Publish Date:November 17, 2023
News Roundup: Trump’s Authoritarian Impulses
As fake electors face criminal charges in Georgia and Michigan, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is reportedly also investigating the Trump supporters who signed certificates falsely claiming the former president won the state in 2020. Politico reported this week that investigators have questioned individuals about the state’s six fake electors, including asking about any documents created as part of the scheme to keep Trump in power.
- American Oversight first obtained the fake electoral certificates submitted by Trump supporters in Nevada and six other states. We also obtained communications from early January 2021 showing officials from the National Archives alerting governors’ offices about the effort.
- Our investigation of the election denial movement revealed how several fake electors have been active in the effort to cast doubt on the integrity of U.S. election processes.
The authoritarian streak present in both Trump’s attempt to overturn a free and fair election and throughout his presidency was echoed in alarming comments he made last week.
- In a Veterans Day speech, Trump pledged to “root out” his political opponents and called them “vermin,” echoing dictators like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
- On Tuesday, Trump shared an anonymous social media comment calling for the New York attorney general and the judge handling his civil fraud trial to be placed under “citizen’s arrest.”
- The New York Times recently reported on Trump’s plans to expand and intensify the draconian immigration policies he implemented in his first term if he were to be reelected.
Our investigations into the Trump administration shed light on the former president’s willingness to abuse his power for personal or political gain.
- Records we obtained related to the Trump administration’s family separation policy provided further evidence of the lack of adequate planning for reuniting separated families. The documents, including emails in which Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first attorney general, praised the policy’s results, can be seen in this detailed timeline.
- The Trump administration also implemented a travel ban for several Muslim-majority countries in 2017. We uncovered records showing the involvement of White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller in creating the policy, and created a timeline of Miller’s influence.
- Trump repeatedly and publicly called for the Justice Department to investigate his perceived enemies in a disturbing effort to politicize our nation’s law enforcement agencies. John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation is a prime example: We obtained documents revealing that former Attorney General William Barr, who had selected Durham to lead the investigation, had met frequently with Durham in the weeks directly after the Mueller investigation ended — 18 times in seven months.
- Trump’s penchant for using the presidency to line his own pockets was also a hallmark of his time in office. We’ve uncovered hundreds of pages of documents that provide details about how much taxpayer money went to his business; most recently, we found that the Pentagon had spent nearly $1 million at Trump properties from July 2017 to November 2019.
On the Records
Supreme Court Ethics
The Supreme Court issued its first-ever ethics code this week, drawing immediate criticism for its vagueness and lack of an enforcement provision. “The primary problem is how to give these rules teeth, especially in light of the fact that there have been repeated violations of these very rules,” Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia, told the New York Times.
- In April, ProPublica reported that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas, had for nearly two decades taken undisclosed luxury trips with billionaire Harlan Crow, igniting calls for investigation and stricter ethics rules.
- Other reporting over the summer revealed that Justice Thomas had accepted even more undisclosed gifts and vacations from wealthy friends than had previously been known, including from businessmen he met through the exclusive Horatio Alger Association.
American Oversight has been investigating the Thomases’ political connections and potential related ethics concerns.
- We previously obtained records that suggest Justice Thomas had been in contact with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. In an email from June 2021, Ginni Thomas invited DeSantis to speak to a “coalition” of “conservative patriots” and wrote that her “husband has been in contact with him too on various things of late.” Emails from that same month reveal a lunch that included DeSantis, Justice Thomas, and four of Thomas’ clerks.
- Ginni Thomas was active in the effort to overturn the election, and we obtained an email from the days before the 2020 election in which she shared election-related conspiracy theories, writing, “[Redacted] asked me for links we have all been sharing about the coming insurrection, chaos, and violence.” The email was forwarded to Ken Cuccinelli, a senior Trump appointee at DHS, with links to a conservative website.
- Andrew Ferguson, Virginia’s solicitor general, previously clerked for Justice Thomas. We asked the Virginia AG’s office for Ferguson’s communications with Clarence and Ginni Thomas — the office told us it is withholding one record responsive to our request.
