'Unprecedented in modern elections': Trump conspiracy theorists breach voting systems in 5 states

Republicans made eight attempts to breach voting systems in five states in search of evidence of a debunked conspiracy theory that voting machines flipped votes from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden, according to a Reuters investigation.

Trump allies targeted voting systems in Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. At least five of the breaches are under investigation by federal or local law enforcement. Four of the breaches forced officials to decertify or replace voting equipment due to security concerns. All of the attempts involved Republican officials or party activists who have pushed false claims about Trump's election loss.

Four voting law experts told Reuters that the extent of the breaches is "unprecedented in modern U.S. elections."

"You need to make sure that those ballots are maintained under strict chain of custody at all times," David Becker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, told the outlet. "It's destroying voter confidence in the United States."

Surveillance video obtained by Reuters shows Republican Elbert County, Colo. Clerk Dallas Schroeder attempting to copy hard drives containing sensitive voting data. He later testified that he received instructions from a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist to make a "forensic image of everything on the election server."

Schroeder is under investigation for potentially violating election laws by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who also sued him to try to force him to return the data. Schroeder is refusing to comply with the state and identify a lawyer who took the hard drives. His other attorney works with an activist backed by conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow.

Lindell is funding numerous groups involved in the years-long effort to try to find evidence of their bogus conspiracy theory. Lindell told Reuters he hired four members of the U.S. Integrity Plan (USEIP), a pro-Trump group that allegedly sent armed members door-to-door to investigate fraud claims in Colorado. He claimed he has spent about $30 million in total and hired 70 people in the failed effort.

"We've got to get rid of the machines!" Lindell told the outlet. "We need to melt them down and use them for prison bars and put everyone in prison that was involved with them."

RELATED: Pro-Trump group sent armed members door-to-door in Colorado to "intimidate" voters: Lawsuit

The breaches appear to have been inspired by the false belief that voting system upgrades or maintenance required by the state would delete evidence of their fraud conspiracy theory. Election officials told Reuters that such updates have no impact on the preservation of past data.

But such breaches could violate voter privacy and underscore growing concerns of potential "insider threats," officials told the outlet. Griswold's office told Reuters that the data accessed by Schroeder likely included ballot images that showed how people cast their ballots.

In another Colorado incident, Lindell ally Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk, allowed an unauthorized person to copy a "forensic image" of a voting system hard drive before sensitive passwords to access the voting system were published on right-wing conspiracy sites. Peters, who was indicted on 10 criminal counts over the breach, baselessly accused the voting machine company Dominion and Griswold of a conspiracy to destroy evidence of election-rigging.

Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell repeatedly pushed baseless claims that Dominion, in an extensive conspiracy involving China, billionaire financier George Soros, and late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, rigged the election against Trump. Dominion and Smartmatic, another voting equipment company that got dragged into the conspiracy theory despite having no ties to Dominion, have filed multi-billion-dollar defamation lawsuits against Giuliani, Powell and Lindell, among others.

Dominion told Reuters that the conspiracy theories "have been repeatedly debunked, including by bipartisan government officials."

It's unclear whether any data was accessed in another apparent breach in Michigan's Adams Township, where the key component of a ballot counting machine went missing for four days last fall before it was found at the office of a clerk who posted QAnon memes on social media. The clerk, Stephanie Scott, was stripped of her duties in October by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson after refusing to perform legally-required maintenance. She later sued Benson in February, alleging that she was unconstitutionally punished.

In another incident in Cross Village, Michigan, a woman named Tera Jackson impersonated an official from the non-existent "Election Integrity Commission" to gain access to the town's ballot-counting machine last January and tried to clone it. She ultimately pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges of fraud and illegal access. Three men that she worked with, including a former law enforcement officer who showed up with a bulletproof vest and a gun, gained access to a vote tabulator but don't appear to have been able to clone the drive. The men were not charged because prosecutors said they believed they were misled by Jackson.

The most recent breach was in March in North Carolina, where Surrey County GOP Chair William Keith Senter threatened to have elections director Michella Huff fired if she did not give him access to a vote-counting machine. Senter and conspiracy theorist Douglas Frank met Huff in March to claim that a "chip" inside the machine was used to rig the election. The state election board reported the threats against Huff to law enforcement.

"I'm very concerned for the voters," Huff told Reuters. "Democracy starts here. It starts here in our office."

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After the Colorado breaches, Lindell hired four USEIP members to head Cause for America, a right-wing network of election conspiracists. The group has continued to search for evidence of fraud despite coming up empty since 2020.

"I have over probably 50 to 70 people that I pay, that all they're doing is on this election," Lindell told Reuters. "I guess Cause of America would be a little piece of that."

Griswold accused the election conspiracists of seeking to suppress opposing voters.

"These threats are being fueled by extreme elected officials and political insiders who are spreading the Big Lie," she told Reuters, "to further suppress the vote, destabilize American elections, and undermine voter confidence."

Trump and Don Jr. go to war with top GOP donor who bought ads opposing his candidate

Former President Donald Trump's endorsement of "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance has sparked a civil war between Trumpworld and one of the Republican Party's biggest donors.

Trump last week endorsed Vance, a venture capitalist whose campaign is financially backed by billionaire Peter Thiel, in the Ohio Republican Senate primary. The move sparked backlash from Republicans in the state who have criticized Vance for making anti-Trump statements in the past. Trump expected the conservative Club for Growth, which spent more than $65 million to elect Republicans last campaign cycle, to drop their backing of Vance opponent Josh Mandel but the group doubled down instead, according to The New York Times' Maggie Haberman.

The Club for Growth aired new ads in Ohio on Thursday featuring quotes from Vance criticizing Trump. Vance strongly opposed Trump during the 2016 campaign, blaming "racism" and "xenophobia" for his rise. Vance called Trump "reprehensible" and in a private text message reportedly worried that Trump would become "America's Hitler."

The ad shows Vance describing himself in a 2016 interview as a "Never Trump guy" and shows one of his old tweets where Vance described Trump as an "idiot."

Trump, who seems to have forgiven Vance after repeated trips by Thiel and the candidate to his Mar-a-Lago resort and Vance's rebranding as a far-right culture warrior, lashed out at Club for Growth over the ad buy, directing his assistant to send a note to David McIntosh, the group's president.

"Hi Mr. McIntosh. The President shares this message with you: Go f**k yourself," the message said, according to Haberman.

But the message seems to have backfired.

"We are increasing our ad buy for Mandel, a Club for Growth spokesperson told Politico's Natalie Allison.

RELATED: Does Trump still have the juice? His spotty endorsement record suggests decline

McIntosh appeared at Trump's rally in North Carolina just days earlier, where Trump touted him as a "very powerful man" and praised him for the group's massive spending.

Donald Trump Jr., who has been increasingly involved in campaigning for his favored candidates, also lashed out on Twitter.

"The RINO frauds attacking [Vance] HATE him precisely because they know he will shake up the establishment," Trump Jr. tweeted on Thursday along with a clip of him stumping for Vance in Ohio.

Trump Jr. also went after Mandel, tweeting a montage of the candidate appearing in the past with Trump foes like Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah; former Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

"One of the things that's setting me apart right now is how strongly antiestablishment I am," Mandel says in a clip from an interview, adding that he's taking on "squishy establishment Republicans" like Romney before the video shows him campaigning with Romney, who voted kick Trump out of office during his impeachment trial.

"Ohio friends – Meet the real [Josh Mandel]," Trump Jr. tweeted. "The Club for Chinese Growth backed establishment candidate."

A source close to Trump Jr. told Haberman that he is considering opposing all candidates newly endorsed by the Club for Growth unless they pull the anti-Vance ads and remove McIntosh from its board.

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Such a move would put the GOP in a precarious position. The Club for Growth poured $15 million into the North Carolina Senate primary to boost Trump-backed candidate Ted Budd into first place, drawing complaints from a Republican opponent that the group was trying to "buy a Senate seat." The group's affiliates have also poured millions to back other Trump-endorsed candidates after getting big donations from Trump billionaire donor Richard Uhlein and GOP mega-donor Jeff Yass. The deep-pocketed group has raised more than $38 million in the past year, according to Open Secrets data.

But the Club for Growth also backs candidates opposed by Trump, like Alabama Senate candidate Rep. Mo Brooks, whom Trump un-endorsed for not defending his election lies enough, and former Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who is challenging Trump-backed candidate Kari Lake in the Arizona gubernatorial primary.

It's ironic that the Ohio Senate feud seems centered on past comments by candidates ostensibly counter to Trump's agenda given that the club for Growth strongly opposed Trump's candidacy in 2016, spending millions to defeat him before he pulled out the Republican nomination.

The spat underscores Trump's falling influence as he touts himself as a kingmaker with the power to make or break Republican candidacies. A group of 40 county GOP chairs in Ohio sent a letter to Trump ahead of the endorsement urging him not to back Vance.

"This group represents supporters of multiple candidates, with the notable exception of JD Vance," the letter said, arguing that Vance worked in 2016 against his candidacy and referred to Trump's supporters as "racists."

"An endorsement that cuts against your support and legacy in Ohio will only serve to confuse or upset voters," the group said.

Trump's recent endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate race also riled his supporters, who blasted him as the "antithesis" of everything Trump stands for and an "anti-gun pro-abortion open borders Hollywood liberal."

In Tennessee, the state Republican Party this week voted to boot Trump-backed House candidate Morgan Ortagus off the ballot after she sparked infighting among the former president's supporters.

But Trumpworld appears to be standing by Trump's controversial endorsements. Trump Jr. campaigned with Vance on Wednesday, bizarrely touting, of all things, Vance's consistency on Trump.

"That's the standout where you've (Vance) kind of been with us all along," Trump Jr. told the Toledo Blade. "J.D. has actually been by far the most consistent and intellectually honest about his positions and everything as it relates to Trump from day one."

'Unprecedented': Oregon Dems angry after Pelosi PAC endorses little-known newcomer

Oregon gained a new House seat after the 2020 census, which offers Democrats one of their clearest pickup opportunities anywhere in the nation. But this week, Democratic candidates in the new district — along with progressive and Latino members of Congress — condemned a super PAC affiliated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading national Democrats for trying to pick favorites in a rare competitive primary.

