Why the investigation into Trump’s alleged misdeeds may be in trouble

A spike in violent crime in the Atlanta area may jeopardize one of the strongest investigations into former President Donald Trump's alleged misdeeds, as the local district attorney struggles to both probe the former commander-in-chief and tackle an "historic" backlog in cases that grows by the day.

This article first appeared on Salon.

Fulton County DA Fani Willis has for months dedicated significant resources to investigating Trump for his pressure campaign on Georgia officials to overturn the state's 2020 election results. She is reportedly focusing her attention in particular on Trump's interactions with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who at one point was asked to "find" enough votes to overturn the former president's loss in the state.

But just as that investigation heated up, a backlog of more workaday cases under Willis' jurisdiction has grown to more than 12,000, according to a report from Insider, citing public comments and interviews with former associates of Willis. Much of this backlog stems from rising violent crime and state-mandated court closures due to COVID-19.

Though some resources are incoming in the form of relief money, that cash comes with stringent restrictions — leaving the future of her investigation into the former president in limbo.

"The problem she has is that she's in an elected position and the residents are getting tired of the crime," Michael Moore, a U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia during Obama's presidency, told Insider. "So are you going to dump all your resources into this [Trump] case that may turn into nothing? Or are you going to do your job and represent the people who have voted you in?"

Earlier this month Willis asked the Fulton County Board of Supervisors for more than $7 million in new funding for her office, which could be used to hire additional staff and lessen the backlog in cases. Local reports suggest the board and its chairman, Rob Pitts, are willing to consider the additional funding.

It certainly doesn't help matters that the investigation into Trump is a completely unprecedented case for a county district attorney, an office that has significantly fewer resources than prosecutors at the state or federal level.

"The DA's office has never handled anything like this before in its history," Clint Rucker, a former Fulton County assistant district attorney, told Insider. "You're talking about investigating a former president of the United States for some kind of impropriety as it relates to election fraud. Nothing like that has ever come through the DA's office before."

Though she faces a difficult task, a number of Willis' current and former associates all say she is doing a commendable job with the case, and that they trust her to carry the investigation to its conclusion — whatever that may be.

"If anybody's qualified to take on an investigation of this magnitude, it's Fani," said Peter Odom, a former prosecutor who previously worked with Willis.

Joe Biden has a secret weapon

President Joe Biden's statement Friday that social media giants were "killing people" by propagating anti-vaccine content sent conservative media into a meltdown, but in railing on its recent hobby horse, the White House certainly has one fact right: far-right content, especially anti-vax messages, performs very well on these platforms. Especially Facebook.

But one savvy move in particular by the Biden team this week appears to have significantly cut into that lead: a White House appearance Wednesday by the pop star Olivia Rodrigo to promote COVID-19 vaccination.

"We need to reach people, meet people where they are and speaking to young people -- people who are under the age of 18," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing.

Even taking just the past week alone, anti-vaccine posts by right-wing personalities like Candace Owens, Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino dominated Facebook's news feed, garnering hundreds of thousands of interactions, according to data from Crowdtangle, a publicly available analytics tool run by Facebook.

In fact, a Crowdtangle analysis by the politics and advertising newsletter FWIW shows 12 of the top 15 vaccine-related posts on the platform earlier this week were negative. One video in particular dominated Facebook's algorithm for much of the week: a selfie-style live talkback with right-wing pundit Candace Owens, in which she encourages people to leave or get fired from their jobs for flouting vaccine rules because "no job is worth your health." The post was shared more than 130,000 times and currently has more than 4 million views.

Enter Olivia Rodrigo.

The "good 4 u" singer's White House appearance sent political Twitter into a tizzy, but it appears the real impact of the strategy was felt on Facebook — where at least three posts from the event catapulted into the platform's top 15 over the next three days, according to a Salon analysis, while the misinformation-filled Candace Owens video that had previously been everywhere on Facebook fell out of the leaderboard entirely.

The top post on the platform is now a picture of Biden and Rodrigo donning the president's signature aviator sunglasses.

The other two include a video that Rodrigo recorded with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House COVID-19 advisor, in which the pair read vaccine tweets, and a selfie of the pop star and Biden, in which she gushes about how excited she is to be at the White House.

The trend carried over on Instagram as well, with the top five most-interacted with posts all related to Rodrigo's White House visit. Though Instagram generally promotes less vaccine misinformation than Facebook, FWIW reported, the Rodrigo-related content garnered significantly more interactions than the platform's previous top posts, with millions of likes and shares.

In fact, the top four Biden-Rodrigo posts hold hold the top spots over the past month, despite being live for just under three days.

The social media blitz is part of a larger strategy on behalf of the White House digital team, which has decided in recent weeks, alongside its Democratic allies, to be more proactive in combating right-wing misinformation that the president increasingly views as a threat to the country's post-COVID recovery process.

Jen Psaki even went so far as to say this week that the administration is in "regular touch" with social media platforms and actively flags "problematic posts" for Facebook higher-ups.

"This is troubling, but a persistent narrative that we are seeing," she said. "We want to know that social media platforms are taking steps to address it."

As of Thursday, The CDC reports 55.8% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of vaccine — while 48.3% of the country is fully vaccinated — a 0.6% increase from the previous week.

Far right rushes to find new cup of joe after MAGA-friendly Black Rifle Coffee denounces extremists

Right-wingers are souring on a coffee company that had marketed itself as MAGA in a mug, following an interview several of the company's founders did with the New York Times Friday.

