Member of Trump's voter fraud panel pushed to exclude all Democrats, moderate Republicans, academics
After falsely claiming that 3-5 million people voted illegally for his opponent in the 2016 election, President Trump announced his intention in late January to set up a commission to investigate voter fraud, a decision he formalized with an executive order in May. On Feb. 22, a Heritage Foundation employee wrote an email to Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he'd heard the "disturbing" news that the commission's chairman, Vice President Mike Pence, planned to make the panel bipartisan and urged that only like-minded conservatives be appointed, according to a copy of the email obtained by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) through a freedom-of-information request.
The Justice Department redacted the name of the Heritage Foundation's self-proclaimed vote-fraud expert, but the conservative think tank effectively confirmed to Gizmodo that the author was Hans von Spakovsky, who was later appointed to the commission and is identified by the CLC as "widely considered the architect of the voter fraud myth." At the commission's second public meeting on Tuesday, before Heritage confirmed that Spakovsky wrote the email, Pro Publica's Jessica Huseman asked him "point blank" if he'd "authored this document, he said no." She posted audio of the exchange.
In the email, the Heritage Foundation employee presumed to be Spakovsky argued to Sessions that "there isn't a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud" and claim that the commission "is engaged in voter suppression," and that "mainstream Republican officials and/or academics" would also make the commission "an abject failure." The author also complained that none of the "real experts on the conservative side" had been appointed "other than Kris Kobach," the committee's vice chairman, Kansas secretary of state, and Breitbart News columnist.
Pence and Kobach eventually appointed seven Republicans and five Democrats to the commission, though one Democrat resigned. But the CLC said that the email adds "to the mounting evidence that the commission has no interest in true bipartisanship or an open discussion of how to solve the real problems in our elections." CLC president Trevor Potter, a former GOP chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said that Kobach's "farcical meetings" continue "to validate the worst suspicions about the commission: that it is designed to shrink the electorate for partisan advantage." He suggested they focus on "a true issue of election integrity" like Russians buying political ads on Facebook.
UPDATE: Spakovsky said in a statement that the email was sent to "private individuals who were not in the administration" and "was unaware that it had been forwarded" to Sessions. He added that he now believes the commission is "committed to uncovering the truth about election integrity and the other issues present in our election system." Peter Weber
Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon is ready to spill his guts to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a person familiar with his thinking told The Daily Beast's Betsy Woodruff on Tuesday.
During a lengthy closed-door session with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Bannon invoked executive privilege, telling lawmakers he couldn't answer their questions about anything he was involved with after the election because he'd been advised not to by the White House. This was essentially a "gag order from the White House," the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), said after the hearing. Bannon was subpoenaed on the spot, but he continued to refuse to answer questions about conversations he had and events he attended. "This witness is not an executive," Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) told reporters. "There were questions that we asked that were not answered and we are going to resolve the issues to get the answers."
The New York Times reported Tuesday morning that last week, Bannon received a grand jury subpoena from Mueller as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Bannon's ready to share what he knows with the special counsel, Woodruff writes, with his associate telling her, "Mueller will hear everything Bannon has to say." Catherine Garcia
The U.S. Navy announced Tuesday it is filing negligent homicide charges against several officers involved in two deadly ship collisions last year.
In June, the USS Fitzgerald hit a commercial ship in the waters off Japan, leaving seven sailors dead, and in August, the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in the waters off of Singapore, killing 10 sailors. Both collisions were deemed avoidable. Navy spokesman Capt. Greg Hicks said a hearing will determine if the officers, charged with dereliction of duty and endangering a ship as well as negligent homicide, will be taken to trial in a court-martial.
The Navy is filing at least three charges against four officers on the USS Fitzgerald, including the commanding officer at the time, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, and charges against the commander at the time of the USS John S. McCain, Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, and the chief petty officer. Hicks said the announcement of charges is "not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses. All individuals alleged to have committed misconduct are entitled to a presumption of innocence." In the wake of the collisions, several top leaders, including the commander of the 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucion, were fired. Catherine Garcia
After going a year without meeting, nine of the 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board resigned on Monday night, exasperated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's inability to make the time to convene with the committee.
