‘It’s going to be an army’: Tapes reveal GOP plan to contest elections

“Video recordings of Republican Party operatives meeting with grassroots activists provide an inside look at a multi-pronged strategy to target and potentially overturn votes in Democratic precincts: Install trained recruits as regular poll workers and put them in direct contact with party attorneys.

The plan, as outlined by a Republican National Committee staffer in Michigan, includes utilizing rules designed to provide political balance among poll workers to install party-trained volunteers prepared to challenge voters at Democratic-majority polling places, developing a website to connect those workers to local lawyers and establishing a network of party-friendly district attorneys who could intervene to block vote counts at certain precincts.”

“election watchdog groups and legal experts say many of these recruits are answering the RNC’s call because they falsely believe fraud was committed in the 2020 election, so installing them as the supposedly unbiased officials who oversee voting at the precinct level could create chaos in such heavily Democratic precincts.

“This is completely unprecedented in the history of American elections that a political party would be working at this granular level to put a network together,” said Nick Penniman, founder and CEO of Issue One, an election watchdog group. “It looks like now the Trump forces are going directly after the legal system itself and that should concern everyone.”

Penniman also expressed concern about the quick-strike networks of lawyers and DAs being created, suggesting that politically motivated poll workers could simply initiate a legal conflict at the polling place that disrupts voting and then use it as a vehicle for rejecting vote counts from that precinct.”

“On the tapes, some of the would-be poll workers lamented that fraud was committed in 2020 and that the election was “corrupt.” Installing party loyalists on the Board of Canvassers, which is responsible for certifying the election, also appears to be part of the GOP strategy. In Wayne County, which includes Detroit, Republicans nominated to their board a man who said he would not have certified the 2020 election.

Both Penniman and Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said they see a domino effect that could sow doubts about the election even when there was no original infraction: A politically motivated poll worker connecting with a zealous local lawyer to disrupt voting, followed by a challenge to the Board of Canvassers that may have nothing to do with the underlying dispute but merely the level of disruption at the polling place.

“You shouldn’t have poll workers who are reporting to political organizations what they see,” Hasen said. “It creates the potential for mucking things up at polling places and potentially leading to delays or disenfranchisement of voters,” especially “if [the poll workers] come in with the attitude that something is crooked with how elections are run.””

“Penniman, the election watchdog, believes the strategy is designed to create enough disputes to justify intervention by GOP-controlled state legislatures, who declined to take such steps in 2020.”

The Pandemic Killed Dissent in Hong Kong

“When Great Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, a condition of the transfer was that Beijing would allow the territory to maintain its own government until 2047. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never liked this agreement, and the COVID-19 pandemic provided the excuse to all but erase the “one country, two systems” distinction.

The CCP began its authoritarian assimilation of Hong Kong in 2019, when Beijing encouraged CCP loyalists in Hong Kong’s legislature to pass a law allowing extradition of residents to mainland China. That proposal sparked pro-democracy protests and a police crackdown in Hong Kong, which captured the world’s attention.

In June 2020, Beijing responded to the pro-democracy movement by requiring Hong Kong to implement a national security law that “introduc[ed] ambiguously defined crimes such as separatism and collusion that can be used to stifle protest,” as The New York Times put it. But the pandemic provided Beijing with an even bigger opportunity to suppress dissent.

Citing public health concerns, Hong Kong postponed its Legislative Council (LegCo) elections for a year. In the interim, Beijing changed LegCo election rules to reduce the number of directly elected seats and to require that candidates pledge their loyalty to mainland China.

With only Beijing-aligned “patriots” on the ballot, CCP loyalists swept the 2021 LegCo elections. Many leading opposition politicians went into exile, while others were jailed. Voter turnout was a paltry 30 percent—the lowest since the handover in 1997. By comparison, a record 71 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2019 district council elections. The high turnout was reportedly driven by opposition to the extradition treaty, and pro-democracy candidates won 85 percent of the available seats.

The pandemic also has facilitated suppression of pro-democracy protests. Every June since 1990, residents of Hong Kong had marched and held a vigil in memory of the Tiananmen Square dead. But in 2020, Hong Kong announced that it would extend social distancing restrictions until June 5, the day after the massacre’s anniversary.

Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules banned public meetings of more than eight people, with a potential penalty of six months in jail. As a result, only a small vigil was held. Organizers nevertheless were arrested and sentenced to up to 14 months in jail. The sentencing judge remarked that they had “belittled a genuine public health crisis.””

