It's not even Halloween -- and Republicans are already claiming Biden is 'stealing' Christmas

Christmas is still more than two months away — but that hasn't stopped President Joe Biden from ruining the holiday, at least in the minds of Republican lawmakers and right-wing pundits.

"This is the guys who is trying to steal Christmas," the House Republican caucus tweeted this week, typo and all, alongside a strangely framed picture of Biden's back as he walked away from a podium. "Americans are NOT going to let that happen."

This sort of holiday culture war sentiment is, of course, nothing new for high-profile conservatives. The "War on Christmas" as a rhetorical concept dates back to at least 2005, with the release of a book written by the right-wing radio host, John Gibson, appropriately titled, "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought."

Since then, it has become an annual yuletide tradition of sorts for Americans to debate whether the country is sufficiently deferential to the plurality of its citizens who celebrate the Christian holiday, and a favorite topic for conservative-leaning news outlets like Fox News as the end-of-year news cycle slows. But this year's histrionics are notable for one reason, at least — they're starting months earlier than normal.

The outrage du jour this time around is centered around rising inflation and a growing supply-chain crisis, which is causing a number of shipping bottlenecks that have slowed the modern economy's system of just-in-time delivery and threaten to roll back the dizzying array of consumer choices Americans have come to expect around the holidays.

Though there are myriad issues causing the current snarls — with an ongoing pandemic deserving most of the blame for all of them — Fox News and other right-wing outlets have seized on the idea that Biden's policies are what's causing the situation. It's not exactly an unpopular opinion, with an October Quinnipiac poll showing that just 29% of Americans think the economy is in "good" condition.

But some outlets have taken the argument a step further, seeming to suggest that Biden and in some cases public health health authorities are actively conspiring to stifle Christmas celebrations for some reason.

The "War on Christmas" rhetoric began this year on Oct. 4, to be exact, with a segment on Fox & Friends that also managed to work in a shot on right-wing boogeyman Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House COVID-19 adviser under both Biden and former President Donald Trump.

"No wonder Dr. [Anthony] Fauci is about to cancel Christmas," host Brian Kilmeade lamented, apparently referring to a statement of caution Fauci had made weeks earlier about planning large family gatherings in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "We're not going to have any presents anyway, so it's going to really work out," Kilmeade added.

The segment was full of these sentiments, from host Greg Gutfeld calling 2021 America a "dystopia" to Dana Perino's insistence that the Biden Administration was entering a "crisis of confidence danger zone" over his handling of the situation.

Over the last week, it has quickly become a Republican talking point that Biden is "stealing" or "ruining" Christmas — even Trump got in on the action, blasting out a mass email through "Save America," his PAC, dubbing this year's holiday "Biden's Blue Christmas."

The House Republican caucus even tweeted out a picture Thursday of Biden's face superimposed on Dr. Suess' iconic Christmas-hating character "The Grinch."

The Biden White House, for its part, doesn't dispute that things like slow shipping and marginally higher prices for consumer goods are happening. Instead, officials have taken to pointing out that a lot of the problems impacting the economy right now began last year while Trump was president, and have defied the easy solutions championed by Republicans, like ending enhanced pandemic-era unemployment insurance.

The Biden Administration this week announced it would move several California ports to a 24-7 schedule that will hopefully speed up supply chain delays, though it remains to be seen whether the effort will have an impact.

"There will be things that people can't get," a senior White House official told Reuters this week when asked about holiday shipping. "At the same time, a lot of these goods are hopefully substitutable by other things."

"I don't think there's any real reason to be panicked, but we all feel the frustration and there's a certain need for patience to help get through a relatively short period of time."

Feud between GOP, pro-business groups explodes into view after spat over infrastructure bill

After being closely aligned for decades, it appears that Republicans and top business lobbying groups are having a very public falling-out over conservative lawmakers' lack of support for a bipartisan infrastructure deal currently languishing in Congress.

This article first appeared in Salon.

According to digital politics site The Hill, every major business group in Washington, D.C. — including Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, among others — has expressed some measure of support for the bill, which was crafted by a group of lawmakers in both parties alongside the White House.

Business groups have long been a key constituency for Republicans, who worked closely with K Street lobbyists to craft a 2017 tax cut that offered hefty benefits to both corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Yet no more than a small handful of Republican members of Congress have agreed to vote for the legislation favored by these groups this time around.

In a conference call with reporters last month Michael Johnson, CEO of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, a longtime conservative-leaning lobby that stands to gain heavily if the bill passes, seemed flabbergasted by Republicans' refusal to vote for such a popular piece of legislation, which polls well across most demographics, including conservatives.

"That's why it boggles the mind that the progressives in the House have decided to take a very popular hostage and Republican leadership has decided to not rescue that very popular hostage when they easily could," Johnson said.

So what's behind this right-wing change-of-heart?

Neil Bradley, the executive VP and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, blamed "misinformation" surrounding the bill during an interview with CQ Roll Call last month — adding that some House GOP members have privately told him that they'd like to vote for the infrastructure deal but feared angering Trump and the new constellation of ultra-conservative groups that were empowered during his tenure.

"I think there are some unfortunate things going on, and I'm being generous with the term unfortunate," Bradley said.

"If this vote today was occurring on the merits of the bill, the outcome wouldn't be in doubt and we'd have a supermajority," he added. "It's not the substance that people are disagreeing with here."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in particular has become a flashpoint of conservative ire after endorsing a small number of Democratic candidates in Congressional races last year. The group, along with a number of other influential pro-business organizations, also stopped PAC donations to hundreds of Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 election results on the evening of Jan. 6.

Following that news, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has taken to saying the U.S. Chamber "sold out" and that he no longer considers it an ally.

"I didn't even know the Chamber was around anymore," McCarthy told the political newsletter Punchbowl News.

The feud reached a head this week when Republican leaders kicked representatives for the U.S. Chamber off its conference calls.

Brett Horton, the chief of staff for House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., didn't hold back when asked about Republicans shunning the pro-business group.

"People care what their local Chambers of Commerce and business owners have to say, not the U.S. Chamber," Horton told The Hill. "If the U.S. Chamber sent me a meeting request right now, I wouldn't even staff that meeting out to an intern, and I don't see that changing."

In response to being iced out of the Republican inner circle, Axios reported this week, the group abruptly reversed its support for the bill. The Chamber disputed the report by arguing that it still supports the bill "as a stand-alone bill unlinked to the proposed tax and spend reconciliation bill" that it has been linked to from its inception — which makes its support for the infrastructure package merely theoretical.

In addition to the Republicans' beef with business groups over the pending infrastructure legislation, the two sides also clashed over their differing opinions on raising the U.S. debt ceiling this past week. Business groups saw the writing on the wall if Congress decided to default on the country's sizeable debts, and feared catastrophic consequences if the limit was not raised.

But most Republican lawmakers, especially Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, instead concluded that their responsibilities to their constitutents lay in obstructing the Democratic agenda — no matter what.

"Democrats have the full ability to raise the debt ceiling as a part of reconciliation," Cruz told POLITICO on Thursday. "They want political cover."

