News Roundup: The Lies that Undermine

Here’s the latest news on threats to U.S. democracy, from renewed scrutiny on Mark Meadows’ and Ginni Thomas’ communications to the seemingly inexhaustible efforts in various states to keep alive the election-undermining lies that drove attempts to subvert the 2020 vote.

In the States

Wisconsin: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ comment last week that election “decertification” is legally impossible — made at the same time he alleged, without evidence, widespread fraud in 2020 — continues to draw backlash from members of his own party who have clamored for the anti-democratic action. Even the lawyer representing Michael Gableman, who is conducting Vos’ partisan election investigation, has said calls for decertification are “pointless.” 

  • Gableman has previously said the legislature should consider decertification. This week, he appeared again on Tucker Carlson’s show, claiming that “agents” of Mark Zuckerberg “took over the election” in Wisconsin cities.
  • Vos said on Tuesday that he was considering withdrawing his and Gableman’s subpoenas to various city officials, which he said could help lead to those officials being prosecuted for crimes he did not specify. 
  • Withdrawing the subpoenas could help finally wind down Gableman’s probe, but — as evinced by yet another hearing in the Assembly’s elections committee about unsubstantiated allegations of fraud — that likely won’t mean the end of conservative efforts to use such claims to justify measures that would make it harder for Wisconsinites to vote.

American Oversight’s fight for the release of public records related to Gableman’s investigation continues: This week, a Dane County judge once again voiced frustration that Vos had still not produced the documents in one of our lawsuits, and gave Vos’ office a “drop dead” deadline of April 7 to search for the records.

Arizona: The partisan and discredited “audit” of Maricopa County’s election concluded months ago, but that also hasn’t signaled the end of Arizona conservatives’ efforts to drum up support for baseless voter-fraud claims.

  • An independent audit of the county’s vote-counting machines wrapped up this week, finding that, as expected, the machines were not connected to the internet.
  • Of course, that hasn’t stopped state Sen. Kelly Townsend from issuing a subpoena to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors demanding records related to voter registration and early ballots. 
  • Meanwhile, Townsend’s committee on Thursday passed a bill that would end early voting and require hand counts of ballots.

Other States: More proposed voting restrictions aren’t the only threat to democracy — a fringe legal theory known as the “independent state legislature” doctrine, which holds that state legislatures have the sole power over running federal elections, is popping up in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Its application would also give those legislatures’ partisan majorities enormous power over redistricting.

Here are headlines about other anti-democratic efforts across the country:

  • Noem signs bill banning election donations like Zuckerberg’s (Associated Press)
  • Couy Griffin found guilty, here’s what it means to Otero County (Alamogordo Daily News)
  • A Republican fights voter fraud in his race, 231 days before Election Day (New York Times)
  • Congress investigating conspiracy-prone ‘audit’ tech company (Daily Beast)
  • As GOP lawmakers push for more election fraud charges, prosecutors find few cases (Washington Post)
  • Investigation blames human error for issues in Fulton election audit (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
  • ‘Voters are angry’: Here’s how Senate Bill 1 affected primaries in Tarrant County, Texas (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
  • GOP push against ballot drop boxes hits rural places, too (Associated Press)

The Trump Administration and the Big Lie

Ginni Thomas and Mark Meadows: The Washington Post and CBS News have obtained text messages showing that in the weeks after the 2020 election, Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly pushed former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue the former president’s election-overturning schemes, calling the election “the greatest Heist of our History.” In one message, Meadows wrote, “This is a fight of good versus evil.”

  • Meadows’ role in the leadup to Jan. 6, 2021, has also been under renewed scrutiny this week, thanks to a report from Rolling Stone. According to a man who helped plan the rally that preceded the attack, Meadows was overheard participating in a call in which he and other key figures planned to have the crowd eventually march from the Ellipse to the Capitol and “make it look like they went down there on their own.”

DHS Voter-Fraud Directive: In late April of 2020, Ken Cuccinelli directed the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis to look into potential voter fraud from mail-in voting. “The issuance of a directive,” reported Politico, “casts a new light on the extent of Trump World’s efforts to use government resources to investigate spurious claims about U.S. elections.”