Hong Kong ushers in a new era of restriction under John Lee

“John Lee is the new chief executive of Hong Kong. The 64-year-old ran the only approved campaign to succeed Carrie Lam, the embattled head of the Chinese territory who oversaw a dramatic degradation to democratic institutions throughout 2019’s pro-democracy protests. Lee’s tenure will likely bring more of the same: a former deputy chief of Hong Kong’s police force, he was instrumental in the brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy activists.

As the sole Beijing-approved candidate to replace Lam, Lee’s victory was all but assured as soon as he announced his candidacy. While Hong Kong doesn’t have what Americans would recognize as a democratic electoral system, previous elections have seen multiple candidates vie for Hong Kong’s top job. But this year, Lee was the only person Beijing apparently deemed sufficiently loyal to China’s Communist Party under its new electoral policies for Hong Kong, unveiled last March. He won handily with 99 percent of the votes from the 1,500-member electoral commission.”

Europe’s other threat to democracy

“Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won reelection for the fourth time — emerging with control of over two-thirds of the country’s parliamentary seats in defiance of close pre-election polls. This fourth consecutive victory means he will remain the third-longest-serving current leader in Europe at nearly 16 years in power, behind only Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko (28 years as president) and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (23 years as president or prime minister).

That Orbán’s peers in longevity are outright dictators is appropriate, as Sunday’s election was anything but free and fair. For the past 12 years, Orbán has systematically worked to turn Hungarian democracy into a sham: one where elections seem fair, but take place on uneven playing ground. Through tactics ranging from extreme gerrymandering to media control to unfair campaign finance rules, he has made it unthinkably difficult for the opposition to defeat his Fidesz party at the ballot box.”

Here Is Why a Federal Judge Says Trump Probably Committed Felonies When He Tried to Overturn Biden’s Election

“Donald Trump and one of his legal advisers, former Chapman University law professor John Eastman, probably committed federal felonies when they conspired to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election by pressuring then–Vice President Mike Pence to block or delay congressional ratification of Joe Biden’s victory. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter concluded it was “more likely than not” that the scheme violated 18 USC 1512, which prohibits obstruction of “any official proceeding,” and 18 USC 371, which criminalizes conspiracies to “defraud the United States.”
Carter made that determination while adjudicating a dispute over emails sought by the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who accepted his stolen-election fantasy and were angry at Pence for refusing to go along with Eastman’s plan. While the practical impact of Carter’s conclusion is limited to just one disputed document, his analysis amounts to an indictment of conduct that was not just dishonest and reckless but arguably criminal.

“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” Carter writes. “Our nation was founded on the peaceful transition of power, epitomized by George Washington laying down his sword to make way for democratic elections. Ignoring this history, President Trump vigorously campaigned for the Vice President to single-handedly determine the results of the 2020 election. As Vice President Pence stated, ‘no Vice President in American history has ever asserted such authority.’ Every American—and certainly the President of the United States—knows that in a democracy, leaders are elected, not installed….President Trump knowingly tried to subvert this fundamental principle.”

Eastman argued that 111 of the documents sought by the January 6 committee’s subpoena were protected either by attorney-client privilege, which applies to confidential legal advice, or by the “work product” doctrine, which applies to material prepared in anticipation of litigation. The select committee argued that the disputed emails were not protected, invoking the “crime-fraud exception,” which applies to legal advice “in furtherance of” a crime.

Carter concluded that 13 documents qualified as work product and that the crime-fraud exception applied to just one: a memo prepared for Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani recommending that Pence “reject electors from contested states on January 6.” Carter says that memo “may have been the first time members of President Trump’s team transformed a legal interpretation of the Electoral Count Act into a day-by-day plan of action.”

As Carter notes, that plan of action was blatantly illegal. In conversations with Greg Jacob, Pence’s counsel, Eastman conceded that the plan violated the Electoral Count Act in several ways. And while Eastman questioned the constitutionality of that law, Carter says, the proper way to resolve those claims would have been to raise them in court rather than unilaterally choosing to ignore the statute.

Eastman likewise acknowledged that it was “100 percent consistent historical practice since the time of the Founding” that the vice president does not have the legal power to do what Eastman and Trump wanted him to do. Eastman also admitted that it was likely the Supreme Court would unanimously agree.

On January 3, 2021, Eastman nevertheless wrote a six-page memo calling for “BOLD” action by Pence to stop Biden from taking office. “The stakes could not be higher,” he wrote. “This Election was Stolen by a strategic Democrat plan to systematically flout existing election laws for partisan advantage; we’re no longer playing by Queensbury Rules.”

