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Pompeo, Huckabee, Benham Brothers Top List of New ‘Fellows’ as Liberty University Rebrands Culture War Arm

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Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center—until recently known as the Falkirk Center—announced its new class of fellows Thursday, making it clear that the organization may have a new name but it has not abandoned its purpose of promoting the religious right’s “biblical worldview” in culture and public policy. The new fellows are former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Arkansas Governor and failed presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, anti-abortion rights activist Abby Johnson, and brother anti-LGBTQ culture warrior duo David and Jason Benham.

Earlier this year, the university ditched the Falkirk name, presumably to distance the center from its disgraced co-founder and former president, Jerry Falwell, Jr. It has also said goodbye to its earlier crop of fellows, which included Falkirk Center co-founder Charlie Kirk, president of right-wing youth organization Turning Point USA; Jenna Ellis, a Trump attorney who now hosts her own TV show, unironically called “Just the Truth”; pundit, conspiracy theorist, and so-called Stop the Steal activist Eric Metaxas; and Steve Bannon acolyte and former White House aide Sebastian Gorka.

Executive Director Ryan Helfenbein remains in place. As Right Wing Watch noted in December, when the center celebrated its first anniversary, Helfenbein touted the organization’s aggressive posture, saying, “We don’t just want to be an organization that barks; we want to be an organization that bites.” The center bragged that it had “consistently encouraged churches and pastors to defy” pandemic-related “lockdown orders.” Among the center’s first-year accomplishments was “Get Louder,” a “faith summit” held last September, which included Christian Reconstructionist Gary DeMar on a panel moderated by Metaxas.

The Standing for Freedom Center’s new fellows have the credentials one would expect for a religious-right center that aims to bite:

Mike Pompeo used his position as secretary of state to promote the religious right’s agenda at home and abroad. He created the Commission on Unalienable Rights—which has been repudiated by the Biden administration—to create justification for a narrow view of human rights in U.S. foreign policy.  As secretary of state, Pompeo  opened doors in other countries for a Bible study ministry that teaches public officials that the Bible requires them to back right-wing social, economic, environmental, and criminal justice policies. Pompeo and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar worked to create a new global “pro-family” coalition of anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice regimes and to celebrate governmental enforcement of “traditional” religious values on gender, sexuality, and family. Pompeo is a longtime religious-right favorite who, as a member of Congress, promoted Christian nationalism and associated with anti-Muslim activists. Axios reported this week that Pompeo is “pouring money” into a new PAC called Champion American Values in apparent preparation for a 2024 presidential run.  Update: “Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules governing the use of taxpayer-funded resources when he and his wife, Susan, asked State Department employees to carry out tasks for their personal benefit more than 100 times, a government watchdog has determined,” Politico reported Friday. 

Mike Huckabee, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and 2016, has remained active in religious-right politics since turning to punditry after his failed 2016 campaign. The former Arkansas governor is the honorary chairman of the religious-right get-out-the-vote operation My Faith Votes, which was active in the 2020 elections, including the Georgia Senate runoffs. Huckabee spoke at the Falkirk “Get Louder” summit last year and appeared on an Intercessors for America call in September, where he warned that if conservative Christians didn’t turn out to vote, the government would force churches to shut down. He also appeared in “Trump 2024: The World After Trump,” a religious-right “documentary” that promoted Trump’s reelection. Last year, Huckabee said, “Redefining gender and sexual identity is the ‘greatest threat’ to the moral fiber of America,” and blamed the existence of transgender people on Christian churches’ failure to teach a “biblical standard of maleness and femaleness.” Huckabee has railed against the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling and has claimed that the president could criminalize abortion without a Supreme Court decision or constitutional amendment. Huckabee’s daughter, former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is running to follow in her father’s footsteps and become the next governor of Arkansas.

Abby Johnson is an anti-abortion rights activist who spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention and participated in the so-called Stop the Steal campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Johnson has become a religious-right superstar with her disputed story—dramatized in the movie “Unplanned”—about having worked for Planned Parenthood before having an epiphany about abortion. The day before the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Johnson spoke at the D.C. rally at which Stop the Steal’s Ali Alexander led cheers of “Victory or Death!” Johnson told the crowd she was there “to defend the most pro-life president we have ever had in the history of the United States.” She said that she is tired of “compromise,” which she said “has led to our houses of worship being unconstitutionally closed for months and months.” In her speech at the Jan. 5 rally, she shamed American Christians for not doing more to shut down clinics that perform abortions, saying, “It is time, patriots, to stop worrying about offending your neighbor and start worrying offending the heart of God.” She also targeted COVID-19 vaccine research, saying, “Shame on us for accepting and peddling vaccines that were produced on the back of aborted babies.” And she exhorted, “It’s time to rise up. It is time to fight back. It is time to be bold. Enough! Enough of these cowardly leaders!” Johnson once said it would be “smart” for police to racially profile her adopted biracial son because “statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons.”