After a last-minute deal brokered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the debt ceiling was ultimately raised Thursday night — though only for a few months. McConnell said Saturday that he does not intend to make another deal come December, when the deal will likely expire — regardless of what business groups say.

McConnell's justification for the obstruction appeared to be rooted in a statement Sen. Chuck Schumer made after the Thursday vote, blasting Republican efforts to stymie any change to the debt ceiling.

"I am writing to make it clear that in light of Senator Schumer's hysterics and my grave concerns about the ways that another vast, reckless, partisan spending bill would hurt Americans and help China, I will not be a party to any future effort to mitigate the consequences of Democratic mismanagement," McConnell said in a statement.

Elon Musk went scorched-earth in a barnburner of an interview -- blasting everyone from Biden to Bezos to the SEC

Elon Musk feels a little forgotten — and wants President Joe Biden to know it.

The eccentric billionaire and Tesla "Technoking" said as much during a barnburner of an interview at the technology industry summit "Code Conference" in Beverly Hills, Calif., this week, blasting everyone from Biden to Jeff Bezos to the financial regulators at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, who he has publicly sparred with for years.

In particular, Musk appeared to be peeved at the fact that the Biden Administration had snubbed Tesla when organizing an electric vehicle summit at the White House in August — opting instead to invite Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, which recently formed after a merger between Fiat Chrysler and PSA Group. Perhaps most importantly, the United Auto Workers' union was also at the event — a group that shares no particular love for Musk or Tesla after the electric vehicle maker comes off a recent stretch of union-busting activity at its U.S. factories.

"(They) didn't mention Tesla once and praised GM and Ford for leading the EV revolution. Does that sound maybe a little biased?," Musk told technology journalist Kara Swisher at the conference. "Not the friendliest administration, seems to be controlled by unions."

Musk has a long track record of anti-union statements, putting him at odds with the president, who speaks often about the need to create "good paying union jobs" in order to rebuild the American middle class. He even drew the scrutiny of the National Labor Relations Board back in 2018 after he tweeted that employees would lose their stock options if they attempted to organize, which the NLRB contends was illegal. He was later forced to delete the tweet and reinstate a Tesla union organizer that had been fired.

When asked whether Tesla was snubbed due to Musk's anti-union stances last month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: "Well, these are the three largest employers of the United Auto Workers, so I'll let you draw your own conclusions."

Musk has also expressed disappointment that Biden never congratulated him or his company, SpaceX, after a successful private spaceflight which raised more than $100 million dollars for charity.

But Musk didn't stop at Biden, using his appearance at the Code Conference to breathe fire into several ongoing beefs — including one with fellow billionaire and spaceflight hobbyist Jeff Bezos.

The most recent spat between the two businessmen came about after Bezos' aeronautics company, Blue Origin, sued NASA after it handed a nearly $3 billion contract to Musk and SpaceX.

Musk admitted to Swisher that he had "not verbally" spoken with Bezos about the budding legal battle, though he did admit to subtweeting his rival from time to time.

"You cannot sue your way to the Moon, no matter how good your lawyers are," Musk added.

In response, Amazon sent technology site The Verge a 13-page list of lawsuits and governmental petitions that SpaceX has filed — seemingly to make the argument that Musk was also attempting to sue his way to the moon.

"Attached is a list of some of the times SpaceX has sued the U.S. government on procurement matters and protested various governmental decisions," a spokesperson for the company's satellite offshoot, Project Kuiper, wrote to The Verge. "It is difficult to reconcile their own historical record with their recent position on others filing similar actions."

Musk, who co-founded the online payment behemoth PayPal in 1999, also got a final shot in against U.S. financial regulators, who he argued should take a hands-off approach to regulating cryptocurrencies — a hot-button issue on Capitol Hill right now.

Musk, who did admit at one point that he wasn't an expert in cryptocurrencies, is nonetheless a thought leader in the space: Tesla announced in February that it would be making a billion-dollar bet on Bitcoin, accepting the popular cryptocurrency as payment for its electric vehicles.

Since then, Musk has become a star in the budding market, sending prices soaring — or tumbling — with each of his tweets.

Swisher asked about the phenomenon, and whether being able to cause that kind of volatility is a good thing.

"If [the price of bitcoin] goes up, I suppose it is," he said, grinning.

Matt Gaetz scandals are getting weirder — even by Florida standards

The legal saga of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., just keeps getting stranger — even by Florida standards. Just three days before news broke publicly of a federal probe into the Congressman's alleged child sex trafficking, Scott Adams — the Trump acolyte and creator of the popular newspaper cartoon "Dilbert" — was apparently discussing "inside knowledge" of the investigation with an employee of the Israeli consulate in New York City, according to a new report from POLITICO.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Jake Novak, who the publication identifies as the director of broadcast media at the Consulate General of Israel, and Adams were reportedly friendly on social media and spoke sometimes. But during this conversation, Novak apparently indicated that he was involved in a plot to convince Gaetz' father, a longtime Florida politico himself, to give $25 million as part of a plan to free a U.S. hostage in Iran.

"Scoop I can't report: Rep. Gaetz is the subject of a sex with minor…. I trust the source. Charges/accusations apparently 'very credible'," Novak wrote to Adams, according to text messages first reported by the American Conservative. After the news became public several days later, Novak followed up with another message: "told ya."

There was no indication Novak believed the scheme to be a crime, POLITICO reported — though another man, the Florida real estate developer Stephen Alford, was indicted late last month for attempting to defraud Gaetz' father. Court documents allege that Alford claimed he could broker a presidential pardon for Gaetz in exchange for freeing the hostage, named Bob Levinson, who most intelligence officials believe to be dead.

The Israeli consulate told the outlet that neither it nor the state of Israel were involved in the plot.

"Jake Novak is a staffer at the Israeli Consulate in New York, and is not serving in any official diplomatic capacity. His correspondence mentioned in this story was not in any way, shape or form a part of his role at the consulate," Itay Milner, a spokesperson for the consulate, told POLITICO. "After this matter was brought to our attention, it was made clear to Mr. Novak that this is not acceptable by the consulate general, he must never be involved in such matters again and that he must cut immediately all his connections to the issue."

Gaetz has been accused of participating in drug-fueled orgies and paying for sex with an underage woman — as well as funding a trip for that underage woman across state lines. Many of the allegations were corroborated by a series of confession letters penned by Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg, an ex-Florida tax collector, and obtained by The Daily Beast.

The salacious details of the case have enraptured Washington, D.C. and beyond — with Law and Order even featuring an episode Thursday night with a Congressman storyline eerily similar to the Gaetz saga.

Adams, a cartoonist best known for creating the office comedy strip Dilbert, likely entered the story because of his connections to Trumpworld.

"People with connections to Israel had a high interest in me during the Trump days. Presumably to influence me," Adams told POLITICO. "Jake and I shared an interest in the mechanics of persuasion, and in interesting business/political stories in general. Most often the stuff with a persuasion or Israel angle. That was our initial connection … people often tell me their scoops before they hit the news just to build credibility. Might have been that."