Black Rifle Coffee, a veteran-founded firm that became a darling of the conservative right with self-conscious pro-firearm, pro-military and pro-police branding — as well as an "anti-hipster" message — produces blends like "Silencer Smooth roast" and "AK-47 espresso," earning plaudits over the years from all manner of far-right characters.

But during the past year, their logo has been pictured on insurrectionists who invaded the U.S. Capitol building, worn by Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager who killed two Black Lives Matter protesters in Wisconsin last summer, and as a recurring theme at nearly every anti-lockdown, anti-mask and anti-vaccine protest during the pandemic.

In the New York Times piece, titled "Can the Black Rifle Coffee Company Become the Starbucks of the Right?" the founders of the company attempted to distance themselves from the extremists who have in recent years co-opted the company's logo and message, and worn it in all manner of situations that they found concerning.

"How do you build a cool, kind of irreverent, pro-Second Amendment, pro-America brand in the MAGA era without doubling down on the MAGA movement and also not being called a [expletive] RINO by the MAGA guys?" Evan Hafer, one of Black Rifle's founders, asked the Times.

"I would never want my brand to be represented in that way, shape or form," Hafer added, "because that's not me."

In particular, Hafer used the interview to denounce the Proud Boys and other violent white nationalist groups that he says "hijacked" the brand's imagery.

"The racism [expletive] really pisses me off," Hafer said. "I hate racist, Proud Boy-ish people. Like, I'll pay them to leave my customer base. I would gladly chop all of those people out of my [expletive] customer database and pay them to get the [expletive] out."

This did not earn many fans among the far-right pundits who had reliably hawked the company's products over the years.

"How to destroy your company in one easy step: give an interview to the New York Times trashing your customers," Raheem Kassam, editor in chief at the right-wing outlet, The National Pulse, wrote on Twitter.

"It looks like Black Rifle Coffee, a company which became famous because of conservatives, is now trying to distance themselves from conservatives," Brigitte Gabriel, founder of the influential conservative group ACT for America, tweeted. "I never tried their products before and it looks like I never will."

Mike Cernovich, the conspiracist who championed the widely debunked pizzagate theory, said the company was "taking a knee" by agreeing to the interview. Specifically, he highlighted a passage about how the company passed over a new logo that featured St. Michael the archangel— a patron saint of military personnel that the Pentagon also considers a white supremacist symbol.

This was a theme among conservatives denouncing the company, many of whom think that Black Rifle's spurning of the Christian iconography amounted to "wokeness" or "political correctness."

"Black Rifle Coffee prefers St. Milley the Wokeangel," conservative TV host John Cardillo wrote on Twitter.

The searching New York Times piece also introduced a new dilemma for right-wingers who found themselves at a crossroads: what coffee company would promote their worldview unflinchingly, implications be damned? Many took to the comments thread on these widely shared posts to promote coffee brands they saw as more sympathetic to their cause.

Carl Higbie, the former Navy Seal and Newsmax host, promoted a company called "Right Wing Brew." Michigan-based Brushtail Coffee wrote "Brushtail Coffee knows Rittenhouse was a victim of a vile mob-mentality," adding a winking emoji to boot.

And Stocking Mill Coffee, which forces you to select "no" to the question "Are you for common sense gun laws?" to enter its website, spent much of Saturday hyping its brews to conservatives with statements like, "We're not just pro-2A, we're pro-Saint Michael." The company also added the coupon code "repugnant" to their website, an apparent dig at Black Rifle.

Conservatives freak out after Biden says Facebook is 'killing people' with vaccine misinformation

As the coronavirus pandemic surges in the U.S. again, a clearly frustrated President Joe Biden made a remarkable statement on Friday, accusing giant social media companies of "killing people" by allowing vaccine-related misinformation to proliferate on their platforms.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

"They're killing people," he said of Big Tech, noting that: "The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated."

Biden's comments come amid a striking pressure campaign by the White House against Facebook, in particular, with Biden press secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters this week that the administration is in "regular touch" with social media platforms and actively flags "problematic posts" for Facebook higher-ups. During a press conference on Friday, Psaki even went so far as to suggest that platforms should coordinate with each other to enforce user bans across social media platforms. The White House press secretary pointed out several conspiracies the administration finds particularly concerning, including the false premise that COVID-19 vaccines can cause infertility.

"This is troubling, but a persistent narrative that we are seeing," she said. "We want to know that social media platforms are taking steps to address it."

The comments incensed right-wing media, which exploded Friday with claims both pointed and, at times, disingenuous. Take for instance, Fox News reporter Peter Doocy, who asked during Friday's press conference: "How long has the administration been spying on people's Facebook profiles looking for vaccine misinformation," seemingly suggesting that reading public figures' public posts amounted to "spying."

"This is how Communism starts," wrote freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, in a falsehood-filled Facebook post that would later become the most-interacted-with vaccine post in Facebook's U.S. market, according to data available through the company's publicly available analytics tool, Crowdtangle. "The White House is working with Facebook to censor your post which is violating your free speech because people want to discuss (on FB) a NON-FDA approved vaccine that the Biden admin wants to force you to take."

"This is a lie," complained Fox News contributor Ben Domenech on Friday. "I want him to find one example, one person in this country who has died because of the misinformation." As a study by left-leaning media watchdog group Media Matters found, Fox News has "undermined vaccination efforts in nearly 60% of all vaccination segments in the last two weeks."

