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CORRUPTION

Trump Campaign Officials Started Pressuring Georgia’s Secretary of State Long Before the Election

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ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Long before Republican senators began publicly denouncing how Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger handled the voting there, he withstood pressure from the campaign of Donald Trump to endorse the president for reelection.

Raffensperger, a Republican, declined an offer in January to serve as an honorary co-chair of the Trump campaign in Georgia, according to emails reviewed by ProPublica. He later rejected GOP requests to support Trump publicly, he and his staff said in interviews. Raffensperger said he believed that, because he was overseeing the election, it would be a conflict of interest for him to take sides. Around the country, most secretaries of state remain officially neutral in elections.

The attacks on his job performance are “clear retaliation,” Raffensperger said. “They thought Georgia was a layup shot Republican win. It is not the job of the secretary of state’s office to deliver a win — it is the sole responsibility of the Georgia Republican Party to get out the vote and get its voters to the polls. That is not the job of the secretary of state’s office.”

Leading the push for Raffensperger’s endorsement was Billy Kirkland, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign who was a key manager of its Georgia operations. Kirkland burst uninvited into a meeting in Raffensperger’s office in the late spring that was supposed to be about election procedures and demanded that the secretary of state endorse Trump, according to Raffensperger and two of his staffers.

When reached by phone, Kirkland directed the request for comment to the Trump campaign, which did not respond. The White House and the Georgia Republican Party also did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Joe Biden has been projected as the winner of the presidential election in Georgia by a margin of roughly 14,000 votes. The state is now conducting a hand recount at the Trump campaign’s request. Raffensperger’s office has said that the recount won’t swing enough votes to tip the state into Trump’s column.

As the Georgia results have become increasingly clear, Republicans have unleashed intense criticism on the secretary of state’s office, accusing it without evidence of mismanaging the election and allowing Biden to carry the state by fraudulent means. Georgia’s U.S. senators, Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both of whom failed to win majorities for reelection on Nov. 3 and face Democratic opponents in January runoffs, called for Raffensperger’s resignation. All of the Republicans representing Georgia in Congress also signed a letter sent to Raffensperger’s office from the personal email account of the chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, criticizing the office for a series of supposed irregularities.

Rep. Doug Collins, who recently lost a bid for Loeffler’s Senate seat, has been particularly vocal. On Monday, Collins tweeted, “In a year of political division in Georgia, few things have unified Republicans and Democrats — one of them is Brad Raffensperger’s incompetence as Secretary of State.” Raffensperger has reserved some of his sharpest responses for Collins, calling him a “failed candidate” and a “liar” on social media.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, had phoned Raffensperger to see if the secretary of state had the authority to toss out legally cast ballots. Graham has said that he was simply asking how the process works. Two members of Raffensperger’s staff who were on the call told ProPublica that the secretary of state’s account was accurate and that they were appalled by Graham’s request.

Raffensperger said that the Trump campaign “scapegoated” him. Its contention that he ineffectively managed the election amounts to “hot air and hyperbole,” he said. “In Georgia, it is not new to see failed candidates claim fraud or suppression. At the end of the day, the Trump campaign’s messaging didn’t resonate with 50% plus one of the voters.”

The campaign’s formal efforts to gain the secretary of state’s endorsement began on Jan. 10, when Kirkland emailed Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs, assuming that Raffensperger would welcome the opportunity to serve in an unofficial role. “We are getting ready to release the campaign’s statewide leadership team and wanted to make sure you were good to be listed as an honorary co-chair?” he wrote, according to an email obtained by ProPublica. At the direction of Raffensperger, Fuchs declined.

“It is our standard practice not to endorse any candidate. This policy is not directed at any specific candidate, but all candidates, as the Secretary oversees elections and the implementation of new voting machines here in Georgia,” she wrote.

Kirkland has a long history in Georgia Republican politics. He has also worked for the Trump White House — first in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and then for Vice President Mike Pence. He left the White House in the fall of 2019 to become a Georgia-based senior adviser to the Trump campaign. He also serves as a senior adviser to Pence’s leadership PAC. FEC filings show that Kirkland is paid for consulting by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. Loeffler hired Kirkland to be her campaign manager in January.

