Virginia GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin tries to pivot away from Trump — but there's nowhere to go

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Virginia's crucial off-off-year election, was caught on video saying he has to keep his anti-abortion views quiet to avoid alienating independent voters. His super PAC, however, has showered cash on down-ballot Republicans with extreme anti-choice views.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Youngkin, a longtime executive at the private equity firm the Carlyle Group who has spent millions of his own money to fund his first foray into politics, has scrubbed his website of public statements declaring himself "unabashedly" pro-life and has even tried to distance himself from Donald Trump, in hopes of winning over a Virginia electorate that has steadily trended blue in recent years.

During the Republican primary campaign, Youngkind vowed to "protect the life of every Virginia child, born and unborn," but admitted more recently that he has gone quiet on the issue because it could cost him independent votes. That was revealed in an undercover video obtained by Lauren Windsor, host of the web show "The Undercurrent" and executive director of American Family Voices, a liberal advocacy group.

"I'm going to be really honest with you. The short answer is in this campaign, I can't," Youngkin said in the video, which was first obtained by The American Independent and MSNBC, when asked if he would defund Planned Parenthood and "take it to the abortionists."

"When I'm governor and I have a majority in the House we can start going on offense," he said. "But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won't win my independent votes that I have to get."

In another video, Youngkin acknowledged that the Republican position is increasingly at odds with moderate voters.

"We're going after those middle 1 million voters who are, sadly, gonna decide this — have decided elections for the last 10 to 12 years in Virginia, and they've moved a bit away from us," he said. "We're going to get them. We just got back a whole bunch of data today, and we're winning this group. This is the group that we have to go get."

Jamie Lockhart, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, told Salon she was "shocked" that Youngkin "admitted that he's deceiving Virginians to get their votes, flip the legislature, and strip us of essential health care."

Days later, Youngkin again avoided any discussion of abortion at a campaign event aimed at women voters with former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, refusing to answer questions on the topic even as Planned Parenthood supporters protested outside the event.

"Youngkin's candid-camera moment will be fodder for the Democrats throughout the campaign," Mark J. Rozell, the dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, told Salon. "It's not just that he admitted he supports an unpopular view in Virginia on abortion, but that he admitted that what he says to try to get elected is different from what he will do if elected. The issue becomes not only abortion rights, but trust. If he seeks to beguile voters on this issue, what about other ones? It was a classic rookie campaign mistake."

Youngkin's campaign denied that he is hiding his views.

"This deceptively recorded audio demonstrates that Glenn Youngkin tells everyone he meets the same thing: he is pro-life, supports exceptions for rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger, supports funding for women's health care, and opposes Terry McAuliffe's extreme agenda of taxpayer funding for abortion, including late-term abortions even on the day a baby is due," campaign spokesman Matt Wolking said in a statement to Salon.

Anti-abortion advocates did not seem too worried after the Youngkin video was released, since he had assured evangelical voters that he would "oppose laws that allow women to seek abortions," according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"He's not being squishy because we already have him on record saying this stuff," Don Blake, president of the Virginia Christian Alliance, told the Washington Post.

Democrats are likely to feature Youngkin's comment in countless campaign ads this fall.

"It reminded me of Romney's 47% comment," Ben Tribbett, a longtime Virginia Democratic consultant, said in an interview with Salon. "It's the kind of thing that's gonna haunt him all the way through the election, undercutting his ability to move to the middle and be a moderate, because he's basically announced that he's not going to be forthright with people. That is a really bad place for an undefined politician to be."

Virginia has not voted for a Republican in a statewide race in more than a decade and Democrats won full control of the state legislature in 2019. So it's easy to see why Youngkin would want to shy away from expressing increasingly unpopular positions. But his financial contributions would seem to speak for themselves.

Youngkin earlier this year launched the Virginia Wins PAC and made a seven-figure commitment to fund "Republican candidates for every level of government" to try to reverse the state's leftward shift. Many of those GOP candidates hold extreme anti-abortion views. The PAC's campaign finance disclosure shows that Youngkin was its only financial backer, making a $400,000 contribution in March.

"Glenn Youngkin and his extreme allies are threatening to drag Virginia backwards," Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, said in a statement to Salon. "With Republicans across the country fighting to overturn Roe v. Wade and a right-wing Supreme Court poised to do so, Virginia's next governor must be committed to protecting the right to choose."

Financial disclosures show that Youngkin's PAC has donated at least $33,500 to anti-choice down-ballot Republicans.

Virginia Wins has given $5,500 to support state House candidate Karen Greenhalgh, a former manager at a chain of so-called pregnancy crisis centers, which often trick women seeking abortions into going to "fake clinics" where they are dissuaded from the procedure, sometimes in misleading ways. Greenhalgh has called for a broad range of restrictions on health care facilities that provide abortions.

The PAC also donated $1,500 to Republican state House candidate Tim Anderson, a gun shop owner who has vowed to fight legislation that he says would allow for the "murder of a sustainable baby" and called for more Supreme Court justices like Amy Coney Barrett "to keep extreme ideas like abortions at any stage from becoming law." If elected, he has vowed to donate 100% of his government salary to pregnancy crisis centers.

Youngkin's PAC has steered $3,000 to back Tim Cox, who supports legislation "prohibiting abortion from [the] moment of conception," defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing a bill passed last year to allow coverage of abortion under the state's Obamacare exchange plans.

The PAC sent another $3,000 donation recipient to Carrie Coyner, who has criticized insurance coverage of abortion procedures and vowed to fight for a measure that "blocks the use of state money for abortion." Coyner, a first-term member of the House of Delegates, has consistently voted against rolling back abortion restrictions in the state.

The PAC has also doled out $5,500 to "pro-life" Republican Mike Cherry; $5,500 to Nick Clemente, who has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood; $3,000 to Maria Martin, who says she is running to "protect the unborn"; $3,000 to Sylvia Bryant, who pledged to defund Planned Parenthood; $3,000 to Roxann Robinson, who voted against lifting abortion restrictions; and $3,000 to Steve Pleickhardt, who supports defunding Planned Parenthood and banning abortions after 20 weeks.

"Youngkin says he wants to go 'on offense' and these Republican candidates his PAC is supporting, if elected, would be his teammates in passing extreme anti-abortion legislation," Lockhart said. "They not only would move to rebuild the recently repealed obstacle course of delays and restrictions to access abortion care, but they would seek to pass a radical abortion ban like the one in Texas, which banned abortion at six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant."

Abortion could be front and center during the campaign's climax this fall, when the Supreme Court is also set to review Mississippi's bid to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"With the Supreme Court taking up a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights are under threat like never before," Lockhart said, arguing that data suggests 79% of Virginians "support legal access to abortion and believe that the government should not prevent a woman from making her own health care decisions."

Youngkin's abortion slip-up highlights the larger difficulties the increasingly conservative Republican Party has in winning over voters in a state that has consistently moved to the left over the last decade. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who is now seeking a second term four years after his first one (Virginia prohibits incumbent governors from running for re-election), won his first election in 2013 by just 2.5 percentage points. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in his 2014 race by less than a point.

But Virginia has seen a massive increase in Democratic voters in the affluent suburbs of Washington, D.C., and moved sharply away from Republicans after Trump's 2016 victory, electing Gov. Ralph Northam over Gillespie in 2017 by eight points, reelecting Warner by 12 points in 2020, and backing President Joe Biden by a 10-point margin. In 2019, Virginians also elected a Democratic majority in the General Assembly, giving the party full control of state government for the first time since 1994.

Trump "said he wanted to drain the swamp in Washington but what he did was drain Virginia Republicans," Bob Holsworth, a veteran Virginia political analyst, told Salon in an interview. "For the Democrats, Trump has been a godsend — and he's been a millstone around the necks of Virginia Republicans."

Given those political dynamics, it's not surprising that Trump has become a focal point in the race after anti-Trump sentiment cost Republicans the gubernatorial race in 2017 and especially "after Jan. 6," as Whit Ayres, a longtime Virginia Republican consultant, said in an interview with Salon.

Voter turnout "surged by over 500,000 votes" in the 2017 race and that increase was "largely minorities, millennials, college-educated suburban women in Northern Virginia," Ayres said. "So for Mr. Youngkin to have a shot, he has to do better than Gillespie did among the Northern Virginia suburbs."

Trump has thrown his full support behind Youngkin, giving him his "Complete and Total Endorsement" hours after Youngkin defeated six other Republicans, including one who had dubbed herself "Trump in heels." Youngkin said he was "honored" to have Trump's support but has seemingly tried to distance himself from the former president since then, even releasing an ad seeking to tie Terry McAuliffe to Trump by highlighting a $25,000 campaign donation he received from Trump in 2009.

But Youngkin's attempt to link his Democratic opponent to Trump, according to Rozell, "makes no sense at all."

"No one is going to believe that McAuliffe is aligned with Trump," Rozell said, "and Youngkin risks alienating the still-sizable Trump base in the GOP by distancing himself from the former president."

Trump appears to have gotten the message that Youngkin is trying to push him away, and earlier this month released another statement with a distinctly different tone, saying that Ed Gillespie — the defeated 2017 nominee — ran for governor without "'embracing' MAGA or the America First movement" and that as a result Trump's base "didn't come out for Gillespie."

That appears to be a warning to Youngkin, which as Holsworth observed, puts him in a political bind. "To win in the Northern Virginia suburbs, especially, he's going to have to find a way to distance himself from Trump," he said. "But if he does so too visibly, you can be certain Trump will respond."

It may be difficult for Youngkin to shed Trump's toxicity in the state. Youngkin refused to acknowledge Biden as the legitimate president during the Republican primary, and has since promoted an "Election Integrity Task Force" in an obvious nod to Trump's false claims of election fraud.

"Trump represents so much of why I'm running," Youngkin told voters during the primary as he pushed to enact voting restrictions.

"It's always a challenge to pivot from a primary campaign to a general election campaign," Ayres said, "particularly in a state that leans blue like Virginia."

As for McAuliffe, he has been more than happy to see Trump become involved in the race, even offering to pay for the former president to fly to Virginia to campaign for Youngkin. His campaign responded to Youngkin's ad by launching its first TV ad labeling the Republican a Trump "loyalist."

Threading a needle between Trump's base and the independent voters he needs to win over, Youngkin has had difficulty forming a legitimate campaign platform. He has repeatedly criticized Biden's COVID relief bill as "unnecessary," opposed a minimum wage increase to $15, and opposed paid family and medical leave. He has slammed the state's Medicaid expansion while calling for expanded gun rights.

But some of his hardline rhetoric has disappeared from his website, as the Washington Post reported, and he has focused increasingly on culture-war issues like "critical race theory" in education, which Ayres described as a "smart move," saying that education issues "play very well for Republican candidates in the suburban areas where they need to do far better than they've done in the past couple of elections."

Democrats have repeatedly highlighted that Youngkin does not even have an issues page on his campaign site and accused him of "hiding" after he became the first gubernatorial nominee in more than three decades to skip the Virginia Bar Association debate. His campaign objected to "PBS NewsHour" host Judy Woodruff as the moderator, supposedly because she once donated $250 to the Clinton Foundation's Haiti earthquake relief fund.

Tribbett said the Woodruff excuse was "absurd" and an attempt to "distract people from the narrative that he doesn't want to debate."

"Youngkin isn't quite ready for prime time. That's why he's not debating now," he said. "It's very clear that he doesn't feel like he's ready right now. He's not taking questions from journalists. This is stuff that he should have sorted out months ago when he was seeking the Republican nomination, because coming into a general election like this is just inexcusable from a campaign perspective. He spent millions and millions of dollars on that nomination contest and then came into the general — and three months in, he still can't put up an issues page on his website. I mean, it's just sort of sad."

Virginia Republican insiders have recently expressed "consternation" about whether Youngkin has surrounded himself with too many "Cruz and Trump people," wondering if he really has a "Virginia-based platform," Holsworth said.

In theory, Youngkin's personal wealth and lack of a political track record should make him well suited to pivot in the general election, but as Republican primary voters and candidates continue to move further right, it will be more difficult to tread back to the middle. Some early 2022 Republican primary races have already devolved into contests over which candidate can out-Trump the competition, something that will be difficult to walk back in a general election race — especially facing the threat of criticism from Trump himself if a Republican drifts too far from his agenda.

"The Virginia GOP believed that they found exactly the right candidate to appeal to the conservative base while appearing moderate enough to win over swing voters," Rozell said. "Youngkin himself to this point is having trouble trying to appeal to both groups of voters."

Tribbett agreed that Youngkin "did a lot of things right" in the primary by positioning himself as the best general election candidate, but said that narrative is now "falling flat."

"Anytime you take a position that's not exactly what the Trump position is, you're trying to thread a needle," he said. "I think he's just been paralyzed in fear of alienating his base, so he's not really attempted to thread the needle but also hasn't energized the base. I can't think of a worse place for a candidate to be: someone who's not energizing their own base and is afraid to reach out to moderates and independents."

GOP doctor running for Minnesota governor denies he's an anti-vaxxer — he's just anti-vax-curious

A Minnesota physician who was banned by TikTok and investigated by medical authorities for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 is now running for governor. While Scott Jensen denies he's an anti-vax candidate, he's definitely an anti-vax-adjacent candidate

Jensen, a Republican who served four years in the Minnesota state Senate, launched a gubernatorial bid this spring after drawing headlines throughout the pandemic for stoking false claims about the virus. He was featured in the viral conspiracy-theory video "Plandemic" and cited by PolitiFact cited as a key source for its 2020 "Lie of the Year." That referred to a Fox News appearance when Jensen supported the false allegation that doctors were overcounting COVID cases for financial benefit. Medical experts have in fact argued the exact opposite, that cases have consistently been undercounted.

Jensen's baseless claim was promoted on the conspiracy theory clearinghouse Infowars and later used by former President Donald Trump on the campaign trail to downplay the pandemic death toll. Jensen came under investigation by the Minnesota State Board of Medical Practice last year for spreading the claim, although the complaint challenging his medical license was ultimately dismissed.