The next day, Eastman, at Trump’s behest, pushed his plan in a meeting with Pence, Jacob, and Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff. “During that meeting,” Carter notes, “Vice President Pence consistently held that he did not possess the authority to carry out Dr. Eastman’s proposal.” Eastman met again with Jacob and Short on January 5, saying, “I’m here asking you to reject the electors.” Most of that meeting was consumed by an argument in which Jacob disputed the legal merits of Eastman’s memo.

“Despite receiving pushback,” Carter says, “President Trump and Dr. Eastman continued to urge Vice President Pence to carry out the plan.” At 1 a.m. on January 6, Trump tweeted that “if Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency,” averring that “Mike can send it back!” Seven hours later, another Trump tweet insisted that “states want to correct their votes,” saying “all Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN.” He urged Pence to “do it,” because “this is a time for extreme courage!”

Trump delivered the same message in a phone call to Pence around 11:20 a.m. that day. According to Pence’s national security adviser, who was present during that conversation, Trump castigated the vice president as “not tough enough to make the call.” Trump and Eastman reprised the same theme during their speeches at the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Capitol riot. Trump closed his speech by urging his followers to march on the Capitol in the hope of inspiring “the kind of pride and boldness” that “weak” Republicans like Pence needed “to take back our country.”

Around noon, Pence publicly rejected Trump and Eastman’s appeals, saying, “It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.” After the riot started, Trump condemned Pence on Twitter: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

In an email to Eastman while Trump’s enraged supporters were storming the Capitol, Jacob noted that the rioters “believed with all their hearts the theory they were sold about the powers that could legitimately be exercised at the Capitol on this day,” and “thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege.” Eastman, who was still trying to change Pence’s mind, took a different view: “The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so the American people can see for themselves what happened.”

A conviction for obstructing or attempting to obstruct an official proceeding requires proving that the defendant acted “corruptly.” According to 9th Circuit precedent, that element does not require “consciousness of wrongdoing.” But in this case, Carter says, Trump “likely knew that the plan to disrupt the electoral count was wrongful.””

“Carter’s conclusions do not necessarily mean that Trump or Eastman could be successfully prosecuted for either of these crimes. The preponderance-of-the-evidence standard for applying the crime-fraud exception is much less demanding than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for a criminal conviction. So even if the January 6 committee ends up recommending criminal charges, the Justice Department might sensibly decline to pursue them. But Carter’s ruling, which calls Eastman’s plan “a coup in search of a legal theory,” reminds us of how outrageous and unprecedented Trump’s reaction to his electoral defeat was.”

Viktor Orbán’s Reelection Shows Mere Democracy Is Not Enough

“the Hungarian people voted in a landslide to give Prime Minister Viktor Orbán his fourth term since 2010. Current tabulations give parties allied with the incumbent leader a vote share above 53 percent, an outright majority.

Orbán is a self-proclaimed proponent of “illiberal democracy,” which distinguishes, in Amnesty International’s summation, “a fully democratic ‘Western’ system based on liberal values and accountability from what he calls an ‘Eastern’ approach based on a strong state, a weak opposition, and emaciated checks and balances.” Orbán has spent more than a decade engaging in aggressive gerrymandering, court packing, use of state power to drive out or co-opt dissenting media, and more. Corruption is rampant. The Constitution has been rewritten and ever more power concentrated at the top.”

“The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which took the rare step of sending a full election-monitoring mission to Hungary, has raised questions about the vote. So arguably the country should not be thought of as particularly democratic or particularly liberal right now.”

“Orbán’s sweeping victory suggests that many millions of Hungarians, well aware of his record, are on board with his vision for their country. This raises the specter of a true illiberal democracy—it shouldn’t be hard to imagine a country with genuinely fair and open elections but also majority support for authoritarian leaders and policies that deny equal rights to all.

The point of contemplating such a scenario is to recognize that “assaults on democracy” are not the only threat we face. A society in which 51 percent of a population votes to oppress the other 49 percent can claim the mantle of democracy. The problem is that it is illiberal, not undemocratic.

Democratic institutions, important as they are, only get us so far. We must insist on liberalism as well: free speech, private property protections, religious liberty, freedom of movement, constitutional constraints and separations of power and rule of law and all the rest. We can’t know which side of the 50 percent mark we’ll fall on; the less of our lives we allow to be put to a vote in the first place, the better off we’ll be.”