It’s not unusual for candidates to ask for the endorsement of state elected officials, including secretaries of state, said veteran Republican elections attorney Ben Ginsberg. “But usually, campaigns accept the answer they are given if they know how to behave,” Ginsberg said.

The Trump campaign did not accept Raffensperger’s refusal. After Raffensperger announced that his office would mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state ahead of its June primary, a move opposed by the Trump campaign, the executive director of the Georgia Republican Party, Stewart Bragg, requested a meeting. He told Raffensperger’s staff that he wanted to discuss election law and outstanding public records requests for voter data filed by the party.

Kirkland crashed the meeting shortly after it began. “A lot of people have noticed you didn’t endorse,” he said, according to two staffers. Raffensperger again made clear that any endorsements were against office policy, he told ProPublica.

Raffensperger had to leave the meeting early for another event. When the meeting came to a close, one of his staffers offered to continue the conversations at a later date and asked if there was any additional publicly available voter data that the party needed. “We’ll see how helpful you are in November,” Kirkland said, before leaving the office and slamming the door behind him, according to the staffers.

Trump has repeatedly and baselessly questioned the Georgia results on Twitter, accusing both the secretary of state’s office and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp — a Trump loyalist who, unlike Raffensperger, did agree to be an honorary campaign co-chair — of coordinating with activist and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to make Georgia’s elections less secure.

“The Consent Decree signed by the Georgia Secretary of State, with the approval of Governor \@BrianKempGA, at the urging of \@staceyabrams, makes it impossible to check & match signatures on ballots and envelopes, etc. They knew they were going to cheat. Must expose real signatures!” Trump tweeted over the weekend.

Nothing about the consent decree — which was aimed at addressing the disparity in signature matches among racial groups — prevents clerks from verifying signatures. Raffensperger said his office has repeatedly and publicly explained the process for signature matches, and he laughed at the idea that he would coordinate with Abrams, who has criticized his office over issues such as long lines at the polls in minority neighborhoods in prior elections.

Trump and the Republican legislators have pressed their allegations even as the National Republican Senatorial Committee has distributed talking points implicitly acknowledging that Biden won the election, according to an internal memo obtained by ProPublica. That message contrasts with what Trump, his campaign and his administration are telling supporters.

The memo was circulated last week among Georgia field staff, who are preparing for two runoff elections in January that will determine which party controls the upper chamber. It contains a series of “key” talking points directed at prospective voters. One says that the Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, “are funded by out of state liberals because they’ll be a rubber stamp for their radical agenda to defund the police, open our borders, and pack the courts.” Another states that, should Warnock and Ossoff get elected, “Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi will have the votes they need to transform our country into a socialist state.”

The talking points omit any mention of Biden, but none of the outcomes outlined by the NRSC, which did not respond to requests for comment, would be possible with a Republican president.

Raffensperger expressed frustration at the lack of action by Republicans from the White House down to proactively address issues of election integrity. “If Trump and Collins were concerned about voter fraud, they would have proposed and passed legislation to fix it.” Instead, he said, “they did nothing, absolutely nothing.”

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CORRUPTION

Top Democratic House Committee Chairs Accuse Embattled DHS IG of ‘Obstruction’ in Warning They Will ‘Ensure Compliance’

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Two of the most powerful House Committee chairs have sent a lengthy letter to embattled Dept. of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari detailing his “obstruction” in investigations, revealing their “investigation is focused precisely on potential misconduct in [his] office,” and warning him if he does not comply with their requests they will “have no choice but to consider alternate means to ensure compliance.”

Cuffari (photo), who was installed by then-President Donald Trump in 2019, is already accused of holding back information from Congress, including delaying for many months the release of information that Secret Service agents’ text massages from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, were erased, and that the cell phones of top Trump appointees at DHS also were erased.

“Since May 2022, we have written to you on three separate occasions to request documents and information about your conduct as Inspector General,” write Carolyn Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security.