Jensen told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he had "no regrets" over his comments and touted his "inflated numbers" claim in announcing his gubernatorial campaign, vowing to "continue to search for truth and expose the facts surrounding COVID-19."

More recently, Jensen has partnered with anti-vaccine activists to stoke fears about coronavirus vaccines. In May, he joined Dr. Simone Gold, an anti-vaccine activist who founded the pro-hydroxychloroquine, anti-mask group America's Frontline Doctors — and who was arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — in a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services seeking to prevent kids under 16 from being vaccinated. The lawsuit cited Jensen's false claim that COVID poses a "0%" risk of death to children. Although in statistical terms the risk to children is low, hundreds of children and teens have died and thousands have been hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jensen told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press that he has "quietly" been a member of America's Frontline Doctors, which became something of a national laughingstock after videos showing Dr. Stella Immanuel, another member, warning about the dangers of sperm "demons" and "astral sex" with witches went viral last year. (For unclear reasons, Immanuel was speaking at a press conference in front of the Supreme Court building.) Jensen has recently tried to downplay his involvement with Gold's lawsuit, telling the Pioneer Press that he had not read the entire petition and adding that he "did not know Simone was in any hot water over January 6."

Jensen himself has refused to be vaccinated, saying it's unnecessary because he was already infected with COVID. In fact, the CDC has urged those who have recovered from COVID to be vaccinated because it's not clear how long natural immunity lasts. Jensen has defended the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine — which was vigorously promoted by Donald Trump as president — as a COVID treatment despite FDA warnings that data suggests the drug has "no benefit" to patients and could cause serious heart, kidney and liver issues. More recently, Jensen has promoted ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that the FDA warns is not an antiviral and could cause "serious harm" to COVID patients. A large study cited by many conservatives to back its use was retracted last week due to "ethical concerns" after researchers discovered data discrepancies.

Jensen insists, however, that he is not against vaccines. "As Information and data are emerging weekly, if not daily, It is important to scrutinize and access all the data. Dr. Jensen appreciates the robust conversation from all perspectives," Rita Hillmann Olson, a spokesperson for Jensen's campaign, said in a statement to Salon. "The majority of Dr. Jensen's patients, who are 70 or older with multiple underlying conditions, have been vaccinated for COVID. He spends more than $100,000 per year to provide vaccines for his patients and vaccines are a standard part of the medical care he provides."

Dr. Aleta Borrud, a Minnesota doctor and a Democrat who is running for a state Senate seat, called Jensen's claims an "affront" to health care providers and to the thousands of Minnesotans who have lost loved ones in the pandemic.

"By spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccination, Dr. Scott Jensen is undermining Minnesota's efforts to put our state on a path to recovery at a moment when Minnesota is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases," Borrud said in a statement. "He has been denounced nationally for falsely stating that COVID-19 deaths are inflated, attacking the integrity of our frontline medical providers, asserting they stand to gain financially by inflating death statistics."

Jensen's claims casting doubt on federal health agencies and the national COVID response have made him a star in right-wing media circles and has earned him frequent appearances on Fox News and other conservative outlets. Jensen has used his higher profile to build up a large social media following, becoming "one of the nation's most-followed politicians on TikTok," according to Axios, before he was banned from the app in April for violating its COVID misinformation policies.

Jensen has also amassed more than 290,000 followers on Facebook, which President Joe Biden recently blamed for "killing people" by failing to crack down on misinformation about the pandemic. Jensen's Facebook rants against Dr. Anthony Fauci and videos criticizing the federal response frequently go viral and are swamped with comments calling forFauci's arrest, falsely claiming "there was no pandemic," baselessly alleging that the vaccine is "more dangerous than the virus" and pushing conspiracy theories comparing mass vaccination to "Holocaust experiments."

Democratic state Sen. Matt Klein, a physician, said it was "harmful and dangerous" for Jensen to value his experience as a doctor over the "expertise of the overwhelming majority of virologists and public health experts across the country."

"As doctors, when we encounter an issue outside our area of expertise, it is our practice and our creed to seek the opinions of experts in order to provide the best possible medical advice," Klein said in a statement. "Time and time again, Scott Jensen has refused to do so and misled the people of Minnesota about the COVID-19 pandemic as a result."

Jensen's vaccine skepticism predates the pandemic. In 2019, he posted a Facebook video saying that vaccines could have adverse side effects, saying that "results are not guaranteed and research-based predictions often fall short" while supporting parents' rights to refuse to get their kids immunized. But over the past year, he has become a prominent figure in the anti-vaccine conspiracy world. In October, Jensen appeared at a "Vaccine Awareness Event" in Alexandria, Virginia, that featured discredited leading anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield; Del Bigtree, founder of the anti-vaccine Informed Consent Action Network and a frequent guest on Alex Jones' Infowars; Dr. Bob Zajac, a Minnesota physician who came under investigation by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice for questioning the safety of vaccines to patients; and Sheila Easley, an anti-vaccine activist whose claim that the MMR vaccine caused her son's autism was featured in Wakefield and Bigtree's documentary "Vaxxed." At that event, Jensen stressed that he is not an anti-vaxxer but praised the panel for its "education and engagement" efforts.

Jensen was also a presenter at a notorious event called the "Truth Over Fear Summit on Covid and the 'Great Reset,'" which the Anti-Defamation League described as promoting the conspiracy theory that "global elites" are using the pandemic to "advance their interests and push forward a globalist plot to destroy American sovereignty and prosperity." The event also featured Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a leading anti-vaccine activist; Dr. Judy Mikovits, the doctor behind the "Plandemic" video and a vaccine conspiracy theorist; Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, who championed the use of hydroxychloroquine and got Trump to endorse it; Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, who has falsely claimed that COVID vaccines cause infertility; and Dr. Carrie Madej, a QAnon supporter who spoke at a pro-Trump, anti-vaccine rally on Jan. 6, claiming that the vaccine "contains bio-sensing nanomachines designed to alter human DNA and control people's minds."

Jensen also appeared at the Minnesota Holistic Round Table Summit, which also featured Bigtree and Zajac, and has frequently appeared on Bigtree's "Highwire" podcast since the start of the pandemic. Bigtree became a star in the anti-vaccine world after the 2016 release of "Vaxxed," which was pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival after backlash from medical experts. The film pushed Wakefield's discredited claim that MMR vaccines cause autism, according to Stat News, and "advanced, but provided no evidence for, a conspiracy theory" claiming that the CDC "covered up vital data and committed fraud."

Bigtree's show was removed from YouTube after he urged viewers to intentionally expose themselves to COVID, but not before it had attracted more than 360,000 followers and more than 30 million views. Bigtree, who has no medical training, has called for everyone but high-risk individuals to "develop natural, stronger, more thorough herd immunity" without a vaccine, even though medical experts warned that would kill hundreds of thousands more people.

Bigtree has claimed that the "purpose" of COVID is to "help usher in vaccine mandates" and is part of a plot by the pharmaceutical industry to enrich itself. Bigtree has promoted his views on Infowars, baselessly warning of "vaccine-enhanced disease" and pushing the discredited claim that the vaccine makes women infertile.

Bigtree was a featured speaker at the MAGA Freedom Rally on Jan. 6, about a block away from the Capitol building, where he linked Trump's election conspiracy theories to his campaign against vaccines.

"I wish I could tell you I believed in the CDC. ... I wish I could tell you that this pandemic really is dangerous," he said. "I wish I could believe that voting machines worked ... but none of this is happening."

Earlier this year, Jensen also appeared on the podcast hosted by Sherri Tenpenny, who has described Covid as a "scamdemic" and the vaccines as a "genocidal, DNA-manipulating, infertility-causing, dementia-causing machine." Tenpenny claimed on Twitter that vaccines are a "method of depopulation" before she was suspended by the platform. A recent analysis found that Tenpenny was one of just 12 accounts responsible for producing up to 65% of all anti-vaccine content on Twitter and Facebook. Among her many conspiracy theories is a claim that Bill Gates is behind "chemtrail, 5G, and vaccine microchip-related, world-domination plans," according to Snopes. More recently, Tenpenny went viral after appearing before Ohio state lawmakers to make the false claim that vaccines magnetize people.

Last month, Jensen was interviewed by Robert Scott Bell, a radio host and homeopathic practitioner who has promoted the use of a formula called Silver Hydrosol as a COVID treatment. The FDA has since listed the product among other "fraudulent" COVID remedies. More recently, Bell's show has promoted vaccine infertility, vaccine shedding, "Eugenics," and 5G conspiracy theories. The show is hosted by Natural News Radio, which was founded by Mike Adams, a conspiracy theorist who compared those who advocate COVID vaccines to Nazi eugenicists.

Despite repeatedly appearing alongside some of the most prominent anti-vaccine activists in the world, Jensen has repeatedly denied being an anti-vaxxer. He told the Star-Tribune in May that he wants vaccines for children paused "so that the status quo can be maintained until we have a chance to have a broader, more robust discussion." But he has continued to claim on social media that teens and children have a "0% statistical chance of dying" from the pandemic even though at least 335 Americans under 17 have died, according to the CDC, and some children infected have had long COVID symptoms lasting for months.

Jensen called Democrats who accuse him of spreading conspiracy theories "desperate" but has said he knows his comments will continue to shadow his campaign.

"I think for me the question is going to be: 'Was I on point? Was I rational? Was I a COVID denier? Did I intentionally phone in conspiracy theories?'" he told the Star-Tribune. "I think it'll hang around. But I think it is going to be far enough away that Minnesotans are going to demand a stronger focus on public safety and what are we doing for our kids."

In recent months, Jensen has tried to shift his public image, in sharp contrast to his initial attempts to blame Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, for "destroying livelihoods" and keeping "families apart and businesses closed" during the pandemic.

"I think Gov. Walz has made some good decisions, but as this pandemic has gone on, decisions haven't been based on science, they've been based on political science," Jensen told local news outlet KSTP after announcing his bid in March.

He denied that he has spread conspiracy theories, but= doubled down on his opposition to mask and vaccine mandates.

"I don't think I introduced conspiracy theories," he told the outlet. "People took snippets of what I said and put it wherever they wanted on programs and on pages and websites I'd never heard of. I don't think there's anything I could have done about that."

The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has gone on the offensive against Jensen's nascent campaign, calling him an "anti-vaccine doctor" and slamming him for joining a "fringe group of doctors and insurrectionists to spread dangerous misinformation."

In a statement after Jensen announced his candidacy, DFL Party chair Ken Martin described him as "a dangerous COVID-19 conspiracy theorist who has been caught spreading lies about the pandemic, palling around with anti-vaccine extremists, and downplaying the virus that has taken over half a million American lives."

Bill O’Reilly threatens to sue over report that his tour with Trump isn't selling out

Former President Donald Trump is struggling to sell tickets to his upcoming interview tour with conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly, according to a Politico report that prompted the former Fox News host to threaten a lawsuit threat.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Trump and O'Reilly last month announced that they would join forces for something called "The History Tour," which will feature interviews that "provide a never-before-heard inside view of his administration — which will be historical in and of itself." Trump vowed that the interviews would be "hard-hitting sessions" but also "fun, fun, fun, for everyone who attends."

Tickets for the tour, which will start with four cities in Florida and Texas, have been on sale for a month and range from $100 to $3000, though the pair is also selling a "VIP Meet & Greet Package" that includes a 45-minute reception before the show and backstage photos with Trump and O'Reilly. That will cost you $8,500.

But despite both men repeatedly promoting the tour, ticket sales have reportedly been struggling.

"There's still a lot of tickets open," a box office employee at Orlando's Amway Center told Politico, noting that a Bad Bunny concert that won't actually happen until next spring had sold out in two days.

A "large number of seats" remain available for the pair's event at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Politico also reported, while 60% to 65% of seats remain unsold for the tour stop at the Toyota Center in Houston.

It's unclear how many tickets are still available for the duo's first appearance, scheduled for Dec. 11 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. A box office employee told the outlet that they had expected sales would be "definitely higher" by now.

"It hasn't been [selling] like crazy," the employee said, adding that events for comedians Katt Williams and Joe Rogan sold "significantly" better.

This is a somewhat unusual problem for a former president given how popular other events led by former residents of the White House have been in recent years. Former first lady Michelle Obama's 2018 "Becoming" book tour sold out within two days, including an event in Chicago that sold out within minutes, as Politico noted. A 2018 tour by former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sold out within two weeks, though their venues were smaller.

Trump and O'Reilly disputed the Politico report. A Trump aide told the outlet that he has not "promoted the events very much," and claimed that "many tickets" haven't been made available.

"The History Tour has already sold over $5 million of tickets, and the excitement and enthusiasm is unlike anything we've seen before," Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington told Politico. "Come December, the sold out shows will be a memorable night for all."

O'Reilly called the report "false" and "totally ridiculous," declaring that ticket sales have already brought in $7 million, a figure even higher than the Trump camp claimed.

"We haven't spent a nickel on marketing, nothing," he said. "All those 7 million for four shows were done on the announcement. Marketing will start in about a week. Nobody has sold tickets this fast at this price, and VIPs are sold out at 3 of the 4 venues."

O'Reilly told Politico that the Sunrise event is nearly 75% sold out and said that not all the seats in Houston will be available. He said it was "bullshit" that Orlando sales have been sluggish, while admitting he didn't know how many had been sold.

Mediaite pointed out, however, that a simple Ticketmaster search shows many tickets still available for the Orlando event.

O'Reilly threatened to sue Politico reporter Daniel Lippman over the article. "You put one word in there that's not true, I'll sue your ass off and you can quote me on that," he told Lippman. "You're just a hatchet man and that's what you are."

Despite claims that there has been little or no marketing so far, both men have aggressively promoted the event. Trump and O'Reilly both plugged the event as a "great" Father's Day gift last month and O'Reilly has urged his podcast subscribers to become paying members in order to get early access to the events.

