More stories

  • in

    Money and misinformation: how Turning Point USA became a formidable pro-Trump force

    US politicsMoney and misinformation: how Turning Point USA became a formidable pro-Trump forceThe rightwing group outgrew its origins on campuses to hobnob with Republican operatives and donors – despite some discomfort in the party Peter Stone in WashingtonSat 23 Oct 2021 05.00 EDTLast modified on Sat 23 Oct 2021 05.02 EDTThe powerful conservative youth group Turning Point USA, which has forged strong ties to Donald Trump and his son Don Trump Jr, has raised tens of millions of dollars from super rich donors and secret backers while pushing disinformation about Joe Biden’s win in 2020, Covid-19 vaccines and other extremist and rightwing issues.The group is campaigning on college campuses across the US, as well as expanding into rightist media and faith activities and – through its campaign arm – is getting directly involved with elections, where it often supports pro-Trump and conservative candidates.The emerging strength and roles of TPUSA in the conservative ecosystem- and the rising visibility of its ambitious and hard driving Charlie Kirk – has sparked withering criticism from medical experts and ethics watchdogs, as well as some Republican party operatives.Founded in 2012 by then-18-year-old Kirk and headquartered in Arizona – where it has built a robust base now backing Trump-endorsed candidates like a former Fox news star running for governor – TPUSA’s revenues have soared from $4.3m in 2016 to almost $39.8m in 2020, according to public tax filings.TPUSA boasts it has allies on more than 2,500 high school and college campuses and is the “largest and fastest growing youth organization in America”. The group, which has non-profit charity status that bars political work, also has a political arm called Turning Point Action that can do election work.The two groups’ fealty to Trump has generated mounting criticism and alarm. Kirk and his outfits have been vocal exponents of baseless claims of election fraud, promoting the 6 January rally that featured Trump’s call to “fight like hell” before the Capitol attack, and running Facebook ads with blatant falsehoods about Covid-19 vaccinations.Several of the right’s top financial donors have poured millions of dollars into TPUSA coffers, including Foster Friess, the late multimillionaire whom Kirk has credited with helping to launch his operations, and the powerful Bradley Foundation. Donors Trust, a major dark money operation used by big donors to keep their names secret, plowed $906,000 into TPUSA in 2019, according to public records.The stunning growth of TPUSA owes a big debt to several fundraising events and meetings with Trump connections, say some Republican consultants. TPUSA held a lavish fundraising gala at Mar-a-Lago in December 2019 that drew Donald Trump Jr and Republican political bigwigs, and Kirk’s cachet was palpable at the 2020 Republican convention, where he gushed that Trump was “the bodyguard of western civilization”.“Kirk and TPUSA owe their success largely to Don Jr and Kimberly Guilfoyle,” his girlfriend and leading Republican fundraiser, said a veteran party operative. “I would often see Kirk and Don Jr hanging out at the Trump hotel restaurant” in DC, he added, where big donors and lobbyists were ubiquitous during Trump’s presidency.TPUSA and Kirk have capitalized on their Maga ties to expand way beyond their campus roots where they initially carved out a niche on the right by attacking left-leaning faculty, who they placed on a “watchlist”, and used campus events to push rightwing agendas.But Kirk and TPUSA have found other avenues to grow. Salem Radio Network, a Christian right operation, now features the Charlie Kirk show daily, and TPUSA this year launched Turning Point Faith to promote a culture war agenda and gain more supporters in conservative religious circles.Kirk is now a member of the influential and secretive Council for National Policy, where conservative political and religious leaders can mingle with and hit up big donors at quarterly meetings.The group’s close ties to Trump generated more criticism in the run-up to the 2020 election and afterwards, when Kirk promoted false claims that Trump’s loss was due to fraud.Turning Point Action worked with about a dozen other groups to support Trump’s 6 January “March to Save America” by bringing busloads of Trump allies to DC for the rally that preceded the Capitol attack.Before the rally, Kirk boasted in a tweet that Turning Point Action – and an allied group, Trump Students, that Kirk also chaired – would bring “80 + busloads of patriots to DC to fight for the president”. Kirk predicted the event “would likely be one of the largest and most consequential in American history”. Kirk’s tweet was quickly removed after the assault on the Capitol.Further, Kirk served before 6 January as an Arizona point person for the Stop the Steal, the group led by Ali Alexander which has been subpoenaed for documents and testimony by the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection and Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results.On 6 November, Kirk helped lead a Stop the Steal rally in Phoenix that was one of numerous such events hosted by Trump allies that day protesting Biden’s win and spreading falsehoods about fraud, as the Center for Media and Democracy first reported.On another disinformation front, Kirk’s groups have been busy this year promoting falsehoods on campuses and in social media about vaccine mandates, efforts that the groups have used to raise funds and which have sparked criticism from health experts.Kirk wrote false text messages charging that Biden has sent “goons DOOR-TO-DOOR to make you take a covid-19 vaccine”, as the Washington Post first reported.Further, a Kirk non-profit ran alarmist and erroneous Facebook ads, which were seen millions of times, stating that the government has “NO RIGHT to force you to inject yourself with an experimental vaccine,” and warning that in response to advice about shots “LOCK YOUR DOORS, KIDS!!”Doctors warn, however, that Kirk’s fearmongering about vaccines could jeopardize efforts to encourage more young people to get vaccinated, a message that some Republican leaders – including Trump – have, to varying degrees, also endorsed.In July on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News, Kirk dismissed such Republican efforts to spur more vaccinations as “virtue signaling”.A Kirk spokesperson has portrayed the group’s actions as “pro-freedom” and “not anti-vax”.But medical experts say that’s a dangerous dodge.“Despite Kirk’s patently misleading assertions that he is simply an honest broker of personal freedom, he is also an unabashed promulgator of egregiously false information about the dangers of vaccinations. He probably knows better, but actively chooses to misinform,” said Irwin Redlener, who leads Columbia University’s pandemic esource and recovery initiative, in an interview with the GuardianIn Arizona, Kirk’s groups have recently been busy flexing their muscles to help Trump-backed candidates for governor and secretary of state, both of whom have been promoters of Trump’s oft disproven claims that he lost the state due to fraud, according to Arizona GOP sources and reports.A July rally in Phoenix sponsored by TPUSA drew Trump and a handful of gubernatorial candidates, including a local former Fox News celebrity, Kari Lake, whom Trump endorsed in September and TPUSA and its political arm are backing.“I think the Trump team is utilizing Turning Point Action to fulfill a critical grassroots part of their strategy in Arizona and probably nationally,” said Wes Gullett, a longtime Republican political consultant in Arizona in an interview with the Guardian.Similarly, Chuck Coughlin, a veteran Republican operative in Arizona, said in an interview that Kirk’s groups have taken on roles that historically the party played. TPUSA’s influence in the state is underscored by its chief operating officer, Tyler Bowyer, who was elected in 2020 to be the Republican state committeeman, he noted.“Turning Point is supplanting the traditional role that the Republican party used to fill [by] recruiting new members to join Turning Point, and then directing them to become Republican precinct committee members in districts around the state,” Coughlin said.“It’s like a scene out of the early Alien movies, where the mother alien takes over the entire ship,” Coughlin added, predicting that “it’s just a matter of time before the GOP in Arizona will be a pseudonym for Turning Point.”Nationally, Turning Point Action in 2020 made independent expenditures totaling $1.4m between 20 August and 31 December in failed efforts to help Trump defeat Biden and to help defeat two Georgia Democrats who won Senate seats.According to a complaint filed in March with the Federal Election Commission by the watchdog group Crew, Turning Point Action failed to identify donors, as the law requires, for its expenditures, which included online ads and other political operations.After Crew’s complaint, the group amended two of their FEC reports and later responded to FEC letters raising similar concerns. The group so far has disclosed donors for just under $34,000 of their $1.4m in 2020 independent expenditures. It’s unclear if the FEC has taken any further action, a Crew press secretary said.Some GOP fundraising consultants have other worries about TPUSA’s operations and tax status given Kirk’s cheerleading for Trump.“Some GOP donors worry that Kirk’s ostensible goals have been corrupted by spending so much time in and around Trump world,” the consultant said. “Further, people are concerned about the impact of Kirk’s prominent support for Trump on his group’s tax status.”Despite the rising complaints Kirk’s operations are facing, TPUSA keeps expanding. In December it is planning to host a four-day “Americafest” in Phoenix that will feature conservative stars such as Tucker Carlson, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Jim Jordan. But the biggest draw could well be Donald Trump Jr, who is slated to attend.TopicsUS politicsDonald Trump JrDonald TrumpRepublicansfeaturesReuse this content More

