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Meadows Pressed Justice Dept. to Investigate Election Fraud Claims

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WASHINGTON — In Donald J. Trump’s final weeks in office, Mark Meadows, his chief of staff, repeatedly pushed the Justice Department to investigate unfounded conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, according to newly uncovered emails provided to Congress, portions of which were reviewed by The New York Times.

In five emails sent during the last week of December and early January, Mr. Meadows asked Jeffrey A. Rosen, then the acting attorney general, to examine debunked claims of election fraud in New Mexico and an array of baseless conspiracies that held that Mr. Trump had been the actual victor. That included a fantastical theory that people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.

None of the emails show Mr. Rosen agreeing to open the investigations suggested by Mr. Meadows, and former officials and people close to him said that he did not do so. An email to another Justice Department official indicated that Mr. Rosen had refused to broker a meeting between the F.B.I. and a man who had posted videos online promoting the Italy conspiracy theory, known as Italygate.

But the communications between Mr. Meadows and Mr. Rosen, which have not previously been reported, show the increasingly urgent efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies during his last days in office to find some way to undermine, or even nullify, the election results while he still had control of the government.

Mr. Trump chose Mr. Meadows, an ultraconservative congressman from North Carolina, to serve as his fourth and final chief of staff last March. A founder of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, Mr. Meadows was among Mr. Trump’s most loyal and vocal defenders on Capitol Hill, and had been a fierce critic of the Russia investigation.

Mr. Meadows’s involvement in the former president’s attack on the election results was broadly known at the time.

In the days before Christmas, as Mr. Trump pressed the lead investigator for Georgia’s secretary of state to find “dishonesty,” Mr. Meadows made a surprise visit to Cobb County, Ga., to view an election audit in process. Local officials called it a stunt that “smelled of desperation,” as investigations had not found evidence of widespread fraud.

Mr. Meadows also joined the phone call that Mr. Trump made on Jan. 2 to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, in which Mr. Trump repeatedly urged the state’s top elections official to alter the outcome of the presidential vote.

Yet the newly unearthed messages show how Mr. Meadows’s private efforts veered into the realm of the outlandish, and sought official validation for misinformation that was circulating rampantly among Mr. Trump’s supporters. Italygate was among several unfounded conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 elections that caught fire on the internet before the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. Those theories fueled the belief among many of the rioters, stoked by Mr. Trump, that the election had been stolen from him and have prompted several Republican-led states to pass or propose new barriers to voting.

The emails were discovered this year as part of a Senate Judiciary Committee investigation into whether Justice Department officials were involved in efforts to reverse Mr. Trump’s election loss.

“This new evidence underscores the depths of the White House’s efforts to co-opt the department and influence the electoral vote certification,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the committee, said in a statement. “I will demand all evidence of Trump’s efforts to weaponize the Justice Department in his election subversion scheme.”

A spokesman for Mr. Meadows declined to comment, as did the Justice Department. Mr. Rosen did not respond to a request for comment.

The requests by Mr. Meadows reflect Mr. Trump’s belief that he could use the Justice Department to advance his personal agenda.

On Dec. 15, the day after it was announced that Mr. Rosen would serve as acting attorney general, Mr. Trump summoned him to the Oval Office to push the Justice Department to support lawsuits that sought to overturn his election loss. Mr. Trump also urged Mr. Rosen to appoint a special counsel to investigate Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company.

During the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, Mr. Trump continued to push Mr. Rosen to do more to help him undermine the election and even considered replacing him as acting attorney general with a Justice Department official who seemed more amenable to using the department to violate the Constitution and change the election result.

Throughout those weeks, Mr. Rosen privately told Mr. Trump that he would prefer not to take those actions, reiterating a public statement made by his predecessor, William P. Barr, that the Justice Department had “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

Mr. Meadows’s outreach to Mr. Rosen was audacious in part because it violated longstanding guidelines that essentially forbid almost all White House personnel, including the chief of staff, from contacting the Justice Department about investigations or other enforcement actions.

“The Justice Department’s enforcement mechanisms should not be used for political purpose or for the personal benefit of the president. That’s the key idea that gave rise to these policies,” said W. Neil Eggleston, who served as President Barack Obama’s White House counsel. “If the White House is involved in an investigation, there is at least a sense that there is a political angle to it.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Meadows emailed Mr. Rosen multiple times in the end of December and on New Year’s Day.