O'Reilly now hosts the "No Spin News" podcast. He was forced out at Fox News in 2017 after a New York Times report that he and the network had agreed to at least six settlements with women who accused him of sexual harassment, including a $32 million settlement with a woman who alleged a "nonconsensual sexual relationship."

Trump has also been accused of sexual misconduct, sexual assault and rape by more than a dozen women, though it's his role in stoking the Jan. 6 Capitol riot with lies about the 2020 election that has made him a mainstream pariah since leaving office. While Barack Obama has earned as much as $400,000 per speech and Bill Clinton has earned up to $750,000 per appearance, there appears to be little appetite among private companies to host Trump.

"For the past administration, there has been very little demand for former members, starting from the top, and it's largely because it's a very polarizing environment," the head of one of the largest speaking agencies in the country told Politico. "Companies don't want to get associated with anything that smells like Jan. 6 or questioning the election. That doesn't help them at all."

'NRA shot itself in the foot': Democrats call for DOJ probe of possible bankruptcy fraud

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Sunday for the Justice Department to investigate the National Rifle Association for fraud over the group's ad expenditures amid its failed bankruptcy case.

This article first appeared in Salon.

The NRA filed for bankruptcy in January in a bid to relaunch the organization in Texas under "the protection of the bankruptcy court" despite boasting that the group was "in its strongest financial condition in years." The bankruptcy filing came after New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve the NRA over allegations that executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and other top executives had "funneled millions" in donor funds "into their own pockets." A Texas judge in May dismissed the bankruptcy case, ruling that it was not "filed in good faith" and was instead an attempt to "gain an unfair litigation advantage and ... was filed to avoid a state regulatory scheme."

Schumer this week said that the DOJ should investigate millions in advertising expenditures the NRA made while claiming to be bankrupt.

"NRA claimed they were 'bankrupt' to escape the NY Attorney General's jurisdiction," Schumer said on Twitter. "But they've been spending millions on ads, mailers, texts, TV, & more to stop common sense gun reforms. The U.S. Department of Justice must investigate if NRA committed fraud or other offenses."

In April, the NRA announced a $2 million ad campaign to oppose President Joe Biden's gun control proposals.

"At the same time they're saying they're bankrupt, they're spending millions of dollars on ads to stop universal background checks," Schumer told the Associated Press. "That demands an investigation by the Justice Department."

Schumer noted that the group spent $500,000 on ads pressuring Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to oppose Biden's nomination of David Chipman, a former adviser to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"How can you say you're bankrupt at the same time you have millions of dollars to spend on ads throughout the country trying to prevent universal background checks fundraising and other things that will stop the killings on the streets?" the majority leader told the AP. "The bottom line is the NRA shot itself in the foot when they declared bankruptcy and still have millions of dollars."

The comments drew an angry reaction from the NRA, which described his call for a probe as a "tyrannical threat." NRA lawyer William Brewer accused Schumer of "promoting a false narrative."

"The NRA pursued a financial reorganization for one reason: to streamline its financial and legal affairs. The truth is, the proceedings in question confirmed what the Association disclosed from the outset — the NRA is financially solvent, and the filing in Texas was part of its long-term plans to effectively serve its members," Brewer said in a statement to the AP. "Although the bankruptcy court did not believe the filing was for a proper bankruptcy purpose, it specifically did not find the NRA acted in bad faith."

The NRA's bankruptcy bid was highly unusual from the start. LaPierre admitted during the proceedings that he kept the bankruptcy filing secret from nearly all the group's top officials and its board of directors. NRA board member Phil Journey called the ploy a "fraud perpetrated on the court" in May.

Federal bankruptcy Judge Harlin Hale ruled that the bankruptcy petition was "not filed in good faith" and cited "lingering issues of secrecy and a lack of transparency" at the group, noting that he was particularly troubled by "the surreptitious manner in which Mr. LaPierre obtained and exercised authority to file bankruptcy for the NRA."

The ruling allowed James to renew her bid to dissolve the group and the months-long trial forced officials to confirm some of the allegations brought by her office.

LaPierre admitted to taking annual trips to the Bahamas on a luxury yacht owned by an NRA vendor, which he failed to disclose to the group. LaPierre's private travel consultant, who was paid $26,000 per month, testified that LaPierre instructed her to doctor invoices for private jets to hide their real destinations.

James' lawsuit accuses the NRA of reimbursing $1.2 million in personal expenses for LaPierre and claims he spent another $3.6 million of the group's money in just two years for private travel and executive car service, and millions more for private security for him and his family. The lawsuit also accuses NRA executives of failing to report income by funneling personal expenses through a public relations firm and awarding big contracts to friends and associates.

The NRA in response filed a federal lawsuit accusing James of a " blatant and malicious retaliation campaign against the NRA and its constituents based on her disagreement with the content of their speech" but ultimately dropped the suit last month.

James said that the group's decision to drop the lawsuit was "an implicit admission that their strategy would never prevail."

"The truth is that Wayne LaPierre and his lieutenants used the NRA as a breeding ground for personal gain and a lavish lifestyle," she said in a statement. "We were victorious against the organization's attempt to declare bankruptcy, and our fight for transparency and accountability will continue because no one is above the law."

Ohio's GOP Senate contenders desperately try to out-Trump each other — it could hurt them

Days after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced he would retire rather than seek a third term, despite winning his previous race by 20 points and being credited with helping former President Donald Trump secure a victory in the state. Portman, who backed Trump's policies but was not an entirely avid supporter, blamed "partisan gridlock" for his decision. But amid a slew of retirements by other moderate Republicans, it certainly appears Portman saw the writing on the wall as his party went all-in on Trump.

This article first appeared in Salon.

"He would have had a problem," Gary Abernathy, a longtime Ohio journalist who previously worked for Portman, said in an interview with Salon, describing the "tightrope" Portman walked for years to keep Trump's people happy while "being true to himself." Although Portman won his last Republican primary with more than 80% of the vote, many of the state's Republican voters "don't feel like he had Trump's back as much as he could have," Abernathy said, "even though when it came down to it … he pretty much always voted with Trump."

Ohio strongly backed Trump in both 2016 and 2020, although Barack Obama had won the state twice before that. As the Buckeye State seemingly skews to the right, the increasingly old and white Ohio GOP appears to have adopted a litmus test for candidates — one that Portman might not have passed.

"They want someone who's out there giving a full-throated defense of Donald Trump all the time," Abernathy said.

That's exactly what the Ohio Republican Senate primary campaign has to offer so far, for better or worse. The race quickly devolved into intra-party attacks as candidates snipe at each other over who stans Trump the hardest and which opponent committed the unforgivable sin of once not supporting the former president enough. Former state party chair Jane Timken, a major Trump donor, recently circulated a "scorecard" touting her record of backing Trump as the best in the field. Former state treasurer and perennial also-ran Josh Mandel has tried to adopt Trump's abrasive style and racist tweets, to an almost comical degree. Both Mandel and Timken, along with Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno, the other big Trump donors in the race, flew down to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in March to try to earn the ex-president's backing in what the Associated Press described as a "bizarre scene reminiscent of Trump's reality TV show, 'The Apprentice.'"

The 2022 GOP Senate campaign is already unlike any recent Ohio primary, said Doug Preisse, chair emeritus of the Franklin County Republican Party, who previously worked for Mandel as a strategist.

"The fact that everybody's falling over themselves and rushing to kiss the ring of a former president when it appears to most of the public that they're kissing another part of his anatomy, that's a more intense kind of approach," Preisse told Salon. All the candidates have been "afraid of their own shadow that they might do or say something" that will anger Trump and "drive him to endorse one of the others," he added.

Perhaps no one has a steeper hill to climb in winning over Trump's base than J.D. Vance, the venture capitalist and best-selling author of "Hillbilly Elegy," who recently made a separate trip to Mar-a-Lago with billionaire Trump donor Peter Thiel to meet with the former president and, presumably, seek to make amends for his extensive past criticism.

According to Preisse, Vance originally indicated he planned to stay out of the Ohio Senate race. "The last time I talked to J.D. was at a cocktail party in Aspen a couple years ago," Preisse recalled. "He said he couldn't run in this kind of atmosphere because of Trump. It was a toxic atmosphere and he could never do that and wouldn't do it."

Vance wrote a New York Times op-ed in 2016 calling Trump "unfit" to be president. Elsewhere he described the appeal of Trump as "cultural heroin" and warned that his policy proposals "range from immoral to absurd."

"I can't stomach Trump," he told NPR in 2016 before announcing his support for independent never-Trump conservative Evan McMullin in the general election. "I think that he's noxious and is leading the white working class to a very dark place."

But Vance, who has built his image on his rural Appalachian roots while making a fortune investing in the same tech companies he now decries, changed his tune after getting more than $10 million in financial backing from Thiel and Trump mega-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer to fund his Senate bid.

The Yale Law School grad, who has now joined the Republican chorus in criticizing "elites," scrubbed his old tweets calling Trump "reprehensible" and touting his McMullin support before appearing on Fox News to apologize.

"Like a lot of people, I criticized Trump back in 2016," Vance said. "And I ask folks not to judge me based on what I said in 2016, because I've been very open that I did say those critical things and I regret them, and I regret being wrong about the guy. I think he was a good president, I think he made a lot of good decisions for people, and I think he took a lot of flak."

Vance appears to hope his open contrition can convince Ohio voters that he genuinely supports Trump. "I'm not just a flip-flopper, I'm a flip-flop-flipper on Trump," he insisted to Time's Molly Ball, describing Trump as "the leader of this movement."

"If I actually care about these people and the things I say I care about, I need to just suck it up and support him," he said.

That admission did little to support the image that Vance's allies have tried to portray in countless articles presenting him the "authentic" Ohio candidate in the race.

"If they see you as a flip-flopper or a political opportunist" who says "whatever you got to say to get to where you want to go, they can smell that," Preisse said.

"That really kind of rips a hole in the 'I'm the authentic candidate' narrative," Abernathy said. "You're saying that out loud, right? People are reading that."

Abernathy, who supported Trump until after the election, said it was "disappointing" to see Vance "blatantly change that position and pander to the Trump people and to Trump himself." He predicted that Vance's GOP opponents would seize on those comments in attack ads.

Indeed, it didn't take long. "Not only do we welcome to the race, we welcome him to the Republican Party," the Gibbons campaign said in a statement after Vance announced his bid.

"He claims to be a Trump Republican, but in the short time Mr. Vance has been active in politics he's spent the bulk of it tearing down President Trump and mocking Trump voters," said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, which has endorsed Mandel.

Vance has tried to overcome his past Trump criticism by adopting Trump's style and talking points. In recent months, he has railed on Twitter about Big Tech, the media and the supposed cancellation of Dr. Seuss, and has promoted a QAnon-inspired conspiracy theory suggesting that unrelated sexual misconduct cases were evidence of a powerful cabal of "predators targeting children." He has frequently appeared on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show and has echoed, in slightly milder form, Carlson's racist "great replacement" theory by raising concerns about white and nonwhite birthrates. In a recent interview, Vance appeared to nod to Trump's bogus election fraud narrative, saying that Vice President Kamala Harris had been "elected or whatever."

Vance's allies also believe that he is a "household name and a well-known brand," Preisse said. "I don't think that is the case. Books and movies made Stephen King a household name," he said, suggesting that Vance is nowhere near that category.

On the other hand, it's likely that the Thiel and Mercer millions can go a long way in helping Vance make up ground on Timken and Mandel. "That's why you raise money — so you can run a real campaign and do messaging," Preisse said. "Sometimes you gotta try to put the shit back in the horse, which is what he's probably going to have to spend some money doing."

Vance's allies have pointed out that Timken and Mandel may be big Trump fans now, but both of them supported other Republicans in the 2016 presidential primary first. Trump appears to have forgiven Timken and had to be talked out of giving her an early endorsment, according to Axios, while Mandel was kicked out of a recent Republican National Committee retreat in Florida that featured Trump.

No one has tried harder to embrace Trumpism than Mandel, who is running for Senate for the third time in the last decade. Mandel's Twitter bio claims that he was the "1st Statewide Official in Ohio to support President Trump" and he announced his campaign earlier this year by declaring that he was "going to Washington to fight for President Trump's America First Agenda."

Mandel's Twitter feed resembles a Trump fan page, replete with tweets decrying "science" and "experts" while trying (arguably a little too hard) to own the "libs." He's pinned a tweet to the top of his feed that features a video of himself burning a mask with the caption "FREEDOM." In true Trump fashion, he was temporarily suspended by Twitter after posting a poll asking which types of "illegals" would commit more crimes, "Muslim Terrorists" or "Mexican Gangbangers."

After his account access was restored, Mandel proudly declared, "Just like President Trump, I was canceled by @twitter @jack yesterday," adding that he wears "this as a badge of honor as Big Tech thugs & elites target those who they are most afraid of."

Mandel "has left a lot of his old friends and supporters scratching their heads," Preisse said, "and just wondering what the next thing he's gonna do or say that seems to be out of character of the fella we thought we knew for many years."

"I've known Josh since he was in college and I don't even know who the hell that guy is anymore," said another veteran Republican strategist, who spoke to Salon on the condition of anonymity.

It isn't just Mandel's embrace of Trump. The Cleveland-area native also appears to have bizarrely adopted a Southern drawl as he attempts to win over rural voters in southern Ohio, although to be fair, he came under fire for the same fake accent in his first Senate bid in 2012.

Mandel's previous failed campaigns have left him with strong name recognition in the state and millions in leftover campaign cash, but his "incessant campaigning over the past decade has worn some donors out," according to The Atlantic's Clare Malone, and his top fundraisers quit last month, reportedly over a "toxic work environment" created by Rachel Wilson, his campaign finance director and girlfriend.

At times, both Mandel and Timken's camps have tried to make it seem as if they've already landed the coveted Trump endorsement. The USA Freedom Fund, a dark money group backing Mandel, used footage of Trump "even though Mandel was nowhere in sight" while attacking Vance for his past criticism, according to the AP.