  • in

    House holds Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress

    House of RepresentativesHouse holds Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of CongressContempt citation for Bannon approved by 229 votes to 202Strategist refused to comply with Capitol attack subpoena Hugo Lowell in WashingtonThu 21 Oct 2021 16.32 EDTLast modified on Thu 21 Oct 2021 17.05 EDTThe House voted on Thursday to hold Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress, over his refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by the House select committee investigating the 6 January Capitol attack.House votes to hold Bannon in contempt for defying Capitol attack subpoena – liveRead moreThe approval of the contempt citation, by 229 votes to 202 against, escalates the select committee’s efforts to punish Bannon for his non-compliance as they intensify their inquiry into whether then-president Trump helped plan or had advance knowledge of the insurrection.The House select committee chair, Bennie Thompson, the Democratic congressman from Mississippi, said the authorization of the criminal referral against Bannon signalled their determination to deploy their most aggressive measures to take action both against Bannon and any other Trump aides who might ultimately defy subpoenas.“We need to make it clear that no person is above the law, we need to take a stand for the committee’s investigation, and for the integrity of this body,” Thompson said on the House floor.“What sort of precedent would it set for the House of Representatives if we allow a witness to ignore us, flat out, without facing any kind of consequences? What message would it send to other witnesses in our investigation? I’m not willing to find out,” he added.The move to request the justice department to prosecute Trump’s former chief strategist also marks a stinging personal rebuke to Bannon, and opens a new legal front in the select committee’s efforts to pursue information from inside the White House and Trump circles before 6 January.Members on the select committee recommended that the House hold Bannon in criminal contempt after they unanimously rejected the notion that Trump’s former chief strategist could claim absolute immunity from congressional oversight on grounds of executive privilege.The select committee had issued subpoenas last month to Bannon and top Trump administration officials – including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, his deputy Dan Scavino, and former defense department aide Kash Patel – under the threat of prosecution.But directed by Trump and his attorney to defy the orders, Bannon ignored his subpoena in its entirety, infuriating the select committee that then moved immediately to vote to recommend that the House find him in contempt of Congress.The referral now heads to the justice department, where the attorney general, Merrick Garland, the US attorney for the District of Columbia and the Office of Legal Counsel are required by law to weigh a prosecution and present the matter before a grand jury.Should the justice department secure a conviction against Bannon, the consequences could mean up to a year in federal prison, $100,000 in fines, or both – though it would still not force his compliance and pursuing the misdemeanor charge could take years.The select committee views Bannon’s testimony as crucial to their investigation, since he was in constant contact with Trump in the days and weeks leading up to the Capitol attack.Bannon was one of the key architects – alongside Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and lawyer John Eastman – of the plan to stop the certification of Joe Biden election’s win and attempt the extraordinary move of returning Trump to the Oval Office, according to a source familiar with the matter.That meant Bannon was involved in meetings with the Trump campaign – and potentially even Trump himself – at the Trump International hotel and the Willard hotel in Washington the night before the Capitol attack.Bannon also appeared to predict the Capitol attack itself, saying on his War Room podcast the day before the insurrection that left five dead and 140 injured, including dozens of police officers, and lawmakers and staff in fear for their lives: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”In opening remarks before the vote to recommend Bannon’s prosecution, the Republican vice-chair of the select committee, Liz Cheney, suggested the reason for his non-compliance might be because he was fearful of compromising Trump.“Mr Bannon’s and Mr Trump’s privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that,” Cheney said.But despite the high stakes, Bannon informed the select committee he would not cooperate with his 23 September subpoena, and claimed the materials and testimony requested by the panel were protected by executive privilege and could not be turned over to Congress.The select committee rejected that argument on Tuesday.Bannon’s legal argument also faces a steep uphill struggle, with the Biden justice department appearing inclined to adopt a narrow interpretation on executive privilege, previously allowing top Trump justice department officials to testify to Congress about 6 January.In the contempt report for Bannon, the select committee noted that they had requested documents and testimony regarding his contacts with members of Congress and the Trump campaign, which could not conceivably be covered by a White House secrecy protection.The contempt report noted that even if the select committee accepted his executive privilege claim, it would still not have allowed him to ignore the subpoena since the protection exists for White House officials – and Bannon was fired by Trump in 2017.TopicsHouse of RepresentativesUS politicsSteve BannonDemocratsRepublicansDonald TrumpUS CongressnewsReuse this content More

