With the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces on Thursday, all eyes are on Eastern Europe.
As we and the rest of the world closely monitor developments, we’re also continuing our work examining and exposing efforts in Arizona, Wisconsin, and other states to undermine confidence in the 2020 election. Here’s this week’s latest news on our investigations into threats to democracy and voting rights, as well as on the pandemic in the U.S.
Threats to Voting Rights and Election Administration
Last week, we wrote about the huge number of election-related bills put forward by Arizona state lawmakers seeking to impose new restrictions on voting.
- Calling Arizona “ground zero” for election changes, CNN took a look at the long list of proposals in the state, which according to the National Conference of State Legislatures make up nearly 10 percent of all state bills related to elections this year.
- One proposed Senate bill would require photo or video surveillance at ballot drop boxes, recording an image of every visitor and linking their image to the cast ballot. The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Kelly Townsend and supported by those pushing unfounded claims about ballot “stuffing.” As the Arizona Mirror notes, drop boxes with those features don’t exist.
Lawmakers in Wisconsin have also advanced a number of election-related proposals, sending more than a dozen bills to Gov. Tony Evers, who is likely to veto them.
- The bills would place new restrictions on absentee voting and increase the Legislature’s power over elections. Republicans in the Legislature also plan to skirt Evers’ vetoes with constitutional amendments that would need to be approved by voters, including one that would ban private grants or donations to help run elections.
- In an example of the ongoing tension between Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the more conservative members of his party who claim he is not doing enough to “audit” — or overturn — the 2020 election, state Rep. Janel Brandtjen accused Vos of “kneecapping” her committee by referring the bills to the state affairs committee, rather than the election committee she chairs.
The split among Wisconsin’s Republicans has been widened by state Rep. Timothy Ramthun’s calls for the state to retroactively “decertify” the state’s 2020 election results, which is legally impossible, not to mention undemocratic.
- Ramthun, of course, is not alone in his push to overturn the free and fair election that happened more than a year ago: In Arizona, state Rep. Mark Finchem — who is running to be Arizona’s secretary of state, where he would oversee elections — has been pushing a bill to decertify his state’s 2020 election results.
- Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers has been thwarting many of his state’s more extreme voting proposals, including Finchem’s bill, which he called a “slap in the face of the people of Arizona.”
- The Arizona Republic reported that earlier this month, former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn — who has said he was part of the fake-electors plot to overturn the results in several states — attempted to persuade Bowers to take up state Finchem’s bill.
Partisan Election Reviews
As some Wisconsin conservatives clamor for a more wide-ranging “audit” of the 2020 election, the investigation ordered by Vos that is being led by attorney Michael Gableman is still dragging on.
- Last week, Gableman once again pushed for mayors and other local officials he has subpoenaed to be jailed should they refuse to sit for close-door interviews.
- Vos said that he does not know whether Gableman’s review will attempt to validate the election’s result or whether it will contain legislative recommendations. Gableman will likely submit a final report on his probe next week, Vos said.
- American Oversight has multiple, ongoing lawsuits seeking answers about the election review and has already uncovered extensive evidence of partisan influence, despite efforts by attorneys for Vos and Gableman to block the release of public records.
In other states:
- In Arizona, the discredited Maricopa County “audit” of last year reportedly cost taxpayers more than $4 million as of late September.
- In our public records lawsuit, the Arizona Supreme Court scheduled a May 10 hearing to address the Arizona Senate’s continued attempts to withhold hundreds of records from that “audit” under a claim of legislative privilege.
- Virginia Sen. Amanda Chase said she presented claims of “gross election irregularities” in the 2020 election to the state’s newly sworn-in attorney general Jason Miyares on Tuesday. The next day, Chase said she’d filed multiple amendments to the state budget, including a proposal of $70 million for a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 election, and she would soon hold a news conference about what she presented during the meeting with Miyares.
- In Montana, a disagreement about whether the Legislature should launch an investigation appears to have undermined an effort to call a special session. The Associated Press reported that “GOP leaders have been unable to get a commitment from fellow Republicans to limit the special session” to the issue of voting districts for the state’s public utility commission, and not to discuss the appointment of an interim “election integrity” committee.
- The Washington Post reported on proposals by Big Lie-promoting lawmakers in at least four states to require ballots to be embedded with features like holographic foil and special ink. Those measures would “limit the number of companies capable of selling ballot paper — potentially to just one Texas firm with no previous experience in elections that consulted with the lawmakers proposing the measures.”
Jan. 6 and Trump’s Election-Overturning Endeavors
Trump’s continual disdain for accountability is hardly surprising anymore, and neither is his lax approach to record-keeping.
- Late last week, the National Archives acknowledged that it had discussed with the Justice Department that it had found classified documents among the approximately 15 boxes of White House documents recovered from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. The Archives said its review of the contents should be completed by Friday.
