It was another week of blockbuster Jan. 6 testimony and earth-shattering Supreme Court decisions. And American Oversight’s legal team was back in action this week, filing two new lawsuits to hold public officials accountable: one to prevent the destruction of public records in Wisconsin and another for the release of Texas state leaders’ communications.
Cassidy Hutchinson Testimony
Early this week came the surprise announcement of a hearing in the select subcommittee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson proved to be riveting — and potentially even more damaging for former President Trump.
- Hutchinson, who was a principal assistant to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testified that Trump knew his supporters had weapons, but encouraged them to march to the Capitol and had complained that they couldn’t come through the magnetometers at the rally he held near the White House. “They’re not here to hurt me,” Trump said, according to Hutchinson.
- An email from the Federal Protective Service — which we obtained and included in our detailed timeline of Jan. 6, 2021 — further points to the prevalence of weapons among supporters outside the rally.
- Trump had also insisted on going to the Capitol after his speech. Hutchinson said that Tony Ornato, a White House aide and liaison to the Secret Service, had told her Trump had even lunged for the steering wheel in the car and said something like, “I’m the f—ing president. Take me to the Capitol now.”
- The picture drawn by Hutchinson also showed a president unwilling to call off the rioters, and that Mark Meadows was unmotivated to persuade him to do so. According to Hutchinson, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who frantically warned against going to the Capitol, had urgently pressed Meadows to talk to the president after rioters broke into the building. “He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat,” Meadows had said.
- Hutchinson also testified that Trump had thrown a tantrum — and dishes — when he heard that Attorney General William Barr had disputed claims of widespread voter fraud, and that Meadows and Rudy Giuliani had sought pardons after Jan. 6.
In the days that followed the hearing, supporters of Trump attempted to cast doubt on Hutchinson’s testimony, including through reports that Ornato denied he told Hutchinson the incident in the vehicle had taken place. Hutchinson has stood by her testimony, and others have pointed out Ornato’s apparent habit of disputing accounts of White House incidents.
- Tuesday’s hearing closed with Rep. Liz Cheney revealing that some witnesses had reported receiving messages from Trump allies attempting to pressure them to “do the right thing.”
- The two communications highlighted by the committee reportedly were provided by Hutchinson, who said that one message came through an intermediary for Meadows. “He knows you’re loyal,” the message said of Meadows.
- The committee may make a criminal referral to the Justice Department on witness tampering, Reuters reported.
On Wednesday, the committee issued a subpoena to Cipollone. And a lawyer for Ginni Thomas, who two weeks ago had said she “couldn’t wait to clear up misconceptions” about her contacts with coup lawyer John Eastman, now wants “better justification” for why Thomas should speak with the panel. Here are other headlines related to Jan. 6 investigation:
- The FBI subpoenaed Karen Fann and Kelly Townsend for information on the January 6 insurrection (Arizona Mirror)
- Secret Service: Jan. 6 panel didn’t reach out before Hutchinson’s explosive Trump testimony (Politico)
- Trump aides watch testimony and brace for damage (New York Times)
- Agents seize phone of lawyer who pushed Trump false elector claims (Washington Post)
- ‘Stop the Steal’ leader Ali Alexander testifies to Jan. 6 grand jury (CNN)
- GOP Pennsylvania governor nominee used campaign funds for Jan. 6 committee lawyer (Yahoo News)
- New documentary footage reveals Pence reacting on the night House pushed for him to invoke 25th Amendment (CNN)
- Hutchinson’s bombshell Jan. 6 testimony sways legal experts and conservative media (NPR)
New American Oversight Lawsuits
Wisconsin: On Tuesday, we filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Office of Special Counsel (OSC) — the office conducting the Assembly’s partisan and flawed investigation of the state’s 2020 election — seeking an emergency order to stop OSC from deleting public documents in violation of the state’s public records retention law.
- “Did I delete documents? Yes I did,” Michael Gableman, who heads OSC, stated during a hearing late last month in a separate lawsuit we filed for the release of records.
- OSC had also previously admitted that it had a “standard procedure” of “routinely” destroying records that it doesn’t find useful.
- What the investigation determines to be “of use” is less clear, but after more than a year and nearly a million taxpayer dollars spent, the inquiry has uncovered no credible evidence of irregularities that could have altered the outcome of the election.
Texas: On Wednesday, we sued the offices of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton for the release of messages and other communications, which we’ve sought through several public records requests.
- Among the communications we’re seeking are emails Abbott and Paxton exchanged with the gun lobby in the week after the May 24 mass shooting in Uvalde. Both officials’ offices implausibly claimed that they had no records responsive to our request, despite Abbott having canceled last-minute his appearance at the National Rifle Association convention.
- Other records we’re seeking include messages related to official business that may have been sent using personal accounts or devices, which both Abbott and Paxton have sought to shield from public release. And we’re also suing for emails sent by Paxton on or around Jan. 6, 2021, when he spoke at the Trump rally that preceded the insurrection.
The Supreme Court
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in on Thursday as the nation’s first Black woman on the Supreme Court. As the nation continues to grapple with the fallout from last week’s devastating Dobbs decision, anti-abortion rights activists and lawmakers are looking at ways to prevent people in states where abortion is banned from seeking abortions elsewhere.