On the Records

Sen. Johnson Texts with Commissioner Hahn
American Oversight obtained text messages sent by Sen. Ron Johnson in October 2020 to former FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn regarding the coronavirus. The records show Johnson told Hahn that the U.S. was “significantly [overstating] the number of cases that are contagious” and also texted Hahn about approving “HCQ,” likely a reference to hydroxychloroquine.

More Brandtjen Communication Records
We ​​obtained more records from the office of Wisconsin Rep. Janel Brandtjen, including texts exchanged between Brandtjen and Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, revealing that they were in direct contact in August 2021, weeks after Brandtjen issued subpoenas for voting materials in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Brown counties. 

  • During the same month, Brandtjen was also in touch with Jovan Pulitzer, an election conspiracy theorist who claimed to have created fraudulent-ballot-scanning technology that was used in Cyber Ninjas’ review.
The Coronavirus Pandemic

Congress’s pandemic budget impasse continues to threaten the nation’s preparedness for another potential wave. This week, the Health Resources and Services Administration announced that it is no longer paying for testing and treatment and will stop covering vaccination-related costs for uninsured individuals after April 5. The White House has also warned that it will not be able to purchase another round of booster shots if a fourth dose is deemed necessary. 

  • Public health experts and high-risk Americans are worried about the consequences of the CDC’s new metrics and relaxed public health measures, especially if the country faces the same wave as Europe and Asia.
  • Black adults were hospitalized during the omicron wave at higher rates than they were at any other point in the pandemic, a peak that was also the highest hospitalization rate of any racial group at any point. During the height of the surge, Black adults were four times as likely to be hospitalized as white adults.
  • A USA Today investigation found that despite losing nearly no money during the pandemic, charter schools across the country applied for and obtained nearly $1 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program. While technically businesses, charter schools receive public funding and many were supported by state governments during the pandemic.
  • A study found that the number of alcohol-related deaths increased by 26 percent in 2020, the largest jump in decades, correlating with increases in anxiety and depression.
  • Moderna is seeking authorization for its vaccine for children under 6
  • The Biden administration is considering recommending another round of booster shots for those 65 and older.

While case counts continue to decrease across the country as a whole, the BA.2 variant is quickly becoming dominant. The nationwide daily average for hospitalizations has dropped to slightly more than 20,000, and deaths have dipped to around 900 a day.

Other Stories We’re Following

National News
  • Trump is guilty of ‘numerous’ felonies, prosecutor who resigned says (New York Times)
  • Trump sues Hillary Clinton and allies over Russia claims related to 2016 election (Politico)
  • Supreme Court Sides with Wisconsin Republicans in Redistricting Case (New York Times)
  • Ginni Thomas donated $15,000 to GOP campaigns, including Trump’s (Forbes)
  • USPS truck contract prompts cries for investigation (New York Times)
  • A voting rights report from the White House outlines how to expand Native American access (NPR)
  • U.S. immigrants feel ‘chilling effect’ of Trump-era benefits rule (Reuters)
  • U.S. launches deportation operation to Colombia using Title 42 border rule (CBS News
  • Schools are quietly pulling titles from their libraries (Washington Post)
In the States
  • Arizona Republicans are pushing to divide Maricopa County. Critics say it’s about revenge for 2020 — and planning for 2024 (Washington Post)
  • Gov. Greg Abbott brags about his border initiative. The evidence doesn’t back him up (ProPublica/Texas Tribune/Marshall Project)
  • Cost of Indiana AG Rokita trip to Texas border: $2,400 (Journal Gazette)
  • Texas continues imprisoning migrants without filing charges or appointing lawyers, court filings claim (Texas Tribune)
  • Groups sue for records in Montana mine pollution case (Associated Press)
  • Texas superintendent tells librarians to pull books on sexuality, transgender people (NBC News/ProPublica/Texas Tribune)
  • Idaho governor signs bill banning abortion after 6 weeks modeled after Texas law (ABC News)
  • Nebraska and Colorado are fighting over water after 99 years of sharing rights (Wall Street Journal)
The Big Lie
  • MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell says he’s spending at least $1 million a month to build his social media empire, with 2 apps he hopes will rival YouTube and Facebook (Business Insider)
  • Capitol riot suspect is granted refugee status in Belarus after fleeing US (CNN)