Timken recently said in a radio ad that she was "very proud to be endorsed by President Trump to lead our party," which was a reference to her campaign for state party chair four years ago. She recently deleted a photo of hersel and Trump from her website's endorsement page after angering his allies with the insinuation that he is supporting her. Timken rented a plane to fly a pro-Trump banner bearing her website before his Ohio rally last month and deployed volunteers to hand out fliers touting her as "the only true pro-Trump America First candidate" in the race. "Certainly the Timken campaign was working very hard to make it seem like she was also endorsed at this rally," a source told NBC News.

While other candidates are still vying for Trump's endorsement, Timken was widely expected to have it by now. She has bragged that she turned the Ohio Republican Party into a "well-oiled, pro-Trump machine," and she and her husband, steel company CEO Tim Timken, have donated millions to Republican causes. She has already garnered endorsements from dozens of county GOP chairmen and elected officials.

So the fact that no endorsement has happened is unquestionably a blow to Timken's chances, Preisse said. "We all expected her to get an early Trump endorsement and when she didn't, it was almost one step forward, two steps back," he said. "She is suffering more from a lack of endorsement than the others, because it was assumed she'd get it."

Timken has also come under attack from her opponents, not for failing to be supportive enough of the former president but for failing to be tough enough on his perceived enemies. Trump used much of his rally to attack Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican who voted to impeach him after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The state's Republicans piled on, with Mandel calling Gonzalez a "traitor" who should be "eradicated from the Republican Party." The state GOP officially censured Gonzalez in May, calling for him to resign.

Timken also called for Gonzalez to resign from Congress over his disloyalty, but only after she first defended him as a "very effective legislator" and a "very good person" in February after his impeachment vote.

"Question: Why did Jane Timken refuse to censure Gonzalez when she was Chairman? She clearly had time to do so," Mandel questioned in May. "So what's the real reason?"

At Trump's Ohio rally, the ex-president endorsed Max Miller, a 32-year-old former White House aide with multiple criminal charges on his record, in next year's primary against Gonzalez. But he didn't pick a horse in the Senate race, instead staging an impromptu poll of the audience on who they thought he should back.

Though all the candidates have tripped over themselves to ingratiate themselves with the former president, Vance told NBC News he believes that Trump "gets a certain kick out of people kissing his ass" and views them as "weak."

"He actually wants to see the race play out a little bit and see who among us is the strongest of the candidates," he said, while trying to spin his past criticism of Trump as an asset rather than a weakness.

Abernathy suggested that it was more likely that Trump doesn't want to endorse "somebody who ends up losing" because that would make him "look not particularly powerful."

Furthermore, Abernathy said that even though Trump is still the "800-pound gorilla in the room," his support in the state is "slowly eroding." All these candidates' full-throated embrace of Trumpism could come back to bite them in the general election, he said, where "they're going to want to walk that back quite a bit and it's gonna be hard."

Rep. Tim Ryan, who briefly ran for president in 2020 — and before that opposed Nancy Pelosi for the speakership — is the only Democrat to jump into the race so far. But the party claims to believe the Trumpist scrum on the other side will only serve to alienate voters.

"While the GOP's pack of elitist millionaires stumble all over themselves in a desperate attempt to get the attention of a failed Florida blogger, Democrats in Ohio are laser focused on getting the endorsement of Ohio voters — the endorsement that matters most," Matt Keyes, a spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party, said in a statement to Salon. "While Republicans want to look backward to the divisions of the past, Ohio Democrats are looking ahead to building a better future for working Ohioans."

There's also no guarantee that whoever does the most to win over Trump's base will win the Republican primary as all the candidates vying for the "Trump lane" cannibalize each other's support.

The anonymous Republican strategist, who has worked for numerous prominent state and federal lawmakers, said he was in contact with some of the campaigns but chose to sit out the race "because I have to look at myself in the mirror in the morning."

Abernathy and Preisse, unprompted, separately brought up Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, a potential Senate candidate who represents the Dayton area, as a less Trumpy Republican who could turn the race on its head if he joins the fray, especially since most of the other candidates have little experience with legislation.

"He's been kind of an independent-minded person when it comes to Trump, but when the chips are down he's usually been there for Trump," Abernathy said. "He's a very smart person, very well-spoken, I think a good debater, a former mayor of Dayton who has managed to appeal to the Democrats, which is helpful in the general."

Preisse also mentioned state Sen. Matt Dolan, the state budget committee chairman, whose family owns the Cleveland Indians, describing him as a "center-right conservative ... who knows how to get things done."

"If Turner or Dolan gets in, there will be a lot of people who breathe a sigh of relief that there's an adult in the race who isn't rushing to kiss Donald Trump's ring," Preisse said, before repeating, "or some other part of his anatomy."

Jason Miller's new platform Gettr is latest right-wing social media flop -- following Gab, Parler and Mike Lindell's Frank

Former Trump spokesperson Jason Miller launched a new social media platform called Gettr late last week, only to see it quickly mocked online, particularly for its uninspired name. Gettr was presented to the public as a way to solve conservatives' problems on social media, but, the launch encountered a series of challenges, from hackers scraping troves of users' private data to leftists trolling the platform with NSFW Sonic the Hedgehog content.

Last Thursday, Politico was the first to report on Gettr's plans to go live. A team of former Trump campaign associates helped to kickstart the new right-wing app, which announced itself as aimed at "fighting cancel culture, promoting common sense, defending free speech, challenging social media monopolies, and creating a true marketplace of ideas."

While ridicule indeed followed, many in TrumpWorld showed up at the half-developed website, including Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, former Trump White House aide Sebastian Gorka and a plethora of former Trump campaign staffers.

Soon thereafter, The Daily Beast uncovered that Miller's entire venture was being funded by fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, aka Miles Kwok, who is friendly with various TrumpWorld figures, most notably Steve Bannon. But before the dust even got a chance to settle, Gettr became the target of hackers who saw the site security as laughable.

On the morning of July 4, on the day the site was slated for its grand launch, the site was hacked by a somewhat friendly hacker who defaced usernames on top accounts, including those of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jason Miller himself.

"JubaBaghdad was here, follow me in twitter :)," the hacker wrote, as first reported by Salon. The hacker told Salon that the breach took him less than 20 minutes to carry out in subsequent conversations. "Took from me 20 minutes to find them. And I'm sure I can find more if I spent more time," the anonymous hacker shared.

The following day, on Monday, the hacker reached back out to Salon with a lengthy list of other points of concern on Gettr, including "a dangerous bug in their API server," which the hacker said was an access point where he was able to uncover information including "email, birthdate, and location."

The hacker, known on Twitter as "JubaBaghdad," offered as proof that they were able to access accurate information scraped from this Salon reporter's Gettr account, created only days earlier.

JubaBaghdad claimed they had attempted to get in touch with Miller's development team, but to no avail. The hacker stressed that Gettr remains open to attacks.

Miller didn't respond to Salon's request for an interview, nor to the offer of answering questions by email.

In public statements, Miller has claimed that Gettr was poised to challenge the "woke tyranny" of Big Tech, a major villain in the conservative universe.

"GETTR is a direct challenge to the social media oligarchs from Silicon Valley, and what better day to declare independence from their woke tyranny than July 4th?" Miller declared. "GETTR is the marketplace of ideas. We will not cancel people for their political opinions, and GETTR offers far more features and better technology than anything else out there."

That claim appears debatable. Miller boasted that Gettr had made the list of top 10 most downloaded applications on the Apple app store even before its launch, and so far appears unfazed by its apparently questionable development and security features.

"Users won't have to choose between conservative-leaning platforms with inferior technology and slicker liberal Apps that crush their freedom of expression," Miller added. "With GETTR, they'll get back their freedom of speech and have a superior product at the same time."

But this sales pitch evidently made little impact on Donald Trump, Miller's former boss, who evidently has no plans to join the right-wing platform anytime soon.

On Tuesday morning, Vice News reported that hackers had scraped 90,000 emails from Gettr users, in addition to a host of other sensitive data points from account creation on the site.

One would be remiss not to mention the extraordinary amount of "furry" porn involving Sonic the Hedgehog that has flooded Gettr. Salon has verified that the Gettr site is now attempting to ban accounts posting Sonic porn, which has provoked protest from left-wing trolls eager to argue that Miller's team is violating their own mission statement of free expression.

Early on Wednesday, numerous account postings reviewed by Salon accused Gettr of "censoring" user content under the respective hashtags "#sonic" and "#sonic_came_in_my_bussy."

Miller has claimed that Gettr has now successfully patched the security vulnerabilities, but the hacker who communicated with Salon dismissed that, saying they "can take over any account through XSS bug[s]!"

Salon reached out to several pro-Trump pundits who have recently joined Gettr and invited them to share their experiences on the new platform. None responded.

'Utter betrayal': Angry activists who helped elect Kyrsten Sinema say 'she has no values'

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who has perplexed the nation, once criticized the filibuster's 60-vote threshold and urged Democrats to pass critical legislation with a simple majority. But the onetime Green Party activist and self-described "Prada socialist" has transformed, somehow or other, into one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, and the activists who helped elect her can't help but feel a sense of "betrayal."

This article first appeared in Salon.

Sinema, a former state representative, in 2010 lamented the "false pressure" to reach a 60-vote supermajority to pass significant legislation in a video unearthed by the progressive advocacy group More Perfect Union. Sinema urged Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to pass major bills like health care reform instead of "kowtowing to Joe Lieberman," the centrist senator who served as a roadblock to the party's major proposals despite caucusing with Democrats throughout his career.

When Lieberman briefly ran for president in 2003, Sinema described him as "pathetic."

"He's a shame to Democrats," she told a reporter at the time. "I don't even know why he's running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him — what kind of strategy is that?"

Past comments like those have puzzled Arizonans who have watched Sinema ascend to the Senate only to become a Lieberman-like figure herself. The shift has particularly stung for activists who helped register and turn out a record number of voters in the 2018 election, when Sinema narrowly defeated Republican Martha McSally. Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), a grassroots group that led a coalition that knocked on 2.5 million doors that year, say they've been shut out by Sinema since she was elected.

Sinema "will not take meetings with us personally," César Fierros, the group's communications manager, told Salon, adding that meetings with her team have been "incredibly dismissive" and even "combative." By comparison, he said the group has had an "open line of communication" with newly-elected Sen. Mark Kelly (who also defeated McSally, in 2020, leaving the latter in the improbable position of losing two Senate races two years apart).

"From the beginning, our members and our community went out to knock on doors for Sen. Kelly and showed up at the polls," Fierros said. "We have high expectations because that is what our community deserves. Our members expect our senators to address the needs of their community."

Sinema's stance on the filibuster has further soured relations with the group.

"Sinema's choice to obstruct the Biden agenda during her time in the Senate can only be described as a complete and utter betrayal to the good people of Arizona that cast a vote for her in 2018," Fierros said. "Her delusional defense of the filibuster is a major roadblock to not only the real reforms we campaigned for when electing Sinema but also the defense of our democracy. With so much on the line, the senator continues to turn her back on promises made for true progress on voting rights, minimum wage and immigration reform."

Many young LGBTQ activists who were inspired by Sinema, the first bisexual woman in the Senate, also say she has broken her campaign promises by defending the filibuster rule, undercutting her support for legislation like the pro-LGBTQ Equality Act.

Joan Arrow, a trans LGBTQ activist, was never politically inclined before the Trump presidency but quickly rallied behind Sinema's historic candidacy and volunteered for her campaign.

"I wasn't out of the closet yet," Arrow said in an interview with Salon. But "I knew that if I was going to be safe coming out of the closet, I'm going to need members of the LGBTQ community and allies in positions of power who would vote for something like the Equality Act, who would put my interests first. I trusted the promises she made in her campaign. I knocked on doors for her, I argued up and down that she was better than Martha McSally. And now that she's in a position of power, I really feel left behind."

Sinema is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act, which would grant civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community. But her defense of the filibuster means the bill has virtually no hope of advancing in the Senate after 50 Republicans used the rule to block debate on the legislation. Meanwhile, Republicans have introduced more than 250 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation in state legislatures, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which warned that 2021 is set to become the "worst year for LGBTQ state legislative attacks."

Arrow, who now works with the Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster, organized a coalition of over 140 LGBTQ groups and activists to sign an open letter calling on Sinema to "take the necessary next step of ending the filibuster," warning that if she refuses "we will have no choice but to seriously consider whether our support for you, including financial donations, may better serve our community if directed to another Democrat who will use their power as a U.S. senator to stand up for our rights."

The letter was cathartic for many LGBTQ activists who felt frustrated with Sinema's direction, Arrow said.

"I felt incredibly betrayed," she said. "Almost everyone I've spoken to has really echoed that feeling of betrayal. LGBTQ Arizonans need people to do what they say they're going to do, and when you have this historic candidate in our community getting elected to the Senate, who then turns tail and abandons everyone who lifted her up into that position — the LGBTQ Arizonans I've spoken to, we feel betrayed."

The Equality Act is just one of the major pieces of Democratic legislation that has languished in Congress as a result of the filibuster. Republicans have also filibustered the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill, and the threat of a filibuster has impeded progress on policing reform and the PRO Act, which would strengthen unions.

"LGBTQ issues are the same as anybody else's," Brianna Westbrook, a vice chair of the Arizona Democratic Party who helped organize the letter, said in an interview with Salon. "LGBTQ people and people with disabilities, in particular, are two communities that really intersect with multiple social and economic classes and the filibuster is a barrier that's really restricting not only the Equality Act but other legislation that's important to the LGBTQ community like raising the wage, immigration reform, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and allowing LGBTQ people to organize their workplaces."

