“Former President Donald Trump’s reaction to the 2020 election arguably violated several federal and state laws. But any effort to prosecute him for those alleged violations would face the possibly insurmountable challenge of proving criminal intent.
Given Trump’s long history of embracing self-flattering assertions at odds with reality, it seems plausible that he sincerely believed, despite all the countervailing evidence, that the election was subverted by systematic fraud. If so, his various efforts to prevent Joe Biden from taking office would have been, from his perspective, attempts to correct a grievous wrong rather than attempts to illegally obstruct the peaceful transfer of power.
The select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot showed that people close to Trump recognized who had actually won the election and tried to dissuade him from embracing wild conspiracy theories to the contrary. But that testimony did not conclusively prove that Trump privately agreed with those advisers even while publicly promoting the stolen-election fantasy. A recent ruling by a federal judge in California supplies further evidence to support that interpretation, suggesting that Trump knowingly submitted false claims about election fraud in Georgia as part of a federal lawsuit.”
“Carter ruled that the crime-fraud exception applies to four emails related to Trump and Eastman’s “knowing misrepresentation of voter fraud numbers in Georgia when seeking to overturn the election results in federal court.” Carter says the emails indicate that Trump made those claims even though he knew they had been discredited.
In a state lawsuit filed on December 4, 2021, Carter notes, “President Trump and his attorneys alleged…that Fulton County improperly counted a number of votes,” including “10,315 deceased people, 2,560 felons, and 2,423 unregistered voters.” When they decided to file a federal lawsuit challenging the election results, Trump and his lawyers “discussed incorporating by reference the voter fraud numbers alleged in the state petition.” But in a December 30 email, Eastman “relayed ‘concerns’ from President Trump’s team ‘about including specific numbers in the paragraph dealing with felons, deceased, moved, etc.'”
The next day, Eastman elaborated on those concerns: “Although the President signed a verification for [the state court filing] back on Dec. 1, he has since been made aware that some of the allegations (and evidence proffered by the experts) has been inaccurate. For him to sign a new verification with that knowledge (and incorporation by reference) would not be accurate.”
Trump apparently was unfazed. “President Trump and his attorneys ultimately filed the complaint with the same inaccurate numbers without rectifying, clarifying, or otherwise changing them,” Carter writes. “President Trump, moreover, signed a verification swearing under oath that the incorporated, inaccurate numbers ‘are true and correct’ or ‘believed to be true and correct’ to the best of his knowledge and belief.”
In other words, Carter says, “the emails show that President Trump knew that the specific numbers of voter fraud were wrong but continued to tout those numbers, both in court and to the public.” The emails therefore “are sufficiently related to and in furtherance of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.””
“The inconvenient truth behind all this fraud and waste is that these government programs never should have been designed as they were. For example, while the federal government justifiably boosted state unemployment benefits at the beginning of the pandemic, it was irresponsible to enhance the benefits by $600 a week. As a result, 76 percent of the individuals who received such benefits were making more by not working than by working. It was also irresponsible to extend the program long after the economy reopened and resumed growing.
The same is true of the overly generous three rounds of $1,200, $600, and $1,400 individual payments paid to people who either already received the enhanced unemployment benefits or who never lost their jobs. Most recipients of these funds didn’t need them. In fact, only 15 percent of people who received the first round of checks said they had spent it or planned to spend it. And there were other benefits on top of these checks.”
“This non-fraudulent spending is now helping to fuel inflation.
Then, you have the money dispensed to corporations. In one way or another, that spending made up a huge share of the COVID-19 relief. Indeed, whether through the airline bailouts or the Payroll Protection Program, shareholders collected trillions of dollars in government handouts they didn’t need. Most of the PPP funding, for example, went to companies whose workers were never at risk of losing their jobs since they were well-suited to work from home.”
“billions of dollars went to state and local governments, including for schools that stayed closed, even though many of these governments’ revenue growth equaled or exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
Of course there was some fraud, but the malfeasance happened only because the programs were created in the first place and designed to go to everyone regardless of need. This reckless “design” is the true scandal.”
“The federal government sent billions in unemployment aid to ineligible beneficiaries and outright fraudsters during the pandemic, according to a new watchdog report. At least $78 billion in jobless benefits, and potentially much more, were misspent during fiscal year 2021, according to a Tuesday report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“Not only is the system falling short in meeting the needs of workers and the broader economy, but the potential for huge financial losses could undermine public confidence in the stewardship of government funds,” said GAO head Gene Dorado in a press release yesterday, who called the report’s findings “extremely troubling.”