On Jan. 1, Mr. Meadows wrote that he wanted the Justice Department to open an investigation into a discredited theory, pushed by the Trump campaign, that anomalies with signature matches in Georgia’s Fulton County had been widespread enough to change the results in Mr. Trump’s favor.

Mr. Meadows had previously forwarded Mr. Rosen an email about possible fraud in Georgia that had been written by Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who worked with the Trump campaign. Two days after that email was sent to Mr. Rosen, Ms. Mitchell participated in the Jan. 2 phone call, during which she and Mr. Trump pushed Mr. Raffensperger to reconsider his findings that there had not been widespread voter fraud and that Mr. Biden had won. During the call, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Raffensperger to “find” him the votes necessary to declare victory in Georgia.

Mr. Meadows also sent Mr. Rosen a list of allegations of possible election wrongdoing in New Mexico, a state that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani had said in November was rife with fraud. A spokesman for New Mexico’s secretary of state said at the time that its elections were secure. To confirm the accuracy of the vote, auditors in the state hand-counted random precincts.

And in his request that the Justice Department investigate the Italy conspiracy theory, Mr. Meadows sent Mr. Rosen a YouTube link to a video of Brad Johnson, a former C.I.A. employee who had been pushing the theory in videos and statements that he posted online. After receiving the video, Mr. Rosen said in an email to another Justice Department official that he had been asked to set up a meeting between Mr. Johnson and the F.B.I., had refused, and had then been asked to reconsider.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is one of three entities looking into aspects of the White House’s efforts to overturn the election in the waning days of the Trump administration. The House Oversight Committee and the Justice Department’s inspector general are doing so as well.

Mr. Rosen is in talks with the oversight panel about speaking with investigators about any pressure the Justice Department faced to investigate election fraud, as well as the department’s response to the Jan. 6 attack, according to people familiar with the investigation.

He is also negotiating with the Justice Department about what he can disclose to Congress and to the inspector general given his obligation to protect the department’s interests and not interfere with current investigations, according to a person familiar with the discussions. Mr. Rosen said last month during a hearing before the oversight committee that he could not answer several questions because the department did not permit him to discuss issues covered by executive privilege.

Mr. Durbin opened his inquiry in response to a Times article documenting how Jeffrey Clark, a top Justice Department official who had found favor with Mr. Trump, had pushed the Justice Department to investigate unfounded election fraud claims. The effort almost ended in Mr. Rosen’s ouster.

Last month, Mr. Durbin asked the National Archives for any communications involving White House officials, and between the White House and any person at the Justice Department, concerning efforts to subvert the election, according to a letter obtained by The Times. He also asked for records related to meetings between White House and department employees.

The National Archives stores correspondence and documents generated by past administrations.

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One woman killed and three people injured as vehicle rams into protesters in Minnesota

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Police said that alcohol or drugs may have been a factor in the driver’s actions, but this must not be treated as an isolated incident: Last summer, according to USA Today, there were “at least 104 incidents of people driving vehicles into protests from May 27 through Sept. 5.” In eight of those cases, police were the drivers.

And Republican lawmakers have rushed to offer protections to drivers who injure protesters in this way. Iowa, Oklahoma, and Florida have all reduced or abolished penalties for such drivers, with the Iowa and Florida laws offering civil immunity and the Oklahoma law protecting drivers from criminal penalties when they “unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual” while “fleeing from a riot” and “under a reasonable belief that fleeing was necessary to protect the motor vehicle operator from serious injury or death.” Which just means every driver who does this will claim they were fleeing under a reasonable belief that their life was at risk. 

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump likens such laws to “stand your ground” laws, writing, “A Rand Corp. study found that states with ‘stand your ground’ laws allowing residents to use firearms in self-defense were states that had more firearm homicides. Allowing people to use guns to kill in some circumstances correlated with more people using guns to kill.”

The laws letting drivers off the hook for injuring or even killing protesters came amid a wave of state-level legislation targeting protesters in other ways. In a sense it’s similar to the Republican push to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” (by which they mean “anything about racism”) from schools. Republicans are trying to criminalize any effort to change U.S. culture and society to make it less racist or less unjust. In this case, they are actively encouraging murder.


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Federal judge dismisses anti-vaxxers’ lawsuit, sides with Texas hospital

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Despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission supporting policies that employers could require “all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19,” at least 117 employees of the company attempted to sue the hospital claiming it violated state policy and made them “human guinea pigs.” 