Six of the nine Democratic candidates running in Oregon's 6th congressional district issued a joint statement on Tuesday slamming House Majority PAC over a $1 million ad buy promoting Carrick Flynn, a little-known first-time candidate who has already received about $5 million in backing from cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried.

"We strongly condemn House Majority PAC's unprecedented and inappropriate decision to spend nearly a million dollars in this Democratic primary," Democratic candidates Andrea Salinas, Kathleen Harder, Teresa Alonso Leon, Loretta Smith, Cody Reynolds and Matt West said in the statement. The House Majority PAC normally helps fund Democrats in competitive races against Republicans, and the six candidates said it "should not be spending resources to divide Democrats. We call on House Majority PAC to actually stand by our party's values and let the voters of Oregon decide who their Democratic nominee will be."

RELATED: The empire strikes back: Mainstream Dems try to crush the left in Buffalo and Cleveland

The PAC spent hundreds of thousands on ad buys in Portland, although some of the total $1 million spend was allocated for the general election, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Flynn's campaign said he was "honored" to have the PAC's support. "We feel this is a clear indication that Carrick's focus on family wage jobs, support for small and rural communities, and pandemic preparedness is the best fit for this critical district," Flynn campaign manager Avital Balwit said in a statement to Salon. "Carrick is proud to have the backing from a broad coalition of supporters from throughout Oregon's 6th congressional district, across the state and from all over the country. The path to keeping the House in Democratic hands starts right here in Oregon's 6th."

House Majority PAC defended the ad buy when asked about the Democratic pushback.

"House Majority PAC is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to secure a Democratic House Majority in 2022, and we believe supporting Carrick Flynn is a step towards accomplishing that goal," said CJ Warnke, the group's communications director, in a statement to Salon that also described Flynn as "a strong, forward-looking son of Oregon."

Flynn's campaign site describes him as a candidate from humble beginnings, whose family was poor and left homeless by a flood that destroyed their home. After attending the University of Oregon on a scholarship and and later going to Yale Law School, he worked on research projects involving national security and pandemic preparedness at Oxford and Georgetown. He moved back to Oregon from Washington, D.C., in 2020, according to the Salem Statesman Journal. Flynn's campaign told Salon that his background in pandemic preparedness motivated him to run for Congress and that he had written part of the Biden administration's pandemic prevention plan.

Flynn's campaign largely focuses on creating more high-tech and green jobs, improving health care access, and implementing pandemic prevention measures. But it's his wealthy backers from far outside Oregon that have drawn the most local attention. Although he's a political newcomer, Flynn has become one of the more visible candidates in the race after the Protect Our Future PAC, a group funded by Bankman-Fried, founder of the crypto exchange FTX, sunk nearly $5 million into ads supporting him. Another group called Justice Unites Us PAC reported spending $850,000 to back Flynn. Sources of funding for that PAC were not immediately clear.

Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old billionaire who founded FTX in 2019, made a big splash in 2020 with more than $5 million in donations to super PACs backing Joe Biden's presidential campaign. Since then, however, Bankman-Fried has contributed extensively to numerous Republican senators, including Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, according to Politico. In that article, Bankman-Fried said his campaign donations were not necessarily tied to his policy aims for a "cryptocurrency ecosystem," although his company has circulated a "regulatory wish list" that would allow trading platforms to choose their own regulators, according to the report.

In an interview with the Statesman Journal, Flynn, the congressional candidate, insisted that he has "no background in crypto" and no "interest in crypto."

Flynn's campaign sought to distance the candidate from Bankman-Fried's business objectives. "Protect Our Future chose to support Carrick because of his hands-on work on pandemic prevention, and policy," Balwit told Salon. "If you look at the PAC's goals on their website, they care about pandemic preparedness and prevention. They are also backing other candidates, including some elected officials, who have strong stances on pandemic preparedness and prevention. As for Sam Bankman-Fried, while it appears that he does do advocacy around crypto, his primary focus is an advocacy project around pandemics."

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Five of the six Democrats who condemned the House Majority PAC for trying to tip the primary scale toward Flynn held a joint press conference on Tuesday, where candidate Kathleen Harder, a physician, called Flynn a "phantom candidate" who has largely been absent from the campaign trail.

"We've seen him nowhere in the district, he doesn't show up to any events in person," agreed fellow candidate Cody Reynolds, an Army veteran.

Matt West, another primary contender, called out Flynn's financial backers. "This candidate is the preferred candidate of billionaires, clearly," he said.

According to his Democratic opponents, crypto-funded Carrick Flynn is a "phantom candidate." One said, "We've seen him nowhere in the district." Another called him "the preferred candidate of billionaires."

The out-of-state millions backing Flynn have frustrated the other candidates. State Rep. Andrea Salinas, who has the most in-state support in the field, has raised just $520,000 by comparison, according to Willamette Week.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is supporting Salinas, currently the No. 3 Democrat in the state House, in the new district southwest of Portland, where more than 20% of residents are Latino. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., the chairman of the caucus' fundraising arm BOLD PAC, slammed the House Majority PAC for "spending critical resources against a woman who has spent decades fighting for progressive causes and who will excite Democratic voters in November."

In a statement, Gallego said that Democrats should focus on "investments to empower Latino and Latina candidates like Andrea who are running strong campaigns focused on issues that matter to communities of color and working families." Oregon has never had a Latino representative in Congress, he noted, "and the 6th district ... has the opportunity to make history this year." He added that the big ad buy in support of Flynn "stands in contrast" to Salinas' endorsements from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, a BOLD PAC board member, warned that Democrats who take the Latino vote for granted "do so at their own peril."

"At a time when reproductive rights are at stake, Democrats should be moving mountains to ensure that there are more women at the table — especially women of color — instead of actively trying to tip the scales against an exceptionally experienced Latina," she said in a statement.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., has not backed a candidate in the district but joined a growing number of national Democrats critical of the House Majority PAC decision.

"I haven't endorsed in this race," he tweeted, "but it's flat-out wrong for House Majority PAC to be weighing in when we have multiple strong candidates vying for the nomination."

NOW WATCH: Marjorie Taylor Greene furious she will ‘actually be questioned’ after judge allows a constitutional challenge to her candidacy

Marjorie Taylor Greene furious after judge allows a constitutional challenge to her candidacy www.youtube.com

Jon Ossoff confronts Susan Collins over her past support for voting rights legislation

Sen. Jon Ossoff, one of the two Georgia Democrats elected in last year's runoff elections, confronted Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on the Senate floor Wednesday over her previous support for voting rights legislation and her opposition to Democrats' new voting rights proposal.

Ossoff, the youngest member of the Senate, called out the fifth-term senator before she joined the Republican filibuster to block the voting rights bill. Democrats later held a vote to change the filibuster rule in an effort to advance the legislation but as expected, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined every Republican in the chamber to sink the rules proposal, and with it likely the Senate's last hope of passing voting rights legislation ahead of the 2022 midterms.

Ossoff called out Collins, a self-described moderate, for opposing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act despite voting to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006.

"Abraham Lincoln must be turning in his grave to hear the senators from the Grand Old Party, the party of abolition and emancipation and reconstruction, echoing the states' rights rhetoric of Dixiecrat segregationists to oppose federal voting rights legislation," Ossoff said.

RELATED: "Vote her the hell out": Progressives target Kyrsten Sinema after her filibuster defense

Collins took issue with Ossoff's remarks, suggesting he risked violating a rule banning senators from imputing "to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator."

Collins argued that the Voting Rights Act still allows the Justice Department to challenge laws if they restrict voting rights. Ossoff countered that a Supreme Court decision in 2013 gutted a portion of the law that allowed the DOJ to block voting restrictions in states with a history of racial discrimination before they went into effect, a provision the act named for John Lewis would restore.

Ossoff noted that Collins previously said that reauthorizing the 1965 Voting Rights Act would "ensure that the voting rights afforded to all Americans are protected" and accused Republicans of hypocrisy for praising the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., while opposing the bill named after him.

"I speak for the state of Georgia when I say do not invoke Congressman Lewis' name to signal your virtue while you work to erode his legacy and defy his will," Ossoff said.

Collins argued that to "equate that to the legislation that is before us" to the 2006 reauthorization is "simply not worthy."

"I'm not sure that the senator from Georgia was even born in 1965," she said. "I voted enthusiastically and I did say that about the Voting Rights Reauthorization in 2006, and surely my colleague is not confusing that bill, which was five pages long ... with the bill that is before the Senate tonight, which is 735 pages long."

Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., also tangled over Democrats' comparisons of the new voting restrictions imposed in Republican-led states to Jim Crow-era laws that blocked Black people from voting.

Scott, the lone Black Republican in the chamber, accused Democrats of pushing "a negative, false narrative" that is "offensive not just to me or Southern Americans, but offensive to millions of Americans who fought, bled and died for the right to vote." Scott argued that the fact that three of the 100 members of the Senate are Black shows that minority voters are not "being suppressed."

"Don't lecture me on Jim Crow," Booker fired back. "I know this is not 1965. That's what makes me so outraged — it's 2022 and they're blatantly removing more polling places from the counties where Blacks and Latinos are overrepresented. I'm not making that up. That is a fact."

Booker noted that Black voters statistically have to wait in line to vote twice as long as white voters.

"In the United States today, it is more difficult for the average African American to vote than the average white American," Booker said. "That is not rhetoric, that is fact."

But all the rhetoric and facts could not convince Sinema and Manchin, who have opposed filibuster rule changes for months, to change their minds, although both voted to support the voting rights legislation itself.

More than a half-dozen Republican senators lined up to shake Sinema's hand after the vote, including Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., one of the GOP members who voted to block the certification of Joe Biden's victory after the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021.

Manchin argued that changing the filibuster would "break" the Senate and inflame partisanship while Sinema argued that if the filibuster rule was changed Republicans could roll back voting rights and impose other partisan legislation with a simple majority.

"Eliminating the filibuster would be the easy way out," Manchin said. "I cannot support such a perilous course. ... It's time we do the hard work to forge the difficult compromises that can stand the test of time."