The Congressional watchdog agency has rated the unemployment insurance system as “high risk” for waste, fraud, and abuse and called on lawmakers and the administration to undertake immediate reforms.
The federal government’s unemployment insurance system—jointly administered by the Department of Labor and a patchwork of state agencies—has long struggled with making improper payments. This problem only got worse during the pandemic, when Congress dumped billions more into an expanded number of unemployment assistance programs.
The GAO found that the improper payment rate jumped from 9 percent in the pre-pandemic fiscal year 2020 to 18.9 percent the next year. That means nearly one in five unemployment insurance dollars went to an ineligible or overpaid beneficiary.
There are multiple reasons for this sharp rise in improper payments.
The GAO reports that some states’ legacy 40- and 50-year-old information technology systems used to administer benefits weren’t up to the task of identifying potential fraud or overpayments. These same systems also struggled to handle totally new benefit programs covering self-employed workers like rideshare drivers, who typically aren’t covered by unemployment insurance.
Federal rules on who was eligible to receive benefits were also “untimely and unclear,” according to the GAO report. Some state officials told the agency they’d already set up programs and started sending money out the door by the time Labor Department guidance came down.
The massive increase in available unemployment funds also increased the rate of improper payments. Federal funding for unemployment benefits jumped from $86.9 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $410 billion in fiscal year 2021.
States often struggled to hire enough people to administer these new benefits. The staff they did hire were often undertrained.
The huge increase in unemployment benefits also became a target for fraudsters. The GAO reports that 146 people have pleaded guilty to federal charges of defrauding unemployment systems. In California, for instance, the state paid an estimated $400 million on fraudulent claims made in the name of state prison inmates.”
“William Barr began his tenure as Donald Trump’s attorney general with extremely evasive testimony during his confirmation hearing. He may be best remembered for giving a highly misleading summary of the Mueller report, and he spent much of 2020 trying to substantiate Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election being rigged against him.
But now, more than six months following his departure from government, Barr is trying to do some image damage control.
In interviews with journalist Jonathan Karl for a book excerpted in the Atlantic, Barr details how his final break with Trump finally came after he went public with claims undermining Trump’s last-ditch effort to overturn his election loss to Joe Biden.
“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told an Associated Press reporter on December 1.
Barr told Karl that comment prompted an angry Trump to summon him into a meeting in which the president unloaded on him, saying things like “how the fuck could you do this to me?” and “you must hate Trump.”
Barr indicates that not only was he not intimidated by Trump’s outburst, but he fired back, comparing the Rudy Giuliani-led effort to overturn the results to a circus.
“You know, you only have five weeks, Mr. President, after an election to make legal challenges,” Barr told Trump, according to Karl. “This would have taken a crackerjack team with a really coherent and disciplined strategy. Instead, you have a clown show. No self-respecting lawyer is going anywhere near it. It’s just a joke. That’s why you are where you are.”
Barr ended up leaving the Department of Justice days before the January 6 insurrection. The new account of the weeks leading up to his resignation has led some to describe him as a “patriot.” But that’s going way too far even when Barr’s account is read in the most charitable light.”
“Barr spent the run-up to the 2020 election serving more as an arm of Trump’s campaign than he did as an independent arbiter of the rule of law. Barr was happy to amplify Trump’s lies about mail voting and voting fraud up to the point where it was clear to all but the most fanatical Trump supporters that he had lost the election.
Consider, for instance, the disastrous interview Barr did with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on September 2, when he couldn’t produce any evidence of mail voting fraud and resorted to saying its general existence is a “matter of logic.” Or his DOJ’s decision a few weeks later to issue a factually incorrect press release announcing an investigation into alleged mail voting irregularities in Pennsylvania — an announcement that violated DOJ’s policies. Or Barr’s move three days after the election to authorize investigations into “substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities,” even though there was no evidence of such irregularities.
In his interviews with Karl, Barr portrayed his decision to authorize fraud investigations despite a lack of evidence as a strategy he used to make sure he would be able to tell Trump that his conspiracy theories were baseless when the time came.”
“it’s not normal for the DOJ, which is ostensibly supposed to operate with a modicum of independence from the executive branch, to pursue investigations based on “bullshit” conspiracy theories favored by the president. But Barr spent years turning the DOJ into something akin to the president’s personal law firm.”
“It’s not even clear to what extent — if at all — Barr’s break with Trump was motivated by a desire to protect American democracy. Instead, Karl’s piece makes it seem as though Barr and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were primarily interested in helping Republicans win special elections in January for two US Senate seats.