READ MORE: ‘Coverup of Treason’: Trump-Appointed IG, Under Investigation, Knew of Missing Secret Service and DHS Texts Far Earlier

Detailing those instances, they say, “first, following serious allegations that your office censored findings of domestic abuse and sexual harassment by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees; second, after you failed to promptly notify Congress of crucial information on the Secret Service’s erasure of text messages related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol; and third, after new information emerged on your repeated failures to gather text messages from the Secret Service and other senior officials related to the January 6 attack.”

The two chairs further accuse Cuffari: “you have refused to produce responsive documents and blocked employees in your office from appearing for transcribed interviews. Your obstruction of the Committees’ investigations is unacceptable, and your justifications for this noncompliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Congress’s authority and your duties as an Inspector General. If you continue to refuse to comply with our requests, we will have no choice but to consider alternate measures to ensure your compliance.”

Addressing his handling of the Secret Service investigation, they add they have “grave concerns about your lack of transparency and independence,” and note, “we urged you to step aside from this critical investigation and allow another IG to complete this work.”

READ MORE: ‘Quite Robustly a Coverup’: Rick Wilson Urges J6 Committee to Nail Secret Service for Deleted Texts

They also reveal that Cuffari “removed key information before sending a subsequent semiannual report to Congress in June 2022. An earlier draft version of the report would have provided Congress with a detailed explanation of Secret Service’s ‘resistance to OIG’s oversight activities’ and refusal to produce documents. The draft report also included detailed information about the Secret Service’s erasure of text messages.”

At one point in the eight-page letter they also state: “Career staff in your office reportedly drafted a management alert in October 2021 that would have alerted Congress and the public, but you ‘rejected sending the alert.'”

And they note that Cuffari is refusing their requests while they cite examples when he complied with requests from their Republican predecessors.

RELATED: Inspector General Refuses to Investigate if Acting DHS Secretary Wolf Is Serving Illegally After Judge Says ‘Likely’

“Your failure to comply with our outstanding requests lacks any legal justification and is unacceptable,” they conclude. “Please provide all responsive documents by August 23, 2022, and make the individuals requested for transcribed interviews available by the same date. If you continue to obstruct, we will have no choice but to consider alternate means to ensure compliance.”

The Washington Post adds that Cuffari “has rejected calls from leading Democratic legislators to recuse himself from the investigation into the erasure of text messages that Secret Service agents exchanged during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, drawing fresh rebukes from lawmakers on Tuesday.”

“Cuffari said forcing him to step aside ‘has no legal basis’ and ‘would upend the very independence that Congress has established for Inspectors General,’ according to the letter he sent to House oversight committees on Aug. 8.”

Read the full letter here.

 

This article has been updated with the addition of reporting from The Washington Post.

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CORRUPTION

‘Did Not Further Investigate’: FBI Director Reveals Trump White House Was in Charge of FBI’s Tips About Brett Kavanaugh

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Brett Kavanaugh, during confirmation hearing

FBI Director Chris Wray admitted in a Senate hearing on Thursday that the FBI forwarded to the White House the hundreds of tips it received about Brett Kavanaugh in the fall of 2018, during his Supreme Court confirmation process, but did not first investigate those tips. Kavanaugh had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct by three women, and those accusations threatened to derail his confirmation.

The revelation came as the FBI Director was questioned by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse during a Judiciary Committee hearing, and was forced to admit that the Democratic Senator from Rhode Island was “correct” when he said the FBI “did not further investigate” the tips it received “that related to Kavanaugh” and were forwarded to the White House.

After multiple women accused then-Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during his confirmation process the Judiciary Committee agreed to temporarily halt its confirmation hearings until a supplemental FBI background investigation could be conducted.

READ MORE: Brett Kavanaugh Caught Lying in SCOTUS Opinion Against Voting Access During the Pandemic: Report

On Thursday Senator Whitehouse asked Wray, “is it true that after Kavanaugh related tips were separated from other tips, they were forwarded to White House counsel without investigation?”

Wray appeared to try to circumvent the direct question.

“I apologize in advance that it’s been frustrating for you,” Wray began. “We’ve tried to be clear about our process,” he claimed.