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The doomed vote likely means that the Senate will not pass any new voting rights legislation ahead of the midterms amid the wide array of voting restrictions passed by Republican-led state legislatures, which Biden said on Wednesday threaten to make elections "illegitimate."

Biden vowed not to give up on the legislation but admitted that "it's going to be difficult. I make no bones about that. It's going to be difficult."

Sen. Raphael Warnock, the other Georgia Democrat elected last year — who faces a difficult battle to win a full term this fall — also vowed that Congress would try again to pass voting rights legislation, though it's unclear when or how.

"Despite tonight's vote, we cannot turn away," Warnock wrote on Twitter. "This will not be the last opportunity we get to fight for voting rights. We will meet the moment again, to try again. And again. Until we succeed."

GOP trying to recruit Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to run for Senate, despite FBI investigation

Republican Senate leaders are trying to recruit outgoing Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to run for Senate despite an ongoing FBI corruption investigation into his administration's efforts to issue tax refunds worth up to $100 million to aid one of Ducey's campaign donors.

Ducey, who is term-limited, has repeatedly said he has no plans to run for Senate but according to Politico is the "preferred candidate" of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 2022 race against first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has tried to recruit Ducey into the race and NRSC chair Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., has "patiently tried to warm" former President Donald Trump to the idea after Ducey refused to help Trump try to overturn his election loss.

Trump fired a warning shot in response to the recent reports.

"Rumors are that Doug Ducey, the weak RINO Governor from Arizona, is being pushed by Old Crow Mitch McConnell to run for the U.S. Senate," Trump said in a statement on Friday. "He will never have my endorsement or the support of MAGA Nation!"

The recruitment comes as the FBI's public corruption unit investigates the Ducey administration's efforts to secure a tax break for a prominent Texas Republican donor. The probe was launched last summer after the Arizona Republic reported that current and former Ducey staffers had pushed for a closed-door deal to undermine state tax law to aid a key supporter, while the governor had his "eyes on higher office."

The Republic reported that Ryan LLC, a Texas tax firm founded by Ducey donor G. Brint Ryan, pressured the Arizona Department of Revenue (DOR) to give a tax break to an oil client and filed a lawsuit against the agency. The firm pushed the DOR to agree to refund sales taxes on fuel for mining companies even though the tax had been in place for decades. The firm sought a $12,000 tax refund for an oil client but officials said the change would have triggered refunds in all other similar cases, which would cost taxpayers more than $100 million and $30 million per year in subsequent years. Ryan LLC stood to make millions in commissions.

RELATED: GOP governor's staffers under FBI probe for pushing deal to give tax break to campaign donor

The tax firm hired three top Ducey deputies to push for the refund within months of their departures from the administration, in defiance of a state law that requires a one-year "cooling-off" period for public employees before they can lobby their former employers. Ducey's administration argued that the law did not apply to the former aides because they oversaw public agencies but were not "employees" and therefore were not lobbying former employers.

Two of the former aides, former Ducey general counsel Mike Liburdi and former deputy chief of staff Danny Seiden, even signed on to represent Ducey in an unrelated lawsuit while simultaneously pushing for the tax break. The third aide, former chief of staff Kirk Adams, was still serving as a consultant to Ducey on state gaming policy.

The three former deputies and others working for Ducey met with DOR officials at least 16 times to push for the tax break, according to the report. Ducey's deputy chief of staff Gretchen Conger and budget manager Glenn Farley also joined the effort to push the DOR for the refunds. Conger was involved in the effort for nearly a year before reporting that she had a potential conflict of interest because the refund would have resulted in a $10 million windfall for her father's mining company.

Then-DOR director Carlton Woodruff and deputy Grant Nulle opposed the change. Attorney General Mark Brnovich, also a Republican candidate in this year's Senate race, launched an investigation into the matter in 2020. Brnovich backed the DOR and took the fight to court, which ruled against the tax firm. Ducey later fired both Woodruff and Nulle, though the administration claimed the firings were unrelated. Nulle and Woodruff both told the Republic they believe they were fired for pushing back against the proposed refund.

Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin denied any wrongdoing and claimed the former aides had not violated the state's cooling-off period.

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The 18-month campaign by current and former Ducey aides underscores the administration's close ties to the governor's political supporters, as well as the active revolving door between the governor's office and corporate interests who have business before the state.

Adams, who continues to work as a consultant for companies with business with state agencies, also led negotiations to expand sports betting in the state, benefiting Arizona's professional sports owners — who have collectively donated $400,000 to Ducey's campaigns.

"Ducey's tenure as governor has been marred by corruption scandals, and it's been scarred by numerous pandemic failures as he's repeatedly put his political aspirations ahead of keeping Arizonans safe," Brad Bainum, a spokesman for the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, said in a statement to Salon.

Last year, Cara Christ resigned as director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to take a top job at health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona one month later. The move came just weeks after her department gave Blue Cross Blue Shield a no-bid contract to run COVID vaccination sites in the state. Christ said company officials had approached her about the job opportunity while she was working with them on vaccination sites. Arizona law bars state employees involved in contract procurement from having "employment discussions" with contract recipients for one year.

Other no-bid pandemic contracts have also raised eyebrows in the state.

The Ducey administration last year awarded former campaign consultant Mario Diaz a no-bid contract worth more than $1 million for COVID vaccination outreach. Diaz's contract was initially limited to a single zip code in Phoenix. Local news outlet KNXV-TV reported one month later that the zip code lagged behind the rest of the county, with just 16% of residents being vaccinated, compared to more than 54% in the area nearby, but the administration continued to extend and expand the contract.

In July of 2020, Ducey's administration also awarded a $4 million no-bid contract for prison COVID testing to Centurion of Arizona, whose parent company Centene had donated money to Ducey's campaign. The state now faces a fine of up to $23 million after failing to comply with a court order to improve prison health care, which officials may try to pass along to Centurion, according to the Associated Press.

In 2018, state inspections found that under Ducey, ADHS failed to verify background checks for some employees at the notorious Southwest Key shelters where migrant children separated from their families at the border were housed, which came as distressing news amid multiple news reports of sexual abuse at the shelters. A ProPublica investigation found that one employee at a Tucson shelter had been convicted of groping a 15-year-old boy.

In 2015, then-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes stood behind Ducey as he signed a new law in a Theranos laboratory that allowed state residents to order lab tests of any kind without approval from a doctor. Ducey signed the law after lobbying from Holmes, who was convicted of fraud this month after lying to investors about the capabilities of her blood test startup. Ducey's backing of Holmes' unproven technology turned Arizonans into "guinea pigs," wrote Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts, after Theranos rolled out its tech into Walgreens and wellness stores around the Phoenix area, pumping out blood test results that were inaccurate. In 2017, Brnovich, the state attorney general, negotiated a $4.65 million consumer fraud settlement with the company on behalf of 175,000 Arizona residents who paid for the blood tests. Ducey stayed silent on the scandal and his office said after the settlement that Ducey had "no second thoughts" about promoting the company.

The Arizona Republic rang in 2022 with a damning New Year's Eve exposé detailing the administration's "efforts that focused on directly enriching Ducey's supporters." There "seems to be a general theme where Ducey has been able to use his position as governor to implement a number of changes in state policy that raise questions about whether the public interest is being served or whether narrower private or political interest are being served," John Pelissero, a senior scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, told the outlet.

"We completely reject the premise of these stories and we know Arizonans will too," Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said in response.

Evidently these tales of alleged corruption have not prevented Republicans from trying to recruit Ducey into the Republican field vying to face Kelly, which already includes Brnovich, Peter Thiel protégé Blake Masters, energy executive Jim Lamon and former state National Guard chief Mick McGuire. Ducey stoked speculation about his plans after name-checking Kelly during his State of the State address this week in a speech largely focused on criticizing the federal government. The governor has also recently hired four former aides to ex-Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Politico reported on Friday, and an announcement could be made by the end of February.

Karamargin shrugged off the reports in an interview with Salon, without specifically denying them. "It seems like just a lot of crystal-ball gazing, from our perspective," he said.

Arizona Republican strategist Paul Bentz said he doesn't expect Ducey will actually enter the Senate race, but not because of the corruption allegations.

"The criticisms against the governor and his supporters have not gained a foothold in the electoral consciousness," Bentz said in an email to Salon. "His biggest challenge would be the criticisms he would receive from Trump if he were to enter the race." Bentz suggested that Trump might "pick a candidate" while in Arizona over the weekend for a campaign-style rally, but Trump did not do so.

None of this means that Ducey doesn't have his sights set on running for higher office. Bentz said that Ducey's team "is working diligently to continue to strengthen his national reputation," noting that he had campaigned for Glenn Youngkin, the newly-elected Republican governor in Virginia. Ducey's final State of the State speech was focused on national GOP issues, Bentz said, including "supporting parental choice in public schools and investing in border security. His vision for 2022 sounds to me more like someone who has his eyes set on president or vice president," not the Senate.

Lindsey Graham was 'very disrespectful' in meeting with Jan. 6 officers

Sandra Garza, the longtime partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died shortly after the Jan. 6 attack, accused Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., of being "very disrespectful" during a meeting about a commission proposal that was rejected by Republicans.

Sicknick died on Jan. 7 last year, one day after fending off Trump supporters at the Capitol. The officer suffered two strokes and died of natural causes, though the medical examiner ruled that the events of Jan. 6 had "played a role" in his death. Garza, along with Sicknick's mother, Gladys, and two officers who survived the riot, later lobbied Congress to create an independent commission to investigate the siege.

Garza joined former D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone, who was badly injured by the rioters, and other officers involved in the response in meeting with Republican senators in May. Most of those senators told the officers how "tragic" they found the attack, thanked them for their service and made eye contact during the meeting, according to the New York Times. But Graham's behavior upset Garza to the point where she confronted him, she told the outlet.

As Fanone recounted the attack he survived, Graham appeared "bored and distracted," she said. "I said, 'I feel like you're being very disrespectful, and you're looking out the window and tapping your fingers on the desk,'" she recalled.

Another senator present at the meeting told Garza that she was "misreading" Graham's body language, which only "infuriated" her more, she told the Times.