In a statement, Facebook reacted to Biden's call-out on Friday by touting the fact that "more than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine" to argue that "Facebook is helping save lives."

The controversy over Facebook's role in amplifying misinformation began in full earlier this week when the White House shared a blockbuster study from this past May, based on similar data compiled from Crowdtangle by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which showed that just 12 accounts were responsible for 73% of the anti-vaccine content Americans interacted with on Facebook. The company disputed the report's methodology in a statement and highlighted its efforts to cut down on the spread of vaccine-related misinformation on its platform.

In fact, much of the Biden administration's frustration with Facebook appears to stem from the limits Crowdtangle presents — the same limits the company often touts when analyses show how the platform's algorithm privileges right-wing content: Crowdtangle only measures "interactions" on select posts (amounting to the number of "likes," comments and shares), but not the number of people the post itself has reached. In essence, the company is at least somewhat right — it is impossible to measure the full influence of a Facebook post, but only because the company does not share that data publicly.

In her comments Friday, Psaki also hit on this point, asking for greater "transparency" from social media companies, and calling on Facebook specifically to "measure and publicly share the impact of misinformation on their platform, as well as the audience it is reaching."

Yet recent reports suggest that Facebook executives are looking at shutting down Crowdtangle completely over the spate of bad press the division has generated over the last few years. The team of people working on Crowdtangle, which had been running semi-independently since being acquired by Facebook in 2016, was broken up in April and reassigned to the company's "integrity" division, according to a New York Times report this week. It was a development seen by some as a clear sign that the C-suite had soured on Crowdtangle's mission of transparency.

"People were enthusiastic about the transparency CrowdTangle provided until it became a problem and created press cycles Facebook didn't like," Brian Boland, a former Facebook vice president in charge of partnerships strategy and a longtime advocate for greater transparency, told the Times' Kevin Roose. "Then, the tone at the executive level changed."

Roose also noted that the company has experimented successfully with changes to its "News Feed" algorithm to cut down on the spread of election-related misinformation following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, but reversed those changes after the company decided the threat of violence had passed.

It's unclear what the future holds for these tools, especially following this week's high-profile back-and-forth between Facebook and the White House. Boland, for his part, told the Times he wouldn't be surprised if the company killed off the division entirely, or slowly starved it of resources.

"Facebook would love full transparency if there was a guarantee of positive stories and outcomes," he said. "But when transparency creates uncomfortable moments, their reaction is often to shut down the transparency."

Joe Manchin accepts donation from Fox News PAC

A corporate political action committee for the parent company of Fox News, funded partially by the Murdoch family, donated to the 2024 re-election campaign of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, campaign filings show.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

A staunch moderate, Manchin's vote is pivotal in the evenly-divided chamber — and the West Virginia senator has for much of the year used his position to stymie legislation on a number of liberal priorities, instead committing himself to a bipartisan approach criticized roundly within Democratic circles in Washington. In particular, progressives have been hammering Manchin over his support for the filibuster, a major procedural hurdle standing in the way of the legislative agenda favored by President Joe Biden and the vast majority of a currently Democratic-controlled Congress.

The $1,500 donation on June 27 appears to be the first to Manchin from the Fox Corp. PAC, which according to the watchdog organization Open Secrets is funded largely by right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his son, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, as well as other executives at the Fox Corporation. Manchin raised more than $1.4 million during the second quarter of this year, the filings show.

Manchin also received donations from a number of large corporations, including Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, T-Mobile, At&T/Warner Media, Honeywell and FedEx.

The Murdoch-backed donation comes as Manchin is under increasing siege by a variety of right-wing groups, including a high-profile pressure campaign by the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity and the Heritage Foundation's advocacy arm, Heritage Action.

It's a battle that the interest groups appear top be winning: Manchin, a former supporter of filibuster reform and co-sponsor of voting-rights legislation, has come out against both Senate Democrats' attempts to kill the filibuster and another sweeping voter-rights bill, called the For the People Act, intended to counter a spate of extremely restrictive state-level election laws being enacted by Republicans across the country.

Manchin even penned a biting critique of the measure in the Charleston Gazette-Mail last month, which echoed talking points from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — just months after the right-leaning organization resumed its own donations to the West Virginia Democrat.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., even went so far as to suggest during an appearance on MSNBC last month that Manchin's opposition to the For the People Act, which polls extremely highly among his constituents, may really concern measures aimed at cracking down on lobbyists and dark money.

"This is probably just as much a part of Joe Manchin's calculus than anything else," Ocasio-Cortez said. "You look at the Koch brothers and you look at organizations like the Heritage Foundation and conservative lobby groups that are doing a victory lap ... over the fact that Manchin refuses to change on the filibuster. And I think that these two things are very closely intertwined."

BUSTED: GOP Rep. on cyber committee dumped Microsoft stock shortly before $10B Pentagon contract was scrapped

Rep. Pat Fallon, a first-term Republican from Texas, sold a large block of Microsoft stock just two weeks before the Pentagon announced it was scrapping a cloud computing deal with the company valued at up to $10 billion over the next decade, according to financial disclosure reports.

The previously unreported June 21 sale, listed on disclosure forms as between $100,000 and $250,000, was especially notable in light of the freshman congressman's assignment on the House Armed Services Committee's brand new Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems, which has oversight of the deal in question, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract. The Pentagon officially announced it was terminating the deal on July 6.