According to the plaintiffs, federal law prohibits employees from being required to get vaccinated without full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines. While the lawsuit was filed in Texas state court, it was moved to federal court at Houston Methodist’s request. As a result, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes ruled Saturday that federal law does not prevent employers from issuing that mandate because the law in question did not apply to private employers. 

“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” Hughes wrote. “They are licensed doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and staff members. The hospital has not applied to test the COVID-19 vaccines on its employees.”

He continued that the mandate was a way to make the environment safer for both employees and patients. “This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”

Hughes’ ruling addressed each and every one of the plaintiffs’ arguments including the vaccination requirement violating Texas law and a comparison to forced medical experiments in Nazi Germany. “Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” Hughes wrote. “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.”

Ultimately Hughes concluded that the plaintiffs “misconstrued” the law and “misrepresented the facts” and “will take nothing” from the hospital. If they had an issue with the policies in place, they should seek employment elsewhere, he wrote.

Upon hearing the ruling, lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges noted that she would continue to fight her case. “This doesn’t surprise me,” she told USA Today. “Methodist is a very large company, and they are pretty well-protected in a lot of areas. We knew this was going to be a huge fight, and we are prepared to fight it.” Bridges has also started a petition against mandatory vaccinations by employers.

In response to the ruling, attorney and conservative activist Jared Woodfill who represents her and the other 116 plaintiffs said: “We took the position that it shouldn’t be dismissed for a whole host of reasons and we believe that forcing an individual to participate in a vaccine trial is illegal.”

“This is the first battle in a long fight,” Woodfill continued. “There are going to be many battles fought. Not just in this courtroom, but in courtrooms all across the state. There are battles that are going to be fought in the higher courts, the 5th Circuit, the Texas Supreme Court, even the United States Supreme Court. So this is just one battle in a larger war. It’s the first round, if you will.”

Woodfill confirmed that they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court “if necessary.”

So despite the judge noting and clearly addressing that they had no case, the plaintiffs refuse to back down.

The employees who were suspended from their roles made up only 1% of the hospital’s total number of employees, according to Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom. Boom noted that many other hospitals are working on similar initiatives but were only waiting on this case’s verdict to take action. “We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation,” Boom said after the ruling. “Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do.”

According to CBS News, as of this report, nearly 25,000 Houston Methodist employees had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and at least two employees who worked in management chose to leave rather than receive the vaccine.


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Distress signals already emerging within GOP over sticking with Trump

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Nothing but unicorns and rainbows, folks. 

But the truth is, Trump’s toxic effect on party politics at the state and federal level is already roiling the GOP, and we’re starting see signs of that everywhere. Just over a week ago, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri reverted to a practice that Republicans developed during the Trump-era amid efforts to reach a leader who never listened to his advisers—he made an entreaty to Trump on the airwaves.

“He could be incredibly helpful in 2022 if he gets focused on 2022 and the differences in the two political parties,” Blunt said of Trump, on NBC’s Meet The Press.

And who could miss Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week telling Fox News that Trump “has his own agenda” when it comes to the midterms?

Then there’s the GOP candidates who are clearly scared out of their wits over what Trump could do to the party’s electoral hopes in 2022 given that he continues to be obsessed with relitigating his 2020 election loss, which he called “the crime of the century” just last month.

“He should have learned from what happened in Georgia,” said one GOP lawmaker, who represents a purple district but obviously didn’t want to risk Trump’s ire by going on the record. “He cost us Georgia by focusing on the election.”

The words “should have” appear to be the operative part in that sentence.

“If Trump focused on Pelosi and Biden’s policy failures, he would help us. If it’s about election fraud and sour grapes from 2020, it will hurt us,” the GOP lawmaker added. 

Again, the word “if” is telling and not particularly hopeful from a Republican lawmaker who was likely speaking more frankly based on being granted anonymity. 

The lawmaker acknowledged that Trump’s 2020 grievances animate the base, but said it’s not particularly helpful when it comes to retaking the majority—presumably in more swingy districts.  

“We may be able to still win the majority, but I think it makes the hill harder to climb.”

In other words, in the eyes of a purple-district House Republican, Trump could be more of a liability to the GOP in the midterms than a boon.

Not exactly unicorns and rainbows, folks.


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