Clarence Thomas’s long fight against fair and democratic elections

“We now know that Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, spent the weeks after the 2020 election cheerleading the Trump White House’s efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in that election. One detail we do not yet know, however, is what Justice Thomas knew about his wife’s communications, and whether he tried to use his office to protect her.

In January, the Supreme Court permitted the US House committee investigating the January 6 attacks on the Capitol to obtain hundreds of pages of White House records that may shine a light on former President Donald Trump’s efforts to thwart the peaceful transfer of power to Biden. These records may or may not contain additional evidence linking Ginni Thomas to January 6.

If Clarence Thomas had his way, the House committee and the public would never know. Thomas was the only justice to publicly dissent from the Supreme Court’s decision to let the House committee obtain these records — though he offered no explanation for why he dissented.

But here’s the thing: Yes, Thomas’s vote in this case, Trump v. Thompson, may have been an underhanded effort to protect his own wife. But his vote in Trump was entirely consistent with his record in cases where his spouse does not have a personal interest.

In more than three decades on the Supreme Court, Thomas has consistently voted to make it harder for many Americans to have their vote count; to erode institutions, like a free press, that are essential to democracy; and to dismantle nearly a century’s worth of democratically enacted laws on spurious constitutional grounds. Thomas’s opposition to democracy is not rooted in nepotism. It appears to be quite principled.

Among other things, Thomas is the only sitting justice who voted to install a Republican president in Bush v. Gore (2000) — although three other current justices were part of Republican George W. Bush’s legal team in that case. Thomas would allow Republican administrations to deactivate the entire Voting Rights Act so long as they are in power. He would strip journalists of First Amendment rights that allow them to safely provide critical coverage of government officials. And he would invalidate a long list of laws including the federal bans on child labor and on whites-only lunch counters, based on a widely rejected reading of the constitutional provision that grants Congress most of its power over the private sector.

No matter how the scandal with his wife’s texts shakes out, it’s worth remembering how the Court’s longest-serving justice would shape the world. In Clarence Thomas’s America, elections would be skewed so heavily in the Republican Party’s favor that Democrats will struggle to ever gain power. And if Democrats somehow do manage to squeak into office, Thomas would ensure that they cannot govern.”

“In 1960, civil rights activists aligned with Martin Luther King, Jr. ran an advertisement in the New York Times, which alleged that Alabama police used brutal tactics to suppress student protests. The ad, however, contained some minor factual errors. It misidentified the song that protesters sang at a particular demonstration, for example, and it also claimed that police had arrested King seven times, when he’d in fact only been arrested four times.

Pointing to these small errors, a Jim Crow police official won a $500,000 verdict against the Times in an Alabama court — close to $5 million in 2022 dollars. Had this verdict stood, it would have chilled journalism of all kinds, because it would have meant that any newspaper or other outlet that prints even very small factual mistakes could have been hit with a verdict large enough to bankrupt the outlet.

The New York Times decision, however, prevented this outcome by holding that the First Amendment imposes limits on defamation lawsuits. When someone speaks about a public figure and about a matter of public concern, the Court held, they cannot be held liable for making false statements unless that statement was made “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

Thomas argued in McKee v. Cosby (2019) that New York Times should be overruled. Indeed, Thomas’s opinion suggests that states should be free to define their own defamation law free of constitutional constraints. “The States are perfectly capable of striking an acceptable balance between encouraging robust public discourse and providing a meaningful remedy for reputational harm,” Thomas wrote.

If this approach were to prevail, state officials could once again use malicious defamation lawsuits to target journalists. Suppose, for example, that I mistakenly report that “500 people attended a rally protesting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis,” when in fact the rally was attended by only 450 people. If states can set their own defamation laws, free of constitutional constraint, then DeSantis could sue me and Vox Media for millions, endangering our ability to continue reporting on DeSantis — and potentially bankrupting Vox in the process.”

War Crimes Charges Could Help Putin, Not Hurt Him

“The role of popular elections as the source of ruling legitimacy is just one way in which it is hard to categorize the Russian political system. For all the talk of Putin’s dictatorial personality and wide latitude to crackdown on civil liberties, the institutions of Putinism were built by his democratic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, enshrined in his 1993 constitution. Flawed and imperfect in practice during the tumultuous 1990s, these foundations were democratic in principle: Grassroots civil society flourished alongside a lively media environment, as legislators and leaders were chosen from a variety of contenders. Even as those liberties have subsequently been eroded and independent media curtailed, the institutions still specify that Russia’s leaders serve at the will of the people. Indeed, the ratcheting-up of Kremlin propaganda is meant, more than anything, to reassure Russians that Putin’s leadership is worthy of their continued support. Such peans to the people would be unnecessary in a classic, run-of-the-mill dictatorship.