If Fallon had any prior knowledge of the state of the contract through his subcommittee assignment, the well-timed sale could be evidence of criminal insider trading, according to Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and former White House ethics attorney under George W. Bush. Such charges are difficult to prove, however, because members of Congress may withhold evidence by invoking the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause, which offers legislators special protections from investigation by the executive branch.

The investments nonetheless raise concerns over the ethical problems that members of Congress create when they trade individual stocks within an industry their actions have the potential to influence.

"Even if it is technically legal, it's so very clearly unethical," Painter said. "It sounds like there's enough evidence to open an insider trading investigation, at the very least."

Fallon told Salon via an audio recording that he had no prior knowledge of any developments concerning the JEDI deal, calling any assertion to the contrary "provably false."

"Congressman Fallon had absolutely no prior knowledge the Pentagon intended to cancel the JEDI contract," said Luke Ball, a spokesperson for Rep. Fallon. "Any accusation that Congressman Fallon acted inappropriately with his routine stock transactions is wildly speculative and has no foundation in truth. We challenge anyone to bring one shred of actual evidence to back up this ridiculous accusation."

In the audio recording, Fallon backed this up by outlining the trade as an option call in which he purchased a block of $250,000 in Microsoft shares on May 26, and subsequently sold the rights to other investors to purchase at a later date. Those other investors chose to purchase the shares on June 21, according to disclosure reports, effectively liquidating Fallon's position in the company just two weeks before the high-profile JEDI contract fell through.

Because of the mechanism of the trade, Fallon appears to be arguing, he was forced to sell — still netting a healthy profit — and because he did not initiate the sale, the trade could not constitute insider trading.

"That's BS — let the SEC investigate that," Painter said in response to the argument. "He's probably technically right that he didn't make the decision to sell on that day, but as a member of Congress you still have a conflict of interest from the day you buy a stock until the day you sell it, options aside."

Fallon's prolific stock trading is already a source of intense controversy, after he failed to properly disclose at least 93 trades worth between $7.8 million and $17.53 million this year alone, according to an analysis by Insider last month. The companies included Amazon, Apple, American Airlines, Chevron, Facebook, FedEx, Microsoft, PayPal, UnitedHealth Group, Verizon Communications and Walt Disney.

Members of Congress are only required to report the value of their trades in broad ranges, so it is impossible to measure the exact value of a purchase or sale.

Of particular concern were Fallon's investments in Boeing, the aerospace and defense contracting giant. He bought between $300,000 and $750,000 worth of the company's stock between January and April (and sold between $219,000 and $610,000 worth over the same period, according to Insider). As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, it is Fallon's job to conduct oversight of the lucrative contracts handed out to contractors like Boeing.

Ball told Insider at the time that Fallon, as a freshman legislator, was unfamiliar with Congress' reporting requirements — though he also acknowledged that both Fallon and his staff had completed the required congressional ethics training courses.

"As a freshman member, Congressman Fallon was unfamiliar with how frequently members of Congress are required to file financial disclosures, having served in other public offices where the requirements are different," Ball told Insider. "Upon learning of the requirement, he immediately filed a disclosure with the appropriate entities. That disclosure is available for the public to review. Congressman Fallon looks forward to remaining in compliance with future filings."

Rep. Fallon is not the only member of Congress to run afoul of disclosure requirements recently — Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., was questioned earlier this year by the Office on Congressional Ethics about his stock market activity during the pandemic, and acknowledged through his office that he had failed to properly disclose dozens of trades.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and former Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, all Republicans, drew scrutiny for their own pandemic trading last year as well.

Prior to his election last November, Rep. Fallon made millions through a patriotic-themed apparel business and subsequently served in the Texas State Senate. He is also a former Notre Dame football player.

During the Jan. 6 insurrection, he was pictured barricading the doors to the House chamber against angry rioters seeking to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's electoral victory, even reporting what he thought were gunshots zipping through a nearby window.

"You cannot ever bow to the mob. You never bow to bullies," he told WFAA-TV in Dallas from an undisclosed location that day, citing safety concerns. "The people who came in there today were bullies and cowards."

Later that night, he joined 138 of his House Republican colleagues in voting to reject 2020 electoral votes in several states.

Brenley Goertzen and Leah Foreman contributed reporting.

Donald Trump at 'serious' risk of indictment: report

A blockbuster report from the Brookings Institute this week concluded that former President Donald Trump is at "serious" risk of indictment for a number of alleged crimes, including tax dodging, falsifying records and a variety of business-related fraud.

This article first appeared in Salon.

The 60-page report, released Monday, came just days before criminal indictments against Trump Organization and its longtime finance chief were unsealed Thursday. Both the company and CFO Allen Weisselberg were accused of staging a 15-year-long scheme to avoid payroll taxes for top executives through the use of off-the-books corporate benefits.

Brookings describes the report's four authors as "experts with a broad array of backgrounds as scholars, practitioners, former prosecutors, and defense lawyers, who have served under state or federal administrations headed by leaders of both political parties, and who have substantial relevant experience with the particular investigating offices here." They include Georgetown Law School professor and Deputy Attorney General under George H.W. Bush, Donald Ayer; former federal prosecutor Danya Perry; experienced criminal litigator John Cuti and senior Brookings fellow Norman Eisen, who served as counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during the process of President Trump's first impeachment trial.

To reach their conclusions, the authors write that they consulted "court filings, media reports, congressional transcripts, and other sources," which were public but had never been compiled in the same place.