After the text messages between the two parties became public, Adams also added that he did not know how reporters had gotten the information.

"We have not communicated since," Adams told POLITICO. "I'm just as confused as you about why Jake had any involvement and why he thought he needed to tell me."

Beto O'Rourke plans 2022 run against Greg Abbott in Texas governor's race: report

Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke is planning a bid to unseat Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022, according to a report.

The news comes on the heels of new polling that shows increasing support among likely voters for an O'Rourke run — with numbers from a Dallas Morning News survey showing that Abbott's hard-right turn in recent months has turned off voters in the state. O'Rourke has narrowed the polling gap to 37%-42%, up from 33%-45% in the same poll earlier this summer.

This story first appeared at Salon.com.

Political operatives in Texas told Axios that the onetime challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz plans to announce his gubernatorial run later this year. The outlet also reported that O'Rourke has been calling around to high-profile Democrats both locally and nationally for advice — leaving many with the impression that he's made up his mind to challenge Abbott.

But O'Rourke denied the news in a statement to Axios through a spokesperson.

"No decision has been made," David Wysong, the three-term Congressman's former chief of staff and a longtime adviser, told the outlet. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."

Democrats in Texas see Abbott as vulnerable after a barnburner of a legislative year in which Republicans have passed hundreds of laws that will fundamentally change Texans' lives in ways both big and small. The most high-profile of these is a controversial ban on abortions after six weeks, before the vast majority of women know they're pregnant. Abbott also signed into law a series of restrictive voting rights measures that critics say will disproportionately disenfranchise poor and minority populations, as well as a vaguely worded bill that bars teachers from creating lessons on concepts related to systemic racism or sexism.

Abbott's virulent pushback against COVID-19 safety measures has also emboldened Democrats, according to Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party.

"We hope that he's going to run," Hinojosab told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott, because he's vulnerable."

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp keeps mentioning failed AIDS vaccine mandates — but there is no AIDS vaccine

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, keeps mentioning the failed campaign to vaccinate Americans against the AIDS virus as an example of the pitfalls of healthcare mandates.

Except the AIDS vaccine doesn't exist. And there sure wasn't a failed campaign to mandate it.

He made the comments most recently on an episode of the right-wing commentator Erick Erickson's podcast, emphasizing that as a result of his knowledge of the nonexistent AIDS vaccine, he believes that education is a more effective tool than mandates.

"That is basically how the AIDS vaccine worked. People wouldn't take it early on because it was mandated, they started educating people and now it is doing a lot of good out there," Kemp told Erickson. "Same scenario, different year that we are dealing with right now."

A fact check from Atlanta TV station 11 Alive rated Kemp's claims "false" — and noted that the governor has made similar comments about AIDS vaccines at least two other times over the past year.

When reached for comment by the station, Kemp's office said he meant to mention the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine. But even this statement raises eyebrows — the HPV vaccine is also mandated in a number of states to attend public schools (among other inoculations), a campaign that has been largely effective in getting school-age children vaccinated, 11 Alive reported.

The governor has been a vocal opponent of recent public health efforts to tamp down on the spread of COVID-19. Kemp has repeatedly said that he will never sign off on mask or vaccine mandates while in office, drawing the criticism of public health experts.

In fact, the state's public health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, even had her lawyer write up a formal letter last year stating that she thought the governor's plans to reopen live entertainment venues was a bad idea, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It ultimately did not stop Kemp from doing so.

"It's one thing to say you're following the science; it's another thing to shoehorn the science into what you want it to be," Amber Schmidtke, a public health researcher who taught at Mercer University's medical school in Macon, Georgia, told the paper. "A lot of people were hurt, and a lot of people died when they didn't need to."

Kemp acknowledged the difficulty of his decisions in a press conference during the brouhaha, saying: "We had to make some very tough choices during extraordinary times, and there is no playbook for this."

"Looking back one year, every day is a reminder of the things that we went through, the tough decisions that we made."

He's also been a supporter of former President Donald Trump — but earned a very public bout of anger from the ex-commander-in-chief when he resisted Trump's attempts to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results.

Since then, however, Kemp has pushed voting laws that not only restrict access to the ballot for many Georgians but also allow state officials to stage hostile takeovers of local election boards — raising concerns about Republican efforts to subvert future elections.

How the banking industry is using social media to kill Biden’s efforts to tax the rich

One key provision of President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan is causing confusion amid a sustained lobbying campaign from banks both big and small — and a big signal-boost from right-wing media personalities.

A flurry of headlines about a proposed Internal Revenue Service reporting requirement for banks, which would require financial institutions to report net annual inflows and outflows on accounts with more than $600 — or that same amount in transactions — seem to be based on the false premise that the Biden Administration would be "snooping" or "monitoring" individuals' finances, or otherwise tracking all transactions a person makes.

"Fury as Biden tries to let IRS SNOOP on your bank accounts," one headline from the Daily Mail reads.

A number of viral posts on social media, many from prominent conservative pundits, seem to hold this misconception as well.

"The Biden Administration is attempting to empower the IRS to monitor every single withdrawal, deposit, and transaction you make from your personal banking accounts," the right-wing commentator Candace Owens wrote on Twitter this week.

"If you have $600 or more, the bank will have to report ALL your banking info to the IRS! #governmentcontrol #bidenadministration #communistusa" one post on TikTok reads.

Another widely-shared Facebook post shared by a community bank in Oklahoma and flagged by Snopes this week even called the provision an "unprecedented invasion of privacy." The fact-checking service rated the claim "mixed."

While it is true the proposal would beef up already-existing reporting requirements for banks, the actual policy would only require banks to report the total annual inflows and outflows on a given account, not individual transactions — information the administration says would allow the IRS to better target its audits on high earners. The White House estimates the provision would generate close to $460 billion over the next decade, a sum that officials say would help pay for an expansion of key social programs, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Advocates for the provision also point out that much of the information that banks would be required to report are already collected elsewhere.

"Only the prior year's total inflow and total outflow would be reported on annual forms," Center for American Progress researchers Seth Hanlon and Galen Hendricks write. "No one would say that the IRS 'monitors' you on your job because it receives a W-2 from your employer with your total wages every January."

But the industry appears to be winning the public relations campaign in a big way.

Amid sustained pushback, House Democrats this week scrapped the measure from their wishlist of tax policy changes — not a total death blow, but a sign that the new reporting requirement will likely not survive the next round of talks between Congressional leaders and White House officials. Democrats acknowledged as much Wednesday in comments to reporters.

"There was a lot of concern expressed by members about the impact on relatively low-income people suddenly being subjected to this, and we get that," Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., told the Journal. "I don't think the issue is completely gone, but we were not ready to move forward on it."

Treasury Department officials, including Secretary Janet Yellen, however, aren't ready to give up on the provision just yet. Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig sent a series of letters to lawmakers Wednesday in an attempt to press them into keeping the new reporting requirement — and correct misconceptions that the IRS would use them to spy on individuals or target ordinary Americans with audits.

