2/03 Coming Attractions: Accountability

Published: 2.3.21

As the second impeachment trial of former president Trump nears, the nation continues to grapple with three related and ongoing threats to democracy: misinformation, domestic terror concerns, and state anti-voting rights legislation. Leaders are working tirelessly to counter those threats by championing pro-voting rights legislation and pursuing accountability. To highlight that work, the Voter Protection Program hosted a press briefing with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, and former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson this week.

Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Alabama and member of the VPP Advisory Board, wrote about the potential outcome of Trump’s impeachment trial in an op-ed for MSNBC. She noted that conviction appears unlikely but stressed that voters have the final say in holding leaders accountable. “If the Senate won’t do its job, citizens fulfilling the most important obligation we have — voting — will do it for them.” Joanna Lydgate, National Director of the VPP, and Ambassador Norm Eisen, outside counsel to the VPP, penned an op-ed in The Washington Post discussing accountability for the lawyers who enabled Trump’s disinformation campaign. They outlined the ethical and professional imperative to disbar lawyers who peddled election falsehoods, which led to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The duo also applauded Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s move to disbar Sidney Powell and three other Trump lawyers. In their words, “a movement is swelling to see the lawyers who perpetrated the Big Lie — and therefore bear a measure of moral responsibility for the violence that eventually resulted — brought to justice.”

National Update

Impeachment: With the trial set to begin next week, over 370 congressional aides issued a rare public statement this morning, urging their bosses to convict former president Trump. On Tuesday, Trump’s legal team and House impeachment managers released their initial filings for the impeachment trial. In a 14-page “answer” to the article of impeachment, Trump’s lawyers lay out their main argument — that the act of convicting a former president is unconstitutional. Trump’s defense team claims he was not responsible for inciting violence and that his speech before the attack was simply an exercise of free speech, protected under the First Amendment. In a powerful op-ed for USA Today, Ambassador Norm Eisen and Katherine Reisner, both outside counsels to the VPP, refute this argument point by point, concluding that “Trump’s incendiary remarks Jan. 6 were clearly incitement, even within the parameters of the term in First Amendment jurisprudence.”

Domestic Terror Threat: Canada has become the first nation to designate the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity. While the extremist militia group participated in and facilitated the January 6th attack, the United States still has not formally designated it as a terrorist organization. The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report this week tracing the trends of hate groups throughout 2020. Their findings confirm increasing fears that the more public officials align themselves with hate groups, the more emboldened and empowered these groups become.

Congressional Crackdown: Throughout the week, lawmakers in Congress have renewed their efforts to address domestic terror. Yesterday, Senate Democrats unveiled a resolution denouncing the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, condemning white supremacy, and directing the FBI and the national intelligence community to conduct a review of the domestic terrorist threat posed by extremist groups. The resolution highlights specific areas of concern: leadership and members of these groups, groups’ relationships with foreign actors, social media as a recruiting tool, and extremist recruitment for current and former members of the military and law enforcement. In an accompanying effort to bolster Capitol security, House lawmakers approved a $5,000 fine for any individual — including lawmakers themselves — who refuse to go through the metal detectors at security checkpoints. The latest move serves as a rebuke of lawmakers who scorned calls for enhanced Capitol security and a prohibition of firearms in the wake of the January 6th attack.

Managing Misinfo: As social media companies continue to explore the link between misinformation and extremists, they are renewing their efforts to stop false information from spreading on their platforms. Following in Facebook and Twitter’s footsteps, TikTok introduced new misinformation protocols this morning. Videos featuring false or misleading information will include a warning label, and users may be ineligible for TikTok’s key content promotion algorithm, which TikTok affirms will reduce the virality of misleading videos. Twitter has continued its crackdown on accounts that recklessly promote misinformation, most recently banning the MyPillow Twitter page, which CEO Mike Lindell attempted to use to promote conspiracy theories about the 2020 election after his personal account was banned.

Follow The Money: The Trump campaign’s most recent FEC campaign disclosure forms have revealed that the efforts to exploit baseless claims of widespread election fraud were more lucrative than previously thought. The Republican National Committee teamed up with the Trump campaign’s “Election Defense Fund” to raise a stunning $280 million for “legal fees” incurred while challenging election results in court. While the campaign told supporters their donations would go to court fees, recent filings report only $13 million in legal expenditures for the Trump campaign and RNC combined. The Trump campaign returned only $11 million of the remaining $267 million to supporters, and roughly $100 million of the remaining funds went to fundraising efforts and advertising. The Trump campaign and RNC have kept the remaining funds — over $50 million — in their bank accounts. This should be deeply concerning to all who care about integrity, regardless of political affiliation. Mayorkas Confirmed: The Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas as the Secretary of Homeland Security yesterday evening in a 56-43 vote. DHS has been top of mind for Americans since the reports of continued domestic terrorist threats following January 6th. Under Mayorkas’s guidance, DHS will continue its review of extremist groups and their potential for future violence, after issuing a rare national terrorism warning last week.

State Updates

Arizona: During a press call hosted by the VPP, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs outlined her plans to build on the success of the 2020 election and blasted efforts by state lawmakers to introduce legislation to restrict access to voting. Hobbs added, “some of these lawmakers are trying to rehash the debunked theories about the 2020 election as an excuse to limit access to voting, and it’s shameful.”

Elsewhere in Arizona, a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right extremist militia group that participated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, alleged that Rep. Paul Gosar previously met with the group and proclaimed the United States was “in a civil war.” On January 6th, Gosar voted to reject Arizona’s electoral vote certification and expressed sympathy for the rioters.

Florida: On Monday, a settlement over a Voting Rights Act lawsuit was reached in Florida. Rivera v. Barton contended that counties’ failure to provide Spanish-language voting materials to Puerto Ricans who had recently moved to Florida was a breach of the Voting Rights Act. The recent settlement provides for Spanish language ballots, election materials, website options, hotlines, assistance at polls, and signs at election supervisors’ offices.

Georgia: On Monday, state lawmakers introduced eight bills aimed at restricting voting rights in Georgia. The bills would introduce strict requirements for mail-in ballots, impose stringent photo ID obligations, roll back automatic updates to voter registration information, and render voters who recently relocated to Georgia ineligible to vote in Georgia runoff elections. Meanwhile, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office has launched an investigation into whether Trump election-fraud lawyer Lin Wood voted illegally in the state. Recent evidence suggests that Wood was actually residing in South Carolina during the 2020 election but voted in Georgia instead.

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