It’s impossible to overstate the gravity of America’s current political situation. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe and the constitutional right to obtain an abortion — plus a host of other decisions the court’s radicalized conservative wing has handed down that chip away at democracy and basic rights — comes at the same time we are witnessing a frighteningly and rapidly warming Earth, a systematic weakening of voting rights, a disturbing acceleration of political and physical attacks on LGBTQ+ individuals, and millions who are still in thrall to a disgraced president who attempted to destroy our democracy.
As the Dobbs decision demonstrates, so many of our rights and so much of our democracy are in the hands of state governments, which as Politico reports are increasingly being targeted by those seeking to influence politics. American Oversight has for years now been using our open-records expertise to investigate threats to our democracy, including attacks on voting rights and the continuing efforts to advance the Big Lie.
Below is an update on our ongoing work to fight back against those threats. We have the latest from our litigation in Wisconsin, as well as a summary of this week’s hearings in the Jan. 6 committee, which focused on former President Trump’s pressure campaign on state officials to go along with the fake-electors scheme as well as his effort to turn the U.S. Justice Department into a corrupt arm of his campaign.
Jan. 6 Hearings
Tuesday: The committee’s fourth public hearing looked at the ploy to replace several swing states’ valid electors with “alternate” slates of Trump supporters.
- Witnesses included Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and state election official Gabriel Sterling, who refused to go along with Trump’s lies about voter fraud in their state; Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who rejected Trump allies’ requests that he support decertification of his state’s electors; and Shaye Moss, an elections worker in Georgia’s Fulton County who along with her mother was falsely accused of helping rig the election for Biden.
- The witnesses recounted their experience with being harassed and threatened by election deniers. The testimony from Moss, who was there with her mother, Ruby Freeman, was particularly wrenching.
- “A lot of threats, wishing death upon me, telling me that, you know, I’ll be in jail with my mother and saying things like, ‘Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920,’” Moss said, describing how her life had dramatically changed since the election.
The committee presented evidence that Trump was directly involved in the fake-electors plan, having called RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel to connect her with lawyer John Eastman to discuss the effort.
- Members of Congress were also involved: Rep. Andy Biggs approached Bowers about the scheme, and on Jan. 6 an aide to Sen. Ron Johnson told an aide for Vice President Pence that Johnson “needs to hand” the alternate slate to Pence. (“Do not give that to him,” Pence’s aide replied.)
- After denying his participation in the effort, Johnson said the documents came from Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, and that he had connected Wisconsin attorney Jim Troupis with his chief of staff via text that morning. Kelly denied Johnson’s claim.
Thursday: Witnesses at Thursday’s hearing included former top Justice Department officials who rejected Trump’s efforts to use the department to overturn his loss and, by threatening mass resignations, prevented Trump from replacing the acting attorney general with Jeffrey Clark, a DOJ official who would have done his bidding and in the process unleashed a constitutional crisis.
- Clark’s goal was to send a letter to Georgia state officials claiming that the department had evidence of significant election fraud and asking them to consider naming an alternate slate of electors.
- Clark worked on the letter with an attorney named Ken Klukowski, who had just been transferred to DOJ on Dec. 15, 2020. Klukowski also worked with Eastman.
- The committee also revealed that several members of Congress had sought pardons in the waning days of the Trump presidency. “The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is if you committed a crime,” said committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
- Those who were identified as seeking pardons were Reps. Mo Brooks (who also sought “all purpose” pardons for lawmakers who objected to the certification of electoral votes), Louie Gohmert, Andy Biggs, Scott Perry (who had introduced Clark to Trump), and Matt Gaetz (who, according to former White House official Cassidy Hutchinson, had been pushing for a broad pardon since early December). A White House staffer said she had heard Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene asked for one as well.
One of the common themes of the hearings has been that Trump allies knew that there was no truth in the allegations of a stolen election, and that the fake-electors plan had no legal basis.
- Trump himself was repeatedly told that his voter-fraud allegations were false. His legal team and allies were told — and in some instances acknowledged that the plan to use alternate electors was unsound and possibly illegal.
- White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said that he had explicitly told Clark that the attempt to take over the Justice Department and send the letter to Georgia officials “would be committing a felony.”
- The Justice Department this week issued more subpoenas in its investigation of the fake-electors plan, including to Republican Party officials and members of Trump’s campaign. (One of them, former campaign official Thomas Lane, appears in documents we recently obtained, showing that he helped make staffing decisions for the discredited Arizona election “audit.”)
- On Wednesday, federal authorities conducted a search of Clark’s home.
The select committee’s chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, said that the remaining hearings would now take place in July, after the House reconvenes the week of July 11. Here are other headlines related to the investigation:
- DOJ wants to know if Sidney Powell is funding Oath Keepers’ defense (Washington Post)
- Jan. 6 committee hearing into Capitol riot shows numerous ties to Arizona in effort to overturn election (Arizona Republic)
- Speaker at meeting of Ginni Thomas group called Biden’s win illegitimate long after Jan. 6, video shows (Washington Post)
- FBI seizes Nevada GOP chairman’s phone as part of fake elector investigations (KLAS 8 Las Vegas)
- Judge delays Proud Boys trial amid Jan. 6 committee uncertainty (Politico)
- Alex Holder, documentary filmmaker, emerges as Jan. 6 witness (New York Times)
Wisconsin Litigation Update: ‘Did I Delete Documents? Yes, I did.’
On Thursday, American Oversight returned to court in its ongoing lawsuit for public records from the Wisconsin Assembly’s partisan investigation of the 2020 election. During the hearing, Michael Gableman — the lawyer heading the inquiry — said he had frequently destroyed or disposed of records that he deemed not to be “helpful” to his inquiry, including notes that he took during trips to Arizona and to election denier Mike Lindell’s “symposium” in South Dakota in August 2021. “Did I delete documents? Yes, I did,” Gableman said.
- At issue in this hearing was the question of whether the Assembly and Speaker Robin Vos had done enough to comply with a previous court order to release documents from the early months of the election review. Vos and the Assembly had argued that they were unable to compel Gableman to turn over records.
- Ultimately, the judge concluded that — given the likely deletion of records — there was nothing further the Assembly and Vos could do.
The hearing also revealed new details about Gableman’s early work on the election inquiry.
- Gableman testified that in July and August 2021, when he was drawing a taxpayer-funded $11,000 monthly salary, he did very little substantive work for the review.
- At that time, according to Gableman, he “did not have a very sophisticated or intricate understanding” of election processes, and most of his early work involved conducting research at a public library, where he said he took notes and printed articles.
- See what else we learned from the hearing and our ongoing investigation here.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
Children under the age of 5 began receiving their first vaccine doses this week. With only 10 percent of pharmacies expected to have the vaccine available for young children, most shots will be provided by pediatricians, presenting challenges in reaching out to families without doctors or insurance. Some distributors are also hesitating to stock up on shots out of concerns about vaccine waste resulting from large batches and low demand. And some parents are unsure about vaccinating their young kids right away, partly because of the perception that the virus is less severe for children.
- Florida is now allowing doctors’ offices to order pediatric vaccines, after being the only state to pass on the opportunity to pre-order vaccines for kids. Gov. Ron DeSantis faced public pressure to embrace vaccines for children, including from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
- U.S.-based Covid test manufacturers are scaling back production and considering layoffs as demand falls and federal funding disappears, raising concerns that the country may be ill-prepared for a fall or winter wave.
- The Biden administration is torn between public messaging celebrating the pandemic’s supposed end and a more serious outlook in its battle for additional relief funding, Stat reports.
- Former coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx said that Trump White House officials had her edit and delete parts of weekly guidance to states to downplay the threat of the virus.
Official case counts are averaging about 96,000 per day, and hospitalizations are slightly under 30,000 per day. Deaths are among the lowest rates of the pandemic, but are still slightly under 300 per day.
- Residents of socially and economically disadvantaged communities were half as likely to be prescribed oral antivirals than patients in wealthier areas, according to a CDC study of more than 1 million prescriptions.
- Women are more likely than men to experience long-term symptoms and illness from a Covid-19 infection, according to a recent study of more than 1 million patients.
- Universal health care could have saved more than 330,000 lives and more than $100 billion in medical expenses during the pandemic, according to researchers from Yale.
- The federal government should expand its public health role and better coordinate state, local, and tribal health systems, according to recommendations in a report released by a bipartisan panel of experts funded by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund.
Other Stories We’re Following
The Big Lie
- Texas Republicans declare Biden election illegitimate, despite evidence (Reuters)
- U.S. House members warned about disinformation in upcoming campaigns (Arizona Mirror)
- Feds step up investigation of ‘fake’ Georgia GOP electors (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
- New Mexico county certifies election results, bowing to court order (Washington Post)
- Republicans call for thorough review of 2020 Spokane County election, but county officials unlikely to be able to fulfill request (Spokesman-Review)
- DeSantis said legislatures could give election to Trump, a month before Eastman (Sun-Sentinel)
- American Grifters: Meet the MAGA army profiting off Trump’s election lies (Vice)
- Inside the MAGA world scramble to produce findings suggesting the 2020 election was stolen (Los Angeles Times)
In the States
- Lawmakers add pilots for “smart” drop boxes, special ballots to Arizona budget bill (Votebeat)
- $53.3 million. 33 jobs. No plan. That’s how Mississippi lawmakers are spending BP oil spill money. (ProPublica)
- Ohio health department fires employee over abortion drug reference in newsletter (Ohio Capital Journal)
- South Dakota removes its attorney general after fatal crash (New York Times)
- White parents rallied to chase a Black educator out of town. Then, they followed her to the next one. (ProPublica)
- FDA orders Juul e-cigarettes off the market, citing insufficient and conflicting data (Washington Post)
- Biden wants new protections for trans students, sexual assault survivors (Washington Post)
- Forest Service says it failed to account for climate change in New Mexico blaze (Washington Post)
- A letter reveals 20 Republican senators defended a machine gun loophole months before the Uvalde shooter used it (Grid)
- Coins depicting Border Patrol agent grabbing Haitian migrant trigger investigation (Los Angeles Times)
- Supreme Court says Maine cannot deny tuition aid to religious schools (Washington Post)
- Supreme Court finds N.Y. law violates right to carry guns outside home (Washington Post)
- Supreme Court allows GOP leaders in North Carolina to defend state voter ID law (Politico)
- Supreme Court limits ability to enforce Miranda rights (CNN)