Progressive groups have poured millions into campaigns to ramp up pressure on Sinema to reverse her position on the filibuster. Operatives who helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York have launched the No Excuses PAC, which threatens to back primary challengers to Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., if they continue to "join with Republicans" against their own party's agenda. Another group has launched the Pressure PAC to raise money for an eventual progressive primary challenger to Sinema. Just Democracy, a coalition of more than 40 civil rights groups, last month launched a $1.5 million ad campaign to urge Sinema to "deliver on her campaign promise to protect voting rights and stand up for Arizonans."

Sinema "campaigned for her seat by telling Black and brown Arizonans that she'd have our backs in office," Stephanie Spaulding, a Just Democracy coalition member and founder of Truth & Conciliation, told Salon. Sinema promised to "support fair wages, more and better jobs, climate justice ... promises that compelled Black and Brown people to turn out in record numbers. But instead of having our backs, Sinema turned her back on us. Her insistence on letting Republicans use the Jim Crow filibuster keeps her from delivering on the promises she made — the filibuster is a ubiquitous barrier to progress on all issues."

Sinema's opposition to eliminating the filibuster to advance voting rights legislation comes as Republicans this year have introduced more than 350 bills to restrict voting access. In Arizona, Republicans voted to strip power from the Democratic secretary of state and to implement new voting restrictions amid a dubious "forensic audit" of an election where no evidence of widespread fraud has been detected. The Supreme Court on Thursday dealt another blow to the Voting Rights Act, upholding previously enacted absentee voting restrictions and making it more difficult to challenge new state restrictions in the future.

"Senators like Sinema who insist on prioritizing 'bipartisanship' over crucial legislation aimed at strengthening our democracy are resurrecting the legacy of segregationists," Spaulding said. "Instead of protecting our democracy, they're placing a Jim Crow relic over the most fundamental right we have as Americans: the right to vote."

Sinema has so far appeared entirely unmoved by the pressure campaigns, doubling down on her position in a Washington Post op-ed last month, arguing that the "best way to achieve durable, lasting results" was through "bipartisan cooperation."

"I think she truly sees that if you can forge bipartisan compromise, it's going to be much more sustainable in terms of legislation. It's going to be able to withstand a turnover in party control," David Lujan, a former Arizona state legislator who served alongside Sinema, said in an interview with Salon.

But Lujan said he also questions that strategy, "especially when you have Republicans who despise Democrats and think that they're pedophiles and are harming kids in tunnels. How do you negotiate with people that believe that?" In an era of "ultra-polarized" politics, Lujan added, "I don't know if her approach is necessarily going to work."

Sinema argued in the op-ed that eliminating the filibuster would produce only "temporary victories" that were "destined to be reversed" if Republicans retake control of Congress, and noted that Democrats had filibustered police reform and COVID relief proposals under Trump "to force continued negotiations toward better solutions."

Eliminating the filibuster to expand health care could open the door to Republicans passing legislation "dividing Medicaid into block grants, slashing earned Social Security and Medicare benefits, or defunding women's reproductive health services," Sinema wrote. Eliminating it to protect the environment or strengthen education could open the door to Republicans defunding or abolishing entire agencies and programs.

But most of the programs she mentioned can already be cut or eliminated with a simple majority, using the budget reconciliation process, if Republicans regain a majority in Congress. In fact, that's what they unsuccessfully tried to do with their attempts to repeal Obamacare.

"It's a lot harder to repeal legislation after it's been enacted," Westbrook said. "We saw the amount of blowback Republicans received anytime they tried to dismantle the ACA. When you get legislation that materially changes the lives of human beings, you're going to have people fighting tooth and nail to make sure that legislation stays in. I think it's a bad move to not take the opportunity that you have as an elected official in this moment to pass as much legislation as humanly possible. I see that premise that she's basically put in that article as, 'I won't do anything.' That's not the job we elected her to do."

Sinema has tried to forge a bipartisan track herself, working on a bipartisan bill with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to raise the federal minimum wage to $11 after she joined Republicans and some Democrats in scuttling President Biden's $15 proposal. She was also involved in negotiations on a bipartisan infrastructure bill. But the wage bill has gone nowhere and Republicans are already threatening to blow up the bipartisan deal, which provides a fraction of the funding originally proposed by Biden, because Democrats plan to pass a larger bill including their top priorities using the budget reconciliation process.

Sinema argued that voters expect her to be "independent — like Arizona — and to work with anyone to achieve lasting results." But her minimum wage bill would do little to help working people in Arizona, where the minimum wage already exceeds $11 despite years of Republican control, and the bipartisan deal rejected many top Democratic priorities that they now plan to advance themselves.

"Arizonans are linking the issues to the filibuster because they understand what Sen. Sinema does not — that broken rules and systems impact people's everyday lives," Spaulding said. "They know the dangerous consequences of keeping the filibuster intact and allowing it to stop progress on policies that affect their loved ones directly."

Sinema says that her critics have it all wrong and there was no big transformation ahead of the current filibuster fight.

"I held the same view during three terms in the U.S. House, and said the same after I was elected to the Senate in 2018," she wrote in the Post op-ed. "If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, they should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same whether in the minority or majority."

On this, she has a point. Critics who questioning how the former Ralph Nader acolyte, who organized anti-war protests during the Bush era, became a conservative Democrat are ignoring much of her career in government. Sinema has also developed a persona of sorts, touting her working-class credentials by frequently recounting her childhood living in poverty. Republicans have helped shape Sinema's leftist image as well, frequently referencing her activist days and painting her as a radical leftist in unsuccessful efforts to defeat her.

Sinema is a former social worker and criminal defense lawyer who tried to run for Phoenix City Council and later the state House as an independent, failing both times. Sinema's "first political compromise," as the socialist magazine Jacobin described it, came when she registered as a Democrat to run for a state House seat in 2004, beginning a long journey that led to a "complete 180 on almost every position she ever took on almost any issue."

Lujan denied that Sinema has "changed what she believes in," but agreed that he saw a shift after she was elected to the legislature and was met with a Republican supermajority that "shut out" the Democratic minority.

"When she first entered the legislature, if you look at the bills that she filed back then, you'd find that was a pretty progressive list of bills that never got a hearing or went anywhere," he said, adding that she soon started to introduce "more moderate legislation."

Despite serving as a Democrat in a deeply red state, Sinema pulled off some big unlikely wins.

The first was when she led the opposition effort to a 2006 ballot initiative that would have prohibited same-sex marriage.

"Everyone I think at the time predicted that it was going to pass easily, but Kyrsten and our group were successful in defeating the measure," Lujan recalled, noting that it was the first such measure defeated in the country.

"She did that by messaging people that maybe traditionally would not have opposed that measure," he said. "She really tried to cross party lines and ideological lines to have people join in opposing the measure. That was probably the first time I saw the value in that approach."

Another "turning point" for Sinema was when she introduced a measure to prohibit state investments in Darfur and got strong bipartisan support to pass the bill.

"That was probably the first bill she got through the legislature," Lujan said. "She then really started to look at, 'What's legislation that I can work across the aisle and find compromise on to get something done?'"

That shift was accompanied by embracing the state's top Republicans. Sinema even defended then-state Senate President Russell Pearce, an anti-immigration extremist, saying that she "love[d] him" and "would love to see him run for Congress," declining to join a successful recall campaign against him because he was her "boss."

Though she moved further right in the legislature while pushing progressive legislation, the shift was more dramatic after she quit the legislature to run for Congress in a more politically diverse district. After winning that election she joined numerous bipartisan groups that called for "reforming" Social Security and Medicare, cutting corporate taxes and regulations, and reducing spending. She joined numerous centrist or business-friendly groups like the Blue Dog Coalition, the Problem Solvers Caucus, No Labels and Third Way.

After joining the House Financial Services Committee, Sinema quickly came under fire from progressives in her state for backing a bill written by Citigroup and supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to roll back some Dodd-Frank financial reforms. She later supported an even larger rollback of the law that deregulated most of the country's largest banks. In 2015, was one of just four Democrats to support giving the financial industry an advisory role on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations. The financial industry responded by boosting its campaign contributions to Sinema from just $28,346 in 2012 to more than $890,000 by 2016. She has also won the Chamber of Commerce "Spirit of Enterprise" award, for members who vote with the group more than 70% of the time, seven years in a row and was the lone Democrat to receive the award last year It was a startling departure from an activist who decried the ills of capitalism two decades earlier.

She has also voted to repeal the estate tax, which only applies to individuals with assets over $11.7 million, repeatedly supported increased military spending, and voted to repeal Obama's Clean Water Plan and block his Clean Power Plan. Sinema joined Republicans to delay the Obamacare individual mandate and allow insurers to offer plans that don't meet the Obamacare standards while introducing a bill to repeal the law's tax on insurers.

After being recruited by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to run for Senate, Sinema immediately expressed opposition to Schumer serving as the party leader. After winning a close race over McSally in 2018, Sinema voted with Trump half the time and broke with her party more often than any other Democrat besides Manchin, particularly in approving Trump's nominees. She was singled out for praise by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and an ExxonMobil lobbyist was caught on video naming Sinema as one of 11 senators "crucial" to the oil giant's opposition to climate change legislation.

Even Biden, who has touted bipartisanship as much as anyone, recently called out Sinema and Manchin as "two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends."

Lujan said that Sinema's conservative bent could help her among the more moderate electorate in Arizona, but said he didn't see it as a political calculation.

"I think her approach to getting elected was the right approach, and I think she's taking the approach that she feels is the one that's going to help her get re-elected," he said. "But I also think she actually, truly believes that it's the right approach to take, that you're going to have better legislation if you work in a bipartisan fashion."

It remains to be seen whether that approach will pay off. In a poll earlier this year, a large majority of Arizonans said it was more important to pass major legislation than to preserve rules like the filibuster. And while Sinema's popularity lags behind Kelly's, a recent poll showed that her approval rating is significantly higher among Republicans than it is among Democrats and independents.

Sinema seems to have traded her progressive support "for a boost from Republicans in opinion polls," Arrow said. But she's skeptical that will work. "She's not going to get supported by those Republicans: They're going to vote for someone who represents their values. Sinema is going to find herself alone, because she's shown everyone on both sides of the aisle that she has no values."

Westbrook argued that while Sinema's decisions are politically "calculated," her calculus is "outdated."

"She is not changing with the electorate," she said. "Arizona is changing, the dynamics are changing. The people that Sinema should be appealing to are the people are disengaged in the political system. Those are the people that are going to get her back to Washington."

Lujan expressed doubt that pressure from progressives would change Sinema's mind, predicting that the senator would continue pursuing a bipartisan path "until she figures out that it's not working" herself.

"Then I actually think, if she does not have success in getting things done, she will look to see if maybe that's not the right approach. That's my hope," he said. "She is going to work very hard to forge bipartisan solutions, but I think she's also very pragmatic. My hope is that if it's not working, she will begin to see that it makes sense to do away with the filibuster rule."

Georgia officials collect fees from Trump’s lawyers — but who really paid for bogus suits?

Election officials in two Georgia counties have recovered legal fees stemming from former President Trump's failed election lawsuit — but his attorney is playing coy about who really paid the bills.

Election officials in DeKalb and Cobb counties in February sought to recoup legal fees over what they described as a "meritless and legally deficient" lawsuit, which claimed, entirely without evidence, that tens of thousands of illegal voters participated in the presidential election. Trump withdrew the lawsuit a day before the hearing, the same week as the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

A court was set to hear arguments over the legal fees last Friday but both counties said in filings that they had recovered the costs, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Cobb County Board of Elections received $15,554 to pay for its legal costs, according to a Friday court filing. DeKalb recovered $6,105 in fees, telling a judge on Monday that "plaintiffs, through counsel, have provided payment for the full amount of attorneys' fees."

But Trump's lawyer in the case, Randy Evans, denied that the notoriously stingy ex-president had paid the fees, but declined to say who did.

"The two motions have been withdrawn. There was no settlement agreement," Evans, who also represents the Trump campaign and the Georgia Republican Party, told the Journal-Constitution. "The taxpayers in DeKalb and Cobb have been fully reimbursed. There are no other details because there are no other details."

Daniel White, an attorney for Cobb County, said the fees were paid through Evans' firm.

"I would certainly defer to them if they want to clarify where they got the funds from," White told the outlet.

Trump raised more than $250 million after his election loss, ostensibly to fund his legal battles. But he spent just a small fraction of those donations on actual legal costs and far more on additional fundraising and advertising. Five of his impeachment lawyers quit just a week ahead of his second Senate trial over a pay dispute, and Trump is still refusing to pay Rudy Giuliani for his tireless labors in pursuing work baseless allegations of election fraud.

Trump's legal problems are only growing worse after Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance convened a grand jury to hear evidence in his years-long criminal investigation into the former president himself and the Trump Organization, an investigation that has now been joined by the New York state attorney general's office. Trump also faces a criminal probe in Georgia over his efforts to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to overturn his election loss. He also faces multiple lawsuits, including from women who have accused him of rape or sexual assault and a lawsuit by lawmakers and the NAACP accusing him of inciting the Capitol riot.

Trump has complained that the big legal bills are "such a pain in the ass," The Daily Beast reported last month. His legal team filed a motion in May demanding that Democratic lawmakers who sued him over the Capitol riot "should be ordered to pay President Trump's fees and costs."

The riot took place amid a flurry of lawsuits from Trump and his allies, all of which failed as Republicans could not produce any evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities. Some of the former president's allies face sanctions or disciplinary action for bringing frivolous suits while others, like Giuliani and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, face billion-dollar lawsuits from voting technology firms they falsely accused of switching votes from Trump to President Biden.

The fact that there is no evidence to back up any of these "stolen election" claims has not stopped Trump's supporters from continuing to use his election lies to torment election officials.

Raffensperger and his family and other election officials have faced a barrage of death threats and have even been forced to flee their homes, according to Reuters. Raffensperger's wife Tricia told the outlet that their family was forced to go into hiding for nearly a week after intruders broke into their widowed daughter-in-law's home, which they believe was intended to intimidate them. Tricia Raffensperger said people who identified themselves to police as members of the Oath Keepers militia had been seen outside their home that same night.