David and Jason Benham. The Benham brothers became religious-right folk heroes and martyrs to “political correctness” in 2014 when HGTV canceled plans for a television show starring the duo after Right Wing Watch and others reported on their anti-LGBTQ activities. The brothers, who have repeatedly portrayed the “homosexual agenda” as aligned with Satan, were actively involved in pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation in North Carolina in 2016; they had earlier called for the Charlotte city government to deny permits for LGBTQ pride events and organized an anti-gay prayer rally when the Democratic National Convention was held there.  The brothers are also active opponents of reproductive choice. In 2017, a month before they appeared at the Values Voter Summit—not for the first time—they said that hurricanes striking the U.S. were a warning for the country to repent for “breaching the boundaries of God” on gender, sexuality, and marriage. That summer, they declared, “Discrimination against gay people simply does not exist.” Earlier that year, the pair said they would skip the Super Bowl halftime show featuring Lady Gaga, warning, “The vine of Sodom has pierced and penetrated our nation at one of the biggest sporting events of the year.” The Benhams initially backed Sen. Ted Cruz for president in 2016 and joined a campaign advisory council that recommended that a President Cruz roll back federal job protections for LGBTQ people. In 2015, David Benham spoke at the supposedly “nonpolitical” prayer rally organized by Christian nationalist political operative David Lane and railed against the LGBTQ movement and the church for not doing enough to stop it.

In other news, on Thursday, Liberty sued Falwell for $10 million, alleging that he “withheld scandalous and potentially damaging information from Liberty’s board of trustees while negotiating a generous new contract for himself in 2019 under false pretenses,” the New York Times reported. The lawsuit also alleges that Falwell failed to disclose his “personal impairment by alcohol.”

 

This article was originally published by Right Wing Watch and is republished here by permission.

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Watch: Cruz Only ‘No’ Vote After Railing Against Bipartisan Bill to Prevent Another Coup

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The Senate Rules Committee voted 14-1 to advance the Electoral Count Act, legislation designed to prevent another coup like the one led by defeated President Donald Trump, and Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, on January 6, 2021. Every Democrat and every Republican except the junior GOP Senator from Texas voted for the legislation.

The bill is even supported by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But according to Sen. Cruz, who once bragged he was “leading the charge” to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, the bill is “all about” Donald Trump.

READ MORE: Trump Mocked for ‘Sidelining’ His New $3 Million Attorney: ‘Must Have Given Him Actual Legal Advice’

With so many stories published about the GOP’s efforts to keep Trump in the White House despite Joe Biden winning both the popular vote and the Electoral College by large margins, some may have missed The Washington Post‘s reporting back in March the shows “just how deeply” Sen. Cruz “was involved, working directly with Trump to concoct a plan that came closer than widely realized to keeping him in power.”

“As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles,” the Post notes.

“Cruz’s efforts are of interest to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in particular whether Cruz was in contact with Trump lawyer John Eastman, a conservative attorney who has been his friend for decades and who wrote key legal memos aimed at denying Biden’s victory.”

On Tuesday Cruz railed against the Electoral Count Act, which would make the January 6 attempt to overturn the election at least more difficult, as his fellow Republicans seemed to ignore his outburst.

READ MORE: Viral Video Captures Ted Cruz Fist-Bumping Republicans After Blocking Bill to Help Vets Suffering from Toxic Burn Pits

“This bill is all about Donald J. Trump,” Cruz declared, not realizing that he was indicting the former president by saying so. “And nobody in our lifetimes has driven Democrats in this body more out of their mind than President Trump.”

“This bill is a bad bill, this bill is bad law,” Cruz complained. “It’s bad policy and it’s bad for democracy,” he added, despite every other Republican on the committee voting for it and several Republicans voting for the House version.

What he did not say is that no Democrat has ever conspired to overturn an election and execute a coup.

