2/08 The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Published: 2.8.21

As the second impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump begins this week, lawmakers in Washington, DC and across the nation continue their work to hold people accountable for spreading lies about the election and fomenting political violence.

In an op-ed for Politico, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, and Ambassador Norm Eisen, outside legal counsel to the VPP, highlight the importance of introducing legislation to hold future presidents accountable for corruption. They praise the ethics rules in the For the People Act and the anti-emoluments clause in last year’s Protecting Our Democracy Act and urge Congress to enact both.

In an op-ed for Politico, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, and Ambassador Norm Eisen, outside legal counsel to the VPP, highlight the importance of introducing legislation to hold future presidents accountable for corruption. They praise the ethics rules in the For the People Act and the anti-emoluments clause in last year’s Protecting Our Democracy Act and urge Congress to enact both.

National Update

The Good: Leaders are looking to expand voting access and safeguard upcoming elections. State lawmakers have introduced 406 bills in 35 states that would expand voting access. In an op-ed for CNN, Secretaries of State Jocelyn Benson (MI), Katie Hobbs (AZ), and Steve Simon (MN) pointed to last week’s National Association of Secretaries of State conference as an opportunity for state leaders to build on their progress from 2020 and continue their fight to protect elections. They urged their colleagues to expand access to the ballot box, support election infrastructure, and bolster election security, emphasizing the meeting’s “pivotal role in determining the agenda for the next phase of election administration in this country.” Efforts to expand voting access are underway on the federal level as well. Legislation like the For the People Act looks to enshrine voting protections and has received substantial support.

The Bad: Across the country, some factions of state lawmakers are pushing legislation that would make voting more difficult in future elections. With more than 106 bills across 28 states, the proposed restrictions include new voter ID requirements, limitations on voting by mail and voter registration, and changes that would make it easier to remove people from the voter file. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon highlighted the hypocrisy of this legislation during a VPP-led press call last week, “Some folks bring these proposals forward and say, ‘Well, we just need to address confidence in our election systems,’ when it’s some of those very same people, or at least their allies and enablers, [who] have denigrated our election system by either telling lies or at least leveraging or relying on other people’s lies to justify some of these policies.”

The Ugly (Truth): The Trump campaign and its allies have raked in millions of dollars by peddling false claims about the election, soliciting donations to challenge the results in court. The costs of the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results have been massive, not only impacting outside donors who contributed to the cause but also American taxpayers. A recent analysis by The Washington Post determined that election fraud claims have cost Americans $519 million and counting. These claims have required enhanced security, legal fees, property repairs, and more — all funded by taxpayer dollars.

Swift Reversal: Last week, the Justice Department rescinded two memos from the Trump administration that had requested investigations into voter fraud and encouraged states to pull back expansions of voting access during COVID-19.

Impeachment: The Senate impeachment trial of former President Trump will unfold this week, with opening debates and a procedural vote scheduled for tomorrow. If a simple majority of Senators vote to proceed with the trial, oral arguments will continue throughout the week — and possibly into the next. Today was the final day to file pretrial motions, and the Trump campaign submitted a 78-page brief outlining their defense in greater detail. This brief featured the same arguments from last week’s filing, where they claimed Trump was not responsible for the January 6th attack and, even if he was, that the Senate does not have the constitutional authority to try a former president. Impeachment managers have contested both these arguments in their own filings, compiling pages of evidence where rioters expressly reference Trump’s comments as the call to action that inspired their participation in the mob. With Trump’s latest refusal to testify in person, House impeachment managers plan to use rioters’ comments and footage from the day as evidence. In an interview with the Washington Post, Ambassador Norm Eisen, outside counsel to the VPP,  discussed the significance of the footage from January 6th: “there is a vast amount of self-incriminating video capturing Trump’s comments and the insurrectionists’ reactions. Everyone can and will see for themselves what happened.”

Lies Meet Lawsuits: As social media companies and government agencies continue to explore their role in fighting misinformation, litigation is becoming a powerful tool to hold those who spread lies accountable. Tech company Smartmatic has filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News for over $2.7 billion. The lawsuit alleges that Fox News Corporation inaccurately tied the tech company to election falsehoods, disparaging the company’s reputation and fueling the same misinformation that led to the siege on the U.S. Capitol. The suit is directed against Fox News, three Fox anchors (Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, and Jeanine Pirro), and election lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. The Smartmatic suit follows the Dominion lawsuit filed last month. While it remains to be seen whether defamation lawsuits will ultimately prove successful in fighting misinformation, they are becoming a tool to demonstrate the widespread harm individuals and companies who spread misinformation cause.

State Updates

Arizona: Last week, 16 Arizona Senators co-sponsored a resolution calling for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to be held in contempt and arrested for refusing to comply with election-related subpoenas. The Maricopa County Board cited concerns of potential bias by the firm selected to review election materials and tabulation as the main reason behind their noncompliance. The Senate selected Allied Security Operations Group, a firm allied with the Trump campaign, to count the ballots and examine tabulation machines.

The Trump campaign’s latest election filing revealed that it had paid $6,000 to Rep. Mark Finchem for “legal consulting” in December. At the time, Finchem had been urging fellow state lawmakers to overturn the November election results. This financial tie throws the motivation behind Finchem’s efforts to dispute the election results into question. Finchem claims the payment was a reimbursement for “crowd control and security costs” for a Nov. 30th meeting with Rudy Giuliani. This recent reveal comes as Finchem has faced renewed scrutiny for his past involvement with the Oath Keepers, an extremist group that helped lead the January 6th attack.

Georgia: Last week, state senators introduced a new bill to restrict absentee voting, adding to the growing list of legislation introduced to roll back voter access. Senate Bill 71 would eliminate a no-excuse absentee voting law from 2005. Instead of allowing Georgians to vote absentee without providing a reason, the bill would restrict the “no-excuse” provision only to people 75 and older, the disabled, the military, and voters who won’t be in town during the election.

Additionally,  the office of Georgia’s Secretary of State launched an investigation into former President Trump’s attempts to overturn the state’s election results, including a phone call Trump made to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump pressured Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to reverse his loss. Findings are typically brought before the state board of elections, which then decides whether to refer them for prosecution to the state attorney general or another agency.

Michigan: As Secretary of State Joceyln Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel push for voting rights expansion in the state, both leaders have continued to hold individuals accountable for their role in spreading misinformation and undermining public trust in the electoral process, including the lawyers who filed lawsuits based on lies in Michigan. Speaking with Chris Hayes on MSNBC alongside Nessel about their recent complaint against Trump’s legal team, Benson outlined the threat misinformation poses to election security: “We ultimately found that the greatest security threat was not foreign interference, but actually these domestic attacks in the form of lies and misinformation that was spread in an intentional, calculated way to intentionally mislead people and sow doubt in our elections.”

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