Other Stories We’re Following
Election Denial and Threats to Democracy
- Facebook, Instagram will allow political ads that claim the 2020 election was stolen (CNN)
- The State Bar of Arizona is investigating Kari Lake’s election challenge attorneys (Arizona Mirror)
- The California county where far-right officials tried to upend voting (Guardian)
- Mike Johnson has ties to a Christian movement that played a key role in spreading Trump’s big lie (Mother Jones)
- How Cleta Mitchell and allies attacked a bipartisan anti-voter fraud tool in North Carolina and Florida (Documented)
- Group seeks amendment to require paper ballots in Arkansas elections (Arkansas Democrat Gazette)
- Racist, antisemitic and threatening behavior troubles Iowa campaign disclosure workers (Des Moines Register)
- A former Utah county clerk is accused of shredding and mishandling 2020 and 2022 ballots (Associated Press)
- A boom of ballot initiatives is reshaping this state’s democracy (Washington Post)
- Lawmakers close out year with election reforms like 16- and 17-year-old voting pre-registration (Michigan Advance)
- Challenge to Missouri voter ID law focuses on barriers faced by the elderly, disabled (Missouri Independent)
In the States
- New policy will prohibit Chicago police officers from joining hate or extremist groups (CBS News)
- DeSantis wants another $1 billion for his emergency fund (Tampa Bay Times)
- Inside Illinois’ youth lockups, children go without basic services and face ‘excessive’ punishments (ProPublica)
- Colorado banned forced prison labor 5 years ago. Prisoners say it’s still happening (NPR)
- Sanders’ private Razorback party at the Governor’s Mansion cost $13,000, covered by public funds (Arkansas Times)
- Judge denies initial request to temporarily block North Dakota’s ban on kids’ gender-affirming care (Associated Press)
- In Texas, a fight over gender and school theater takes an unexpected turn (New York Times)
- Lawmaker behind bill blocking gender-affirming care believes care is ‘child abuse’ (Ohio Capital Journal)
- Florida drag shows win temporary victory in Supreme Court (NPR)
- Transgender minors sue University of Missouri for refusing puberty blockers, hormones (Missouri Independent)
Abortion and Reproductive Rights
- Oklahoma Supreme Court keeps anti-abortion laws on hold while challenge is pending (Associated Press)
- 20 women are now suing Texas, saying state abortion laws endangered them (NPR)
- Emboldened by success in other red states, effort launched to protect abortion rights in Nebraska (Associated Press)
- Jay Ashcroft to appeal abortion ballot summary ruling to Missouri Supreme Court (Missouri Independent)
- Missouri judge weighs challenge to near-total abortion ban from religious leaders (Kansas City Star)
- Some Ohio GOP lawmakers attempting to undermine democratic process after voters protect abortion (Ohio Capital Journal)
Threats to Education
- These are the right-wing ideologues taking over school boards (Texas Observer)
- Inside New College of Florida’s $400 million transformation plan (Axios)
- Iowa’s proposed rules on banned books in schools are out. Here’s what you should know (Des Moines Register)
- Universities respond to Board of Regents’ diversity and inclusion recommendations (Iowa Capital Dispatch)
- ‘I’m not real proud’: Kansas public library gets new lease by removing LGBTQ books for kids (News from the States)
- Ohio House passes bill that GOP says promotes free speech in classrooms. Educators disagree (Ohio Capital Journal)
- Alabama to update science standards, keep evolution disclaimer (Al.com)
- South Carolina education board deciding whether to limit books and other ‘age appropriate’ materials (Associated Press)
- Texas legislators approve bill allowing police to arrest people who cross the border illegally (Texas Tribune)
- Border wall falls leave migrants with devastating — and costly — injuries (New York Times)
- Trump to remain on Michigan ballot after judge rejects another 14th Amendment challenge (CNN)
- Colorado judge to hear closing arguments in case seeking to bar Trump from ballot (Colorado Newsline)
- Trump’s plans if he returns to the White House include deportation raids, tariffs and mass firings (Associated Press)
- Trump allies pre-screen loyalists for unprecedented power grab (Axios)
- Ukraine indicts officials linked to efforts to investigate the Bidens (New York Times)
Jan. 6 Investigations
- Ex-Trump allies detail efforts to overturn election in Georgia plea videos (Washington Post)
- Lawyer says Trump aide told her after 2020 election: ‘The boss is not going to leave’ (New York Times)
- Trump says Biden isn’t in charge. Sidney Powell says neither was Trump. (Washington Post)
- Georgia prosecutor sees Trump case stretching into 2025 (New York Times)
- Producer sues Fox News, claims he was fired for challenging Jan. 6 coverage (Washington Post)