Karl writes that McConnell had been urging Barr throughout November to speak out against Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories, because those theories were complicating the argument Republicans wanted to make about how maintaining the Senate majority was important as a check on Biden’s power. But McConnell was reluctant to speak out himself for fear that if he did so, an embittered Trump would sabotage the Republican candidates”
“while it’s good that Barr ultimately stood up to Trump, it’s worth keeping in mind how abnormal it is for the US attorney general to be scheming with the Senate leader on ways to ensure their political party retains power.”
“After passionately and persistently telling her tall tale of a stolen election last year, Powell is now arguing that only a fool would have taken her at her word.”
“Powell claimed over and over again that Dominion rigged voting machines to manufacture “millions” of votes for Joe Biden. She fingered a specific Dominion executive as largely responsible for the scheme, claimed the plot had its roots in fraud-facilitating software that had helped keep Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez in power, and said China, Cuba, and George Soros were also in on it. But “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact,” Powell says in her motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Powell thus implies that Trump and the millions of supporters who still believe he actually won the election, thanks in no small part to the fantasy she concocted, do not count as reasonable people. Fair enough, I suppose, although one might question the wisdom of throwing them all under the bus if Powell hopes to continue profiting from their credulity. But why does Powell purport to be surprised by the fact that so many Trump followers believed her?”
“Since Powell was making political statements, she implies, she had a license to lie. After all, political rhetoric “is often vituperative, abusive and inexact,” and “political statements are inherently prone to exaggeration and hyperbole.” Here she is quoting the Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit, respectively, although I’m not sure those observations can be stretched to cover a baroque conspiracy theory that includes many specific factual claims. When someone says Biden stole the election with help from a voting technology company that was determined to deny Trump a second term no matter how many laws it broke in the process, she has ventured far beyond hyperbole and inexactitude.
Powell also argues that the preposterousness of her allegations should protect her from civil liability for damaging Dominion’s reputation. “Plaintiffs themselves characterize the statements at issue as ‘wild accusations’ and ‘outlandish claims,'” she notes. “They are repeatedly labelled ‘inherently improbable’ and even ‘impossible.’ Such characterizations of the allegedly defamatory statements further support Defendants’ position that reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact but view them only as claims that await testing by the courts through the adversary process.””
“At least $63 billion—an amount larger than the current annual budgets of 42 states—of the boosted unemployment payments distributed as part of the federal government’s pandemic response has been distributed improperly, according to an estimate from the Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General. The office attributes a “significant portion” of those improper payments to fraud, and preliminary audits indicate that the actual amount of improper payments may be higher.”
“The inspector general reports “a forty-fold increase” in the number of fraud-related matters, which have “exploded” since the CARES Act passed.”
“payments to people who can’t work because of the pandemic (or due to the government’s response to it) is a defensible proposal. But even defensible proposals have costs to consider. Extending the federally boosted unemployment payments through August will cost taxpayers an estimated $246 billion—and that likely means that another $24 billion, or more, will be lost to fraud.”
“Trump, it seems, isn’t the only dead-ender holding out more than a month after the election, refusing to acknowledge defeat. Even as Trump lost again in court on Friday, with the Supreme Court rejecting a long-shot effort to overturn the election, he remains a lodestar for denialists of the GOP.
In California, a Republican congressional candidate trounced in Democratic-heavy Los Angeles is still refusing to concede — while simultaneously announcing he’s running for governor. In Maryland, a congressional candidate beaten by more than 40 percentage points is still complaining about “irregularities” in her election. And in Tennessee, a House candidate defeated by more than 57 percentage points has reached out to the ubiquitous pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell to air her grievances about an election that no Republican had any chance of winning — but that she’s convinced she did.
The down-ballot parroting of Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud began right after the election. But in the weeks since, it has evolved into a self-sustaining phenomenon of its own. Republican candidates for House, legislative and gubernatorial races in more than half a dozen states are still refusing to concede.
Echoing the president, these candidates are an early sign of what Republicans say will be a sustained, post-Trump effort to tighten voting restrictions and to reverse measures implemented in many states to make voting easier. They also may mark the beginning of a Trump-inspired trend of candidates who never fold — they just fade away after weeks and months of unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.”
“On Friday, after the Supreme Court’s rejection of an effort to overturn the presidential election, Webber suggested on Twitter that even the court’s action was a sign of something sinister.
“That’s how you know it’s deeper than anyone could have ever imagined,” he said.”
LC: This could lay the groundwork for further deterioration of democracy.