In particular, the report finds that Trump's potential criminal liability stems from alleged improperly recorded "business" expenses, including a $130,000 payout to Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, as reimbursement for a hush-money payment to adult film star Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a "Stormy Daniels." The tax-free corporate benefits given to top Trump Organization officials also figure heavily into the analysis of the former commander-in-chief's criminal liability, the authors conclude.

The report identifies five areas where Trump is most at risk of prosecution:

  1. Falsifying business records
  2. Tax Fraud
  3. Insurance Fraud
  4. "Scheme to defraud"
  5. Enterprise Fraud

You can read the full report below:

Trump Report Final by Brett Bachman on Scribd

Date rape jokes and sympathy for disgraced Bill Cosby abound on Fox News after conviction overturned

Bill Cosby found an ally in Fox News Wednesday following a surprise court ruling which overturned the disgraced entertainer's sexual assault conviction, with a number of hosts going to bat for Cosby across the network's early evening hours.

Geraldo Rivera, who himself was accused of sexual assault by actress Bette Midler in 1991, kicked off the Cosby apologia by calling the original conviction "mob justice" and asking how Cosby would "get back the two years he has lost." Rivera, who likened the case against Cosby to the beheading of aristocrats during the French Revolution, also has a long history of using his platform to downplay accusations of sexual harassment and assault against powerful men, first documented by Media Matters For America in a 2017 investigation.

"He paid—he paid big time. His career: destroyed. His reputation: ruined," Rivera went on to say. "Bill Cosby did two years on a case that never should've been brought. That is the pound of flesh here."

Following Rivera's lead, "The Five" host Greg Gutfeld declared that Cosby "was railroaded," while just a few minutes later joking about Cosby's reported proclivity for drugging the drinks of women in order to assault them.

"His team has been working around the clock, which — He should buy them drinks, but they shouldn't drink it," Gutfeld said, casting a sly look at co-host Jesse Watters, who met the comment with a laugh.

Cosby was set free Wednesday afternoon after serving just under three years of his sentence. He was convicted of three counts of sexual assault in 2018, though the ruling was effectively nullified Wednesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that an agreement he made with a previous prosecutor should have prevented the original charges from being brought in the first place.

The court also wrote that the judge in Cosby's trial tainted the jury by allowing the testimony of five other accusers, which a lower appeals court previously found was an appropriate move to establish a pattern of behavior.

USAA pushed to drop ads on Tucker Carlson show after Fox host trashes military leaders

Advertisers are facing renewed calls to drop their spots on Tucker Carlson's primetime Fox News show, with customers and activists alike putting particular pressure on the United Services Automobile Association, an insurance company which primarily serves veterans and their families.

The push comes after a week in which Carlson used his considerable platform to disparage U.S. military leaders for promoting anti-racist education in service academies and make several racially charged statements, including the claim that a full-fledged race war, and even something similar to the Rwandan Genocide, awaited white Americans in the near future if such lessons were allowed to continue.

It's not a new position for the frozen foods heir-turned-cable news provocateur, who has spent much of the last few years staring down repeated rounds of advertiser boycotts and pressure to tone down rhetoric many, even within Fox News itself, see as bigoted.

Critics seized upon Carlson's comments this week blasting Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. The bulk of Republicans' questions to Milley focused on "critical race theory," which he said the U.S. military does not teach or practice — an answer Carlson found seemingly insufficient.

"Hard to believe that man wears a uniform. He's that unimpressive," Carlson sneered on Thursday. "He's not just a pig, he's stupid."

Several veterans' groups, including the non-partisan Veterans for Responsible Leadership, seized on the comments and called on USAA to cease its ad buys on Carlson's show.

"So, @USAA, is this who you advertise with?" the group's account tweeted. "Asking for 18 million friends."

Longtime Fox critic and veteran Travis Akers, who previously led a charge to have military institutions boycott the network, also announced he would end his insurance policy unless the company ended its support for Carlson's show.

"Please accept this as my formal notice that you have until the end of June to cease all advertising during any @TuckerCarlson programming or I will move my insurance policies and accounts to a competitor that does not financially support Carlson," he wrote, and his mentions were immediately filled with similar anecdotes from fellow veterans.

Though Tucker Carlson Tonight is a ratings behemoth, its advertising numbers have dwindled considerably this year in the wake of a number of controversial segments. Statistics from the first financial quarter of 2021 show the number of advertisers on the program dropped from 73 in January to 58 in March, according to market research firm iSpot.

Over the quarter, MyPillow — run by conspiracy theorist and attempted 2020 election overthrower Mike Lindell, a frequent Fox guest before the network's eventual acceptance of Joe Biden's electoral victory — made up more than 20% of those ads, with internal Fox promos making up nearly 10% more.

Carlson has also been the subject of a wave of internal criticism at Fox after a muckraking New York Times column outlined the ways in which he has served as an important source to other media outlets that he bashes publicly on the air.

In particular, a nasty beef with fellow primetime star Sean Hannity has spilled over into public view, with the longtime host bashing Carlson this week during an on-camera meltdown.

"Some people at Fox apparently don't like me, and said bad things about me gutlessly behind my back," Hannity said Thursday night.

Neither Carlson nor Fox News has backed down from any of the comments.

