As we enter the final month of the year, and as most people have accepted that Joe Biden won the presidency, President Donald Trump and his most conspiracy-minded supporters have continued to insist that rampant voter fraud unfairly denied him a second term.
Those baseless claims have been pushed by a team of lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis (more on Ellis below). But dozens of those evidence-deficient lawsuits in multiple states have failed. Attorney Sidney Powell, who is pursuing her own legal efforts after the Trump campaign cut ties with her last month, has been behind a number of lawsuits laden with typos and geographic errors. On Thursday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear Trump’s lawsuit asking that more than 200,000 ballots be disqualified.
Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr, who for weeks had helped fuel unfounded claims about the risk of widespread fraud from mail-in voting, told the Associated Press in an interview that the Justice Department had found no evidence of such fraud that could have changed the election’s outcome. He did, however, reveal that he had appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as a special counsel to continue Durham’s investigation of the origins of the Russia probe.
Giving Durham the status of special counsel provides additional protections against being fired. His investigation, first announced in 2019 after Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded his investigation, was criticized as a political effort to delegitimize Mueller’s findings. We’ve been looking into concerns about misconduct and lack of transparency with regard to Durham’s investigation, and found extensive contact between Durham and Barr in the immediate months surrounding the release of Mueller’s report.
But while Trump remains fixated on his loss, he has found the time to issue a sweeping pardon for Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia before attempting to withdraw that plea (while represented by Sidney Powell). According to the New York Times, Trump has also discussed the possibility of pardons for his three oldest children, son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Giuliani. And on Tuesday, CNN dropped an even bigger bombshell, reporting that the Justice Department was investigating a potential crime involving the funneling of money to the White House in exchange for a pardon.
With less than two months remaining, the lame-duck administration is not only pushing through more of its hallmark anti-immigration measures; multiple political appointees have been moved into converted to civil service positions, magnifying concerns about the practice known “burrowing” and the potential for improper and politicized hirings to thwart the initiatives of the next administration. You can read more about our burrowing investigation here.
Of course, the biggest story is still the dire and horrifying stage of the coronavirus pandemic that the U.S. is currently facing, as the president remains focused on conspiracies and loyalty. Scroll down for headlines about the crisis, and sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.
Jenna Ellis: Ellis, the Trump campaign “senior legal adviser” mentioned above, was the subject of a New York Times article on Thursday highlighting her scant experience in election law and her past work for the conservative evangelical Dobson Policy Institute. American Oversight previously obtained documents showing her lobbying against LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement while she worked for Dobson.
The Death of Mergensana Amar: In our investigation of deaths in immigration custody, we obtained records related to the death of Mergensana Amar, who died following a suicide attempt at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Tacoma, Wash., after his asylum application was denied. The documents show that ICE did not follow its own policies regarding issuing a notice of death, and raise troubling questions about the medical care Amar received. Crosscut reported on the records — read more here. (Warning: The content may be distressing.)
Chad Wolf’s Vegas and Portland Trips: Back in July, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf took a trip to Portland, Ore., in an attempt to back up the Trump administration’s justification for the authoritarian deployment of federal police forces as an effort to combat “violent anarchists.” We filed Freedom of Information Act requests for costs associated with the publicity stunt — which was tacked on to a trip to Las Vegas for meetings with gaming executives and a conservative group — and found that the entire trip may have cost more than $90,000 in taxpayer money.
Stephen Miller’s Influence: We continue to investigate White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller’s reach across the administration, and this week updated our ongoing timeline of his appearances in public records we’ve obtained. The new records provide additional details about Miller’s involvement in the Muslim-country travel ban and efforts to falsely tie immigration to crime.
Biden and the future of Trump’s border wall (Courthouse News Service)
Trump aide banned from Justice after trying to get case info (Associated Press)
Trump threatens to veto major defense bill unless Congress repeals Section 230, a legal shield for tech giants (Washington Post)
E.P.A.’s final deregulatory rush runs into open staff resistance (New York Times)
McKinsey proposed paying pharmacy companies rebates for OxyContin overdoses (New York Times)
Kushner heading to Saudi Arabia and Qatar amid tensions over Iranian scientist killing (Guardian)
Illinois teen charged in protest slayings posts $2M bail (Associated Press)
Pompeo invites hundreds to indoor holiday parties after subordinates are warned against hosting ‘non-mission critical events’ (Washington Post)
Opinion: Why are children dying of the flu in U.S. detention? (New York Times)
Another official is ousted from the Pentagon (New York Times)
Medicaid enrollment surge during pandemic leaves states looking for cost cuts (Wall Street Journal)
Trump admin has handed over data to help reunite migrant families (NBC News)
Part of Investigation: