It’s not news that former President Donald Trump was indifferent to, if not disdainful of, a multitude of presidential norms. This included adherence to the Presidential Records Act, which requires the preservation of presidential records and official communications.
His penchant for tearing up documents and throwing them on the floor, leaving records management analysts to Scotch-tape the papers back together, has been known for years. Last week, the National Archives confirmed that some Trump White House documents it had turned over to the House Jan. 6 committee had been subjected to that same destructive treatment. And on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that in January, the Archives retrieved from Mar-a-Lago 15 boxes of records and other items that should have been turned over upon Trump’s departure from the White House.
“The Presidential Records Act is critical to our democracy, in which the government is held accountable by the people,” Archivist of the United States David Ferriero said in a statement earlier this week. “Records matter.”
We couldn’t agree more. In our lawsuit for records related to the Wisconsin Assembly’s partisan investigation, a Wisconsin judge again voiced concerns about whether those records had been preserved.
- The Wisconsin Legislature and its members are required to retain records if an open records request has been filed. American Oversight filed a number of requests, but we learned from depositions last month that staff in Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’s office may not always be informed of those requests right away, raising the possibility that records could have been deleted during that delay.
- “This has got to stop,” Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn said. “Either these records exist or they don’t. If they were deleted or destroyed after an open records request was made, I think that’s relevant.”
- On Wednesday, the Assembly’s elections committee heard testimony from Peter Bernegger, who reportedly claimed, without providing evidence, that thousands of “fake voters” cast ballots in Wisconsin.
- Public reporting and records uncovered by American Oversight previously revealed that Bernegger, who was convicted of mail and bank fraud in 2009, has been in contact with Michael Gableman, the attorney leading the partisan investigation.
Rolling Stone published an in-depth look at how Wisconsin has become the poster child of the effort to cast doubt on the 2020 election and to lay the groundwork for potentially contesting future elections.
- The article also discusses the push by state Rep. Timothy Ramthun to “decertify” the 2020 election’s results (something not legally possible). This week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on further evidence that Ramthun appears to be poised to run for governor.
- Of course, Ramthun isn’t the only state lawmaker calling for a valid election to be overturned: Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem, a vocal Trump ally, has called on lawmakers in his state to decertify the results in three Arizona counties (also impossible).
- And Wisconsin isn’t the only state currently home to a problematic election review — New Mexico’s Otero County, which went overwhelmingly to Trump in 2020, has launched a nearly $50,000 “audit” of its election results.
- The Otero review, which involves a controversial canvassing operation and has been promoted by lawyer Lin Wood, is being conducted by EchoMail, a company founded by election conspiracy theorist Shiva Ayyadurai. As a reminder, Wood and Ayyadurai were also involved in the Arizona Senate’s discredited “audit” of Maricopa County.
But turning back to the Jan. 6 select committee’s investigation of Trump’s attempts to overturn his election loss, here’s the latest news:
- Politico published emails that “reveal the connection of two outside Trump allies — Washington lawyer Katherine Friess and Texas entrepreneur Russell Ramsland — to the failed push to seize voting machines” in late 2020. The emails, which had also been reported on by CBS News, show Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and retired Army Col. Phil Waldron “workshopping the draft of a Trump executive order” to seize the machines.
- The House investigators said that White House telephone logs from Jan. 6, 2021, contain few records of calls made by Trump during hours when he is known to have been making them.
- On Wednesday, the select committee issued a subpoena to former White House adviser Peter Navarro.
- According to Washington Post reporting, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani had asked a prosecutor in Michigan’s Antrim County to turn over his county’s voting machines to Trump’s team. Antrim County was the subject of a debunked report on voter fraud, and Michigan’s secretary of state sent a letter to the select committee stating that the report had been provided to Trump-allied lawyer Sidney Powell in December 2020 while it was still under seal by a judge.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
As case counts fall across the country, states are beginning to ease pandemic restrictions. Twelve states have announced that certain mask mandates for businesses, schools, or other indoor public spaces are set to expire over the next two months. The indoor mask mandates in New York, Delaware, and Rhode Island ended this week, and five states are set to end mask mandates in schools by the end of March. Some health experts have cautioned against easing restrictions too soon.
The Biden administration plans to recalculate hospitalization data by asking hospitals to separate patients who were admitted because they had Covid-19 from patients who were admitted for other reasons but then tested positive.
As cases and hospitalizations decline, deaths are averaging approximately 2,500 per day. The total death toll from the pandemic surpassed 900,000 last week.