They also added that research shows tax compliance increases when individuals are aware the government has independent information about their finances — using workplace W-2s as an example.

"A reporting regime that is broad-based will better assist the IRS in targeting enforcement priorities on the high-end who accrue income in opaque ways," Ms. Yellen wrote in one of the letters. "Any suggestion that instead this reporting regime will be used to target enforcement efforts on ordinary Americans is wholly misguided."

Pranksters trick Newsmax into fake Paul Wolfowitz interview -- twice

A group of pranksters tricked Newsmax into interviewing a fake Paul Wolfowitz Saturday for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — the second time the exact same ruse has worked on the right-wing cable network.

Host Tom Basile first fell for the ploy roughly three weeks ago when a group of professional pranksters called the "Yes Men" organized an interview under the guise that they were colleagues of Wolfowitz' at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a senior fellow, according to a report in Mediaite. Wolfowitz was also the Deputy Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush, where he served as a primary architect of the war in Afghanistan.

The Yes Men describe themselves as "laughtivists" who "destroy brands, create public illusions, work with communities, disrupt events, and impersonate nefarious entities in order to bring attention to critical issues, cheerlead activists, and, sometimes, galvanize communities into more action," according to their website.

One of the members, Andy Bichlbaum, described the incident in a blog post:

Andy's plan was to switch "Wolfowitz" with a "colleague" from the American Enterprise Institute at the last minute — and that would be Andy under an assumed name, wearing big silly glasses like all of the guests on Basile's show seem to do.
But when, two minutes before the 12:04pm EST Saturday slot, Andy logged on and told producers that Wolfowitz was having internet trouble and wanted him to do it instead, the producers refused, and suggested just patching Wolfowitz through on the phone — which is how this became the very first time the Yes Men impersonated an actual person, rather than simply inventing one.

The interview promptly went off the rails, with Bichlbaum describing the war in Afghanistan as a colossal waste of money — a sentiment very different, needless to say, from the views held by the real Wolfowitz.

"It's very clear $2 trillion could have gone to things that Americans could now be proud of, instead of a 20-year unwinnable war," he said, according to a transcript shared by the Yes Men. "The next time we have two trillion dollars lying around, let's spend it on something useful like health care or education."

["Americans] can be proud of a war, even if it's unwinnable, even if it lasts 20 years, even if it's been a failure from day one. That's what we've lost and that is truly tragic, Tom."

The interview was particularly absurd for the fact that Bichlbaum never even attempted to impersonate Wolfowitz' voice — but Basile, who claimed during the interview to know Wolfowitz personally, never even noticed.

Which is why, on Sept. 11, Newsmax producers again reached out to the group to set up another interview with Wolfowitz. Only this time, the Yes Men said they were "determined to stop [Newsmax] from calling again."

Bichlbaum quickly began a rant about "new master terrorists" that "make those old hijackers look like rank amateurs," before calling out Newsmax specifically:

"As a friend of this station I've got to tell you, Newsmax is a much bigger threat to America than the hijackers of 9/11," he added.

The network cut the interview short after these comments, but the panelists still seemed to think they were speaking with the real Wolfowitz.

"He was at the Pentagon that day and you would think that he wouldn't choose this moment to be, frankly, hateful and intolerant," Basile said after cutting off the prankster's audio.

On Sunday, Newsmax seemed to acknowledge that it had been duped in a statement to The Daily Beast.

"While we were covering special 9/11 remembrances and honoring those who had lost their lives, including heroic police officers and firefighters, horribly there were others whose only goal is to lie, deceive, and destroy. They dishonored the memories of true heroes."

Watch the full video below via The Yes Men:


Fox anchor Chris Wallace says 'no' to election liars on his show: 'I don't want to hear their crap'

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace had some choice words for lawmakers who continue to deny the legitimacy of President Joe Biden's election, telling Republicans who have spread conspiracy theories of widespread election fraud "I don't, frankly, want to hear their crap."

Wallace made the comments during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote his new book, Countdown Bin Laden, on the assassination of the late terrorist leader. During the conversation, Colbert asked about Wallace's philosophy on interviewing people he knows are lying for political gain.

"Does it worry you that you give legitimacy to people who have abdicated all public responsibility?" Colbert asked.

Wallace replied that he had "purposely" kept certain Republicans off his Sunday news show since the Jan. 6 Capitol attack for this very reason.

"Well, there were plenty of people, in the Congress, who were the leaders of challenging it who I have just not had on the show ever since then," Wallace said.

"I have purposefully not had them on because, frankly, I don't want to hear their crap," he added.

Wallace went on to say that it is important to maintain a dialogue with some of the big-name Republican leaders in both chambers who are pushing policy — though "I won't let them come on without putting them through the wringer," he added.

The longtime political journalist also told Colbert that he was "sickened" by the Jan. 6 insurrection, and that it was one of the worst things he has seen over the course of his decades-long career.

"I've been in Washington 40 years, so I've seen a lot of bad stuff," Wallace said. "But nothing like this ... as I'm sitting there and watching it live on television and seeing this mob coming to the cathedral of our democracy and sitting in the chair that the president of the senate sits in and running around the rotunda, I was sickened."

Watch the full interview below via CBS:

"I Was Sickened" - Chris Wallace On The Jan. 6th Capitol Insurrection www.youtube.com

Texas anti-abortion tip website gets new home with controversial provider known for neo-Nazi sites

A controversial "whistleblower" website set up to anonymously report people providing or assisting Texans with abortions has a new home after GoDaddy, the popular domain hosting service, booted the site earlier this week for its collection of personal information.

This article first appeared in Salon.

According to public domain registration data first reported by the technology publication ArsTechnica, ProLifeWhistleblower.com was added to the client roster of Epik, an infamous provider known for working with neo-Nazi and other extremist sites.

The "snitch hotline," as critics online have taken to calling it, was created by the anti-abortion evangelical group Texas Right to Life. Immediately upon its creation, the website generated intense controversy and was eventually flooded with bogus tips and Shrek porn — crashing the website due to overwhelming traffic.

The online drama was the latest fallout from a near-total abortion ban which went into effect in the state this week, after the Supreme Court refused to block the measure Wednesday night. The law bars doctors from performing the procedures after six weeks, long before many women are even aware they are pregnant. It also incentivizes people to sue providers and those who assist people seeking abortions, such as ride-share drivers or social workers.

It all began last Thursday when GoDaddy terminated the website's domain registration, saying Texas Right to Life "violated multiple provisions," including one which bars sites hosted by the company to "collect or harvest... non-public or personally identifiable information" without written consent from the subject.

In a defiant blog post, Texas Right to Life spokesperson Kimberlyn Schwartz blasted the decision: "We will not be silenced. If anti-Lifers want to take our website down, we'll put it back up."

"No one can keep us from telling the truth. No one can stop us from saving lives. We are not afraid of the mob. Anti-Life activists hate us because we're winning. Hundreds of babies are being saved from abortion right now because of Texas Right to Life, and these attacks don't change that."