RELATED: Conservatives go after Capitol police officers who testified before Jan. 6 commission

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who also attended the meetings, told the outlet he was equally angry that the Republican senators refused to commit to doing the "minimum" in response to the attack. Graham, who made a "big show of how angry" he was with the riot, opposed the commission, he recalled. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who was also in the meeting, told the officers that while he and Graham agreed that there should be "accountability" for the attack, they would not back an independent commission, Dunn told the Times.

Graham said after the meeting that he had a "very productive" discussion with Garza and the officers but opposed the commission because it would "turn into a partisan food fight."

Garza after the meetings slammed Republican senators as "all talk and no action." She also recalled confronting Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who has repeatedly downplayed the riot. "For them to vote 'no' — it's not protecting law enforcement," Garza told the Washington Post. "And more importantly, it's not protecting our democracy."

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The proposed commission died on Capitol Hill due to Republican opposition, leading House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to create a select bipartisan committee to investigate the attack. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled all Republicans from the panel after Democrats balked at his selection of election conspiracists like Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to the commission. Pelosi ultimately appointed Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., both of whom voted to impeach Trump for inciting the riot, as the only Republicans on the committee.

In another interview ahead of the one-year anniversary of the riot and Sicknick's death, Garza said that she and Sicknick had both supported Trump and initially had doubts about the results of the 2020 election. But she told "PBS NewsHour" that her opinion of the former president had changed after the riot, calling him a "horrible person."

"I hold Donald Trump 100 percent responsible for what happened on Jan. 6 and all of the people that have enabled him, enabled him that day, and continue to enable him now," said Garza, who was with Sicknick for 11 years.

"Personally, for me, I think he needs to be in prison," she added. "That is what I think."

The House committee investigating the riot recently released evidence that Trump continued to watch the attack unfold on television even as various of his allies pleaded for him to intervene.

"He stood by for hours and watched what was going on at the Capitol during this insurrection, watching everything unfold like it was an action movie," Garza said in an interview with MSNBC, arguing that Trump "instigated this entire event."

Garza also discussed her late partner's support for Trump, telling CBS News that Sicknick even had a photo of Trump's personal plane as his background image on Twitter. She said she now believes his opinion would have changed had he survived, adding that Trump still has not contacted her about her partner's death nearly one year later.

"I think, sadly, Brian did not live long enough to see the evidence that has come forth to show what kind of man Donald Trump really is," she told PBS. "I think Brian would be horrified. I think he would have viewed Donald Trump in a very different light."

IN OTHER NEWS: Jen Psaki: Biden's Jan. 6 speech will nail Trump over his 'singular responsibility' for 'chaos and carnage'

Jen Psaki: Biden's Jan. 6 speech will revile Trump over his 'singular responsibility' www.youtube.com

Meet the scariest Republican candidates of 2022

The Trump era saw a far-right takeover of the Republican Party. But the Big Lie and the fallout from the Capitol riot last January threaten to move the party even further into the extremist fringe after the 2022 midterms.

This article first appeared In Salon.

Republicans have long inched toward extremist positions on issues like immigration, women's rights and gun rights but Donald Trump's election helped mainstream racist, xenophobic and white nationalist forces. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arguably one of the most effective conservative political figures in recent history, has increasingly been cast as a RINO ("Republican in Name Only") while the once-fringe House Freedom Caucus has grown massively to become a leading force in Washington. Longtime conservatives like former House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ran for the hills while conspiracy theorists like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., became the faces of the new MAGA wing of the GOP.

Though the majority of the House Republican caucus voted to back Trump's Big Lie and tried to block the certification of President Biden's victory after the deadly Capitol riot, Trump and his allies wasted no time in launching a revenge tour, with the explicit aim of purging lawmakers seen as insufficiently loyal, while his supporters in state legislatures around the country seek to make it easier to overturn the next election. With Democrats facing a difficult if not impossible task of keeping the House despite plummeting approval ratings, the next wave of Republican freshmen could be the scariest yet – and may pose a true threat to democracy as we know it.

Kari Lake — Arizona governor

After failing to convince outgoing Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to help him overturn his election loss, Trump is backing a largely unknown conspiracy theorist, who vowed she would not have certified Biden's win, to replace Ducey. Lake, a longtime Arizona news anchor with no political experience, has even demanded that election officials "decertify" the election results, which is not legally possible. Lake, who is also backed by election conspiracists Mike Lindell and Michael Flynn and Capitol riot-linked Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has called for Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (who is also a gubernatorial candidate this year), to be imprisoned for unspecified election crimes. Trump has also praised Lake for opposing COVID restrictions, "cancel culture," and "woke" school curriculums, all issues likely to dominate the next cycle of Republican primaries and beyond. Trump's endorsement catapulted Lake atop the race, where she leads former Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., by more than a two-to-one margin.

Eric Greitens — Missouri governor

Greitens, once a rising star and considered a potential presidential contender, resigned as Missouri governor in 2018 after a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair accused him of sexual assault and revenge porn. A St. Louis grand jury indicted him that year on felony invasion of privacy charges, and although prosecutors dropped the charges, a special committee in the Republican-led state legislature released a report in April 2018 deeming the woman's allegations "credible." The legislature moved to start impeachment proceedings against Greitens in May 2018, leading him to resign in exchange for prosecutors dropping an unrelated felony charge for using a veterans' charity email list for his campaign.

RELATED: Trump's MAGA movement suffered in 2021 — but has big comeback plans for 2022

There was a time when such scandals would end a political career but Greitens has rebranded himself as an election conspiracist in the wake of Trump's loss, calling for "audits" of the election results nationwide and "decertification" of the 2020 results, and is back for another run at the governor's mansion. Republicans worried that Greitens could cost them the race have pleaded for Trump not to endorse Greitens, but Trump World appears to be rallying behind the disgraced former governor with endorsements from Donald Trump Jr., his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle and former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Greitens is just one of numerous Republican candidates accused of violence against women, a list that also includes Trump-backed Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker and Trump-endorsed Ohio House candidate Max Miller, who was accused of assault by Trump's former press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

Joe Kent — Washington, 3rd congressional district

Kent is running to unseat Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., who voted to impeach Trump after the Capitol riot, and is the most prominent candidate backed by the "Insurrection Caucus," meaning Trump allies like Greene, Boebert, Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. The Washington Post reported last week that the group has little appetite for direct battle with Democrats and instead aims to push House Republicans even further right.

Kent told the Post he wants to force the party to vote on articles of impeachment against Biden and a full congressional investigation into the 2020 election, which he has claimed (without evidence, of course) was stolen. "A lot of it will be shaming Republicans," he told the Post. "It's put up or shut up," he said.

Trump critics are particularly alarmed about the extremist pro-Trump wing gaining power.

"We're looking at a nihilistic Mad Max hellscape," former Republican strategist Rick Wilson, who co-founded the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, told the Post. "It will be all about the show of 2024 to bring Donald Trump back into power. … They will impeach Biden, they will impeach Harris, they will kill everything."

Mark Finchem — Arizona secretary of state

While most eyes will be on prominent gubernatorial and congressional races, the 2022 slate of secretary of state races may be the most consequential. Secretaries of state, who oversee elections, certified the election results in all the states Trump sought to contest, regardless of party affiliation. Next time may be different.

Finchem, a state lawmaker who attended the "Stop the Steal" rally ahead of the Capitol riot and spoke at a similar protest the previous day, has earned Trump's endorsement — and has also espoused QAnon-linked conspiracy theories and been linked to extremist groups.

A Finchem win could prove consequential in a state that was decided in 2020 by fewer than 12,000 votes. But Trump is also backing Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., another election conspiracist, against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who pushed back on Trump's attempts to overturn his loss. The ex-president has also thrown his support behind Kristina Karamo, an election conspiracist who hopes to challenge Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.

Democrats increasingly worry that prominent election conspirators may soon be in charge of overseeing the votes. "That is 'code red' for democracy," Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, chairwoman of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, told Reuters.

David Perdue — Georgia governor

At the start of the COVID pandemic, there appeared to be no governor closer allied with Trump than Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. But Kemp's refusal to help Trump try to block Biden's win forever cost the governor Trump BFF status and put him squarely in the former president's crosshairs. Trump has made it a point to back primary challenges to his perceived enemies, throwing his support behind former Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. — who lost to Democrat Jon Ossoff in a January 2021 runoff — even as the state's Republican lawmakers pleaded for him to stay out after many blamed him for costing the party both of its Georgia U.S. Senate seats.

Perdue was already out of the Senate last Jan. 6, but now says he would have voted to block Biden's win. After landing Trump's endorsement earlier this month, Perdue filed a dubious lawsuit calling for an investigation of absentee ballots in his Senate race over vote-rigging allegations against Democratic election officials, some 11 months after his defeat. He also said earlier this month that he would not have certified Biden's victory if he had been governor.

Ron Watkins — Arizona, 1st congressional district

Watkins has long been a prominent QAnon conspiracy theorist and many believe he outed himself as the mythical "Q" in a recent HBO documentary. As former administrator of the far-right imageboard 8kun, for years he has pushed nonsensical conspiracy theories alleging that a cabal of liberal Satan-worshipping pedophiles are running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against Trump. Earlier this year, he filed paperwork to run for Congress in Arizona — in a Phoenix-area seat now held by Rep. Tom O'Halleran, a Democrat — after moving back to the U.S. from the Philippines.

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But Watkins is just one of at least 49 federal candidates who have publicly expressed some support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to the watchdog group Media Matters.

Adam Laxalt — Nevada, U.S. Senate

While many Republicans cheered Trump's bogus voter fraud lawsuits from the sidelines, Laxalt, Nevada's former attorney general, filed multiple lawsuits contesting Biden's victory in the state. Though all of the challenges were rejected by the court, Laxalt has continued to stoke voter fraud conspiracies, leading the Las Vegas Sun editorial board to label him the "Nevada version of Rudy Giuliani." Laxalt, who is now running for the Senate seat held by Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, vowed to file lawsuits to "tighten up the election" more than 14 months before a single vote is cast. Democrats in the state say Laxalt is using Trump's "Big Lie playbook" for his campaign and seeking to "limit Nevadans' voting rights and potentially overturn the election when he loses."