- A Politico survey of U.S. mayors found that local leaders are concerned about the impact of the pandemic on growing labor shortages, increased homelessness, and a rise in violent crime, among other issues.
- The main facility producing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has stopped making doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in favor of a potentially more profitable shot for an unrelated virus, causing concerns in developing countries about reduced supply of the Covid-19 vaccine over the next several months.
- New York City expects to dismiss nearly 3,000 municipal workers — less than 1 percent of the city government workforce — for not getting vaccinated.
- Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean will no longer require passengers to wear masks on ships, returning to pre-omicron policies.
On the Records
Justice Thomas’ Contacts with Gov. DeSantis
Emails obtained by American Oversight and reported on by Politico suggest that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has communicated regularly with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The records raise further questions about Justice Thomas’ ethics decisions, including regarding the work of his wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas.
- In June 2021, Ginni Thomas reached out to DeSantis’ office to invite him to speak to a group of “conservative patriots,” adding that DeSantis would know her for various reasons, among them the fact that her “husband has been in contact with him too on various things of late.”
Chad Wolf’s 2020 Electioneering Trips
In the weeks before the 2020 election, Chad Wolf, then the acting secretary of DHS, traveled to swing states to tout Trump’s policies — trips that were condemned for their political nature and potential violations of the Hatch Act. According to records we obtained, and reported on by Times, the use of government planes on those trips cost taxpayers more than $220,000.
- The travel was part of several problematic trips undertaken by Trump administration officials to promote Trump’s policies in the lead-up to the election.
- Records we previously obtained showed that swing-state visits by then-EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and then-Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia cost taxpayers nearly $60,000 in staff travel and expenses.
Other Stories We’re Following
The Jan. 6 Investigation and the Big Lie
- Government reveals trove of evidence in first Jan. 6 trial (New York Times)
- FBI probes pre-Capitol riot meeting of far-right groups (Reuters)
- All the ways Trump tried to overturn the election — and how it could happen again (Washington Post)
- Michael Flynn is still at war (New York Times)
- Voting fraud conspiracy group has pipeline to Florida governor as election changes considered (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
- Third county clerk in Colorado investigated for possible unauthorized copy of voting system server (Colorado Newsline)
- Colorado investigating Republican election official who said he was in contact with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s ‘legal team’ (Business Insider)
Redistricting and Voting Rights
- Supreme Court lets GOP-drawn Alabama congressional map that critics say dilutes power of Black voters stay in place (CNN)
- Florida Supreme Court rejects DeSantis’ redistricting push (Politico)
- Kansas Senate overrides Kelly veto of GOP-drawn map after Republicans switch votes (Kansas City Star)
- Ohio Supreme Court again rejects legislative maps, sends redistricting commission back to drawing board (Columbus Dispatch)
- Texas officials bemoan ‘lack of foresight’ as they struggle with GOP’s new voting law (Politico)
- Nearly 90 percent of Arizona voters use early ballots. Republicans would eliminate that to combat imagined fraud (Arizona Mirror)
- Rejected mail ballots are showing racial disparities (New York Times)
In the States
- Deputy Va. attorney general resigns after revelation of Facebook posts praising Jan. 6 rioters, claiming Trump won election (Washington Post)
- Missouri judge hears arguments over whether legislative rule violates open records law (Missouri Independent)
- New GOP House bill would let county boards fire health officers ‘for any reason’ (Michigan Advance)
- Virginia Senate rejects Andrew Wheeler, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s pick for secretary of natural resources (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
- A push to remove LGBTQ books in one county could signal rising partisanship on school boards (ProPublica)
- Florida GOP rejects rape exception in 15-week abortion ban (Associated Press)
- Bill changing Florida nursing home standards was written by the industry, emails show (Tampa Bay Times)
- South Dakota ethics board wants response from Noem by April (Associated Press)
- Arizona AG says governor can sent armed troops to border (San Francisco Chronicle)
- U.S. trucker convoy to Washington gathers steam (Politico)
- Peter Thiel to leave Meta board to pursue Trump agenda (Bloomberg)
- Right-wing lobby group ALEC driving laws to blacklist companies that boycott the oil industry (Guardian)
- U.S. conservatives linked to rich donors wage campaign to ban books from schools (Guardian)
- Biden to launch new migrant detention program to curb for-profit spaces (Axios)
- Erik Prince helped raise money for conservative spy venture (New York Times)
- The meat industry’s middlemen are starving families and farmers (American Prospect)