Within 24 hours the site had moved to Epik, which has made a name for working with extremist websites that other companies have deemed too toxic: neo-Nazi propaganda, QAnon home base 8chan, Alex Jones' conspiracy theory network InfoWars, as well as right-wing social media sites Parler and Gab.

But even Epik founder Robert Monster appears to have his limits: late Saturday night it appeared the Texas Right to Life website disabled its anonymous tip submission form.

"We received complaints about the site," a representative for Epik told The Daily Beast, saying the website "violated Epik's Terms of Use," an apparent reference to the collection of third-party personal information without consent.

"We contacted the owner of the domain, who agreed to disable the collection of user submissions on this domain."

As of 1 a.m. Monday, it appears the site had shut down completely.

It remains unclear whether Texas Right to Life will continue to solicit anonymous whistleblower tips in some other way.

Why Satanists may be the last, best hope to save abortion rights in Texas

As pro-choice and reproductive health groups are scrambling to make sense of Texas' new, near-total abortion ban that went into effect this week, it appears their efforts to skirt the law are getting an unexpected boost from one organization in particular: The Satanic Temple.

This article first appeared in Salon.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday night allowed the state to implement a ban on the procedures after six weeks, before most women know they are pregnant, with no carve-outs for rape or incest. Until it is blocked or overturned, the law effectively nullifies the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — which established abortion as a constitutional right — in Texas.

Enter The Satanic Temple.

The "nontheistic" organization, which is headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts, joined the legal fray this week by sending a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration demanding access to abortion pills for its members. The group has established an "abortion ritual," and is attempting to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which was created to allow Native Americans access to peyote for religious rituals) to argue that its members should be allowed access to abortion drugs like Misoprostol and Mifepristone for religious purposes.

"I am sure Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton—who famously spends a good deal of his time composing press releases about Religious Liberty issues in other states—will be proud to see that Texas's robust Religious Liberty laws, which he so vociferously champions, will prevent future Abortion Rituals from being interrupted by superfluous government restrictions meant only to shame and harass those seeking an abortion," Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves told the San Antonio Current.

"The battle for abortion rights is largely a battle of competing religious viewpoints, and our viewpoint that the nonviable fetus is part of the impregnated host is fortunately protected under Religous Liberty laws," he added.

It's unclear whether the Satanic Temple's strategy of appealing to the Biden Administration will work. Last year, the group tried to overturn abortion restrictions enacted in the state of Missouri, but the Supreme Court declined to hear their case.

Elon Musk appears to embrace Texas' right-wing 'social policies'  just as Tesla attempts to corner the market on electric trucks

Elon Musk is leaning into the hardline right-wing policies of his new home state — or at least that's what Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) says.

On the same day that a controversial near-total abortion ban took effect in the state, Abbott drew on support from Musk for Texas' "social policies" to make the point that he did not expect a backlash from the business community over the law.

"We continue to see a massive influx of these employers coming to the state of Texas because — candidly — not only do they like the business environment . . . You need to understand that there are a lot of businesses and a lot of Americans who like the social positions that the state of Texas is taking," Abbott said during a Thursday interview with CNBC.

"Elon Musk — who I talk to frequently — he had to get out of California in part because of the social policies in California," Abbott continued. "Elon consistently tells me he likes the social policies in the state of Texas."

Rather than disagree, the Tesla CEO responded on Twitter by simply saying, "I would prefer to stay out of politics."

"In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness," Musk added.

Despite Musk's statement, the high-profile businessman hasn't exactly been silent on issues of politics as of late.

Tesla sued California's Alameda County in May of last year after it enacted a shelter-in-place rule that was intended to combat rising COVID-19 caseloads and stave off the total collapse of an already strained healthcare system.

Musk later cited the incident as the "last straw," which ultimately forced him to move out of the Golden State.

On the foreign policy front, Musk made sure to tweet "we will coup whoever we want" after a left-wing party took power in Bolivia last October. His comments sparked fierce backlash online.

The controversial CEO has largely stayed mum on the issue of taxes, though his move to Texas could potentially save him billions because the state has neither capital gains nor income taxes.

Not that it would matter much, apparently. A bombshell expose released by ProPublica earlier this year revealed that Musk paid less than $70,000 in federal income taxes between 2015-2017 and exactly $0 in 2018 — putting him at an astronomically lower tax rate than the average American, regardless of income level.

Musk accomplishes this through an arrangement in which he foregoes his salary as Tesla CEO and lives off loans taken out against his massive equity in the company.

He also appears to be embracing the "social policies" of his new home state just as Tesla attempts to corner the market on electric trucks.

Pickups are the No. 1 bestselling vehicle type in America, and Tesla's brand-new cybertruck has the potential to be a huge moneymaker for the company if it can capture even a small chunk of the market for truck buyers. It's no coincidence that Musk is embracing Texas, either, given that more than one out of every six pickups sold in the U.S. is bought there.

It appears that Musk's canny marketing for the vehicles might be working, too. Reports suggest that Tesla has received more than 1 million preorders for its cybertruck.

Production was originally slated to start this year, though it was ultimately pushed back to 2022 last month.

How the Minnesota GOP imploded: From a toxic workplace to a full-on sex trafficking scandal

Kayla Khang remembers being excited for her first real job — a political internship with the Minnesota Republican Party, in 2017, organizing routine door knocking and phone bank campaigns for candidates she believed in.

This article first appeared in Salon.

It was the dawn of a new era for the party, the 17-year-old thought, and she was ecstatic when the internship turned into a paid position just a few months later. Jennifer Carnahan, another Asian-American woman, had just been elected as state party chair with promises to diversify and bring new blood to the organization, which had floundered in recent years due to financial mismanagement and a rising Democratic tide buoyed by growing numbers of young liberals moving to the state.

But as she advanced in the party, Khang grew increasingly uncomfortable with the casual racism and sexual harassment which seemed to penetrate all levels of the organization. Seemingly as a matter of course, she was warned which men to avoid being alone with, and which to avoid entirely.

Things reached a head when she began working on a competitive special Senate campaign in northern Minnesota with Spencer Krier, one of Carnahan's close associates, a fellow field staffer at the time. He often greeted her by adopting a faux-Asian accent: "Herro Kay-rah," forcing hugs and touching her inappropriately even though Khang told him several times the behavior made her uncomfortable.

During an election night party, she remembered Krier making an especially egregious remark about the dress she was wearing: "You look chinky today," he allegedly said with a grin.

"What?!" he continued, faking surprise at her outrage. "It just means you look really Asian."

Several others who witnessed these events and spoke with Salon corroborated Khang's accounts, and described similar conduct from Krier, who would go on to become "operations manager" for the state party before sliding into a job with Arsenal Media Group, a political media strategy firm which boasts such clients as Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec and right-wing commentator Candace Owens.

Are you a current or former Minnesota GOP insider with information to share? You can reach Brett via email at brett.bachman@salon.com or securely via Signal at 715-563-3242.