Consequently, political scientists are at odds with how to describe Putin’s Russia. Some call it a “competitive authoritarian” regime, where democratic institutions and procedures simply provide a facade of legitimacy for the dictatorship. Others label it an “information autocracy,” in which the powers of state-run media are marshaled to build a public image of Putin as a competent leader, deserving of political support, and it works to generate the popular support he needs. What these different perspectives have in common is what Peskov said: that Putin’s political sovereignty ultimately lies with the Russian people, however manipulated or misinformed they might be.”

“Western hopes that the Russian people would rise up and topple Putin in a popular revolution seem further from reality today than at the start of the war. The smattering of protests across Russia during the first weeks of the war have largely fizzled out. Between the Kremlin propaganda machine in overdrive and criminalization of expressions of opposition, Putin’s approval in nationwide polls is now up to 83 percent, with 81 percent support for the “special military operation.”

What’s more, Russian elites appear to be consolidating behind Putin. Rather than diversifying internationally and finding safe havens abroad, powerful oligarchs and cosmopolitan elites—many of them under Western sanctions—now understand that they are tethered to Russia and to Putin personally. Once-feuding factions are realizing they’re all now in the same boat. Few will bolt for greener pastures in Europe or the U.S., even if they could.

In an eye-opening account by independent Russian journalist Farida Rustamova on the tribulations of Russia’s political elites since the war, she quotes a high-ranking source in a sanctioned Russian company as saying “All these personal sanctions cement the elites. Everyone who was thinking about a new life understands that, for the next 10-15 years at least, their lives are concentrated in Russia, their children will study in Russia, their families will live in Russia. These people feel offended. They will not overthrow anyone, but will build their lives here.”

Before the war, the dominant narrative of Kremlin-controlled media was that Russia is a mighty superpower—besieged on all sides by enemies and conspirators, both Western and homegrown—and only Putin could lead them. Lamentably, the coordinated international response to Putin’s bloody war has only solidified and reinforced that us-against-the-world narrative, and largely rallied the Russian people behind Putin.

In this context, the Russian response to the accusations of genocide in Ukraine have been predictable: It is all a Western “fake” meant to further impugn the dignity of Russia and its leader. Pro-Russian social media accounts have claimed that the corpses are either fake, or are actors, or were killed after the Russians left. The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed “not a single local resident has suffered any violent action” while Bucha was under Russian control. These are all claims that have been easily debunked. By parroting the official line of the Foreign Affairs Ministry that it could not have been Russia that committed such atrocities, but rather the United States staging a “provocation,” Kremlin state-run media only reinforces and retrenches the us-against-the-world narrative already widely accepted among the Russian people.”

Opinion | Why Democracy’s in Such Trouble: A Crisis in Public Trust of Government

“The national poll, conducted on behalf of our two organizations by Impact Research, shows that only four in 10 Americans at least somewhat trust the federal government to do what is right. For all the concern about the rise of anti-democratic movements or unfair laws that could be used to steal an election, that disheartening statistic strikes at the heart of our nation’s primary democratic institution and its ability to deal with social, economic and foreign policy challenges. If you don’t trust your government, does it really matter what policies it pursues?”

“At least four basic responses from our leaders are needed, according to the polling — making visible the work of career civil servants, distinguished from the political leadership; emphasizing the ways government works on behalf of all; continuing to reform government so it is most effective and efficient; and then telling those stories to break the negative cycle.

When people don’t trust their government, they are more likely to opt out of voting and other types of civic participation. With less engagement, the public feels less empowered to influence government — and, in turn, government “hears” their needs and preferences less. This creates a mistrust loop: Diminished trust in government leads to a disengaged public, resulting in inefficient, unresponsive or unaccountable institutions, and that leads to further deterioration of trust and national progress.”

“Some of the public distrust over the years has been driven by controversial wars, policy blunders, mismanagement and political malfeasance, but a good deal is the result of a lack of information or an inability to differentiate the activities of elected political leaders from the critical services provided by federal agencies and the two million civil servants located across the country.
The public’s expectations and trust are often shaped by personal experiences. People applying for financial aid for college, visiting a national park, seeking assistance after a hurricane or going through airport security may be the only lenses through which they may see our government in action.

The new polling shows that positive experiences build goodwill and trust, but even a single negative interaction can have a lasting impact on people’s faith in government and democratic institutions.”