Mellissa Carone — Michigan state House

Readers may remember Carone from her bizarre testimony to Michigan lawmakers alongside Giuliani last December or the subsequent mockery she received on "Saturday Night Live." Carone, a former IT contractor for Dominion Voting Systems who has continued to espouse debunked claims of election rigging, is now running for the Michigan state House as a Republican and pushing white nationalist talking points about liberals seeking to "eliminate white people in America" with so-called critical race theory and transgender rights.

Carone is one of hundreds of pro-Trump diehards running in state legislature races in 2022, a trend that could have severe implications. Republican-led state legislatures this year pushed hundreds of voting restrictions, measures undercutting COVID regulations, legislation barring the teaching of certain history in school, and bills cracking down on LGBTQ rights.

J.D. Vance — Ohio, U.S. Senate

Vance, a longtime venture capitalist and the best-selling author of "Hillbilly Elegy," is running for U.S. Senate in Ohio, where incumbent Republican Rob Portman is retiring. Vance and fellow Republican candidate Josh Mandel have desperately tried to rebrand themselves as Trump-style, anti-immigrant, anti-Big Tech zealots. Vance's politics appear to be closer to that of Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., than to the former president, but it's his financial backers who have raised the most concern.

Vance is backed by the Mercer family, who funded Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Trump adviser Steve Bannon and many of the key players involved in stoking election lies and the subsequent Capitol riot.

Vance's biggest benefactor is venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who has increasingly thrown big money at Trump and other far-right Republicans. Thiel, who has worked with Vance for years, dropped $10 million to back his Senate bid and another $10 million to support his protégé Blake Masters' Senate bid in Arizona, along with maximum donations to several House campaigns. Though Thiel largely keeps a low public profile, he is "in many ways further to the right than Trump," author Max Chafkin, who profiled Thiel in a recent book, told Salon earlier this year, and "wants to be the patron of the Trump wing of the Republican Party."

Noah Malgeri — Nevada, 3rd congressional district

Trump has frequently drawn condemnation for calling for "locking up" political opponents but some Republicans have gone even further, calling for actual violence against their adversaries.

William Braddock, a Republican running for a Florida House seat vacated by outgoing Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla. (who is running for governor), threatened to send a "hit squad" to make his Republican primary opponent "disappear." His opponent was granted a restraining order.

Wyoming state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who is running to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., earlier this year suggested executing White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, which the state's Democratic Party reported to the FBI.

Earlier this week, Noah Malgeri, who is running in the Republican primary to face Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., called for the execution of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been targeted by Republicans for a call he made to a Chinese general to reassure him that the United States was not planning to attack.

"We don't need a congressional commission to investigate the crimes of Mark Milley, all the evidence is out there," Malgeri said in a Facebook Live interview this week. "What did they used to do to traitors if they were convicted by a court? They would execute them," he added. "That's still the law in the United States of America. I think, you know, if he's guilty of it by a court martial, they should hang him on CNN. I mean, they're not going to do it on CNN. But on C-SPAN or something."

'This isn't fringe anymore': Democrats express horror at Marjorie Taylor Greene's dangerous idea

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., on Wednesday suggested temporarily barring Democrats who move to red states from voting, in what she called a "national divorce scenario."

Greene took issue with Democrats moving from blue states to red states and suggested they need a "cooling off" period before being allowed to vote.

"After Democratic voters and big donors ruin a state like California, you would think it wise to stop them from doing it to another great state like Florida," she wrote on Twitter. "Brainwashed people that move from CA and NY really need a cooling off period."

Greene made the comment in response to a tweet from Pedro Gonzalez, an editor at the conservative Chronicles magazine and a fellow at the right-wing Claremont Institute. Gonzalez suggested "actively discriminating against transplants like this through legislation."

"They shouldn't be able to vote for a period, and they should have to pay a tax for their sins," he tweeted.

Greene said that Gonzalez's suggestion would be "possible in a National Divorce scenario" between red and blue states.

Greene hosted a Twitter poll in October asking her followers if the country should have a "national divorce." Though more people supported staying together than splitting up in her unscientific survey, Greene used the numbers to claim the country's divisions have become "irreconcilable."

"So many people talk to me about how divided our country is and how it's irreconcilable," she said in an interview with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in October. "I've been hearing that from so many...about dividing the country between Republican and Democrat states."

Bannon pushed back on Greene's suggestion but she insisted that the poll was a "wake-up call" for "Republicans who refuse to act like Republicans, and not just the Democrats."

She echoed that sentiment on Twitter.

"So many people tell me daily how devastated they are over the state of our union on every level, and I completely share their utter disgust and heartbreak for the condition of our country," she wrote in October. "National Divorce is talked about often privately, but not publicly, so I took a poll."

She doubled down again after her comments on Wednesday, writing that "we Republicans don't want your blue votes ruining our red home states."

Greene's House colleagues accused freshman congresswoman of calling for civil war.

"There is no 'National Divorce' either you are for civil war or not," tweeted Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. "Just say it if you want a civil war and officially declare yourself a traitor."

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., urged his followers not to "ignore" Greene's rants.

"I want you to see what a GOP-run country looks like. They will take your right to vote if you don't agree with them. MTG may sound batty but she's not kidding and she has [House GOP leader] Kevin McCarthy fully behind her," Swalwell wrote.

"The most popular national Republicans are openly advocating for an end to American democracy," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. "This isn't fringe anymore. This is mainstream Republican thinking, folks."

Trump’s struggling UK golf resorts claimed millions in COVID aid while he was president

Former President Donald Trump's golf resorts in Scotland claimed nearly $4 million in COVID aid from the British government while he was in office, financial filings in the U.K. show.

The ex-president's struggling resorts, Trump Turnberry in Ayrshire and Trump International Scotland in Aberdeenshire, lost millions last year amid the pandemic (whether counted in dollars or pounds) and received hefty furlough payments after slashing their workforce. The U.S. Constitution's emoluments clause prohibits federal officials from taking payments from foreign governments, although Trump got around that by ostensibly turning over control of his company to his children while he was in office, although he retained his financial interest in his family-owned companies.

The British government provided the payments after the Turnberry and Trump International resorts reported $8.9 million in losses in 2020. The company's filings partially blamed the losses on Brexit — the U.K.'s withdrawal from the European Union, which Trump ardently supported — saying it had disrupted supply chains, the BBC first reported.

"Brexit has also impacted our business as supply chains have been impacted by availability of drivers and staff, reducing deliveries and availability of certain product lines," one filing said, according to The Independent.

RELATED: Trump's New York golf club faces criminal probe over potential tax dodging: report

The company also blamed the British government's lockdown policies. Even though 273 workers at the two courses were let go, Eric Trump said in one of the filings that government COVID aid was "helpful to retain as many jobs as possible" but that "uncertainty of the duration of support and the pandemic's sustained impact meant that redundancies were required to prepare the business for the long term effects to the hospitality industry."

A review by The Guardian found that the filings show that the two Scottish resorts owe nearly $180 million to Trump personally, even though their combined assets are currently valued only at about $133 million.

Trump opened the Aberdeenshire resort in 2012 after a legal fight with local residents and environmental activists. It has lost money every year since it opened. The Trump Organization bought Turnberry in 2014 for a reported $60 million and said it has spent $150 million to develop it. That resort has similarly failed to post a profit in any year since the Trump purchase.

Those transactions have raised various suspicions over the years. Though Trump has long financed purchases with borrowed money, he ponied up $60 million in cash for the Turnberry property just as he was defaulting on a $640 million loan from Deutsche Bank, and suing the bank claiming an inability to pay. The Avaaz Foundation, a U.S.-based human rights watchdog group, issued a report in 2019 calling on the Scottish government to use its laws against money-laundering to investigate the purchase.

The Avaaz report suggested that Trump had acquired the Turnberry property during a "cash buying spree" and that his transactions had links to "locations highly conducive to money laundering such as Panama and the former Soviet Union." A Scottish lawmaker in February called for an "unexplained wealth order," which would allow authorities to investigate where the purchase funds had come from, but that motion was defeated in the Scottish parliament. (Although still part of the U.K., Scotland has its own legislature and considerable autonomy in internal matters.) Avaaz asked a Scottish court to force lawmakers to investigate but a judge ruled against that request last month, while leaving the door open for the parliament to approve a probe if its members chose to.

"I wish to make it clear that I express no view whatsoever on the question of whether the [criminal law] requirements were or appeared to be met in the case of President Trump," the judge wrote. "Further, for aught yet seen the Scottish Ministers may still make a UWO application in relation to President Trump's Scottish assets."

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, Scotland's top prosecutor, will now decide whether to pursue a criminal investigation against Trump or his company.

"The law may have been clarified, but a cloud of suspicion still hangs over Trump's purchase of Turnberry," Nick Flynn, the legal director for Avaaz, said in a statement. "By any measure, the threshold to pursue a UWO to investigate the purchase has easily been crossed. The Lord Advocate should take urgent action in the interest of the rule of law and transparency, and demand a clear explanation of where the $60m used to buy Turnberry came from."

The Trump Organization dismissed the effort as a "ridiculous charade" and "self-indulgent, baseless nonsense."

Trump, who faces a criminal investigation in Manhattan related to his business practices and a separate probe by the New York state attorney general, is also facing a new criminal investigation by the Westchester County district attorney into the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, New York (about 30 miles north of New York City). Prosecutors are looking at whether the company "misled local officials about the property's value to reduce its taxes," according to The New York Times, which is a subject of inquiry for other prosecutors as well, in relation to other Trump businesses.

Former Trump Organization vice president Michael Cohen, who served prison time after pleading guilty to numerous federal charges, testified to Congress in 2019 that it was routine for the company to provide misleading numbers.

"It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes," Cohen told Congress, "and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."

Georgia GOP 'goes all-in on Trump's Big Lie'

Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller is pushing to eliminate all absentee ballot drop boxes in the state, only months after he voted to install them.

