This week, our lawsuit forced the release of more than 700 pages of public records from the Wisconsin election investigation — revealing that the probe has done little actual investigating, despite the extensive efforts of the Wisconsin Assembly to shield those documents from the public.
As the judge put it on Tuesday when ordering the records to be released, they amount to “much to-do about nothing.” Our review of the documents found that they do not support the conclusions put forward by attorney Michael Gableman in the problematic report he released last week.
- The documents show that months into review, Gableman’s Office of Special Counsel was apparently considering ways to avoid transparency and still selecting furniture. We previously uncovered documents showing that Gableman is personally being paid $11,000 each month for his work on the review, and he has spent hundreds of thousands on staff and outside attorneys.
- American Oversight’s review of the records did uncover some new key findings, including that certain conservative figures appear to have played a more significant role in the investigation than previously known, and that Gableman looked to get in touch with longtime voting-restriction proponent Hans von Spakovsky.
- We also obtained a copy of the second amendment to Gableman’s contract. Gableman’s original contract had ended in 2021; it has now been extended again through April.
Hours after the records were released, former President Donald Trump issued a statement suggesting that state Republican leaders should decertify the 2020 election results — something legally impossible, and something Gableman has nevertheless also suggested.
Here are some other stories we’ve been monitoring this past week about the efforts in multiple states to undermine confidence not just in the 2020 election, but in future elections as well.
- ProPublica reported on a new group called the Voter Reference Foundation, led by a former Trump campaign official and linked to billionaire Richard Uihlein, who is active in Wisconsin politics. The group is helping Big Lie-supporting citizens comb through voter rolls to hunt for supposed voter fraud.
- On Wednesday, Florida lawmakers passed a version of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to create a new election police force, worrying voting-rights advocates.
- An Arizona bill that would have given the attorney general more power to investigate elections failed in the state Senate. So did a bill that would have required audits after every election.
- American Oversight has uncovered new details about the discredited “audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 election. Additional review of the more than 80,000 pages of records we obtained last summer found communications from state Sen. Kelly Townsend about the scheme to appoint false electors, as well as emails about the selection of Cyber Ninjas.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
Friday marks the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, which was followed two days later by Trump declaring a national emergency.
- Congress abandoned the inclusion of Covid relief funding in the omnibus bill after lawmakers disputed a plan that would provide the $15 billion in aid at the expense of money allocated to some states by last year’s American Rescue Plan.
- Households are now eligible to order a second batch of free at-home rapid tests through the Postal Service at COVIDtests.gov.
- Officials say the Biden administration is leaning toward ending Title 42, the rule allowing for the expulsions of migrants at the Mexico border because of the pandemic. Separately, a federal court ruled that the government can’t use the rule to send migrant families back to countries where they are in danger of being persecuted.
- TSA and the CDC extended the mask mandate for airplanes and public transportation through April 18. It was originally set to expire March 18.
- Data show that the Bureau of Prisons is not stockpiling doses of Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid, despite frequent outbreaks in prisons and the convenience and availability of the treatment.
- A study found that people who were infected with Covid-19 sustained more tissue damage and loss of gray matter in their brains, primarily in areas related to smell, than those who had never been infected.
The country is now on a path toward surpassing 1 million deaths, with the nationwide death toll having climbed above 960,000 and January and February having been among the deadliest months of the pandemic. The daily average for hospitalizations are slightly more than 33,000 and for deaths around 1,300. Both figures are declining.
- The Florida health department recommended against vaccines for healthy children, a move led by DeSantis and state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo.
- Officials in New York City ended the school mask mandate as well as the city’s proof-of-vaccination requirement for restaurants and certain other venues. Children under 5, who are not eligible for the vaccine, are still required to wear masks in daycare and school settings.
- The Chicago Teachers Union has argued that the city’s announcement that mask mandates in schools will end next week is a violation of the union’s agreement with the school district for in-person instruction.
- School districts with mask requirements saw lower rates of Covid-19 than those where masks were optional, according to data from a CDC study of more than 200 public school districts in Arkansas from August to October 2021.