  • in

    US House expected to vote on Thursday to refer Steve Bannon to prosecutors

    Steve BannonUS House expected to vote on Thursday to refer Steve Bannon to prosecutorsLawmakers to vote on whether to recommend contempt chargeTrump ally defied subpoena over Capitol attack investigation Ed Pilkington in New York@edpilkingtonWed 20 Oct 2021 11.29 EDTLast modified on Wed 20 Oct 2021 14.18 EDTThe House of Representatives is expected to vote on Thursday to refer Steve Bannon to federal prosecutors for potential criminal charges relating to his defiance of Congress over the investigation into the 6 January Capitol insurrection.Donald Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House is facing deepening legal peril as he continues to refuse to cooperate with the House select committee investigating the Capitol violence. On Tuesday, the nine-member committee, including two Republicans, voted unanimously to recommend criminal prosecution after Bannon refused to comply with a subpoena calling for him to provide documents and to testify.White House outlines plan to vaccinate US children once FDA gives approval – liveRead moreShould the full House decide to recommend contempt charges, the case is likely to pass to federal prosecutors in Washington, who would then have the power to convene a grand jury. Any final decision to charge Bannon would likely be taken at the highest levels of the justice department, given the extreme sensitivity of the case and the exceptionally rare nature of contempt of Congress prosecutions.Should he be convicted of contempt, Bannon faces up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.The House committee investigating the 6 January insurrection has been steadily tightening the screws on Bannon. At Tuesday’s hearing, Liz Cheney, the representative from Wyoming who has been a leading critic of Trump’s role in inciting the 6 January assault in which five people died, directly accused Bannon of planning the attack.“Based on the committee’s investigation, it appears that Mr Bannon had substantial advanced knowledge of the plans for January 6 and likely had an important role in formulating those plans,” she said. Cheney added that Bannon and Trump’s refusal to comply suggested that “President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th”.The committee has released a 26-page report setting out its case for why Bannon, the former executive chairman of the rightwing Breitbart News, should be held accountable to Congress. In it, Bannon is said to have played “multiple roles”, including “his role in constructing and participating in the ‘stop the steal’ public relations effort that motivated the attack [and] his efforts to plan political and other activity in advance of January 6th”.The investigators make special reference to a gathering of the Trump campaign’s legal team on the eve of 6 January at the Willard Hotel, two blocks from the White House. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was present with Bannon and together they reportedly contacted several Republican Congress members encouraging them to block the certification of Biden’s victory.Also present was Roger Stone, the political dirty trickster, who left the hotel with bodyguards drawn from the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers.According to Peril, the book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Bannon spoke to Trump from the Willard Hotel. They discussed the then vice-president Mike Pence’s resistance to playing along with the attempt to subvert the election result.The committee report also quoted at length from Bannon’s War Room podcast which he posted on 5 January. He said: “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen,” he told his listeners. “OK, it’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is, strap in. Tomorrow it’s game day. So strap in. Let’s get ready.”Bannon added: “So many people said, ‘Man, if I was in a revolution, I would be in Washington.’ Well, this is your time in history.”Trump has instructed Bannon and other former aides who have been served subpoenas by the House committee not to cooperate. Earlier this month the former president’s lawyers sent a letter to the individuals saying that they were covered by executive privilege.President Biden has formally rejected that argument, saying that the issue of executive privilege is decided by him and that in his opinion it would not be “in the best interests of the United States” to grant it in this case.On Tuesday, Trump lashed back by suing the House committee investigating 6 January. The legal complaint said that the demand for documents was “nothing less than a vexatious, illegal fishing expedition”.TopicsSteve BannonUS politicsUS CongressHouse of RepresentativesDonald TrumpnewsReuse this content More