Khang said she reported the incidents multiple times to her bosses — and to Carnahan's assistant — but each time they brushed it off, saying, "That's just Spencer." After several tries, she gave up, and to her knowledge a formal complaint was never recorded.

Krier did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But in the coming months, Khang says Carnahan grew increasingly angry at her and others who spoke up about similar behavior, screaming at them in public and calling them after-hours to continue earlier tirades. Several other Minnesota GOP employees told Salon that they witnessed Carnahan repeatedly dress down Khang and other employees for minor mistakes, and speculated that she may have been driving them away from a career in politics for complaining about the behavior of Krier and others.

"She was very good at belittling people, insulting them in really personal ways," Khang said. "She'd always threaten people — 'I can end your career in a second' — stuff like that.

"She just made you feel so small, you know?"

Khang eventually did leave politics, and the state.

Former Minnesota GOP staff member Kayla Khang, left, with former Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan. Former Minnesota GOP staff member Kayla Khang, left, with former Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan. (Courtesy of Kayla Khang)

In conversations with seven current and former staffers of the Minnesota Republican Party, most of them women who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, all shared similar experiences of racism and sexual harassment or assault by high-level employees of the state organization.

Likewise, all outlined a pattern of reprisal from Carnahan targeting anyone who spoke out about these and other issues within the organization, subjecting employees and even some activists affiliated with the party to repeated verbal abuse. Strict non-disclosure agreements were also a requirement for anyone who wanted to work closely with Carnahan, a fact she used as a cudgel to silence dissent, several of the employees said.

Two former staffers even described sustained harassment campaigns directed against them and others that included male staffers showing up at their homes at odd hours — an apparent intimidation tactic — and drastic measures like withholding paychecks for anyone who complained about Carnahan or her top lieutenants' behavior.

"I remember this so vividly — I had to drive across town with my supervisor to fill up another staffer's tank because she hadn't been paid in months after some kind of dispute with Jennifer," Khang said. "She was completely broke."

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

The employees who spoke with Salon all said the toxic work environment was so bad that dozens of talented people were driven out of politics for good.

"I know a staggering number of people who left politics as a result of Jennifer Carnahan," Khang said.

"There's no bench of [Republican] talent in Minnesota right now, and it's 100% her fault," another former Minnesota GOP staffer added.

The four most recent Minnesota GOP chairs — Becky Alery, Andy Aplikowski, Christine Snell and Kevin Poindexter — even took the rare step of releasing a joint statement last week which substantiated a number of these claims. In the lengthy letter, all four decried Carnahan's behavior as head of the state party, describing a workplace "ruled by grudges, retaliation, and intimidation."

The state's College Republicans chapter also released a statement last week alleging that Carnahan covered up the sexual assault and rape of a member of the Republican youth organization — choosing not to act when the accusations were brought to her attention and maintaining a public friendship with the accused even after he left his job in politics.

"Jennifer Carnahan is no advocate or example for young women," the organization wrote.

Carnahan declined to comment on this story through a spokesperson, but the state party ultimately released a statement rebutting a number of the claims, claiming Carnahan was the victim of a politically motivated attack by her opponents within the organization.

"The statements that the Chairwoman had any knowledge of sexual harassment allegations are categorically false," the statement said. "This is just the latest in unfounded accusations against the Chairwoman in recent days for those in the party that hoped to unseat her in her re-election on April 10."

These Republican party employees and insiders are speaking out now after Carnahan stepped down last Thursday, following a sordid sex trafficking scandal that threatens to hobble the party apparatus for years to come.

"It's clear to me how individuals feel more comfortable coming forward simply because they didn't have the ability to do so before," Rebecca Brannon, a conservative activist and journalist who has been probing Carnahan's alleged misdeeds for months, wrote on Twitter. "This has been a sickness for a long time within the MN GOP."

Anton Lazzaro, one of the state party's top donors and a close personal friend of Carnahan's, was indicted for child sex trafficking — alongside a rising College Republican star, Gisela Castro Medina, who chaired the University of St. Thomas College Republicans. Federal prosecutors allege the pair recruited and abused at least five minor victims in a scheme Carnahan maintains she knew nothing about.

All the former Minnesota GOP employees who spoke with Salon expressed incredulity at Carnahan's claims of ignorance. "It's not that she missed the signs," one former Minnesota GOP staff member said. "It's that she totally ignored them, even after people brought their concerns to her attention."

Now Republican leaders across the country are struggling to figure out a path forward to rebuild the state organization from the bottom up.

"The party is in ruins," Michael Brodkorb, a former deputy chair of the Minnesota GOP, told Politico last week. "I don't know if the party has hit rock bottom yet."

* * *

The first impression shared by almost everyone in Minnesota politics who met Anton Lazzaro was how young he was. The second thing they noticed was his money.

The 30-year-old flaunted his lavish lifestyle on social media: driving a Ferrari, jetting to tropical locales and often posing for pictures with large wads of cash. He even took a jaunt to Ukraine late last year, apparently on a private plane, to "investigate" Hunter Biden's dealings in the country. It's unclear whether Lazzaro ever connected with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was Donald Trump's personal attorney at the time and visited Ukraine for the same reason in the same time period.

Anthony Lazzaro flaunted his playboy lifestyle on social media, posting pictures with large amounts of cash.Antony Lazzaro flaunted his playboy lifestyle on social media, posting pictures with large amounts of cash. (Instagram)

The source of Lazzaro's wealth was unclear to everyone who spoke with Salon for this story, and was a constant source of speculation for state party insiders. The only information about his family Salon was able to uncover was that his grandfather was a longtime administrator at the University of Southern California, who transformed the school into a "sprawling bastion of research" over his 42-year tenure, according to an obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

"From the very beginning, everyone was like, 'Who is this guy?'" Khang said of Lazzaro. "I met him when he was 26 and throwing around thousands of dollars on state-level races. ... We all wanted to know how he amassed that kind of money so early in his career."

Lazzaro has indeed been a prolific donor to the party since at least 2014, donating more than $100,000 to various Republican candidates — including more than $30,000 to Carnahan's husband, Rep. Jim Hagedorn, according to campaign finance filings.

One analysis from local TV station Fox 9 estimates that Lazzaro has given $273,000 to Minnesota GOP candidates and causes. He spent so much, so regularly, that several Minnesota GOP staffers said they called him "sugar daddy" and referred to him as the party's "cash cow" behind his back. All they knew about his finances was that he talked often about Bitcoin.

"I had a bad feeling about him from the start," one former Minnesota GOP employee said. "We all thought something shady was going on."

On FEC disclosure forms, Lazzaro always lists his occupation as "self employed." On his LinkedIn page, however, Lazzaro says he has a job: CEO of a consulting firm called Gold River Group, which claims to provide marketing and technology solutions to firms in a dizzying array of economic sectors: "We specialize in the Securities, Family Office, Energy, and Political industries," the page says.