Amid the threats, Republican lawmakers in Georgia passed a bill stripping Raffensperger of many of his election powers after he stood up to Trump's lies, potentially making it easier to overturn future elections.

Numerous other officials in Georgia, Arizona and Michigan have been deluged with death threats or have "faced protests at their homes or been followed in their cars," according to the Reuters report, including Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson as well as election administrators and volunteers. Arizona Republicans have moved to strip Hobbs of her powers as well.

Richard Barron, the Fulton County elections director, said the threats received by his office have been shared with investigators looking into Trump's pressure on Raffensperger. Barron told Reuters that most of the workers in his office are Black, adding that "the racial slurs were disturbing and sickening."

Other messages threatened violence and bombings, with one email sent to at least 11 counties in Georgia warning that "we'll make the Boston bombings look like child's play" and "bring death and destruction" until "Trump is guaranteed to be POTUS until 2024 like he should be."

Deidre Holden, the longtime Paulding County elections director, told Reuters that her office had referred the messages to police and the FBI. "I've never had to deal with anything like this," she said. "It was frightening."

Nearly eight months after the election, a startling proportion of Americans still believe the 2020 election was tainted with fraud. About 32% of voters believe that Biden's election was fraudulent, according to a new Monmouth poll, a rate that has remained steady since November.

"The continuing efforts to question the validity of last year's election is deepening the partisan divide in ways that could have long-term consequences for our democracy," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, "even if most Americans don't quite see it that way yet."

Lauren Boebert pushes 'Clinton Crime Syndicate' conspiracy theory

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., is returning to her QAnon roots to push a conspiracy theory suggesting that the Clintons may be behind the death of a journalist who is believed to have died by suicide.

Boebert suggested on Twitter that the "Clinton Crime Syndicate" may be behind the death of local Alabama news anchor Christopher Sign, who broke the story about former President Bill Clinton's tarmac meeting with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch during the 2016 presidential campaign and FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server, which itself has been the target of countless Republican conspiracy theories. Local police have given no indications of foul play in Sign's death and told NBC News that the death is being investigated as a suicide.

"Why is it that so many who cross the Clinton Crime Syndicate end up dead?" Boebert tweeted along with a clip of Sign promoting his book about the meeting during a 2019 interview on Fox News. Sign said in the interview that he left his job in Phoenix to move back to Alabama because he and his family "received significant death threats shortly after breaking this story."

It's not the first time Boebert has pushed conspiracy theories about Clinton. Asked during a town hall in March about whether Hillary Clinton and the former heads of the CIA and FBI would be arrested, the freshman congresswoman echoed QAnon-style conspiracy theories claiming that "with that information that I have, I believe we will see resignations begin to take place and I think we can take back the majority in the House and the Senate before 2022 when all of this is ended."

Boebert has previously expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory but denies being a follower. QAnon conspiracy theories have long targeted Clinton, baselessly alleging that she is part of a globalist child trafficking ring that cuts the faces off babies and wears them on video.

Donald Trump Jr., who has a long history of spreading conspiracy theories himself, also suggested that Sign's suicide may be some nefarious plot.

"Has anyone ever seen so many suicide coincidences EVER???" he wrote on Instagram while sharing a screenshot of a headline about Sign's death.

Trump Jr. similarly pushed long-debunked conspiracy theories about the murder of Seth Rich, a former Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed in Washington D.C. in what police suspected to be an attempted robbery. Conservatives pushed conspiracy theories that Rich was killed because he was somehow connected to the release of stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign. The conspiracy theories were also promoted on Fox News, which ultimately retracted its reporting and settled out of court with Rich's family.

Debunked conservative conspiracy theories about the Clintons' "body count" date back to Bill Clinton's days in the White House, when right-wingers claimed that many of those connected to the Clinton's had died under "suspicious" circumstances even when they hadn't. Many have focused on the suicide of Vince Foster, Clinton's former deputy White House counsel who died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head in 1993. Multiple investigations, including the infamous Ken Starr probe, concluded that the death was a suicide but Republicans like Trump Jr. have continued to refer to in the decades since. Former President Donald Trump and others renewed the conspiracy theory in 2019 after the suicide of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Trump shared tweets alleging that the Clintons, longtime associates of Epstein, were behind his death even though Trump also frequently hung out with the disgraced financier.

"This conspiracy just sort of hung around," Joe Uscinski, a University of Miami professor and author of the book, "American Conspiracy Theories," told NBC News. "Mainly because the Clintons have been in power for so long and because she's the most recent face of the Democratic Party. She's a good boogeyman for Republicans to use now still."

Uscinski said the conspiracy theory has become especially popular with "QAnon" followers, who have gone even further than the nutty conservative claims in the 1990s.

"Q also absurdly implied that Hillary Clinton was somehow responsible for the tragic plane crash that killed JFK Jr. in 1999," Travis View, a podcaster who tracks QAnon, told NBC. "A minority sect of QAnon followers believe that Clinton merely tried and failed to kill JFK Jr, and he is still alive today."

Clinton recently responded to the decades-old conspiracy theories in a video with "Borat" star Sasha Baron Cohen."It's hurtful, I'll be really honest with you," she said. "It's hurtful not just to me and my family, but, you know, to my friends, and other people who know that this is not just false, but you know, sometimes painfully false."

Who's pulling Joe Manchin's strings? His 'highly suspicious' reversal follows donation from corporate lobby

Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat famous for his vow to maintain the Senate filibuster and thereby scuttle much of President Biden's agenda, recently published an op-ed opposing the For the People Act, Democrats' whopping voting-rights bill. That article strongly echoed talking points from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — and appeared shortly after the influential pro-business lobby resumed donations to Manchin's campaign after nearly a decade.

Manchin, who co-sponsored the sweeping voting rights legislation in 2019 and has supported filibuster reform in the past, became the first Senate Democrat to oppose the bill this week while reiterating his opposition to changing the filibuster, a key roadblock to voting reform. Skeptical members of Manchin's party have questioned the reasons for his opposition, especially after a recent poll found that a majority of West Virginia voters support changing the filibuster rules and that 79% of the state's voters — including a large majority of Republicans — support the For the People Act.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., suggested that Manchin's opposition to the proposal and filibuster reform may really be about measures in the bill 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," she told MSNBC on Tuesday. "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."

Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by billionaire Republican donor Charles Koch, has explicitly targeted Manchin in its pressure campaign to defeat the legislation even though their own data shows that provisions cracking down on dark money are highly popular, including among Republican voters. Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the Koch-backed Heritage Foundation, organized a rally earlier this year to pressure Manchin to oppose the bill. Heritage Action has also partnered with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to craft model voting-restriction laws for Republican state legislators. A Heritage Action organizer boasted in a video obtained by Mother Jones that the group was behind key provisions of the controversial law recently passed in Georgia.

"Joe Manchin isn't moved by leaders who have spent decades organizing for civil rights," Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., tweeted after Manchin that said his position on the For the People Act had not changed after meeting with civil rights leaders on Tuesday. "Manchin isn't moved by the views of his constituents. Manchin isn't moved by GOP voter suppression bills in 43 states. Because Manchin is only moved by corporate donors and their agenda."

One group that has been a major cheerleader of Manchin's staunch opposition is the aforementioned U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful pro-business group that also receives Koch money and generally supports Republicans.

Manchin's op-ed announcing his opposition echoed the Chamber's talking points in a letter to senators alleging that "partisan" legislation would "undermine" public confidence in democracy, even though Republicans across the country have advanced and enacted overtly partisan bills aimed at restricting ballot access.

"When it comes to this 'bipartisan' argument, I gotta tell you, I don't buy it," Ocasio-Cortez said. "Joe Manchin has voted for bills that have not been bipartisan before. Look at the American Rescue Plan. So this is not just about bipartisanship."

The op-ed came after the Chamber, which has launched an expensive lobbying effort against the bill, resumed donations to Manchin's campaign for the first time since 2012. Reuters described this flow of corporate dollars as a "reward" for Manchin's opposition to numerous Biden administration's initiatives, as well as his stalwart support for the filibuster, which has almost certainly doomed the For the People Act.

"The timing of Sen. Manchin's announcement is highly suspicious," Kyle Herrig, president of the progressive government watchdog group Accountable.US, said in a statement to Salon. "Not long after the Chamber reopened their corporate checkbook for him, he made his opposition to voting rights known. Now millions of Americans may face significant roadblocks when they try to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Once again the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has found a way to stop any progress on voting rights from progressing on Capitol Hill."

Manchin's office and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not respond to questions from Salon.

The Chamber is one of the most powerful trade groups in the country, spending more than $80 million on lobbying last year, second only to the National Association of Realtors. It is the single largest lobbying spender this year, dropping over $17 million to influence policy, nearly twice as much as the pharmaceutical trade group PhRMA. The group has been aggressively lobbying against the For the People Act since 2019, spending more than $129 million on opposing the bill and related issues since it was first introduced in the House, according to lobbying disclosures.

While the U.S. Chamber's corporate members pay for its lobbying, its PAC donations come from the group's executives, staff members and other affiliated individuals. The Chamber's PAC made a contribution to Manchin in the first quarter of this year, its first since 2012. Shortly after, the Chamber issued an alert to all members of the Senate threatening to include "votes related to this bill in our annual How They Voted scorecard" and mentioning some of its specific provisions, including a requirement to disclose big donors and communications with candidates, a plan to strengthen the Federal Election Commission, and public financing of campaigns.

"The Chamber is deeply troubled by efforts at the state and federal level to enact election law changes on a partisan basis," the letter said. "Changes enacted on a partisan basis are the most likely to erode access and security and undermine public confidence and the willingness of the American people to trust and accept future election outcomes."

Manchin echoed that argument in his op-ed, writing that he believes "partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy" and "partisan policymaking won't instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it."

Both the Chamber and Manchin have called for lawmakers to advance voting legislation on a "bipartisan" basis, although it's inarguable that one party is seeking to expand voting rights while the other is actively trying to restrict them. Manchin has claimed there is bipartisan support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would require states to pre-clear voting changes with the Justice Department. That's technically true: Exactly one Republican senator (Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) has expressed support for the bill. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared on Tuesday that his party would not support the legislation and denied that there was any threat to voting rights.

Manchin, whose ties to the U.S. Chamber date back to at least 2010, when he was West Virginia governor, drew public praise from Chamber president and CEO Suzanne Clark earlier this year for his "principled stand" on preserving the filibuster, which is the most significant roadblock to the voting legislation.

Nick Vaugh, a lobbyist for the Chamber, presented Manchin with a "Spirit of Free Enterprise Award" in 2019, which the group says it gives to lawmakers who have supported its positions at least 70% of the time.

As it happens, Vaugh has been registered to lobby senators on the For the People Act and other issues since 2019, according to federal disclosure forms.

"It's unfortunate Sen. Manchin has bought into the U.S. Chamber's smears against the For The People Act," Herrig told Salon. "And just like the Chamber, he is wrong — there is nothing 'partisan' about protecting the right to vote for all Americans. In carrying the Chamber's water, Sen. Manchin is only inviting further voter suppression."

The Chamber's pressure on senators to oppose the voting rights legislation comes as many of its corporate members have joined forces to oppose Republican voting restrictions in state legislatures.

Accountable.US has launched a six-figure "Drop the Chamber" campaign challenging corporations like Microsoft, Target and Salesforce to back up their public support of voting rights by cutting ties with the group, accusing it of "siding against millions of Americans who will be subject to these racist voter suppression laws."

"It's on Chamber members that claim to support voting rights to end their relationships and speak out against this assault on Americans' rights to vote," Herrig said, "because anything less makes them complicit."

Leading Democrats in the New York mayor's race are backed by GOP billionaires

General elections in New York City have become almost an afterthought, and nearly everyone assumes that the winner of this month's Democratic primary will be elected the city's mayor later this year. It appears that billionaire hedge fund managers who have previously donated millions to conservative Republicans are now using their wealth to try to shape that Democratic primary to their liking — specifically, by blocking a progressive Democrat from becoming mayor of the nation's largest city.

Former presidential also-ran Andrew Yang and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, widely seen as the two leading candidates in the crowded New York race, have sometimes tried to claim progressive credentials, something of a necessity in the city's current political climate. (Although outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio has become a highly controversial figure, he was handily elected twice while strongly aligned with the progressive movement.)

But Yang and Adams have also attracted the financial backing of hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who spent more than $60 million to back Republicans in last year's elections, and fellow hedge fund billionaire Dan Loeb, who has given tens of millions to Republican candidates and conservative PACs over the past decade. Yang has also gained the support of libertarian billionaire investor Jeff Yass, who has donated more than $25 million to Republicans and whose company was the main funder of a PAC that pushed the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

The three billionaires have a "history of funding the most extremist, racist, and anti-democratic forces within the Republican Party," said a report from Our City, a progressive super PAC that opposes Yang and Adams.

The longtime investors appear to be hedging their bets in the city's ranked-choice primary, where voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference. But Yang and Adams' progressive rivals, along with many activists, worry that the billionaire right-wingers are trying to buy power in a city where Republicans are virtually an endangered species.

"They're not satisfied with just owning one candidate — they want two," City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a mayoral candidate running to the left of Yang and Adams, warned last month.

Republicans are increasingly outnumbered in the Big Apple, winning just 27% of the vote in the last mayoral election, so in a sense it's logical for GOP donors to seek out new and unlikely allies to continue to exert their influence.

"Within this primary is a fight between Democrats and Republicans," Gabe Tobias, a former senior adviser to Justice Democrats and the executive director of Our City, said in an interview with Salon. "There are Democrats who are more progressive, and some others who are trying to put forward a progressive image because that's what they have to do to win this election." But in reality, he said, "if it were an open general election," those pseudo-progressive candidates would likely align with Republicans.