Civil war at Fox News as host fires opening salvo against Tucker Carlson's gossiping: analysis

A civil war within the Fox News ranks broke out on Thursday evening, with host Sean Hannity melting down on-camera over reports fellow primetime star Tucker Carlson has spent years dishing to other media outlets about internal goings-on at the network.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The drama started with a muckraking column from New York Times media columnist Ben Smith, outlining the ways Carlson has served as an important source for a wide variety of outlets that he's spent years railing against publicly.

"Tucker Carlson Calls Journalists 'Animals'" the article's headline reads. "He's Also Their Best Source."

Hannity apparently didn't take too kindly to the activity outlined in the report, and used his considerable bully pulpit to make his feelings known Thursday night by lashing out at everyone involved. The longtime Fox host set aside a good chunk of his show to repeatedly blast the New York Times, and Smith himself, over their alleged failings in reporting on the campaign and presidency of former President Donald Trump.

The longtime Fox staple also made a point to mention a follow-up report from the long-running pop culture newsletter "Pop B****," which wrote that Tucker has been gossiping with reporters specifically about Hannity — with no love lost between the conservative cable network's marquee stars.

"Turns out one of Tucker's favourite topics to chuckle about with his MSM mates is how much of a cringing Trump sycophant Sean is," the outlet wrote. "Have fun in the green room together, chaps!"

Smith retweeted a screenshot of the newsletter, adding an emoji of two eyes — something Hannity mentioned in detail during his rant.

"They're now tweeting out, and using an account on Twitter that's called — their words, not mine — at 'Pop B****'" Hannity said, shrugging theatrically. "You can't make this Adam Schiff up."

Hannity never actually mentioned Carlson by name, but it quickly became apparent who he was talking about.

"Now the big news is that some people at Fox apparently don't like me, and said bad things about me gutlessly behind my back, according to Ben Smith."

He went on to call the behind-the-scenes rift at Fox "a normal day in the world I live in," and further refused to apologize for, well, anything at all.

Watch the video below via Twitter:

Jeff Bezos' very bad week just got worse

Jeff Bezos' terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week got even worse Friday, as a slate of antitrust legislation aimed at reining in the power of Big Tech was introduced in Congress to bipartisan fanfare.

It was the latest blow for Amazon's CEO, one of the world's richest men, who made headlines earlier in the week when details from his tax filings were shared by ProPublica, showing that he has paid little federal income taxes relative to his wealth and skirted them entirely for at least two years. He recently agreed to step down from his longtime post in July and hand over the reins to Amazon's head of cloud computing, Andy Jassy — celebrating his departure later that month with an exorbitantly expensive trip to space on a privately funded rocket.

Now, Bezos — along with executives at Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and other large tech firms — is preparing a massive lobbying campaign to rival any in history, marshaling a veritable army of think tanks, academics, lawyers and public relations firms in an attempt to to defang the measures and maintain the top tech companies' grip on power.

House lawmakers introduced five distinct bills Friday, each intended to address a different issue raised in a blockbuster report released last October. The 449-page behemoth was the result of a years-long investigation by the House Judiciary Committee into anticompetitive practices in the digital marketplace.

"To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons," the report reads. "During the investigation, subcommittee staff found evidence of monopolization and monopoly power."

The slate of bills would:

  1. Prevent tech giants from prioritizing their own offerings on marketplaces they operate
  2. Force companies to break off verticals that present conflicts of interest
  3. Make mergers and acquisitions more difficult to complete
  4. Substantially raise fees in order to increase funding for regulatory agencies
  5. Require companies to share certain data with consumers and other platforms, which advocates say would even the playing field for smaller firms looking to enter a competitive market

Amazon and Apple in particular would be impacted by "The American Innovation and Choice Online Act," sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, which would regulate the ability of companies which run online marketplaces to promote their own goods and services ahead of competitors. Both tech giants have encountered pushback for their marketplace policies in recent years, which leverage private data on third-party sellers to determine which products the company should develop and promote itself, eventually pushing those vendors out of the marketplace altogether.

Any changes to Amazon's ability to promote its own product lines would represent a substantial hit to the company's bottom line — the House report identified more than 158,000 products from dozens of different Amazon-run brands for sale on the company's online marketplace.

Perhaps the most controversial proposal, the "Ending Platform Monopolies Act," sponsored by "Squad" member Parmila Jayapal, D-Wash., would take this idea one step further — forcing companies to splinter over "conflicts of interest" like Amazon's product lines and Google's prominent placement of advertisers' search results over other websites. Advocates have referred to the bill as "Glass Steagall for the Internet Age," referring to the landmark 1933 law that separated commercial and investment banking.

"This is a reaction to the fact that our antitrust laws have been construed so narrowly by the Supreme Court," Eleanor M. Fox, a professor of law at New York University, told the New York Times. "Because of this problem, it is very appropriate for Congress to be stepping in to prohibit and determine what's bad and what's good for markets."

But groups like Chamber of Progress, a lobbying group which consists of Amazon and several other Big Tech firms, seized on the criticism to raise fears that the bills would "ban" certain goods and services that Amazon data shows are popular on the site, including "Amazon Basics" batteries and Amazon Prime free shipping.

"With all the challenges facing our country — pandemic recovery, crumbling infrastructure, racial equity, and climate change — it's a bit strange that some policymakers think our biggest problem worth fixing is…Amazon Basics batteries," wrote Adam Kovacevich, the head of Chamber of Progress, in a post Friday on the micro-blogging platform Medium.

The bills will first need to clear the Judiciary Committee before debate in the full House of Representatives begins.