Miller, the No. 2 Republican in the state Senate and a candidate for lieutenant governor, has introduced Senate Bill 325, which would eliminate drop boxes, a focal point among pro-Trump Republicans who ginned up unfounded fears about mail-in voting. The state's election board approved the use of drop boxes amid the pandemic last year.

"Drop boxes were introduced as an emergency measure during the pandemic but many counties did not follow the security guidelines in place, such as the requirement for camera surveillance on every drop box," Miller said in a statement. "Moving forward, we can return to a pre-pandemic normal of voting in person. Removing drop boxes will help rebuild the trust that has been lost. Many see them as the weak link when it comes to securing our elections against fraud. For the small number of Georgians who need to vote absentee, that will remain as easy and accessible as it was before 2020."

Voting rights groups accused Miller of "going all-in on the Big Lie."

"Instead of figuring out how to put together policies that will help our people, he is preemptively erecting barriers to voting a year out," Stephanie Ali, policy director at the New Georgia Project, said in a statement, arguing that Miller's proposal shows he is "terrified" of the state's changing demographics after Republicans got swept in the last round of statewide races.

Election officials around the country have warned that proposals like Miller's will make it more difficult to vote, particularly for voters of color.

"Efforts like Sen. Miller's to remove drop boxes or place other restrictions on voting are not about election security, but part of a national coordinated attack on democracy," Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, chairwoman of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, told Salon. "Nationwide, the voter suppression proposals and laws disproportionately affect people of color and working people — these are the voices extreme lawmakers are trying to suppress to tip future elections in their favor. Candidates should win by running good campaigns, not by undemocratically taking away Americans' freedoms."

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has pushed back against false GOP election claims and Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his loss, rejected Miller's claim that every county did not have video surveillance, noting that officials had identified only one irregularity: a woman who cast a ballot one minute after the deadline.

"This office and I have worked very hard on making sure we have integrity up and down the line," he told WSB-TV.

On Tuesday, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that helped the GOP write a slew of new voting restrictions, ranked Georgia No. 1 in the country on "election integrity," including the new drop boxes.

"It means that we're a leader in voter integrity and also security," Raffensperger told the news outlet.

Georgia Democrats called out Miller for pushing the proposal after he said in a recent interview that newly-arrived Georgians "need to assimilate into our values and our culture."

"Butch Miller's proposal to blow up our elections based on lies is part of his sad, desperate attempt to win over far-right voters after Donald Trump endorsed his primary opponent," Scott Hogan, executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement. "We already know Butch Miller is terrified of Georgia's diversifying electorate — now, he's trying to silence the voters of color who elected Democrats last cycle by banning one of the most popular ways they chose to cast their ballots."

Just months earlier, Miller joined other Georgia Republicans in supporting Senate Bill 202, a sweeping set of voting restrictions that codified the use of drop boxes, even while restricting their availability. But Miller now faces an opponent endorsed by Trump, and appears intent on trying to win over Trump supporters after the former president accused him of not doing enough to try to overturn his election defeat. Repeated reviews and investigations have found no evidence of fraud or widespread irregularities in Georgia — or for that matter in any other state.

"Trump's grip on the Republican Party is clear: he has made endorsing the Big Lie a litmus test for his support," Griswold said. "Now, hundreds of candidates running under the GOP banner at the county, state and federal levels have promoted lies about the 2020 elections. We need lawmakers and election administrators who will respect voters and their decisions at the ballot box, even if they don't like the outcome. That is how democracy works."

Miller is running to replace Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican who opted not to run for re-election after spending much of the year battling election conspiracy theories from his own party. Duncan has said that he does not think anything should be done about drop boxes.

"I'm one of those Republicans that want more people to vote," he said earlier this year.

An analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia Public Broadcasting earlier this year found that heavily Democratic counties like Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett were far more likely to use the drop boxes than Republican areas. More than 305,000 of about 547,000 absentee ballots in the metro Atlanta area were cast using drop boxes, compared to just 32% of the absentee votes in 11 smaller countries.

"This legislation is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to further undermine faith in the results of the 2020 election and win support with those who simply cannot accept that they lost," Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said in a statement. "Our absentee ballot drop boxes were safe and secure — three counts of the vote and monitors from the Secretary of State's office proves that."

Georgia has already restricted the use of drop boxes. Though SB 202 required each county to have at least one drop box per 100,000 active voters, they must now be located inside early voting sites and can only be accessible during early voting days and hours. Voting rights advocates accused Republicans of seeking to "limit options in the metro areas versus the rural areas" where Republicans tend to do better.

Miller's proposal comes ahead of two high-profile elections in the state next year. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., the state's first Black senator, is up for re-election and appears likely to face Trump favorite Herschel Walker, a former NFL star. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who has rejected Trump's election fraud claims, is set to take on Trump-endorsed former Sen. David Perdue in the GOP primary, ahead of a potential rematch with former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who refused to concede her race in 2018 after accusing Kemp of voter suppression. Abrams has charged that Georgia Republicans' crackdown on ballot access is a "redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie" targeting Black voters.

SB 202 is already having noticeable effects on the state's elections. Rejected absentee ballot requests rose 400% in November's municipal elections after the state-imposed new restrictions, and 52% of rejected applications were denied because they were submitted after the state's new deadline, which requires voters to request ballots at least 11 days before an election. State lawmakers have also used the new law to replace local election officials with their own picks, often replacing Black Democrats with white conservatives.

Griswold said laws like SB 202 are part of the "worst attack on democracy in recent history." She called on Congress to pass voting rights legislation in response to the ballot access crackdown, urging the Senate to reform the filibuster because "American democracy is more important than antiquated Senate rules." While the Senate has renewed its focus on voting rights amid increasingly aggressive Republican gerrymandering, which threatens the Democratic House majority, conservative Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have ruled out any changes to the filibuster.

"Access to the ballot box shouldn't be dependent on voters' zip code, political party or the amount of money in their bank account. Every eligible American deserves to have their voice heard and their vote counted," Griswold said. "Congress needs to do its job and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act as soon as possible to combat this historic wave of voter suppression."

Ohio candidate J.D. Vance calls out Walmart for 'slave labor' — and heavily invests in its stock

Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance has accused Walmart of using "slave labor" to make cheap products that undermine American jobs. But his latest personal financial disclosure shows he owns at least $50,000 in Walmart stock.

Vance, who made a fortune as a venture capitalist before writing the best-selling book "Hillbilly Elegy," submitted his personal financial disclosure last month after missing the original filing deadline. It indicates that he owns between $50,000 and $100,000 in Walmart stock. (Such disclosure forms list ranges, rather than precise amounts.)

Vance also participated in a 2017 "fireside chat" with Walmart executive Daniel Eckert to discuss business issues as well as the "populist movement" that "propelled Donald Trump into the presidency."

Now that he is seeking the Republican nomination for an open Ohio Senate seat — and hoping to land former President Donald Trump's endorsement — Vance has taken to criticizing the company and its reliance on China, which has become a popular GOP target.

During an event in Dover, Ohio, in October, Vance blamed politicians from both parties for shipping "a lot of our manufacturing base off to China."

"The thought was we get a lot of cheap stuff in return," he said. "They make it more cheaply because they were relying on slave labor. So maybe you go to Walmart and things don't cost as much. But in the process, a lot of middle-class people lost those good jobs that enabled them to support them."

Vance reiterated his belief that Walmart relies on slave labor in an interview with conservative commentator Buck Sexton, accusing the company of using diversity and inclusion programs to distract from the issue.

"Who cares if you are employing Chinese slaves? Who cares if you are benefiting from the Communist Chinese Party's slave labor?" he said. "So long as you are properly woke, so long as you teach diversity, equity and inclusion at your workplace, you won't face any scrutiny, you won't face any consequences."

Walmart has faced allegations that it uses slave labor for years. The company says it has taken steps to address forced labor and ensure compliance with its responsible sourcing policies.

During an appearance in Youngstown last month, Vance argued that a "bunch of idiot leaders" decided to ship middle-class American jobs to China and "countries that hate us" in return for "a lot of cheap plastic garbage at Walmart."

This has been a theme of his Ohio campaign since he announced his candidacy in July, arguing in an op-ed that American leaders had made the indefensible choice that Americans should "be able to buy cheaper consumer goods at Walmart instead of having access to a good job."

On that issue, he has a point. An analysis by the progressive Economic Policy Institute found that Walmart's outsourcing to companies in China may have eliminated 400,000 jobs between 2001 and 2013. But in none of his campaign speeches or appearances has Vance disclosed that he is an investor in the company he accuses of killing American jobs and relying on "slave labor." A spokesman for Vance did not respond to questions from Salon.

"J.D. Vance keeps proving that he's an untrustworthy fraud," said Brad Bainum, a spokesperson for the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century.

Vance has also drawn accusations of hypocrisy over his campaign against Big Tech, which he has accused of censoring conservatives, since he has spent years investing in tech startups at his venture capital firm Narya and before that at Mithril Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm co-founded by Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member.

On the campaign trail, Vance has also tied himself in knots trying to reposition himself as a pro-Trump Republican after repeatedly bashing the former president over the past several years before deciding to run for office himself. Vance in 2016 said he could not "stomach Trump" and said his policy proposals "range from immoral to absurd." He now says he has had a change of heart and has ventured on something of an apology tour, even tagging along with Thiel — a major Trump donor who has sunk $10 million in Vance's campaign — on a trip to Mar-a-Lago seeking an audience with Trump.

Vance's campaign is also backed by the billionaire investors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who helped fund Trump's 2016 campaign and financially backed many of the players involved in stoking Trump's election lies and the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

There has been little polling in the Ohio Republican primary race, which also includes former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who has desperately tried to out-Trump Vance, and top Trump donor Jane Timken. Vance has consistently run behind Mandel in polls so far, although the Thiel-funded super PAC backing him has touted a recent poll showing him closing the gap.

"That's why you raise money — so you can run a real campaign and do messaging," Ohio Republican strategist Doug Preisse told Salon earlier this year about the Thiel and Mercer money flowing into the former never-Trumper's campaign. "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."