  • in

    House Capitol attack committee votes to recommend Steve Bannon prosecution

    US Capitol attackHouse Capitol attack committee votes to recommend Steve Bannon prosecutionPanel unanimously approves contempt of Congress citationTrump ally defied subpoena relating to 6 January insurrection Hugo Lowell in WashingtonTue 19 Oct 2021 19.57 EDTLast modified on Tue 19 Oct 2021 20.20 EDTThe House select committee investigating the Capitol attack voted on Tuesday to recommend the criminal prosecution of Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, after he defied a subpoena relating to their inquiry into the 6 January insurrection.FBI raids Washington home of Russian billionaire Oleg DeripaskaRead moreThe select committee approved the contempt of Congress citation unanimously, sending the report to the Democratic-controlled House, which is expected on Thursday to authorize the panel to go to court to punish Bannon for his non-compliance.“It is essential that we get Mr Bannon’s factual and complete testimony in order to get a full accounting of the violence of January 6th and its causes,” said Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the select committee.“Mr Bannon will comply with our investigation or he will face the consequences,” he said. “We cannot allow anyone to stand in the way of the select committee as we work to get to the facts. The stakes are too high.”Members on the select committee took the aggressive step against Bannon to sound a warning to Trump White House officials and others connected to the Capitol attack that defying subpoenas would carry grave consequences, according to a source on the panel.The select committee had issued a bevy of subpoenas to some of Trump’s closest advisers – White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, his deputy Dan Scavino, defense department aide Kash Patel, and Bannon – under the threat of criminal prosecution.But under orders from the former president and his lawyers, Bannon ignored his subpoena compelling documents and testimony in its entirety. The other three Trump administration aides opened negotiations over the extent of their possible cooperation.The ramifications for Bannon’s defiance are significant: once passed by the House, the justice department transfers the case to the office of the US attorney for the District of Columbia, which is required to take the matter before a federal grand jury.In pushing to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress, the select committee has also set up a potentially perilous legal moment for Bannon as he resists the inquiry into what Trump knew in advance of efforts to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win.A successful contempt prosecution could result in up to a one-year sentence in federal prison, $100,000 in fines, or both – although the misdemeanor offense may not ultimately lead to his cooperation and pursuing the charge could still take years.Bannon remains a key person of interest to House select committee investigators in large part because he was in constant contact with Trump and his team in the days before 6 January, as the former president strategized how to return himself to the Oval Office.He also appeared to have advance knowledge of the Capitol attack, predicting on his War Room podcast, the day before the insurrection that left five dead and 140 injured: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”In opening statements ahead of the vote, Republican congresswoman and committee member Liz Cheney said: “Mr Bannon’s and Mr Trump’s privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that.”But the former chief strategist to Trump indicated to the select committee he would not cooperate with his 23 September subpoena on grounds that communications involving Trump are protected by executive privilege and cannot be revealed to Congress.The legal argument faces a steep uphill battle with the Biden justice department appearing inclined to adopt a narrow interpretation on executive privilege, previously allowing top Trump justice department officials to testify to Congress about 6 January.And as the justice department examines the expected referral from the House in finer detail, prosecutors may open Trump to legal jeopardy insofar as he may have obstructed justice by ordering Bannon and other aides to defy the subpoenas.The select committee said in the contempt report that Bannon had no basis to refuse his subpoena because Trump never actually asserted executive privilege – but also because Bannon tried to use an executive privilege claim for non-executive branch materials.Within the scope of the subpoena demanding documents and testimony, the report said, included contacts with members of Congress and Trump campaign officials in the days before 6 January, which are ostensibly unrelated to communications between Bannon and Trump.The contempt report added that even if the select committee accepted his executive privilege claim, the law makes clear that even senior White House officials advising sitting presidents have the kind of immunity from congressional inquiries being claimed by Bannon.The report further noted: “If any witness so close to the events leading up to the January 6 attack could decline to provide information to the select committee, Congress would be severely hamstrung in its ability to exercise its constitutional powers.”The prospect of prosecution appears not to have worried Bannon, who spent the day before his deposition date a hundred miles away in Virginia, where he attended a Republican rally that featured a flag purportedly carried by a rioter at the Capitol attack.Trump lashed out at the select committee after it announced it would vote to hold Bannon in contempt. “They should hold themselves in criminal contempt for cheating in the election,” he said, repeating lies about a stolen election refuted by the justice department.Still, the select committee’s net appears to be closing in on the former president. Thompson, the chair of the select committee, said on CNN on Thursday that he would not rule out eventually issuing a subpoena for Trump himself.Maanvi Singh contributed reportingTopicsUS Capitol attackSteve BannonDonald TrumpUS politicsUS CongressHouse of RepresentativesnewsReuse this content More