In addition to a flurry of tech-related action in the lower chamber, the Senate also appears to be nearing a vote on President Joe Biden's appointee to run a key Federal Trade Commission post overseeing U.S. antitrust laws, Lina Khan, who has been a longtime proponent of stronger enforcement against technology firms.

It's one of the exceedingly rare areas of bipartisanship still remaining on Capitol Hill, with a number of Republicans signing onto the push. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., has emerged as one of the bills' loudest supporters — though that support has also come alongside spurious accusations of conservative censorship on major social media platforms.

"This legislation breaks up Big Tech's monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online and fosters an online market that encourages innovation and provides American small businesses with a fair playing field," Buck said in a statement Friday. "Doing nothing is not an option. We just act now."

GOP Rep. Mo Brooks taunts colleague while dodging lawsuit over role in Jan. 6 Capitol attack

Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama is now openly dodging a lawsuit over his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, taunting the Democratic representative who originally filed the suit online over the fact that intermediaries could not locate Brooks to serve the court papers.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, claimed in a court filing this week that the private investigator he hired to search for Brooks failed to find him — while a judge declined to enlist the help of the U.S. Marshals Service over "separation of powers concerns."

Brooks, meanwhile, has taken to thumbing his nose at Swalwell and court officials on Twitter, posting a cheeky image Friday of himself on a Wild West-style "wanted" poster alongside pictures of himself at four public events around Alabama. "If found, please contact Eric Swalwell," the tweet reads.

Earlier in the week, Brooks replied to a story about the lawsuit posted by CNN anchor Jim Acosta, with an image of himself in sunglasses, a baseball cap and a handwritten note that simply says, "I am not Mo."

He's tagged Swalwell at least a half-dozen times in other tweets this week, eventually releasing a statement on his public Facebook page calling the lawsuit "meritless" and "politically motivated.

"I have altered my conduct not one iota since Swalwell's politically motivated, meritless lawsuit was filed. I have made dozens of publicized public appearances since the lawsuit was filed. If Swalwell was sincere about suit service, he could have served me at any of these public events."

The lawsuit seeks to prove Brooks' role in inciting the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 to stop Congress from certifying the election victory for current President Joe Biden. The Alabama congressman gave an incendiary speech at a rally in Washington on the day of the attack, just minutes before then-President Donald Trump.

In addition to Brooks, Swalwell also named Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani as defendants in the lawsuit.

On Wednesday, the California Democrat asked the judge — and was granted — 60 extra days to serve Brooks.

Investigators reportedly approaching Trump Org as if it were a mafia family

Prosecutors appear to be treating their investigation of former President Donald Trump's business empire as if it were a mafia family, according to several reports out this week.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is likely considering criminal charges centered around the idea that the Trump Organization is a "corrupt enterprise" under a New York state racketeering statute resembling the federal RICO law — an abbreviation for the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was passed in 1970 to crack down on pervasive organized crime — several legal experts and former prosecutors told Politico.

"No self-respecting state white-collar prosecutor would forgo considering the enterprise corruption charge," longtime New York City defense attorney Robert Anello said. "I'm sure they're thinking about that."

The law, known colloquially as "little RICO," kicks in if prosecutors can establish that an organization or business has committed at least three separate crimes — a "pattern of criminal behavior," in legal parlance. A sentence under the statute can result in up to 25 years in prison — with a mandatory minimum of one year.

Vance has even hired a veteran mob prosecutor and expert in white-collar crime, Mark Pomerantz, to bolster his team, the New York Times reported in February.

Trump himself has a long history with several prominent New York City mob families — building his signature Trump Tower in Manhattan with help from a concrete company run by Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno and Paul Castellano, who at the time were bosses of the Genovese and Gambino families, Business Insider reported.

And just like in the investigations that put Salerno and Castellano behind bars, it appears prosecutors are hoping to rely on the testimony of "family" members like Trump Organization CFO Alan Weisselberg, one of the company's longest-tenured employees. His former daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, is cooperating with Vance's investigation and says she believes her ex-husband's father will flip on Trump due to his age and aversion to spending any time in prison.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who recently agreed to join forces with Vance on her separate investigation of Trump's business dealings, has also forced Trump's son, Eric, to sit for a deposition interview, according to the New York Times.

But the decision to pursue racketeering charges carries its own risks, and many legal experts say prosecutors are better off seeking straightforward indictments on specific crimes that are easier to litigate.

"Why overcharge and complicate something that could be fairly simple?" Jeremy Saland, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's office, told Politico. "Why muddy up the water? Why give a defense attorney something that could confuse a jury and be able to crow that they beat a charge in a motion to dismiss?"

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and blasted the investigations as politically inspired "witch hunts."

Meet the anti-legalization GOP Congresswoman spending huge on marijuana stocks

Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican with an influential post on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has spent her Congressional career advocating against the legalization of marijuana — while also loading up on hundreds of thousands of dollars in marijuana-industry stocks ahead of crucial votes on key federal decriminalization measures, Salon has learned.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Foxx, 77, has made at least six investments in Altria, one of the world's largest tobacco companies and a leader in the burgeoning U.S. cannabis industry, since September of last year, according to financial disclosure reports.

The purchases, which have not previously been reported, likely make her the largest holder of marijuana-related stocks in Congress, according to a report from Unusual Whales, a market research firm. It's impossible to say for certain, however, because members of Congress are not required to disclose the exact amounts of their investments.