Griffin, Loeb and Yass have each donated $500,000 to the pro-Yang Comeback PAC, which is run by Lis Smith, a top aide to former Democratic presidential contender (and now Transportation Secretary) Pete Buttigieg, Politico first reported. Griffin and Loeb gave the same amount to the pro-Adams Strong Leadership NYC PAC, which is run by Jenny Sedlis, a longtime charter school advocate.

Super PACs have become the vehicle of choice for wealthy donors to wield influence in politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, even as New York has rolled out a new public campaign financing program that provides matching funds to qualifying candidates in an effort to boost grassroots campaigns.

"Citizens United has created a terrible situation, with endless amounts of money pouring in from super-wealthy individuals to try and influence policy," Susan Lerner, executive director of the good-government nonprofit Common Cause NY, said in an interview with Salon. "The Supreme Court has basically turned on the money spigot, and it's simply bad for democracy."

Super PACs are allowed to raise unlimited sums but are prohibited from directly coordinating with political campaigns. Yang and Adams have denied they had anything to do with the billionaire donations, but critics say the contributions undermine the two candidates' appeals to the city's growing progressive base.

"Where your money comes from matters just as much as having a lot of money," Max Burns, a Democratic consultant and founder of Third Degree Strategies, said on Twitter. "When you're in bed with snakes like Griffin, and willingly take his money, that says a lot about your values."

Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel and one of the richest people in Illinois, recently bought a Manhattan penthouse for a record $240 million. He has largely supported Republicans, last year contributing $39 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and $15 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. He previously contributed more than $1 million to Future 45, a pro-Trump super PAC. He has also occasionally donated to Democrats, notably including embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a longtime foe of the state's progressive wing.

In his home state of Illinois, Griffin spent $20 million to try to kill tax increases for the rich in 2020, according to the Our City report, prompting a protest by the Service Employees International Union, which accused him of "hurtful, racist greed."

Burns told Salon that while Griffin has donated to both Republicans and Democrats, the reason to feel "concern about those massive contributions is more about values than partisanship."

"What Yang's folks don't see, or don't want to see, is that the common denominator is Griffin (and megadonors like him) donate to candidates they're confident will play ball," Burns said in an email.

"Democrats can't and shouldn't ever be the people playing ball with the super-rich, they have enough people looking out for them in the GOP already. Either we're the party trying to build a New York that works for everyone, or we're a party at least partially under the sway of hedge fund tycoons whose interests are directly opposed to our values. But we can't be both."

Loeb, a former Democrat who left the party in 2010 over opposition to former President Barack Obama, has donated millions to the Congressional Leadership Fund, Senate Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He gave $27 million to the conservative pro-LGBTQ American Unity PAC, which supported supposed Republican moderates like Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., according to Sludge. Loeb has also donated to Cuomo and various liberal causes, but has funded super PACs that attacked progressive lawmakers like Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., according to the Our City report.

Loeb is a longtime charter school advocate who served as chairman of the Success Academy Charter Schools network, which Sedlis co-founded. He stepped down in 2018 after accusing New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is Black, of inflicting "more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood" while raging against unions. Sedlis continued to defend Loeb as he came under fire for other racially charged comments and as Democrats and progressive groups faced calls to return his "tainted" cash.

The Success Academy network was ordered to pay $2.4 million in a disability discrimination judgment earlier this year after five Black students with learning and other disabilities alleged that one of the schools created a list of students it wanted to force out.

Yass, co-founder of the investment firm Susquehanna International Group, is a board member of the libertarian Cato Institute and the second-largest donor to Club for Growth Action, an anti-union super PAC that backs numerous Republicans who tried to overturn the election, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Josh Hawley, R-Mo. Yass also donated millions to a super PAC that backed the brief 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and gave $8.6 million to the Protect Freedom PAC, which promoted "Stop the Steal" conspiracy theories after Trump's election loss. Yass has since tried to distance himself from the false election claims, in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Yass, who was a key backer of the Students First PAC, a group affiliated with former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' American Federation for Children, told Politico that he supports Yang because he supports charter schools and has criticized teacher unions.

"Andrew has a lot of libertarian leanings," he told the outlet. "He is not quite a libertarian, to say the least, but he has those leanings."

Tobias agreed that Yang's proposals are tinged with libertarian ideology, noting that his universal basic income plan is a "darling of libertarians" because it would "give people small amounts of cash and then cut social programs."

These longtime Republican donors target "people who they think will help them exercise the power that they want to have," Tobias said. "If they think that's going to be Democrats, they'll donate," with the goal of exercising power through a connection to a winning candidate.

"They really don't care about anything but their own political power, and when that means aligning themselves with the most extreme far-right, racist, anti-democratic elements of the Republican Party, they're more than happy to do that," he continued. "That kind of influence to me is so anathema to anything that Democrats in New York City want, it's preposterous."

Yang and Adams have both said they have nothing to do with the donations or the super PACs, as required by law. But Tobias argued that the candidates' refusal to denounce the support of billionaires who have funded the extremist wings of the far right amounts to "tacit acceptance" of their support.

These billionaires have framed their support around charter schools. Adams is a supporter of charters while Yang used his own money to help start a charter school in Manhattan. Yang has called for increasing the number of charter schools in the city and has criticized the teachers' union for delaying school reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Charter schools, which are funded by the government but privately run, offer students an alternative to struggling public schools, especially in poorer areas, advocates say. But teacher unions have long opposed charter schools since they are largely not unionized, and have accused charter schools of manipulating admissions to cherrypick students who are most likely to do well while consigning the neediest students to underfunded and struggling public schools.

The national American Federation of Teachers and New York's United Federation of Teachers have launched their own super PAC, NY4Kids, to support Stringer, the city comptroller, who has repeatedly railed against his opponents for being aligned with Republican megadonors.

These big GOP donors "are funding Eric Adams' and Andrew Yang's campaigns because they are determined to buy City Hall," Stringer said in a statement last month, adding, "We can't let anyone — whether they're a Republican, a former Republican, or a corporate Democrat — undermine public education."

Stringer's backers at UFT are backing legislation to make charter schools more accountable and calling to roll back the 2017 Trump tax cuts and raise taxes on the ultra-wealthy to boost public school funding.

Stringer assailed Yang over his wealthy backers during a mayoral debate last Wednesday, noting that Yang's own supporters have described him as an "empty vessel" who is devoid of government experience or policy views.

"I don't think you're an empty vessel," Stringer quipped. "I think you're a Republican."

Stringer was referring to comments made by Bradley Tusk, a former aide to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich who has since made a fortune as a venture capitalist and adviser to companies like Uber.

Tusk helped recruit Yang into this year's mayoral race and Yang's top aides all work for his lobbying firm Tusk Strategies, according to City & State. Tusk Strategies is also registered to lobby on behalf of the tech firms Latch and Bird in front of the city that Yang would run if he wins, according to Sludge.

Tusk's relationship with Yang highlights a growing problem, which Susan Lerner of Common Cause described as a "new class of influencers" who are a "hybrid between consultants and lobbyists" and "in essence, are setting themselves up to be a shadow government."

In earlier political eras, she said, "Campaign consultants were campaign consultants and lobbyists were lobbyists and they were not some blending of the two. Typically, the people who worked on a campaign to elect an individual follow that individual into government and take a position in the administration," thereby becoming "accountable to the people." She is concerned that someone like Tusk, operating behind the scenes, "appears to want to set himself up as the shadow mayor."

After media reports highlighted the glaring conflicts of interest in Tusk Strategies' relationship with Yang, Tusk published a Medium essay vowing not to lobby Yang or his staff on issues that "intersect" with his business interests. He did not say the same about other people at his company. Tusk also vowed to disclose all interactions with the city and said no one from his firm would raise money for Yang if he is elected.

Tobias expressed skepticism over those promises, saying that Tusk and other super-wealthy supporters have "invested a lot of money, a lot of time because they want a candidate like Yang, who will do the things that they want to do," he said. "It seems pretty clear-cut and they didn't even deny that."

Lerner said there is a dangerous lack of regulations surrounding this new version of backstage influence-peddling in politics: "Our regulatory system has to figure out how to deal with this so that there's not a continuing threat of undue influence by people who are not accountable to the public."

Republicans make Joe Manchin sad

Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who has positioned himself as a fulcrum of power in the evenly divided Senate, expressed disappointment on Friday after Senate Republicans predictably used the filibuster — which he supports — to block a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The Senate voted 54-35 to proceed with the legislation, falling short of the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster. Six Republicans joined Democrats to support the resolution, which was negotiated by Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, at the behest of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who ended up opposing it anyway. The bill would have created a commission evenly split between the two parties and given both sides subpoena power, cribbing most of the language from legislation that created the bipartisan commission on the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The defeat was almost inevitable after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came out against the commission, reportedly because Republicans are worried it will make them look bad ahead of next year's midterm elections. But the majority support for the resolution left all eyes on the two major defenders of the filibuster in the Senate Democratic caucus: Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who did not even show up for Friday's vote.

Manchin, who along with Sinema wrote a letter to "implore our Senate Republican colleagues to work with us to find a path forward" just a day earlier, said after the vote that the Republican opposition was "unconscionable" after Democrats acceded to GOP demands in negotiations to ensure the commission would be truly bipartisan.

"The betrayal of the oath we each take is something they will have to live with," he said in a statement.

Manchin told reporters that he was "very disappointed" and "very frustrated that politics has trumped — literally and figuratively — the good of the country."

Manchin blamed McConnell for making it "extremely difficult" to advance bipartisan measures.

"There's no excuse. It's just pure raw politics. And that's just so, so disheartening. It really, really is disheartening," he told NBC News. "I never thought I'd see it up close and personal that politics could trump our country. And I'm going to fight to save this country."

But many of Manchin's critics on the left are pointing out that he continues to oppose Democratic calls to eliminate the filibuster so the Senate can pass legislation with a simple majority vote. Just one day before the vote, Manchin vowed that he was "not willing to destroy our government" by eliminating the filibuster.

"I think we'll come together. You have to have faith there's 10 good people" in the Republican caucus who will join Democrats to break a filibuster, he said in a statement that aged poorly over the subsequent 24 hours.

"You have it completely backwards, [Sen. Manchin] — the *filibuster* is what's destroying our government," Princeton historian Kevin Kruse wrote on Twitter. "It distorts the founders' vision in which a simple majority would control the Senate and lets a spiteful minority hold the government hostage to its whims. End it now."

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., responded to Manchin's comments by noting that "if the GOP was really a party that was able to put country before partisanship, we probably wouldn't be voting on this commission in the first place."

MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson urged fellow Democrats to ramp up pressure on Manchin and Sinema in response to Republican opposition to a bipartisan commission.

"The idea that he will still spout this nonsense in the face of an attempt to murder him and everybody with a 'D' in their name is disturbing to me. And I don't see the value, honestly, at this point, in Democrats treating him with kid gloves," Johnson said Thursday. "Personally … I [as a Democratic senator] would say, look, if you aren't in favor of this commission, then you want me dead as much as some of these Republicans do. That's how I'd be talking about it at this point."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested on Friday that he may force another vote on the bill, but it's unclear what he expects to change in the near future. Among Republicans, only Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska voted to break the filibuster.

"Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they're afraid of Donald Trump," Schumer said on the Senate floor after the vote. "Senate Republicans chose to defend the 'big lie' because they believe anything that might upset Donald Trump could hurt them politically."

Murkowski also criticized her party and McConnell for prioritizing "short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on Jan. 6."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that "Republican Senators surrendered to the January 6 mob assault."

"Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans' denial of the truth of the January 6th insurrection brings shame to the Senate. Republicans' cowardice in rejecting the truth of that dark day makes our Capitol and our country less safe," Pelosi said. "Democrats worked across the aisle, agreeing to everything that Republicans asked for. We did this in the interest of achieving a bipartisan Commission. In not taking yes for an answer, Republicans clearly put their election concerns above the security of the Congress and country."

Billionaire Trump donor sues Mike Pompeo for $1.8 million -- after he says former secretary reneged on legal fees

Gordon Sondland, the former U.S. ambassador to the EU who became a key witness during former President Donald Trump's first impeachment proceedings, has filed a lawsuit against former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the federal government for legal fees stemming from his 2019 impeachment testimony.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Sondland filed a 21-page lawsuit in federal court in Washington on Monday alleging that Pompeo "reneged" on his "legally binding promise" that the State Department would pay Sondland's legal fees in the impeachment probe after the former ambassador corroborated allegations of a "quid pro quo" between Trump and Ukraine.

Sondland, a Portland hotel magnate who was appointed by Trump after donating $1 million to his inaugural committee, said in the lawsuit that Pompeo and his staff "continued to reaffirm" the then-secretary's promise to cover the legal costs through the fall of 2019. The department ultimately paid $86,040 of his legal fees, according to the complaint. The suit seeks $1.8 million in compensation paid by the government — or by Pompeo personally, if he lacked the authority to authorize the payment.

"If Pompeo did not have the authority to bind the government, Pompeo went rogue and acted outside the course and scope of his employment and duties, making a promise in his personal capacity that was not the kind of act he was employed to perform, and not motivated by a desire to serve as the leader of the Department of State," Sondland's legal filing argues. "Instead, it was self-serving, made entirely for personal reasons for his own political survival in the hopes that Ambassador Sondland would not implicate him or others by his testimony."

Government officials are typically provided legal representation before Congress by the department where they work or by the Justice Department. Sondland claims in the complaint that the State Department "bucked normal convention and denied him the services of any government counsel."

The suit claims that Sondland's legal costs were particularly high because the administration restricted "access to materials essential to his preparation," forcing Sondland's lawyers to "reconstruct" a timeline of the events in question.

The State Department initially blocked Sondland's testimony, but he agreed to be interviewed after House Democrats issued a subpoena. Sondland proved to be a key witness for Democrats in Trump's first impeachment probe. He initially claimed he did not know about any quid pro quo after Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden in exchange for military aid and a White House meeting, but later revised his testimony significantly.

