous peach-colored athleisure. She's not going to primary Lil' Marco for the Florida Senate. She hardly has time with all the beach walks and decorating."
Barely touching on the multitude of lawsuits and criminal investigations hovering over the Trump family like an increasingly darkening cloud, Jong-Fast stated that the farther country moves beyond the Trump years, the less chance any of the Trump kids -- or the ex-president for that matter -- have of a future political career.
"Look, there's a chance, a horrible, miserable chance, that Trump does get re-elected in 2024 and democracy dies, and the Trump kids go back to using our tax dollars to promote themselves as members of government who govern with lots of meaningless initiatives. After 2016, I know better than to say that couldn't happen," Jong-Fast conceded. "But if it does not, the baby Trumps have let their moment escape them. Junior could have won a congressional seat, and Eric's horrible wife could have at least grifted a lot of money running for the Senate in North Carolina."
"How are the kids going to pay for all their lawyers' bills if they can't grift campaign donations like their dad? Never mind, I don't care," she added.
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The Justice Department seems to be having some trouble running away from the past it's apparently so desperate to shake off.
Amid reports of corruption running far deeper within the DOJ under the Trump administration than previously acknowledged, current Attorney General Merrick Garland, has taken a number of curious steps to defend the former administration in the past week despite Biden's campaign promise to "restore the soul of America."
On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department in 2018 quietly subpoenaed Apple to obtain the records of two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. The two lawmakers – Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the panel's current chairman – both confirmed that the probes have since been closed.
"It is concerning that they continued to seek our records with no evidence that there was any wrongdoing other than that they were calling the president out for his corruption," Swalwell told the Post, adding: "It's a fragile time for our democracy."
The request, which demanded the data of former House members as well as their family members, was part of a larger Trump crusade to get to the bottom who had leaked classified information to various media outlets throughout his term.
Last week, it was found that the Trump DOJ subpoenaed a number of reporters from The New York Times – a move also made against journalists from both CNN and The Washington Post months prior. The Times probes specifically concerned the paper's coverage of Russia's influence in the 2016 election.
Last Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki condemned the practice, alleging that the current president "is committed — strongly — to the rights of the freedom of press, as you have seen for decades, and to standing up for the rights of journalists."
However, The New York Times found that the forceful seizure of reporters' records continued under Biden's watch. In fact, the Biden administration reportedly pressured a number of Times executives with a gag order preventing them from revealing Trump's former subpoenas. Though the gag order was lifted on March 3, Psaki claimed that no one had known about its enforcement until last Friday.
Reports of Trump's attacks on various media come amid deeper revelations surrounding Trump's effort to undermine the Biden presidency both before and after Biden was elected in 2020.
This week, CNN revealed leaked audio from 2019 of longtime Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani pressurizing two top Ukranian officials to publicly announce an investigation to President Biden and his son, Hunter.
"All we need from the President [Zelensky] is to say, I'm gonna put an honest prosecutor in charge, he's gonna investigate and dig up the evidence, that presently exists and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out," Giuliani said in the tape. "Somebody in Ukraine's gotta take that seriously."
Trump would later call the president of Ukraine himself, Volodymyr Zelensky, to exert pressure on country to open an inquiry – the implication being that if a probe was not opened, the U.S. would suspend military aid to the Ukraine, undermining the country's military position in its proxy wars with Russia.
Revelations also came this week about Trump's saga to overturn the 2020 election results following Biden's win. According to The Washington Post, back in late December, during the final weeks of Trump's term, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows penned a spate of emails to acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, pressurizing Rosen to investigate unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud.
In his letters, Meadows asked Rosen to probe several baseless conspiracy theories about a "stolen" election in various states throughout the U.S. One theory involved the idea that Italian satellites had been weaponized to manipulate U.S. voting machine counts.
Rosen has repeatedly maintained that the Justice Department did not comply with any Trump officials' requests to look into the results of the 2020 election despite facing the threat of removal by Trump.
During his campaign, Biden was steadfast about his desire to "move on" from the all-encompassing nature of Trump's corruption, emphasizing the need to "restore the soul of America." However, in recent weeks, it's fair to say that the Justice Department has assumed a series of legal postures that appear to flout the president's promise.
In late May, Garland committed the DOJ to blocking the full release of the "Barr memo" – an internal document that shows how former Attorney General William Barr managed to ensure Trump would not be charged by former special counsel Robert Mueller during Mueller's investigation into whether Trump allowed Russia to meddle in 2016 election.
The memo, which specifically analyzes whether some presidential actions by Trump constituted obstructions of justice, was only partially publicized by the DOJ, which has been accused of mischaracterizing the document.
"The Department of Justice had an opportunity to come clean, turn over the memo, and close the book on the politicization and dishonesty of the past four years," Noah Bookbinder, president of government watchdog CREW, told NPR. "Last night it chose not to do so. In choosing to fight Judge Jackson's decision, the DOJ is taking a position that is legally and factually wrong and that undercuts efforts to move past the abuses of the last administration. We will be fighting this in court."
Last week, the department again sparked ire from progressives when it asked a federal judge to shut down a civil rights lawsuit filed against Trump and Barr for violently sweeping Lafayette Square of peaceful protesters at the height of the George Floyd Protests back in June.
Federal attorneys have argued that the intervention was necessary to ensure the safety of the former president, though ACLU attorneys have disputed the notion that Trump was in any real danger, instead claiming the protesters were targeted with undue force "because of their viewpoint, their message, their speech."
On Monday, the Department of Justice sent shockwaves through progressives for a third time when it announced that it would continue to defend Trump in a defamation suit filed in 2019 by one of Trump's rape allegers, former Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll.
The department has argued that because the allegations date back to Trump's time in office, he should remain immune from the suit – a privilege afforded to public officials in the case of defamation suits.
Justice Department attorneys explained: "Given the president's position in our constitutional structure, his role in communicating with the public is especially significant, the president's statements fall within the scope of his employment for multiple reasons."
Carroll's lawyers have rebutted that Trump, who accused Carroll of lying while in office, made remarks that were way out of his official purview. "There is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted," her legal team contended.
Many on the left have found Garland's unexpectedly lenient – and perhaps protective – treatment of Trump deeply troubling. This week, Jeff Hauser, the founder and director of the Revolving Door Project, argued that Garland's actions demonstrate a dark side of "liberalism's belief in process itself." He wrote in The New Republic:
"When standard procedure is sacrosanct, all that the right needs to do is make it standard procedure to never hold them accountable. Notably, Garland consistently promised 'that politics would play no role in his decisions' during his confirmation hearing, after numerous prompts by Senate Republicans. That's intentional. The GOP was framing it as wrongfully partisan to reverse course from the most wrongful, partisan, and most importantly, anti-democratic President in history."
Many speculated that Garland's confirmation as attorney general, which boasted bipartisan support from Congress, would mark a clean break from the Trump administration.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., indicated that Garland's confirmation would begin the dawn of a new era. "After Donald Trump spent four years – four long years – subverting the powers of the justice department for his own political benefit, treating the attorney general like his own personal defense lawyer, America can breathe a sigh of relief that we're going to have someone like Merrick Garland leading the justice department," he declared. "Someone with integrity, independence, respect for the rule of law and credibility on both sides of the aisle."
As Trump's past improprieties within the DOJ continue to emerge, Garland's commitment to these virtues will no doubt be tested far more intensely than they already have been.
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