Salon could not determine if Lazzaro's business has a physical office — the Minnesota address listed on Gold River Group's state registration is a post office box in a downtown Minneapolis UPS store. A second address in Cheyenne, Wyoming, found on GRG's website, appears to belong to a company called Wyoming Registered Agent, which helps businesses incorporate and provides mail forwarding services. A third address in Rolling Hills Estates, California, listed on the firm's website as its preferred "postal address," is yet another mailbox at yet another UPS store. The company's phone number, meanwhile, appears to be Lazzaro's personal cell, which has a voicemail message telling callers to text because the inbox is "not checked regularly."

In other words, whatever Lazzaro's company actually does, it seems implausible that it provided him with the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has spent in Minnesota politics over the last decade or so — let alone on a Ferrari, private flights and the nearly $1 million luxury condo that property records show he owned in downtown Minneapolis. Gold River Group, in fact, was only incorporated in December of 2019, according to state records obtained by Salon, well after staffers say Carnahan brought him into the party's inner circle following her election to party chair in 2016.

"She brought him around. It sounds like he gave some money before [2016] but he never had any kind of position or influence," a high-level former GOP staffer told Salon. "That all changed when [Carnahan] became chair."

Financial records first reported by Fox 9 show that Lazzaro has a pattern of starting and sometimes dissolving businesses — at least eight of them in rapid succession over the past 13 years. Many of these ventures appear to only exist on paper.

They include two apparent currency brokerages, HonestForexSignals.com (which one reviewer on the now-defunct website said "feels like a scam") and Forex Globe LLC; an online publisher called Wolf Private Trading LLC; an advertising agency called Allegiance American Enterprises LLC; and three marketing firms, 777 Marketing Group, 21st Promotional Offers LLC and Wingate Marketing Group LLC.

At least three of those businesses were registered using P.O. boxes at UPS stores in California.

In 2018 Lazzaro also founded a largely self-funded organization called Big Tent Republicans PAC — a reference to his stated goal of making the party more inclusive for minorities, women and the LGBT community. Through it, he's given more than $22,000 to other political committees in several other states, according to FEC records.

In 2019, he even managed to snag a job as campaign manager for Minnesota congressional candidate Lacy Johnson, who ran against Rep. Ilhan Omar in her heavily Democratic Minneapolis-area district (and lost).

Johnson denied any knowledge of Lazzaro's extracurricular activities, telling The Daily Beast, "I don't know that side of Tony. He's young, he's got money, and… that tends to attract females."

At the time, Lazzaro also hosted a podcast with Carnahan called "#TruthMatters," which ran for about four months in late 2019 and early 2020. He used his newfound platform to make several appearances as a talking head on Fox News. It was a stunning rise for someone who just a few years prior was a complete unknown in Minnesota politics, party insiders said.

* * *

But employees also describe a dark side to Lazzaro's sudden ubiquity within the state party.

One former GOP employee who requested anonymity for fear of professional retaliation described a situation where they were trying to correct a clerical error in the organization's payroll system and were told by a supervisor to speak with Lazzaro — who did not have an official position within the party, let alone one that would afford him access to employees' personal information.

Another employee recalled speaking with Lazzaro about payroll issues as well, though they did not remember that fact as unusual, given the close-knit culture of the party apparatus and his constant presence at high-level meetings.

Everyone who spoke with Salon recalled Lazzaro's nebulous role as a source of endless gossip within the Minnesota GOP, from innocuous speculation to the salacious.

One incident that continues to create waves within the party and was mentioned repeatedly in interviews concerned an anonymous Twitter account that began posting in late 2019, claiming to be a high-level party insider with knowledge of Lazzaro's nefarious activities.

Salon was unable to find the Twitter account, and everyone who spoke about the incident said it was deleted shortly after it was created. Still, at least four people close to the party described the page tweeting out a variety of accusations, including that Lazzaro was filming porn in a luxury condo he owned at a swanky downtown building called The Ivy in Minneapolis.

All four of those people also recalled the firestorm that was created when Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan found out about the account — within hours a full scale internal investigation was launched into the source of the rumors, quickly becoming "priority No. 1" for the Minnesota GOP office, as one former staffer put it.

The account was shut down a few days later, and apparently nothing ever came of the internal investigation. But the staffers describe a situation where the accusations were, because of the voraciousness of Carnahan's response, generally accepted as true among party insiders.

"That's always how I explained [Lazzaro's] money in my head," one staffer said.

Several women who spoke with Salon described this incident as the beginning of a rumor network to warn other female GOP staffers — especially younger employees and volunteers — to stay away from Lazzaro and other men who were rumored to have assaulted or harassed their female counterparts.

Brannon, the conservative activist, says there's little chance Carnahan wasn't at least aware of these rumors. "There is no chance the chairwoman didn't at minimum know of Anton's lifestyle," she said.

After these accusations came to light, several Minnesota GOP staffers also remembered previous incidents that had seemed innocuous, but were now cast in an entirely different light. Two former Minnesota GOP employees, offered anonymity to protect their personal safety, described visiting Lazzaro's home on routine business and finding hidden cameras set up in multiple rooms — including a bathroom.

"I feel fucking horrible about it now, but I let my family — my younger siblings — around this guy," one former colleague, who said she discovered the camera in Lazzaro's bathroom, said. "I personally believe [Carnahan] 100% knew what a creep he was."

In fact, the network of cameras Lazzaro kept in his condo was described in court this week by a private investigator Lazzaro hired, who argued that the cameras made the property perfect for home confinement — all Lazzaro had to do was give the state access to a live feed of the devices for 24/7 monitoring. The judge disagreed, calling it a way for Lazzaro to skirt punishment in a "prison of privilege."

During that same court hearing Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino asked one of Lazzaro's character witnesses if they were aware that Lazzaro was running a Pornhub account called "Only Young Teens," according to an account from Minnesota Reformer, a local news site.

It was the first mention in court documents of any pornographic activity from the 30-year-old, who is accused of paying teenage girls with gifts, cash and lavish dinners in exchange for sex. His official charges include six counts of sex trafficking, three counts of obstruction and one count of conspiracy to sex-traffic minors.

It's unclear whether the allegations Lazzaro was making porn will become a part of the case — though the FBI's Minneapolis bureau says the investigation is still ongoing and that the agency anticipates more victims may come forward.

Reached for comment Thursday, Lazzaro's Texas-based attorney, Zachary Newland, specifically denied any allegations of child pornography.

"Mr. Lazzaro is not charged in any way shape or form with producing or possessing child pornography. Any assertion that Mr. Lazzaro was involved with child pornography is blatantly false. Even the overreaching indictment against Mr. Lazzaro does not make those sort of claims. The facts and truth leave nothing up for debate. Mr. Lazzaro looks forward to clearing his good name and shining the light on these false anonymous allegations in court."

An officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, Brandon Brugger, said during Tuesday's court hearing that investigators have not discovered any child pornography on any of Lazzaro's devices, records show. Brugger made no mention of any pornography that featured adults.

* * *

Just a year ago, Republicans in Minnesota looked as if they were on the upswing. Even though the party hadn't won a statewide race in 15 years, Donald Trump spent millions on advertising and repeatedly campaigned there, following a surprising performance in 2016, when he only lost narrowly to Hillary Clinton.