- That same day, a federal judge rejected Trump’s attempt to dismiss lawsuits accusing him of bearing responsibility for the violence of Jan. 6.
- Trump was dealt another blow on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court rejected his request to review a lower court’s ruling that presidential records must be turned over to the House select committee investigating Jan. 6. The records in question reportedly include handwritten notes, visitor logs, and notes from former administration officials, among other documents.
The former president’s schemes to reverse his election loss were aided by a number of lawyers and advisers, whose work is also of interest to the committee.
- Lawyer John Eastman filed court papers on Tuesday that formally describe his legal relationship with Trump. According to Politico’s report, Eastman was recruited by conservative lawyer Cleta Mitchell — who had been “deputized directly by Trump in August 2020 to establish an ‘election integrity working group’” — and had “advised Trump on various lawsuits … and spoke to state legislators who he said had the authority to appoint their own set of pro-Trump electors.”
- Former Trump lawyer Katherine Friess sued the select committee to block the release of her phone records, which had been subpoenaed, claiming their release would violate attorney-client privilege. Last week, Politico published emails that tie Friess and Texas entrepreneur Russell Ramsland to the late-2020 efforts to seize voting machines.
- The New York Times wrote about how Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, took on a prominent role in the fight to keep Donald Trump in power following the 2020 election. The Times’ report cites the emails obtained by American Oversight suggesting that Clarence Thomas was in contact with the governor of Florida Ron DeSantis.
- Former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is expected to appear before the committee “in a cooperation deal that could be agreed within weeks,” the Guardian reported on Wednesday.
- On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Ivanka Trump said she is in communications to voluntarily appear for an interview before the committee. The New York Times reported that her lawyers have been in talks with the committee since January, and that she has yet to agree on a date to talk to investigators.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
As the omicron wave subsides, every state but Hawaii has eliminated or is planning to eliminate indoor mask mandates. Some researchers are bracing for the impact of the BA.2 variant, which has been spreading slowly throughout the country. While immunity from omicron may prevent the variant from causing a similarly severe spike in cases, the new variant may impede the recovery from the omicron wave and lead to more deaths and hospitalizations.
- New data from the CDC shows that vaccine effectiveness dropped significantly against the omicron variant, though vaccinated people were still far less likely than unvaccinated people to be infected by or hospitalized from Covid-19.
- An estimated 73 percent of Americans are immune to the omicron variant, according to one model that used booster shots, omicron infections, and other information to calculate the figure. But experts warn that waning immunity and new variants could still be dangerous.
- Two doses of a new vaccine are 100 percent effective against severe disease and hospitalization, according to its manufacturers, Europe-based companies Sanofi and GSK.
Cases are averaging more than 76,000 per day, a more than 60 percent decrease from two weeks prior. The daily average for hospitalizations are slightly more than 60,000 and for deaths around 1,900, with both figures on the decline.
- The CDC has withheld troves of data on the pandemic, including regarding the effectiveness of booster shots for people ages 18 to 49 and hospitalizations by age, race, and vaccination status. Bureaucratic approval processes and fear of the public misinterpreting data have slowed its release, but experts say such information could help state and local governments more effectively fight the virus.
- The Biden administration’s Pandemic Testing Board was meant to put the “full force of the federal government” behind producing and distributing “millions of tests,” but one year into his presidency, the board has made no announcements, published no press releases, and held no hearings, according to a ProPublica analysis.
- Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which saw about one-fourth of all Covid-19 deaths in the country, are facing massive staffing shortages that could have a lasting impact on the industry.
- The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union released a statement opposing the March 18 expiration date for federal airport and airplane mask mandates, warning that it would endanger medically vulnerable passengers and children under 5.
Other Stories We’re Following
- Two prosecutors leading N.Y. Trump inquiry resign, clouding case’s future (New York Times)
- What is Truth Social? What to know about Trump’s social network (Wall Street Journal)
- Biden to nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson to be first Black woman to sit on Supreme Court (CNN)
- Internal investigation confirms Border Patrol failures leading up to a 16-year-old’s death on the floor of his cell (ProPublica)
- Jared Kushner’s new fund looks to profit from his Middle East diplomacy (Wall Street Journal)
- The Big Lie is a reality: A range of claims about the legitimacy of American elections have taken root (Just Security)
In the States
- Gov. Greg Abbott floats pardons for Austin police officers charged with excessive force in 2020 protests (Texas Tribune)
- ‘I hate it here’: National Guard members sound off on Texas border mission in leaked morale survey (Texas Tribune)
- Kris Kobach, running for Kansas AG, still working for scandal-tainted border wall group (Kansas City Star)
- Missouri AG Eric Schmitt holding fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago (Missouri Times)
- Here’s what the tough new rules for Florida shelters that house migrant youth would do (Miami Herald)
- The doctor giving DeSantis’ pandemic policies a seal of approval (New York Times)