The trades are especially newsworthy for their timing: beginning just a few months before the U.S. House of Representatives passed the the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement Act (MORE) in December which would serve to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level — a key goal of advocates who say the drug's current status as a controlled substance represents a key roadblock to full legalization. Foxx voted against the measure.

Her investments raise concerns over the ethical problems members of Congress create when trading individual stocks within an industry their actions have the potential to influence.

"This is so obviously a conflict of interest, I'm just not sure what else I can say, really," Richard Painter, a former White House ethics attorney under President George W. Bush and University of Minnesota law professor, told Salon. "It brings into question her credibility as a lawmaker."

Rep. Foxx's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The MORE Act ultimately wasn't taken up for a vote in the then-Republican-controlled Senate, effectively killing the measure. It was reintroduced in the House Friday by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York, and has a greater chance of success given the Senate's new Democratic majority.

At least four of Foxx's investments in marijuana-industry stock came between the initial MORE Act vote in December and Friday. In all, records show she has purchased somewhere between $79,000 and $210,000 in Altria stock. It remains unclear whether she is currently holding these investments — though no sales have been reported.

Legalization has been a hot-button issue for the North Carolina representative, whose inflammatory public statements on the matter have been staunchly against several initiatives spearheaded by House Democrats.

"Democrats can't get their minds off pot bills, and they think it's more important than: Supporting small businesses, Safely reopening schools, Protecting the livelihoods of Americans," she wrote on Twitter. "No wonder their majority is shrinking. They're so far removed from reality."

"What are Republicans fighting to protect? Jobs," she wrote in another tweet on President Joe Biden's COVID-19 relief bill. "What are Democrats fighting to protect? Pot. What a joke."

Though her marijuana-related investments likely dwarf other members, she is far from the only Congressperson to cash in on the budding sector — at least 20 House members and six Senators have reported either purchases or sales of industry stocks since 2020, records show.

Two other representatives are notable for their significant investments in cannabis over the past year: Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, and Rep. Brian Mast, R-Florida.

Rep. Yarmuth, a co-sponsor of the MORE Act with a powerful post as chairman of the House Budget Committee, takes the record for most diversified marijuana industry portfolio in Congress — with November investments in Canopy Growth Corporation, Aurora Cannabis, and Tilray, as well as February pickups in the same three companies, public disclosures show. He has also reported past investments in at least three other industry stocks, according to Unusual Whales: Cronos Group, Altria and Anheuser-Busch, whose primary business is not in marijuana but has made several recent high-profile ventures into the arena. Yarmuth remains one of the staunchest defenders of legalization in Congress.

Rep Mast was one of only five Republicans who voted to approve the MORE Act — but not before purchasing between $15,000 and and $50,000 in Tilray, the Canadian cannabis giant, disclosure reports reveal. Mast is a U.S. Army veteran who lost both his legs during an explosion in Afghanistan. He has generally supported more research into the effects of legalization and said during a town hall in 2016 that he is a "proponent for alternative forms of medicine."

QAnon content 'evaporated' online following post-Jan. 6 social media crackdown: report

New social media policies meant to limit the spread of QAnon conspiracies online appear to be working, new research shows.

The study, conducted by the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Lab, found that QAnon conspiracy-related phrases "evaporated" from both mainstream and alternative social media sites, like Parler and Gab, following high-profile moderation efforts from companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

In the place of a widespread Q following that grew to incredible size during the Trump presidency — a number of the Jan. 6 rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol were QAnon believers — the movement is now "a cluster of loosely connected conspiracy theory-driven movements that advocate many of the same false claims without the hallmark linguistic stylings that defined QAnon communities during their years of growth," according to the researchers, Jared Holt and Max Rizzuto.

They analyzed more than 40 million mentions of 13 widely known QAnon catchphrases and related language, including "WWG1WGA" (Where we go one we go all), "the storm," "great awakening," "trust the plan," "save the children," "Pizzagate." Their usage began in earnest last March as the COVID-19 pandemic first barrelled through the U.S. and peaked during last summer's racial justice protests — spiking again before Jan. 6 and dropping precipitously in the days following the insurrection, presumably due to the moderation changes at major social media firms.

For example, Twitter told CBS News in March that it had banned as many as 150,000 accounts for promoting Qanon conspiracies since January. Axios reported around the same time that YouTube had removed 30,000 videos promoting similar content, while its parent company, Google, banned ads on its platforms referencing Jan. 6 or even the 2020 election. Facebook had the weakest post Jan. 6 moderation policies of the bunch, implementing a fact-checking program to place warnings on posts with false or misleading information — though to what extent the warnings were used on Qanon content is still unclear. Last year, Facebook did announce a wide-ranging initiative to ban Q-related accounts.

Holt and Rizzuto do note some alternative explanations for the drop in QAnon-related content following the Capitol riot, including an extended silence from Q, who inspired the original conspiracy, self-censorship of well-known phrases in order to evade social media moderation and the dispiriting impact of Trump's loss on Q followers, who were some of the former president's biggest fans.

Perhaps most surprising were the downstream effects of mainstream social media moderation on alternative sites with little to no oversight — researchers concluded that more right-wing friendly Parler and Gab did not absorb the displaced Qanon activity from banned users of the more mainstream sites.

"Concerted content moderation works," Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told Axios Wednesday about the study. "When they put their minds to it, the mainstream platforms can have a very big effect on marginalizing or eliminating toxic content."

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