News Roundup: ‘Unhinged’ Meeting, Secret Service Texts, and Victory in Kentucky

Lies about voter fraud are infecting this year’s elections — even as more evidence comes to light of the former president’s willful blindness to those lies’ obvious falsehood and the violence they fueled.

Jan. 6 Investigation

Tuesday’s hearing of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection focused on the chain of events that led to the attack on the Capitol, specifically the frenzy of planning among violent extremists in response to a tweet sent by former President Trump after an “unhinged” White House meeting on Dec. 18, 2020.

  • The meeting devolved into a shouting match between White House officials who advised Trump to accept his loss and a team of outside advisers that included Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, and former CEO Patrick Byrne.
  • Those outside advisers wanted Trump to name Powell as a special counsel and to use the National Guard to seize voting machines, with the aim of overturning the election.
  • Byrne was expected to speak to the committee on Friday. We’ve obtained several documents showing Byrne’s post-election efforts, including his involvement in the Arizona “audit” and a meeting he had with the Texas secretary of state in December 2021.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the committee zeroed in on the tweet Trump sent at 1:42 a.m. after the meeting, telling his supporters to come to D.C. on Jan. 6. “Be there, will be wild!” he wrote.

  • Witnesses during the hearing were Jason Van Tatenhove, a former national spokesman for the right-wing militia Oath Keepers, and Stephen Ayres, a rioter who pleaded guilty to charges related to breaching the Capitol. Ayres testified that he, like others, believed Trump’s rhetoric about a stolen election, which drove him to the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Liz Cheney also revealed that Trump had recently attempted to contact an unnamed witness, another allegation of witness tampering by the Trump team.
  • The next hearing, currently scheduled for Thursday, July 21, will look at Trump’s delay in stopping the riot.

On Thursday, the Intercept reported on a letter from the DHS inspector general to the committee that said the Secret Service had erased text messages from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021 — shortly after the agency watchdog had requested the electronic communications.

  • In a statement to the Washington Post, a Secret Service spokesman disputed that timeline and said that the deletions were part of a “pre-planned, three-month system migration.”
  • We have an ongoing lawsuit against the Secret Service for the release of communications, including text messages, from the days surrounding Jan. 6. That lawsuit has already led to the release of a number of emails from the day of the attack, including a timeline of Vice President Mike Pence’s movements.

Current and Future Elections

This week, a group of Republicans released a lengthy report examining all the lawsuits, purported evidence, and post-election “audits” claiming the election was stolen, concluding “that Donald Trump and his supporters had their day in court and failed to produce substantive evidence to make their case.” The Big Lie, meanwhile, is infecting both recent primaries and future elections, as demonstrated in the following headlines:

  • Pennsylvania officials sue rogue counties for refusing to certify election (Talking Points Memo)
  • Lake, Finchem suggest election fraud could affect Republican primary (Axios)
  • ​Arizona secretary of state candidate Shawnna Bolick has turned attention to ‘rigged’ election ​(Arizona Republic)
  • Election deniers got nearly $2 million in May from corporate PACs (Bloomberg)
  • Idaho Republicans poised to reject 2020 election results (Washington Post)
  • He won an award from an election fraud conspiracy group. Now he wants voting machine data from the 2022 primary. (Salt Lake Tribune)
  • Tina Peters seeks recount of June 28 secretary of state primary (Colorado Politics)

The Big Lie is also underpinning more voting restrictions and new instances of voter intimidation. 

American Oversight Legal Victory in Kentucky

On Thursday, a Kentucky court delivered a victory in our lawsuit to uncover the facts about an early effort to promote baseless concerns about the alleged threat of election fraud. In 2020, we sued the Kentucky attorney general’s office for the release of public records related to the state’s Ballot Integrity Task Force.

  • The task force, a 2020 partnership between state election officials and law enforcement, was one of several such state task forces that were launched purportedly to safeguard elections, but were designed to amplify false claims about the threat of voter fraud.
  • In its ruling, the court held that the office had improperly claimed some records were exempt from disclosure and ordered their immediate release. It also found the office’s search for records was likely inadequate. Read more here. 

The Coronavirus Pandemic

The FDA authorized the Novavax vaccine this week. Experts hope that the protein-based vaccine might convince those who are skeptical of the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna shots to get vaccinated. 