But Joe Biden did exceptionally well in Minnesota in 2020, winning by more than seven percentage points. Now, a burgeoning sex trafficking scandal has left the organization, which is without leadership until a new election can be held, in total disarray, insiders say. It also doesn't help that the most recognizable Republican in Minnesota at the moment is pillow salesman-turned-election truther Mike Lindell.

And despite the near-unanimous calls for Carnahan's resignation last week, the Republican Party of Minnesota is not united on how to move forward from the scandal.

Carnahan made as much noise as possible on the way out, loudly trumpeting her innocence while casting the deciding vote to give herself a severance of more than $35,000. She described herself as the victim of a "coup," led by a "mob mentality" that she said sought to "defame, tarnish and attempt to ruin my personal and professional reputation."

"The party and its leaders cannot be held responsible for donors and unofficial persons," she wrote on Facebook prior to her resignation, denying any knowledge of Lazzaro's alleged illicit activities. "We cannot be expected to know more than law enforcement."

Minnesota Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan looks on during the national anthem during a rally for President Donald Trump at the Bemidji Regional Airport on September 18, 2020 in Bemidji, Minnesota.Minnesota Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan looks on during the national anthem during a rally for President Donald Trump at the Bemidji Regional Airport on September 18, 2020 in Bemidji, Minnesota. (Getty Images)

It's unclear what impact all this will have on the party's fundraising and recruitment efforts. Everyone who spoke with Salon worried that donors would be hesitant to give and potential employees will be even more hesitant to work at the organization following the scandal and investigations that are sure to follow.

Many high-level Minnesota GOP staffers, including the four former state chairs, are calling for third-party audits into both the accusations of rampant sexual misconduct and the state organization's finances.

Jennifer DeJournett, a Minnesota Republican insider and president of the organization Voices of Conservative Women, echoed those calls in a statement to Politico last week, later adding that, scandal or not, "the operation of politics [in the state] doesn't stop."

"There's a ton of alphabet soup groups out there that are still doing the work to help push causes and candidates … Politics doesn't stop while the state party is getting its act together."

But in the meantime, Carnahan doesn't appear any closer to an apology — posting defiantly on Facebook that she, Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh have "much in common."

"I'm proud to stand in good company among men that have experienced what I have recently gone through (although what they went through was way worse)," she wrote, alongside pictures of herself with both men.

"The truth always prevails, the universe will right the wrongs and bad people only get away with bad actions for so long. It's time to 'stand in the sun.'"

Ted Cruz raises eyebrows by hiring family members to Senate staff

A spokesperson for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, lashed out at accusations of nepotism Friday after reports surfaced that he had hired several of his direct relatives, calling any suggestion that Sen. Cruz had acted unethically a "political slime job" and "classic fake news."

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Insider reported that the longtime conservative provocateur — whose mission in recent weeks has been to stonewall dozens of President Joe Biden's nominees to key State Department posts, despite their qualifications — recently hired two of his first cousins' children, one as a press assistant and another as an intern.

Both are incredibly sought-after positions in the world of politics, with Cruz' family members winning out over what were likely hundreds, if not thousands, of other applicants.

Hiring the pair likely did not violate federal law, which only bars officials from hiring close relatives — like cousins — but not the children of those close relatives.

Still, ethics experts said Cruz' actions clearly gives the appearance of a conflict of interest during the hiring process.

"Hiring of the first cousin's child would just miss the law by a nose," Craig Holman, a lobbyist with the good-government watchdog group Public Citizen, told Insider.

"We expect our elected officials to act with integrity and to be mindful of how the taxpayer's money is being spent," said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at another watchdog group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "It looks like basically the taxpayer is subsidizing the training of his relatives."

Cruz spokeswoman Erin Perrine reportedly lashed out at Insider in an email after the outlet inquired about the hires, calling their reporting "classic fake news."

"Attacking two young Baylor graduates, for working as an unpaid intern and as a junior staffer, is exactly the kind of political slime job that makes people so disgusted with the corrupt corporate media," she wrote. "As the experts you spoke to all agreed, the law is clear, and the senator has appropriately met all of his legal and ethics requirements and is in complete compliance."

It's not the first time Cruz, who portrays himself as a consummate family man, has hired family for key posts on his staff: Cruz' cousin was also on his 2016 presidential campaign's payroll, and later joined Cruz' Senate campaign as well.

Mike Lindell lashes out as cyber expert demands $5M reward for debunking election data

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is scrambling to defend his claims of election fraud after a cybersecurity expert demanded his cut of the $5 million reward Lindell had promised to anyone who could disprove the accuracy of his alleged election data.

Bill Alderson is a longtime cybersecurity professional specializing in packet captures — the exact type of data Lindell claimed to be in possession of — and attended the pillow maven's "cyber symposium out of a legitimate desire to "discover the truth." A longtime Republican, Alderson said he supported Donald Trump in 2020 and told Lindell when he was invited to the event, "I'd love to prove you right."

Only, he couldn't.

Lindell has long claimed to be in possession of a large set of network data from the 2020 election, saved as packet captures, or .pcap files. He's even claimed that it contained every vote cast last November.

Not so, says Alderson. It took roughly 45 minutes for him to see that the data given to him and the dozens of other experts in attendance was bunk — not only did it fail to prove anything about the accuracy of the 2020 election, but the files weren't even in the right format.

"P-CAPs adhere to an international standard," Alderson said, and include information like the date a file was created and an IP address. But Lindell's data, shared as text files, had none of that. In fact, it was saved in hexadecimal format — despite the fact that packet captures use binary code.

"This is not something that can be misunderstood," Alderson said. "So I just said, 'I'm done, I'm leaving, you don't have any packets here."

At the conference, Lindell had all of the invited cybersecurity experts sign a legal document explaining the rules and stipulations under which he would give out the $5 million reward — all of which Alderson says he met.

He even sent a 10-page letter to Lindell's attorney Wednesday outlining each part of the agreement and how he was able to meet the requirements.

This prompted Lindell to lash out during an interview with Steve Bannon on the right-wing network "Real America's Voice," calling Alderson a "hostile" actor and claiming that he had looked at the "wrong" information.

"It had nothing to do with my data," Lindell said.

"The whole rumor going around the symposium was that this data is not from the 2020 election," Lindell said. "Well, the whole challenge was to validate data from the 2020 November election."

Alderson, for his part, called these claims a "boldface, unmitigated lie," and said he's hoping Lindell pays the sum and admits he was wrong.

Another cybersecurity expert at Lindell's symposium said in an interview with a local TV station that they did not anticipate this would happen, and that the pillow magnate had taken his $5 million offer "off the table."

Lindell did not respond to a Salon request for comment.

"I'm not sure what's wrong with Mike," Alderson said. "He's like those desperate Afghanis clinging to the side of a C17 as it tries to take off from the Kabul airport."

"Let's just hope he's able to jump before he falls to his death."

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