Sen. Whitehouse interjected, asking him to just “answer the question.”

“So when it comes to the tip line, we wanted to make sure the White House had all the information we had, so when the hundreds of calls started coming it, we gathered those up, reviewed them and provided them to the White House,” Wray explained before Whitehouse interrupted.

“Without investigation?” he asked, to clarify.

READ MORE: Watch: Ted Cruz Slams His Boot on the Desk in Senate Hearing With FBI Director Wray

“We reviewed them and then provided them to the White House,” Wray said.

There is no indication the White House was equipped or prepared to investigate the hundreds of tips, something the American public was told the FBI would be doing.

“You reviewed them for the purposes of separating from tip line traffic but did not further investigate the ones that related to Kavanaugh, correct?” Whitehouse asked.

“Correct,” Wray confirmed.

Wray also confirmed, as Whitehouse said, that “the FBI took direction from the White House as to whom the FBI would question.”

“So it is true,” Wray admitted.

There was no confirmation from Wray that any of the tips were investigated.

Reporting on the exchange between Wray and Whitehouse, Esquire’s Charles Pierce wrote, “the second background investigation into Kavanaugh was a White House-directed bag job of no value whatsoever.”

Snopes on Thursday also confirmed that the “administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump directed the one-week, follow-up background investigation of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, according to sworn testimony from U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray.”

The Trump White House, Wray suggested, was in charge of deciding which tips about its own Supreme Court justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, the Bureau would be allowed to investigate.

Senator Whitehouse on Twitter later Thursday announced: “Wray confirms: Kavanaugh tips from tip line were sent to Trump White House without investigation; and Trump White House directed what witnesses FBI would interview.”

“The White House has found no corroboration of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after examining interview reports from the FBI’s latest probe into the judge’s background,” The Wall Street Journal reported on October 4, 2018.

That report then went to the Senate Judiciary Committee members, who in an 11-10 vote, elected to support the nomination and send it to the full Senate for a vote.

Kavanaugh was confirmed on October 6, 2018, by a 50-48 vote.

There its no indication, based on Director Wray’s remarks Thursday, that the hundreds of tips it received were fully investigated, and there was no discussion of how many, if any, interviews based on those tips were conducted for the supplemental background investigation report on which Kavanaugh’s confirmation was, in part, based.

Watch below or at this link:

 

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CORRUPTION

Trump’s DHS Chief Delayed and Altered Report on Russian Election Interference Because It ‘Made the President Look Bad’

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Chad Wolf, Trump’s Acting Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) who was unlawfully installed, delayed and altered a federal government intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election because it “made the President look bad.”

A new Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report says Wolf for months delayed a report that was initially titled, “Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Electoral Dynamics.” It later was altered to “blunt” the focus of Russia’s attack on Democratic nominee Joe Biden by adding claims about China and Iran’s alleged attempts to denigrate then-President Donald Trump, who was running for re-election.

“A Tuesday report from DHS’s Office of Inspector General concluded that DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) wrongly let politics interfere with the dissemination of the report, which documented a Russian disinformation campaign surrounding President Biden’s mental acuity,” The Hill reports.

“I&A employees during the review and clearance process changed the product’s scope by making changes that appear to be based in part on political considerations, potentially impacting I&A’s compliance with Intelligence Community policy,” OIG concluded in a report that found that “DHS did not adequately follow its internal processes.”

The Inspector General’s report says “the Acting Secretary [Wolf] asked the product be held because it made President Trump look bad and hurt President Trump’s campaign — the concept that Russia was denigrating candidate Biden would be used against President Trump.”

RELATED –
Whistleblower: DHS Chief Chad Wolf Blocked Intel Official From Reporting on Russian Interference, White Supremacists

The Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis “also told us he took contemporaneous notes of the meeting, a copy of which we obtained. The notes…read ‘AS1 – will hurt POTUS – kill it per his authorities.’”

The Office of Inspector General “concluded Wolf’s interference and other changes violated requirements that require intelligence products to be objective and independent of political consideration,” The Hill adds.

 

 

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