On the Records
Internal Turmoil at Trump’s USAGM
Emails American Oversight obtained shed light on the internal turmoil at the U.S. Agency for Global Media in 2020 — the entity that oversees Voice of America. That year, Michael Pack, the former Trump-appointed CEO, initiated a politically motivated purge of high-level employees and oversaw the delay and rejection of visa renewals for foreign journalists employed by USAGM. During his tenure, Pack’s actions threatened to undermine USAGM’s work and to turn it into a pro-Trump political operation.
Ginni Thomas’ Political Activism
The activism of prominent conservative Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has for years raised questions about partisan influence on the judicial system and ethics in the Supreme Court. Records we’ve obtained through public records requests reveal Ginni Thomas’ ties to the Trump administration as well as evidence of Justice Thomas’ contact with Gov. DeSantis.
Pitching ‘War Powers’ to Address Immigration
Three months before Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich penned a February legal opinion declaring illegal immigration an “invasion” and calling on the state to authorize military force, former senior Trump administration officials Russ Vought and Ken Cuccinelli had pitched that idea to the office of Gov. Doug Ducey, records American Oversight obtained show.
The governor should “activate and deploy all [National Guard] units” to “detain illegal immigrants,” Vought wrote in a Nov. 11, 2021, email. The idea relies on what experts say is a dubious interpretation of the Constitution, which says that individual states may not go to war on their own “unless actually invaded.”
Instances of White Supremacy in the Coast Guard
American Oversight has been investigating white supremacy in the military and recently obtained more records related to reports of white supremacy within the Coast Guard between 2017 and 2021. The documents add to our understanding of how incidents have been identified, reported, and addressed within the military branch.
Other Stories We’re Following
The Big Lie and Election Investigations
- 1 in 5 local election officials say they’re likely to quit before 2024 (NPR)
- Cyber Ninjas asks Arizona Supreme Court to block daily fine (Associated Press)
- Mark Meadows spread Trump’s voter fraud claims. Now his voting record is under scrutiny (New York Times)
- The big lie goes on tour in Minnesota (Minnesota Reformer)
- Colorado county elections official Tina Peters is indicted in probe of alleged tampering with voting equipment (Washington Post)
- New Michigan audit debunks dead voter theory in 2020 election (Detroit News)
- Wisconsin Elections Commission pushes back on Gableman report (Wisconsin Public Radio)
- Milwaukee prosecutor will not charge Wisconsin election commissioners (Reuters)
The Jan. 6 Investigation
- Sidney Powell has secretly been funding the legal defense of the Oath Keepers (BuzzFeed News)
- Watchdog finds DHS identified threats prior to January 6 but did not widely share intelligence until after attack (CNN)
- Stephen Miller sues to block Jan. 6 committee’s subpoena for his phone records (CNN)
- Judge will review lawyer’s emails sought by Jan. 6 panel (New York Times)
- Guy Reffitt guilty on all counts in first Capitol riot trial (Washington Post)
- Former Proud Boys leader indicted in Jan. 6 investigation (New York Times)
- U.S. judge dismisses lead federal charge against Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendant (Washington Post)
- Dozens more U.S. Capitol Police officers were injured on January 6 than previously known, report says (CNN)
- RNC to sue Jan. 6 committee over Salesforce subpoena (Axios)
- Secret surveillance program by ICE collects Americans’ money transfer data without warrants, says Sen. Wyden (Wall Street Journal)
- Senate passes $107 billion USPS overhaul, sending bill to Biden for expected approval (Washington Post)
- The hidden billion-dollar cost of repeated police misconduct (Washington Post)
- The 2020 Census had big undercounts of Black people, Latinos, and Native Americans (NPR)
- Arizona lawmaker speaks to white nationalists, calls for violence — and sets fundraising records (Washington Post)
- How one of Trump’s loudest voices on voter fraud is splintering Idaho’s GOP (NBC News)
- In a ‘huge win’ for transparency, New Jersey Supreme Court says settlement agreements with public employees are public (NorthJersey.com)
- Idaho House passes bill that could lead to prosecution of librarians for “harmful material” (Idaho Capital Sun)
- Texas clinic for transgender youth closed last year under political pressure from the governor’s office, phone recordings reveal (New York Times)
- HUD says Texas discriminated against communities of color when it denied Houston flood aid post-Hurricane Harvey (Texas Tribune)