- The Washington Post reports that the conservative Thomas More Society is drafting model legislation that would allow people to sue those who help someone obtain a procedure in another state.
- Read more here about Thomas More Society’s involvement and closeness to the sham election investigation in Wisconsin. [LINK TK]
The Supreme Court wrapped up its term with a huge blow to the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to combat climate change, ruling that the Clean Air Act does not provide the EPA with broad authority to regulate emissions from coal power plants.
- “The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in a dissent. “I cannot think of many things more frightening.”
- In another decision, the court ruled that the Biden administration could reverse the Trump administration’s dangerous “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy. Read more about our investigation of that policy and other barriers to seeking asylum.
- The court also narrowed a previous ruling on tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma, allowing state law enforcement to prosecute non-Native Americans for crimes committed on a reservation, rather than exclusively federal or tribal authorities.
- The court has allowed Louisiana to use a Republican-drawn congressional map this fall that is being challenged under the Voting Rights Act for diluting the power of Black voters.
Of particular concern in next year’s term is the court’s decision to take on Moore v. Harper, a case with grave implications for the future of U.S. elections.
- The case centers on a radical and dangerous legal theory about the power of state legislatures to run federal elections without, as NPR put it, “any checks and balances from state constitutions or state courts.”
- That same legal theory “could open the door to state legislatures sending their own slates” of presidential electors, a frighteningly dangerous possibility for our democracy. It was also, of course, underpinning much of the “fake electors” scheme to steal the 2020 election for Trump.
- “Trump and the Republicans can only be stopped from stealing the 2024 election at this point if the Supreme Court rejects the independent state legislature doctrine,” wrote J. Michael Luttig, the conservative former judge who served as a witness during the select committee’s June 16 hearing, in an essay for CNN.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
Two new fast-spreading omicron subvariants — BA.4 and BA.5 — have become the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the U.S., the CDC reported this week. An FDA advisory panel recommended developing new vaccines that target omicron ahead of the fall, but it’s unclear how effective such vaccines would be against new variants that emerge by then.
- Despite its effectiveness in warding off serious infection, booster uptake is lagging. Less than 40 percent of eligible adults under 50 have received a first booster shot, and eligible older adults are slow to receive their second boosters.
- Covid vaccines saved nearly 20 million lives in their first year, including an estimated 1.9 million lives in the United States. Researchers said an additional 600,000 deaths could have been prevented if global vaccination targets had been met.
Official case counts exceed an average of 114,000 per day. Hospitalizations are slightly above a daily average of 33,000 and deaths are about 380.
- The Biden administration will not publicize data on the spread of infection inside hospitals, despite a push for transparency from disability advocates who say such information is important for holding hospitals accountable and making informed decisions about where to seek health care.
- While financial assistance from the Provider Relief Fund program was a lifeline to many poor community hospitals, it disproportionately favored wealthy hospitals that hoarded the federal funds as surplus revenue.
- Emergency room doctors employed by American Physician Partners are suing the staffing company for pressuring them to work in facilities while sick with Covid-19, NBC News reported.
On the Records
Texas Election Audit Division
In November, Republican lawmakers in Texas allocated $4 million in emergency funding for an Election Audit within the secretary of state’s office, to conduct county-level election audits in accordance with the state’s new strict voting law.
- American Oversight obtained records regarding the division’s staffing and salary allocations, which show a budget of about $1.4 million per year for 22 employees.
- The spreadsheet with lists of employees, positions, and salaries indicates that as of the end of February, it had hired 11 employees, with 11 positions labeled “open.” Read more here.
Other Stories We’re Following
The Big Lie
- Colorado GOP rejects candidates who back Trump election lie (Associated Press)
- Trump documentary filmmaker expected to cooperate with Fulton County prosecutor (CNN)
- Gov. Kemp to testify in Fulton County’s Trump probe (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Violent threats to election workers are common. Prosecutions are not. (New York Times)
- The strange tale of Tina Peters (New York Times)
- GOP poll worker training casts suspicion on AZ elections (Votebeat Arizona)
- Maricopa County GOP executive committee rejects 2020 election results (Arizona Republic)
- New chair of Wisconsin Elections Commission won’t say Trump lost Wisconsin in 2020 (WISN)
- Elections investigation focuses on alleged breach in South Georgia (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Voting Rights and Election Administration
- Michigan Gov. Whitmer asks Republicans for new nominee for key elections board (Detroit News)
- With Arizona primary election weeks away, important legal challenges persist (Arizona Republic)
- Missouri enacts photo voter ID law before November elections (Associated Press)
In the States
- Teachers alarmed by Florida’s infusing religion, downplaying race in civics training (Miami Herald)
- Florida judge will temporarily block 15-week abortion ban (New York Times)
- As Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law takes effect, schools roll out LGBTQ restrictions (NBC News)
- Youngkin to seek 15-week abortion law in Virginia after Supreme Court ruling (Washington Post)
- South Dakota GOP picks experience for AG, bumps an incumbent (Asociated Press)
- Biden calls for suspending filibuster rules to guarantee abortion rights (Washington Post)
- Big Tech silent on data collection as workers call for post-Roe action (Washington Post)
- Migrants in Texas trailer tragedy died seeking better lives (Associated Press)
- Energy Secretary Granholm violated ethics law, watchdog says (Reuters)
- House approves gun bill, which heads to Biden for his signature (Washington Post)