These are 6 ways to overturn a US election -- according to Team Trump memos

This past year, the House panel charged with investigating the Capitol riot has been diligently working to lay bare Donald Trump's failed election coup, subpoenaing his allies, interviewing agency officials, and requesting confidential documents. So far, the evidence suggests that Trump and his allies coordinated a far-reaching campaign of lies – spanning multiple agencies and branches – to cast doubt over the results of President Biden's win. Still, for many, the committee's body of evidence is amorphous and confusing. After all, it's a hodgepodge of damning memos, missives, messages, thus making it important to distinguish each one from the rest.

The Eastman memo

First unearthed by The Washington Post back in October, the two-page document, produced by conservative lawyer John C. Eastman, who was working with Trump's legal team immediately following the former president's defeat, outlined a step-by-step scheme aimed at undermining the 2020 election via various questionable legal pathways.

Central to Eastman's scheme was former vice president Mike Pence, who, according to the memo, would be required to throw out electors from seven key states that Trump lost. In doing this, the document erroneously alleges, Pence would be able to replace these electors with Trump-friendly substitutes, leaving no candidate with at least 270 electoral votes – a result that endows the House of Representatives with the final vote.

"The main thing here is that Pence should do this without asking for permission – either from a vote of the joint session or from the Court," the memo instructed. "The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter. We should take all of our actions with that in mind."

Both Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah reportedly rejected the Eastman memos of the time of their proposal. And Pence, for his part, refused to go along with the plot.

While the Eastman memos were drawn up after the election, there's also evidence that Trump's allies concocted similar plots in anticipation of his loss.

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Jenna Ellis' memos (2)

In the days leading up to the 2020 election, Politico reported, Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis also wrote a memo broadly echoing Eastman's proposal. Claiming that a provision of the Electoral Count Act contains a provision that violates the Constitution, Ellis argued that Pence had the right to nullify the votes of certain electors by refusing to open their envelopes during the election electoral vote count. After Pence did this, Ellis continued in her plan, he would claim that the federal government failed to meet its own legal threshold for certifying its electors, "requiring a final ascertainment of electors to be completed before continuing."

"The states," she added, "would therefore have to act."

Ellis' plan, Politico notes, did not go quite as far as Eastman's. After all, Eastman had argued that Pence could secure Trump's victory simply by throwing out certain electors. Ellis' proposal would have simply required a state-by-state review of the "validity" of certain electors, which could have theoretically ended in then-candidate Joe Biden's victory.

One day before the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol, Ellis wrote another memo, Politico reported, arguing that Pence should stop the certification process once the count reaches Arizona.

Despite their wild ambitions, Ellis and Eastman were not the only Trump sycophants to draft election coup manuals lacking in constitutional substance.

The McEntee memo

Last month, The Atlantic reported on a memo drawn up by Johnny McEntee, Trump's director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office, who after the election made a series of bogus claims about how Trump could retake the throne. The memo, drafted by "rogue legal advisors," alluded to the likes of Thomas Jefferson, who presided over his own election certification as vice president, securing a victory against John Adams in 1801. At the time of the historical dispute, the memo notes, Georgia's ballots had been declared defective. According to McEntee, Jefferson simply ignored this issue and "announced himself the winner."

"This proves that the VP has, at a minimum, a substantial discretion to address issues with the electoral process," McEntee claimed. But in reality, The Atlantic notes, "Jefferson didn't discard electoral votes, as Trump wanted Pence to do. He accepted electoral votes from a state that nobody had questioned he had won."

Eastman, Ellis, and McEntee's memos were for the most part consigned only to those within Trump's allies. However, other missives breached Trump's inner circle and went beyond making technical claims.

The Clark memo

According to a report released by the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, Trump also attempted to weaponize the Justice Department following his election defeat, enlisting the help of sympathetic officials to cast doubt over Biden's win. Key to this scheme was Jeffrey Clark, the then-head of the Justice Department's civil division, who sent a letter to the Georgia legislature, vastly overstating the agency's concern around the state's election results.

"The Department will update you as we are able on investigatory progress, but at this time we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia," Clark wrote at the time, even though the department found no evidence of election-altering fraud.

Clark's letter, however, needed an official go-ahead from then-acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, then the Justice Department's second-in-command. And both men quickly shut the effort down.

Eye-opening as it was, Clark's letter appears tame compared to the most recently unearthed artifact of Trump's failed election coup.

Meadows memo

This week, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, on track to be charged in contempt for flouting a congressional subpoena, turned over a PowerPoint presentation detailing a number of outlandish conspiracy theories and executive actions Trump could have allegedly taken to undermine the 2020 election.

The presentation, titled "Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN," instructed Trump to "declare a national emergency, declare all electronic voting invalid, and ask Congress to agree on a constitutionally acceptable remedy," according to The Guardian. In order to establish a precedent for such radical actions, the PowerPoint suggested spreading a baseless conspiracy theory that "the Chinese systematically gained control over our election system." Under the scheme, Pence was also given four options to abuse his ceremonial role in the certification process – none of which ultimately panned out.

Donald Trump's new social network has 'highly suspect' ties to Brazil: watchdog

A government watchdog group on Thursday called on Congress to investigate whether former President Donald Trump used the power of his presidency to help lay the groundwork for his planned social network before leaving office.

In October, Trump announced the launch of a social network and media platform through Digital World Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that would merge with the newly-formed Trump Media & Technology Group. The SPAC, which has already come under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and other federal regulators amid scrutiny of its fluctuating stock price, was incorporated in December 2020, while Trump was still in office, according to Delaware records. The SPAC's chief financial officer is Brazilian lawmaker Luiz Philippe de Orléans e Braganza, a close ally of right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, sometimes described as the "Trump of the Tropics."

Around the same time as the SPAC was formed, Trump made several moves to benefit the Bolsonaro regime and the Brazilian president returned the favor, endorsing Trump ahead of his failed re-election bid. Trump struck a trade deal with Brazil before the 2020 election and declared Brazil a "major non-NATO ally" while removing COVID-based travel restrictions previously imposed on the South American nation.

The left-leaning government watchdog Accountable.US on Thursday called on the House Oversight and Reform Committee to "investigate potential efforts by President Donald J. Trump to deliver Brazil-friendly policies in the waning days of his presidency in exchange for help from key allies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in getting his recently announced social media venture off the ground," in a letter shared with Salon.

"Misuse of the highest office in the land for personal gain threatens the very foundation of our nation's democracy," Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig wrote to Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and ranking member James Conner, R-Iowa. "In order to uphold our most fundamental values and do right by the American people, we believe the committee must investigate if, and to what extent, Donald Trump abused his office for his own benefit — along with Bolsonaro's."

Trump's new media company, which will include a social network called TRUTH Social, will be helmed by retiring Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a longtime Trump ally. The news broke the same week a filing revealed that the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority are investigating the Digital World Acquisition Corp. and have requested information related to stock trading that preceded Trump's October announcement, as well as documents related to board meetings and identities of certain investors.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for the SEC to investigate whether Digital World Acquisition Corp. "committed securities violations by holding private and undisclosed discussions about the merger as early as May 2021 while omitting this information" from public filings.

Others have raised concerns that the new Trump-centric company has provided little information about its products despite touting massive projections in its pitch deck to investors. The company has already missed its first product deadline to release a beta version of TRUTH Social, raising questions about how legitimate the venture actually is. The structure of the SPAC has raised concerns that investors could use the opportunity to buy their way into Trump's favor ahead of a likely 2024 presidential campaign, including foreign investors who could potentially pose a national security threat. The company's shares soared 1,657% after the Trump announcements but have since fallen to $75 a share, about $100 below the October peak of $175.

While in office, Trump had a distinctly friendly relationship with Bolsonaro. Many observers in Brazil believed that Bolsonaro had "privileged access to the White House" and no previous Brazilian president had ever "made his resemblance to and friendship with his U.S. counterpart such a central element," Americas Quarterly reported last year.

Trump backed Bolsonaro in 2019 when the Brazilian leader came under heavy criticism from world leaders over the extensive and uncontrolled fires burning in the Amazon rain forest. Less than a month before his election loss, Trump's administration signed a new trade deal with Brazil. In January, the Trump administration designated Brazil a "major non-NATO ally," which makes countries eligible for loans, military agreements and other benefits. On Jan. 18, 2021, just two days before leaving office, Trump ordered an end to the ban on travelers from Brazil due to COVID, which President Biden later reimposed after taking office. Earlier this year, Trump endorsed Bolsonaro's re-election bid.

A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

Philippe, who is known in Brazil as "the prince" because of his ancestral ties to Brazil's last emperor, who ruled more than a century ago, has aligned himself with many of Bolsonaro's and Trump's authoritarian tendencies. After being elected to the Brazilian parliament in 2018, one of his first proposals was to create an unelected head of state with the power to overrule the legislature's decisions. After last year's presidential election, Philippe praised Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani for pushing baseless election fraud claims. Earlier this year, he published a video of Steve Bannon attending a conference in Brazil where Trump's former strategist claimed that "globalists" would try to steal the upcoming election from Bolsonaro. Several other Trump allies have helped the Brazilian leader stoke Trump-style conspiracy theories, claiming possible fraud before any votes are cast. Philippe later posted a photo of himself standing next to Trump after the SPAC deal was announced.

"Documents from Digital World Acquisition Corp evidence Philippe's involvement in the SPAC since at least when it went public in May 2021, suggesting that he was an early addition to the SPAC's leadership," Herrig wrote to the Oversight Committee, arguing that the timing of the SPAC launch, the hiring of Philippe and the pursuit of pro-Bolsonaro policies raise serious questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Digital World Acquisition Corp. did not respond to a request for comment. The New York Times previously reported that Trump was in talks on a deal since at least March, well before the company went public in September.

Herrig called on the committee to investigate whether Trump used the power of his office to arrange a deal with Bolsonaro or his allies and whether he discussed plans for the company during official meetings with Bolsonaro and his allies while still in office.

A spokesperson for the committee did not reply to a request for comment.

"The American people deserve to know if Trump used the power of his office to arrange a deal with Bolsonaro or top members of Brazil's government to help get his company off the ground in exchange for pushing policies that would benefit the Bolsonaro regime," Herrig said in a statement to Salon. "The timeline is highly suspect and Congress needs to get to the bottom of exactly what happened. If the former president once again put his own business interests ahead of the needs of American families, those involved must be held accountable."

