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Texas group that fueled Trump voter fraud claim scales back 2016 election audit

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The Houston-based organization that fueled President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that “millions” of people voted illegally in the 2016 election says it’s scaling back its effort to catalogue the fraudulent votes it alleged.

True The Vote, a watchdog group focused on “election integrity,” says it’s short on the cash needed to complete a forensic audit of the 2016 election — an effort Trump applauded in his first days in the White House.

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“As it stands, we do not have the funding to do what we want to do. We’ve gathered 2016 voter rolls, we’ve gathered information from thousands of [Freedom of Information Act requests], but we’re limited by the lack of resources,” Catherine Engelbrecht, the group’s founder, said Tuesday in a video message to supporters. “Next steps up are for us to sort of pull back on the national audit, and focus on targeted investigations.”

Just days after his victory, Trump caused a stir by claiming — without evidence — that he would have won the popular vote in addition to the Electoral College “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Trump later confirmed the source for his claim had Texas ties: Gregg Phillips, a former Texas Health and Human Services Commission official who now works with True The Vote.

At the time, Phillips said his team had already verified more than 3 million non-citizen votes. When pressed for details, he said the group was still finalizing its audit. In January, Trump tweeted: “ Look forward to seeing final results.”

In March, Phillips told The Texas Tribune the final results were still forthcoming. But apparently, the audit is no longer taking shape.

“We knew that this was a project that would take millions, but the major funding commitments haven’t materialized,” Engelbrecht said in Tuesday’s video.

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Neither Engelbrecht nor Phillips responded to interview requests this week.

A White House spokeswoman did not directly respond to True The Vote’s announcement, but told the Tribune in a statement: “President Trump has expressed concerns regarding possible voter fraud and he wants to ensure that the integrity of all elections, which are the cornerstone of our democracy, is preserved.”

The statement said Trump’s “Election Integrity Commission,” formed in May, would “assess the situation.”

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Election experts call proven cases of voter fraud rare, and civil rights groups fear Trump’s commission — chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and vice-chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has championed some of the nation’s strictest voting and anti-immigrant laws — will throw up roadblocks to voting in the name of fraud prevention.

Trump’s vow to root out voter fraud echoes an effort by President George W. Bush. Bush’s years-long crackdown found no evidence of organized efforts to taint elections, and led to a few dozen convictions — mostly of people who mistakenly filled out registration forms or expressed confusion about eligibility rules, according to media reports at the time.

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In a study of the 2016 elections focused on 42 election jurisdictions in 12 states, New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice found officials flagged just 30 incidents of suspected non-citizen voting for further investigation or prosecution. About 23.5 million votes were cast in those jurisdictions.

“In California, Virginia and New Hampshire — the states where Trump claimed the problem of non-citizen voting was especially acute — no official we spoke with identified an incident of non-citizen voting in 2016,” the study said.

BY JIM MALEWITZ, THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

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Michael Avenatti says he has El Chapo’s former jail cell — which the drug dealer described as ‘torture’: report

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Attorney Michael Avenatti, the colorful attorney who came to prominence representing Stormy Daniels against Donald Trump, is unhappy with his jail conditions.

On Monday, his attorney wrote to the federal judge overseeing his trial to complain about the jail conditions Avenatti is experiencing during pre-trial detention.

Scott Srebnick, Avenatti's attorney, wrote to Judge Paul Gardephe to complain about the "notorious 10-South" section of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he is being held in the Special Housing Unit.

"He is in a cell reportedly once occupied by El Chapo, on a floor that houses individuals charged with terrorism offenses," Avenatti's attorney wrote.

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It is Greta Thunberg vs Donald Trump at climate-focused Davos gathering of economic elites: report

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The starkly opposed visions of US President Donald Trump and Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg on climate change will clash in Davos on Tuesday as the World Economic Forum tries to face up to the perils of global warming on its 50th meeting.

The four-day gathering of the world's top political and business leaders in the Swiss Alps gets under way seeking to meet head-on the dangers to both the environment and economy from the heating of the planet.

Trump, who has repeatedly expressed scepticism about climate change, is set to give the first keynote address of Davos 2020 on Tuesday morning, on the same day as his impeachment trial opens at the Senate in Washington.

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‘Which Senator up this year most deserves to lose?’: Preet Bharara flooded with replies to provocative question

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Former United States Attorney Preet Bharara asked his 1.2 million Twitter followers a provocative question on the eve of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

With worries that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is presiding over a sham trial, many analysts have suggested that the Senate itself will be on trial.

"Which Senator up this year most deserves to lose?" Bharara, who was fired by Trump, asked.

There are a number of potentially vulnerable Republicans facing voters in 2020, including McConnell himself, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

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