"Was there a quid pro quo? With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes," Sondland testified at a congressional hearing, adding that "everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."

After the testimony, the suit says, Sondland was pressured to resign his ambassadorial post.

"Ambassador Sondland confirmed he would not resign because he did not do anything improper," the suit says. "After that, everything changed. Ambassador Sondland did not receive his attorneys' fees, notwithstanding the promises from the State Department that the attorneys' fees would be paid."

After the testimony, Trump tried to distance himself from the Republican donor, claiming that "I hardly know the gentleman" after previously praising him.

Trump ultimately fired Sondland in February 2020, just two days after the then-president had been acquitted by the U.S. Senate.

Sondland said he was told by the administration that it "appreciated his testimony" but "wanted to purge everyone remotely connected to the Impeachment trial," according to the complaint.

"For all his troubles, Ambassador Sondland learned that testifying truthfully and candidly before Congress as cameras roll was in fact a fireable offense in Pompeo's Department of State," the lawsuit says.

A spokesperson for Pompeo, who is reportedly mulling a 2024 presidential run, said in a statement to NBC News that "the lawsuit is ludicrous. Mr. Pompeo is confident the court will see it the same way."

Mark Zaid, an attorney who has represented many government officials in lawsuits, said it was unlikely that Sondland would be able to win the promised legal fees.

"There should be provisions for government officials who are unwittingly pulled into political battles that they have their legal fees covered," Zaid told The Washington Post, which first reported the lawsuit. "He did the right thing. He stepped up and fulfilled his role as a representative of the U.S. government." But because secretaries of state are given broad immunity for official actions, he added, "the sad fact is that sometimes doing the right thing doesn't lead to a reward, and unfortunately it has a cost."

Sondland, who provided 17 hours of colorful testimony to impeachment investigators, told the House that he, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and special Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, were the "three amigos" in charge of an "irregular" foreign policy channel aimed at forcing Ukraine to announce investigations Trump wanted in return for the release of about $400 million in blocked military aid and a highly-sought Oval Office meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky and Trump.

The effort was driven by former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who bragged publicly that he was pushing Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in order to damage Joe Biden's presidential campaign.

Giuliani has since come under scrutiny by federal prosecutors at the Southern District of New York, an office he once led as U.S. attorney. Federal investigators raided Giuliani's home and office last month, seizing more than a dozen electronic devices. Investigators are reportedly looking into Giuliani's role in ousting Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, after publicly describing her as a roadblock to his pressure campaign in Ukraine. Investigators are also looking at whether Giuliani was working on behalf of Ukrainian officials or oligarchs accused of corruption and whether he violated laws prohibiting lobbying on behalf of foreign officials without registering as a foreign agent. Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing.

Biden's tax bill enemies have personal reasons for fighting capital gains increases

Some of the most outspoken Republican critics of President Joe Biden's American Families Plan could face a steep tax increase on their commercial real estate investments if Congress approves the $1.8 trillion proposal.

Biden's American Families and Jobs Plans would be partially funded by rolling back the 2017 Republican tax cuts, including a tax break for commercial real estate investors. Republicans have roundly opposed the proposals, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declaring that undoing any part of the 2017 tax cuts the GOP's "red line." Senate Republicans are instead pushing a much smaller standalone infrastructure proposal that would only provide $189 billion in new funding while replacing the proposed tax increases with user fees like gas and mileage taxes that would disproportionately be paid by workers.

Though Republicans have long opposed tax increases, their newfound appetite to shift the tax burden to the middle class has surprised some economists. Some of the biggest opponents of Biden's tax proposal would personally save hundreds of thousands in taxes if the plan is defeated, according to an analysis by Invest in America Action, a progressive advocacy group backing Biden's proposal.

"Follow the money and you'll see that some of the loudest opponents of President Biden's American Jobs and Families Plan are the ones with the most to lose," Maddy McDaniel, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement to Salon. "They'd rather sell out their middle-class constituents than pay their fair share in capital gains taxes."

The 2017 Republican tax bill made the "like-kind" exchange or 1031 tax exemption exclusive for real estate investments, which allow investors to avoid capital gains taxes on a property by exchanging it for another one, effectively enabling them to "permanently avoid gains taxes." Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said the exemption allows the wealthy to "shelter their income" to avoid taxation. MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, a longtime former financial executive, described the break as a "legal real estate development grift."

Many of the Republican senators who backed the 2017 tax cuts realized big tax savings from the real estate tax breaks. At least 29 of the 47 Republican members of the committees that worked on the tax bill held interests in real estate, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.

The American Families Plan would roll back that "like-kind" exchange exemption. The proposal would "end the special real estate tax break — that allows real estate investors to defer taxation when they exchange property — for gains greater than $500,000," the White House said last month.

Some Republican senators stand to get hit the hardest by the rollback.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, this month claimed that "the economy was roaring back to life before Biden became president" and decried Biden's proposals as "reckless, out of control spending," arguing that the tax increases would "hurt American workers, businesses & families." Johnson, who was instrumental in inserting a tax break for real estate investors in the 2017 bill, reported owning a commercial real estate asset worth between $5 million and $25 million on his 2019 financial disclosure. By opposing Biden's tax plan, he could avoid at least an estimated $103,565 in capital gains taxes on his property in a like-kind exchange, according to the Invest in America Action analysis.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who has railed against Biden's "disastrous tax and spend agenda," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who has criticized Biden for "forcing the largest tax increase in a generation," and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who claimed the tax increase would "kill jobs," each reported owning a real estate commercial asset valued between $1 million and $5 million. They could avoid more than $100,000 in estimated capital gains taxes in a like-kind exchange, according to the analysis.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who claimed that Biden's "massive tax hikes create a direct threat to our prosperity and economic growth," reported owning four commercial real estate assets worth between $1 million and $5 million. He stands to save an estimated $414,260 in capital gains taxes, according to the analysis.

Commercial real estate groups have also decried the proposed rollback of the "like-kind" exchange exemption, arguing that taxing real estate profits would hamper new investment. Dozens of organizations have registered to lobby against the changes, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the exemption will save investors $41.4 billion in taxes between 2020 and 2024. About 12% of all real estate sales between 2016 and 2019 were part of a "like-kind" exchange, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Some groups have argued that the change could have unintended consequences for middle-class homeowners in coastal states like New York and California where home prices are high. But sellers whose profit is less than $500,000 will still be able to benefit from the tax break.

"Some have speculated that this will hit middle-class home sellers who sell a home in an expensive market and have more than $1 million of capital gains from real estate, but this is very rare," Taylor Marr, the senior economist at real-estate brokerage Redfin, told MarketWatch. "Even in markets where home prices are over $1 million, most of that is still serviced by debt, not all equity."

The criticisms echo those made by opponents of Biden's proposal to increase the capital gains tax rate from 20% to 39.6% on those earning more than $1 million a year.

"Why would you treat an investment in a building differently than an investment in a stock or bond?" Chuck Marr, senior director of federal tax policy at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told The Wall Street Journal.

The Biden administration has said that exemption is one of many loopholes that disproportionately allow the wealthy to avoid taxes.

"Without these changes, billions in capital income would continue to escape taxation entirely," the administration said in a fact sheet detailing the proposal.

"The President's tax agenda will not only reverse the biggest 2017 tax law giveaways, but reform the tax code so that the wealthy have to play by the same rules as everyone else," the White House said last month. "Importantly, these reforms will also rein in the ways that the tax code widens racial disparities in income and wealth."

The tax revenues would be used to fund universal pre-K, free community college tuition, child care, paid family and medical leave and expanded food assistance, and would extend the expanded Child Tax Credit and provide additional health insurance subsidies, among other measures.

But the proposal has stalled amid negotiations between Biden, Republicans and Senate Democrats. Some centrist Democrats have echoed Republican talking points in support of user fees, despite Biden's promise not to raise taxes on those earning less than $400,000, and have expressed concerns about his proposed tax increases.

"User fees have to be part of the mix," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told Axios last week. "I am generally supportive of what the president is trying to do, but I think his initial unwillingness to include user fees makes it really hard."

Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have also discussed adding user fees to the proposal, according to the report.

But even Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has been a roadblock to numerous Democratic proposals in the early days of Biden's presidency, has criticized user fees as a tax on workers.

"Hell no, don't raise them," he warned last month.

Manchin, however, has pushed Biden to lower his proposed corporate tax increase. Biden's plan does not fully roll back the 2017 Republican tax cut, which drastically slashed the 35% corporate tax rate, but would raise the rate from 21% to 28% — the same rate that Manchin previously supported.

Manchin is not alone. Warner, Sinema and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, have expressed concerns about Biden's corporate tax hike, according to Axios. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, has also publicly criticized the proposed capital gains increase as too high.

A growing number of House Democrats have pushed back on the Senate negotiations, decrying the proposed user fees as a tax on the working class and urging Biden to end his attempt to negotiate with Republicans.

A group of 59 Democrats led by Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter last week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., warning that "the pursuit of Republican votes cannot come at the expense of limiting the scope of popular investments."

The lawmakers called for a package more in line with the Build Back Better proposal Biden pushed on the campaign trail, which would cost about $7 trillion and include larger investments in climate-focused infrastructure.

"The widespread climate denial among Republican lawmakers poses a threat to the bold, necessary action on climate," they wrote. "Trump's massive tax giveaway — 80 percent of which accrued to the wealthy and large corporations … will likely remain a major obstacle."

Biden's Jobs and Families Plans are expected to cost about $4.5 trillion. While Democrats are much more likely to go smaller than bigger, they could use the budget reconciliation process they used to pass Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March with a simple majority in the Senate. If the president can get enough votes from his own party, that is.

Palm Beach prosecutor: Ron DeSantis can’t block Donald Trump's extradition to New York

Palm Beach County's top prosecutor said Sunday that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could delay — but not prevent — former President Donald Trump's extradition if he is indicted in New York.

Officials in Palm Beach, where Trump currently lives in his Mar-a-Lago resort, have "actively prepared" for the possibility that he will be indicted in Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's years-long criminal investigation, Politico reported last week, but they've raised concerns that an "obscure clause" in state law could allow DeSantis to block any possible extradition.

Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, said that his office has not been involved in those conversations.

"I can clear that up because I'm the state attorney here in Palm Beach County, and we have not had conversations with prosecutors in New York about this," he told CNN on Sunday. "The story that you saw was informal conversations with the clerk of courts and other local officials in case an indictment happens."

Joe Abruzzo, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court clerk, told Politico that Florida law "leaves room for interpretation that the governor has the power to order a review and potentially not comply with the extradition notice." The New Yorker's Jane Mayer also reported in March that Trump's social circle in Palm Beach has speculated that DeSantis "might not honor an extradition request from New York if a bench warrant were issued for Trump's arrest."

But Aronberg pushed back on that argument.

"So that's a conversation we're having: What is the governor's power? And the governor's power to stop an extradition is really nonexistent," he told CNN. "He can try to delay it, he can send it to a committee and do research about it, but his role is really ministerial, and ultimately the state of New York can go to court and get an order to extradite the former president. But DeSantis could delay matters."

CNN's Jim Acosta asked if Aronberg would fight such a delay by the governor.

"We would be part of it. But it's really ministerial," Aronberg replied, adding, "But, then again, I thought that when Congress counted the votes on Jan. 6, that would be ministerial too — and look what happened then. So you have to be prepared for anything."

It may not come to that if a warrant is issued while Trump is out of state. Trump is expected to spend the summer at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Although New Jersey has an extradition law similar to Florida's, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is not likely to intervene on Trump's behalf after accusing him of "inciting insurrection" at the Capitol earlier this year.

Trump's attorneys could also negotiate a voluntary surrender agreement with prosecutors, if it comes to that.

It's unclear how far along Vance's investigation into Trump and his businesses has gotten, but Mayer of the New Yorker reported in March that it is expected to wrap up before Vance's term concludes at the end of this year. Vance finally obtained years of Trump's tax returns earlier this year after a lengthy Supreme Court battle. He has since hired prominent outside attorney Mark Pomerantz to help with the investigation and has brought on an outside forensic accounting firm.

Investigators are reportedly looking into whether Trump or his businesses have committed loan, bank or insurance fraud, have interviewed former Trump fixer and Trump Organization vice president Michael Cohen more than a half-dozen times.

Prosecutors in recent weeks have turned their focus to gaining the cooperation of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's longtime financial chief. Prosecutors last month obtained a trove of documents from his former daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, related to Allen Weisselberg's finances and those of his son Barry, also a Trump Organization employee. The Washington Post reported that the documents "show an array of payments and perks" from the company, raising questions about whether "proper taxes were paid" on that income. Barry Weisselberg previously said during his 2018 divorce deposition that he was not sure whether he paid taxes on the Trump-owned apartment where he lived rent-free and could not answer questions about income discrepancies reported to the IRS.

Shortly after that report, Vance's office subpoenaed the private school where Allen Weisselberg and Trump himself had paid more than $500,000 for Weisselberg's grandchildren's tuition, according to The Wall Street Journal. Jennifer Weisselberg told the outlet that she understood the tuition payments to be part of her then-husband's compensation package from the Trump Organization.

Prosecutors have also asked the Trump Organization to turn over any documents related to any benefits Trump or the company provided to any other employees, according to The New York Times.

"Prosecutors often seek the cooperation of someone possibly involved in a crime to obtain confidential information and provide a potential road map to records or documents," The Wall Street Journal reported. "Typically, prosecutors offer a potential defendant leniency in exchange for their help. Putting pressure on a possible defendant's family is one way to encourage cooperation."

Sources close to Weisselberg told the outlet that he is "faithful to the Trump Organization" and is close to Trump. But Weisselberg previously cooperated with the 2017 New York attorney general's investigation that forced the Trump Foundation to shut down and the 2018 federal investigation into the hush money payments Cohen paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels during Trump's 2016 campaign.

"Trump doesn't care about Allen," Jennifer Weisselberg told Air Mail last month, "but Allen knows every bad thing he ever did."

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