Senator Angus King (I-ME) after Cruz’s rant, reminded the committee the bill does not “come out of the blue,” saying it is “a modification of a 150-year old law.”

“It’s not a new effort of Congress to intrude into the electoral process,” he said, taking a gentle swipe at Cruz.

“I watched this,” NPR’s Peter Sagal said of Cruz’s remarks, “and what’s remarkable is to the extent to which all the other Senators (with the exception of a mild correction from Sen King) simply ignore him.”

READ MORE: Ted Cruz Says He’s Opposed to Same-Sex Marriage Protection Bill for ‘Religious Liberty’ Reasons

He went on to note the bill “merely intended to clarify” the existing law, “which virtually everyone … has agreed is archaic and confusing.”

Despite all his bravado, the bill did advance out of committee almost unanimously, with the exception of Cruz’s lone no vote.

Watch below or at this link.

 

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Embattled Trump-Appointed DHS Inspector Was Given Phones of Secret Service Agents in July, Raising ‘New Questions’: Report

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Senior Secret Service leadership confiscated the cell phones of 24 agents and handed them over to the embattled Trump-appointed Inspector General of the Dept. of Homeland Security as he was launching his criminal investigation into the deleted text message scandal. The Secret Service, DHS, and former Trump officials at the Pentagon have been under fire after the IG, Joseph Cuffari, belatedly revealed texts from January 5 and 6, 2021, had been deleted.

“The agency handed over the phones ‘shortly after’ a July 19 letter was sent by Inspector General Joseph Cuffari’s office,” NBC News reports.

“The revelation that Cuffari’s office has had access to the phones since late July or August raises new questions about the progress of his criminal investigation into the missing text messages and what, if anything, the public may be able to learn about communications between agents on Jan. 6, 2021,” NBC adds.

READ MORE: Trump-Installed DHS Inspector General Who Ignored Text Deletions Violated ‘Prohibition on Unethical Conduct’: Report

Cuffari reportedly learned in December of 2021 that the cell phones of Secret Service agents directly involved in protective operations on the day of the insurrection, had been wiped and text messages deleted. He did not report this to Congress until July of 2022, despite his staff taking action.

CNN, however, has reported Cuffari actually learned of the deleted texts in May of 2021, which if accurate would mean he waited more than a year to inform Congress. Nor did he inform the National Archives, which is required by law to retain those records.

Cuffari has been seen by some as covering for Trump loyalists. His own staff is calling for his firing.

“Department of Homeland Security (DHS) watchdog staff recently called on President Joe Biden to remove their boss, Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, according to a blistering letter obtained by the Project On Government Oversight,” POGO reported last week. “‘The highest priorities of an inspector general are integrity and independence,’ states the letter. ‘IG Cuffari and his inner circle of senior leaders have fallen short in these areas time and time again.'”

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

In April of 2021 The Washington Post reported Cuffari “blocked investigations proposed by career staff last year to scrutinize the [Secret Service’s] handling of the George Floyd protests in Lafayette Square and the spread of the coronavirus in its ranks, according to documents and people with knowledge of his decisions.”

Noted political scientist Norman Ornstein, who sits on the POGO board, in late July called the situation a “coverup of treason.”

POGO, he wrote, “has been calling for a long time for the resignation of DHS IG Joseph Cuffari. He sat on the information of missing texts from the top DHS ‘acting’ officials, put there by Trump to do his bidding. Stinks to high heaven. Coverup of treason.”

 

 

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DOJ Demands Return of Emails Peter Navarro Sent From Private Account for Government Business

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The Department of Justice is seeking a court order to compel Peter Navarro to return government documents he took after leaving the Trump administration.

Investigators are seeking the return of emails he sent while working on the White House coronavirus response, which they say were sent from a private account for government business to discuss ventilators, activating National Guard units, and the use of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, reported CNN.

“There is no genuine dispute of fact that Dr. Navarro used at least one unofficial email account to conduct official business, that those records are the property of the United States, and that Dr. Navarro has refused to return the records to the United States. Indeed, his counsel has expressly admitted as much,” wrote Justice Department lawyers.

“Because Dr. Navarro remains in possession of property that belongs to the United States,” the lawyers added, “this Court should issue a writ of replevin requiring Dr. Navarro to return what he wrongfully continues to possess.”

READ MORE: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home to avoid being served with subpoena, court record says

The National Archives discovered the emails were missing after the DOJ sued Navarro earlier this year in a records dispute related to a House investigation.

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