“New waves of the virus demonstrate again that Covid-19 is nowhere near over,” the director of the World Health Organization said this week as the BA.5 variant, now dominant in the U.S., spreads around the world. 

  • Official case counts are rising, and undercount the actual number of positive cases because of unreported at-home tests. Hospitalizations are expected to increase over the next two weeks, particularly in southern states, according to CDC forecasting models.
  • This week, Hawaii — the last state with an indoor mask mandate in schools — announced that masks in classrooms will become optional beginning Aug. 1.

On the Records

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been at the front of recent far-right measures in his state, from new abortion restrictions to the law stifling the discussion of racism while at school or work.

  • We obtained emails that include draft legislation that his office sent to the state Legislature in late 2021. Some, like the abortion ban, the anti-CRT law, and the bill creating a new election police force, were signed into law in April.
  • Other emails include draft bills and constitutional amendments that weren’t passed but would have reduced government transparency, increased executive authority, and made it harder to amend the state constitution.
  • Another set reveals that just over a week after DeSantis proposed a six-month gas tax holiday, his office instead sent lawmakers draft legislation that limited the tax break to only a single month just before the November election. Read more here.

Come Work With Us: American Oversight Job Opportunities

American Oversight is currently looking for two new talented people to join the American Oversight team:

Other Stories We’re Following

Jan. 6 Investigation

  • Jan. 6 panel will turn over evidence on fake electors to the Justice Dept. (New York Times)
  • Capitol rioter apologizes to U.S. Capitol Police officers after Jan. 6 hearing (Axios)
  • Judge rejects Bannon’s bid to delay trial and his executive privilege claim (Washington Post)

Voting Rights

  • Voting advocates fear new Arizona law could disenfranchise some naturalized citizens (VoteBeat)
  • Few Arizona counties are required to provide voting resources in Indigenous languages (Arizona Mirror)
  • Criminalizing the vote: GOP-led states enacted 102 new election penalties after 2020 (States Newsroom)

The Big Lie

  • Election officials fear copycat attacks as ‘insider threats’ loom (Politico)
  • Brnovich remains silent on fake electors who tried to give Arizona’s vote to Trump (Arizona Republic)
  • Pennsylvania congressman launches internal investigation after Ron Johnson’s claims about false elector paperwork (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
  • Graham moves to quash Fulton subpoena in Trump probe (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
  • Johnson County sheriff tells Las Vegas crowd his election fraud investigation continues (Kansas City Star)
  • Multiple sheriffs address far-right voter fraud conference (Talking Points Memo)
  • Judge presses Montana state attorneys for evidence of voter ID fraud (Ravalli Republic)

In the States

  • Abortion rights poised to go before Michigan voters in fall (Associated Press)
  • Surveillance video of Uvalde school shooting shows police response (Austin American-Statesman)
  • Madison ordinance would fine people who harass election workers up to $1k (Wisconsin Public Radio)
  • Arizona moves to impose abortion ban from 1800s as attorney general asks court to lift injunction (Arizona Republic)
  • Democratic cities in Republican states seek ways around abortion bans (Washington Post)
  • Understaffed, and under federal investigation, Texas juvenile detention system halts intake (Texas Tribune)
  • Texas sues Biden admin for requiring abortions in medical emergencies (Washington Post)

National News

  • Justice Dept. announces task force to fight overreach on abortion bans (Washington Post)
  • Amazon admits giving Ring camera footage to police without a warrant or consent (Intercept)
  • Texas sues Biden administration over access to emergency medical abortions (New York Times)
  • America’s most influential conservative conference is hosting one of Europe’s most notorious authoritarians (Rolling Stone)
  • Twitter sues Elon Musk after he tries backing out of $44 billion deal (New York Times)
  • Right-wing think tank Family Research Council is now a church in the eyes of the IRS (ProPublica)
  • Takeaways from the Uber Files investigation (Washington Post)
  • The world’s longest-lived trees couldn’t survive climate change (Washington Post)
  • Michael Flynn cited for unauthorized foreign payments (Washington Post)
  • How Leonard Leo became the gray cardinal of the American right (New Republic)