'What voter suppression looks like': Rejected ballot requests up 400 percent after new Georgia voting law

Georgia election officials rejected absentee ballot applications in the state's municipal elections this month at a rate more than four times higher than during the 2020 election cycle, in large part as the result of new restrictions on voting passed by Republican state lawmakers.

Election officials rejected 4% of absentee ballot applications ahead of the Nov. 2 elections, up from less than 1% in 2020, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Most of the absentee ballot applications rejected last year were duplicates of applications that had already been submitted, often because voting groups or local governments sent out multiple forms to voters.

The new Georgia law, SB 202, requires absentee ballot applications to be submitted at least 11 days before the election, while the previous deadline which was the Friday before Election Day. Data shows that 52% of the rejected applications were denied because they were submitted too late under the new law. Another 15% were rejected because of missing or incorrect ID information under the new law.

Most of those people ended up not voting at all. Only about 26% of people whose ballots were rejected because of the deadline voted in person on Election Day, according to the AJC analysis.

"This is what voter suppression looks like," charged state Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat.

Though full voter file data will not be released by the state until next year, 19% of people who requested an absentee ballot did not submit one before the polls opened on Election Day, according to the New Georgia Project Action Fund, a voting rights group. Based on 2020 trends, the group estimates that 13% of people who requested an absentee ballot ended up not voting at all this year, nearly double the 2020 rate, Aklima Khondoker, the group's chief legal officer, told Salon.

The data shows the "voter suppression law working as intended," tweeted former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Georgia Republicans passed the law after Joe Biden carried the state last November and Democrats won both U.S. Senate runoff races amid an expansion of absentee voting during the COVID pandemic. A record 1.3 million Georgia voters cast absentee ballots in the 2020 election, with two-thirds of them voting for President Joe Biden.

The law also restricts ballot drop boxes, imposes new ID requirements and includes provisions that critics say could allow Republican lawmakers to subvert elections.

Local election officials have also expressed concern that voters could be disenfranchised by the new deadline.

"The 11-day deadline is too far in advance of Election Day to adequately serve voters, particularly when there is no provision for voters with unforeseen circumstances who learn shortly before Election Day that they cannot vote in person," Tonnie Adams, who oversees elections in Georgia's Heard County, said in an affidavit supporting a challenge to the law.

More than a half-dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging the law, including a suit filed by the Justice Department. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in June that the Georgia law was enacted with the "purpose of denying or abridging" the rights of Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

"In the November 2020 general election, Black voters were more likely than white voters to request absentee ballots between ten and four days before Election Day," the DOJ suit says. "In addition, of the absentee ballots requested during this period, those that were successfully cast and counted were disproportionately cast by Black voters."

Khondoker called out Republican lawmakers for rushing through the bill without a "racial impact analysis," arguing that the increased rejection rates "show just how damaging that kind of negligence can be to communities of color."

"Since we know that Black voters in Georgia were more likely to request absentee ballots than white voters in 2018, 2020, and the January 5th [U.S. Senate] Runoff, restrictions to voting by mail clearly impact those voters at disproportionate rates," Khondoker said in a statement to Salon. "In a crucial swing state that was decided by 12,000 votes, this kind of seemingly boring or technical administrative burden that the state legislature placed on voters of color could swing the entire nation's trajectory."

Some absentee voting advocates backed the law, arguing that the previous five-day deadline was too short to allow many voters to return their ballots.

"The way it was before, you almost were setting voters up to fail," Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, told AJC. "That's actually a best practice to cut it off so that voters are actually receiving the ballot with enough time to get it back."

But McReynolds wrote on Twitter that because the Georgia law also restricted drop-off options, the 11-day cutoff should be "revisited" to set an "appropriate deadline to ensure voters have enough to time receive, vote & then return their ballot."

Georgia State Election Board member Sara Tindall Ghazal, a Democrat, said the deadline should be between five to seven days before Election Day.

"Far too many voters end up being disenfranchised," she told AJC. "It leads to many voters getting their applications rejected and not able to access their ballot otherwise."

Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic lawyer who filed a lawsuit challenging the law, said that the increased rate of rejections is a "feature" of the law, "not a flaw."

"This law wasn't designed for 'election integrity' as Republicans have claimed — it was designed to make it harder for voters to reach the ballot box," Elias' voting advocacy group, Democracy Docket, said in a statement.

Kristin Clarke, the first Black woman to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, alleged at a press conference earlier this year that many of the law's provisions were "passed with a discriminatory purpose" at a time when the state's Black population and Black voters' share of ballots cast by mail continues to increase.

"The provisions we are challenging reduce access to absentee voting at every step of the process, pushing more Black voters to in-person voting, where they will be more likely than white voters to confront long lines," Clarke said. "SB 202 then imposes additional obstacles to casting an in-person ballot."

Georgia is just one of a growing number of Republican-led states that passed restrictive voting laws this year amid a torrent of baseless conspiracy theories about Donald Trump's election loss. Garland vowed to go after "laws that seek to curb voter access" in other states but acknowledged that the Justice Department has limited power unless Congress passes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore a Voting Rights Act requirement for states with a history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any electoral changes with the DOJ. The bill has stalled in Congress after Republicans filibustered the bill and Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have resisted calls to reform the filibuster rule to pass voting rights legislation.

"If Georgia had still been covered" by the pre-clearance requirement, Garland said, it is "likely that SB 202 would never have taken effect."

Republicans who voted for Trump tax cuts now accuse Democrats of slashing taxes for the rich

Congressional Republicans who backed the 2017 Trump tax cuts for the rich are already attacking Democrats over one provision in a bill that, in most respects, will raise taxes on the wealthy.

A group of Democrats from high-tax states, led by Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Tom Suozzi of New York and backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, pushed to insert a provision in the House version of the Build Back Better package that would roll back a $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction — effectively a tax break that overwhelmingly favors the wealthy. But an analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found this week that the overall package would increase taxes on millionaires by more than 3 percentage points. Furthermore, Senate Democrats are clamoring to "fix" the House-passed bill, which raises the cap to $80,000, to reduce the windfall to the wealthy.

Republicans who supported the Trump tax cuts, which expanded the federal deficit by $2 trillion while showering tax breaks on the top 1% of earners, are already running ads ahead of the 2022 midterms attacking Democrats for cutting taxes on the rich — in a bill that has not even passed the Senate.

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., the top Republican on the House Budget Committee — who backed the Trump tax cuts — rolled out a new ad this week calling SALT the "Democrats' way of giving the rich a tax cut." This blatantly hypocritical attack line has been echoed in other circles of the GOP.

The Republican National Committee, which supported the Trump tax cut, last week blasted out a statement calling out the Democrats for trying to "give tax cuts to the wealthy." National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott, R-Fla., an ardent supporter of the 2017 tax gift to the wealthy, vowed to make sure that all states know about how much money Democrats "are going to give to rich people." Republican-aligned groups, including the Heritage Foundation, are also running ads attacking Pelosi for slipping a "big tax break for her wealthy friends" into the bill.

These attacks mark a dizzying turnaround for the party that just four years earlier voted to give the top 1% of earners an average tax cut of $278,000, according to a recent analysis. The 2017 Republican tax law included the SALT cap, which Democrats from high-income, high-tax states argued was a "punitive" measure aimed at hurting blue states. Democrats like Gottheimer and Suozzi pushed to repeal the cap entirely but ultimately agreed on a proposal to raise the cap to $80,000 per year.

But these Republican attacks also underscore the Democrats' messaging problem ahead of a challenging 2022 midterm campaign. Economists from both sides of the aisle agree that the party's SALT proposal is a regressive tax cut that would disproportionately benefit the top 5% of earners. The House proposal appears to have little chance of passing the Senate in its current form, where even Democrats from Gottheimer's home state of New Jersey have lambasted it as a windfall for "millionaires and billionaires."

"This bill should invest in our families and our future — not provide giveaways for the wealthy few," Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said earlier this month. "The House's SALT proposal cuts taxes for millionaires and billionaires on the backs of low-income and middle-income families. We should fix this in the Senate."

"I think it gives tax breaks to the wrong people: Rich people," complained Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has teamed up with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., whose state would disproportionately benefit from a SALT cap rollback, to reduce the benefits to millionaires.

Menendez said their proposal would "allow the full deductibility to middle-class working families, but it won't go to those making over a million dollars. And therefore, the issue of millionaires and billionaires getting this tax deduction is not an issue."

The proposal would eliminate the SALT cap entirely for those earning less than $400,000 to $550,000 per year, which would likely still be a regressive tax cut, but would maintain the $10,000 cap in place for those earning more.

"In terms of SALT, we must protect the middle class from high local and state taxes," Sanders tweeted last week. "But we cannot provide 39% of the benefits to the top 1% — as is in the House bill. At a time of massive income inequality, we must increase taxes on the 1%, not give them huge tax breaks."

The Sanders-Menendez plan "costs less than a third as much as repealing the cap fully and is much less regressive," said Steve Wamhoff, director of federal tax policy at the progressive-leaning Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy.

Democrats initially planned to pay for much of the Build Back Better package by rolling back the Trump tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., killed that plan, but the current version still includes a 15% corporate minimum tax on big corporations and a surtax on those earning over $10 million. An analysis by the JCT found that the average tax rate for millionaires under the bill would increase by 4.1 percentage points in 2023 and 3.3 percentage points in 2025. But progressives are warning that the inclusion of the SALT cap rollback favorin g the wealthy could be suicidal for a party facing its most difficult midterm election cycle in a decade.

"I'm not worried about the perception that we're doing too much for wealthy people. I'm worried that we may do too much for wealthy people. It's the reality that troubles me," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told Politico last week. "I'm not here to help those at the top."

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has expressed concern that Republicans will "pound" the message that Democrats were too soft on millionaires in the coming months.

"You can't be a political party that talks about demanding the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, and then end up with a bill that gives large tax breaks to millionaires," Sanders warned last week. "You can't do that. The hypocrisy is too strong. It's bad policy, it's bad politics."