"We were frozen out," Tony Knowles, former governor of Alaska and departing chairman of the board, told The Washington Post. After Zinke was appointed last year, he suspended all outside committees, saying he needed to review their work, and while some have become operational again, those without updated charters can't meet. "We understand the complexity of transition but our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new department team are clearly not part of its agenda," Knowles wrote in a letter from the resigning members to Zinke.
The committee was established in 1935, and in recent years it has advised the Interior Department on how to deal with global warming and bring younger people to the parks. The bipartisan board was not consulted by Zinke when he decided to increase visitor fees and overturn a ban on plastic water bottles in the parks, and now that there are just three members left, the government does not have a body to designate historic or natural landmarks, the Post reports. Zinke has already disbanded two commissions — the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science and the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council; the latter has been replaced with the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council. Catherine Garcia
The Justice Department announced Tuesday that a former CIA officer suspected of working with China to identify informants in the country has been arrested and charged with unlawful retention of national defense information.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, left the CIA in 2007, and in 2012, the FBI began to investigate him as more and more informants in China started to die or go to prison. Lee lived in Hong Kong, but during a 2012 trip to the U.S., FBI investigators searched his luggage and found journals containing classified information; prosecutors say the handwritten notes included details about meetings with informants and the names and phone numbers of undercover agents.
Some intelligence officials believe Lee worked with the Chinese government, The New York Times reports, while others think it's possible China was able to hack the secret communications channels the CIA uses to talk to informants. Since 2010, more than a dozen CIA informants have been killed or imprisoned by the Chinese government. Catherine Garcia
One month before the 2016 presidential election, Fox News had a story ready to go about an alleged extramarital affair between adult film actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and President Trump, but it never published it, four people familiar with the matter told CNN.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that in October 2016, Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, arranged a $130,000 payment to Clifford to keep her quiet about the alleged 2006 sexual relationship. Fox News reporter Diana Falzone had a completed story about Clifford and Trump, which included a statement from Clifford's manager confirming the relationship, but "Fox killed it," one person familiar with the matter told CNN. Fox News wasn't the only outlet writing about this story; The Daily Beast and Slate both said they were speaking to Clifford before the election, but she backed out of an interview with The Daily Beast and stopped returning phone calls from Slate.
Noah Kotch, who became editor-in-chief and vice president of Fox News digital in 2017, said "in doing our due diligence, we were unable to verify all of the facts and publish a story." Cohen and Clifford have both denied WSJ's report, and in a statement distributed by Cohen, Clifford said her involvement with Trump "was limited to a few public appearances and nothing more," and "rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false." Catherine Garcia
Bannon was being grilled by the committee when he was hit with a subpoena "on the spot," Politico reports, for not answering questions. Apparently, congressional investigators wanted to know about Bannon's brief stint in the White House but were stonewalled, which, Politico notes, angered Democrats and Republicans alike.
At the time of publication, Bannon and his attorney had not commented on either subpoena or his congressional testimony. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Nevada Democrats have a new weapon under their sleeves as they prepare for a tough Senate and gubernatorial race in their state: a turtle mascot named "Mitch McTurtle."
Nevada Democratic Party Chmn. William McCurdy introduces the party's new 2018 mascot, Mitch McTurtle, a stand-in for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. pic.twitter.com/iH0QQh7wOp
— Steve Sebelius (@SteveSebelius) January 16, 2018
In case you don't get the joke, Nevada Democrats hope that this smiling turtle — which holds bags of money in order to symbolize Republican economic policy or something like that — will be a sick burn against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Republican Party in Nevada.
Improbably, The Hill reports that McTurtle was "well received" at his unveiling and that someone described as a "local activist" actually tweeted praise for the plush reptile. Of course, the Mitch McTurtle Twitter account — which only has 27 followers at the time of writing— soon retweeted it. Kelly O'Meara Morales
.@Mitch_McTurtle welcome @ClarkDems look forward to campaigning with you to elect a Democratic US Senator who isn't beholden to money bags Mitch and who will work and fight for Nevadans pic.twitter.com/vQIhcepZ1x
— Donna4Dems (@Donna_West) January 16, 2018