  • in

    Trump files lawsuit to block release of Capitol attack records

    US Capitol attackTrump files lawsuit to block release of Capitol attack recordsEx-president challenges Biden’s decision to waive executive privilege that protects White House communications Associated Press in WashingtonTue 19 Oct 2021 04.38 EDTLast modified on Tue 19 Oct 2021 04.55 EDTDonald Trump has sought to block the release of documents related to the Capitol attack on 6 January to a House committee investigating the incident, challenging Joe Biden’s initial decision to waive executive privilege.In a federal lawsuit, the former president said the committee’s request in August was “almost limitless in scope” and sought many records that were not connected to the siege.He called it a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition” that was “untethered from any legitimate legislative purpose”, according to the papers filed in a federal court in the District of Columbia.Bannon and other top Trump officials face legal peril for defying subpoenasRead moreTrump’s lawsuit was expected – as he had said he would challenge the investigation – and at least one ally, Steve Bannon, has defied a subpoena.But the legal challenge went beyond the initial 125 pages of records that Biden recently cleared for release to the committee.The suit, which names the committee as well as the National Archives, seeks to invalidate the entirety of the congressional request, calling it overly broad, unduly burdensome and a challenge to separation of powers. It requests a court injunction to bar the archivist from producing the documents.The Biden administration, in clearing the documents for release, said the violent siege of the Capitol more than nine months ago was such an extraordinary circumstance that it merited waiving the privilege that usually protected White House communications.Trump’s lawsuit came the evening before the panel was scheduled to vote to recommend that Bannon be held in criminal contempt of Congress for his defiance of the committee’s demands for documents and testimony.In a resolution released on Monday, the committee asserts that the former Trump aide and podcast host has no legal standing to rebuff the committee, even as Trump’s lawyer has asked him not to disclose information.Bannon was a private citizen when he spoke to Trump before the attack, the committee said, and Trump had not asserted any such executive privilege claims to the panel.The resolution lists many ways in which Bannon was involved in the lead-up to the insurrection, including reports that he encouraged Trump to focus on 6 January, the day Congress certified the presidential vote, and his comments on 5 January that “all hell is going to break loose” the next day.“Mr Bannon appears to have played a multifaceted role in the events of January 6th, and the American people are entitled to hear his first-hand testimony regarding his actions,” the committee wrote.Once the committee votes on the Bannon contempt resolution, it will go to the full House for a vote and then on to the justice department, which will decide whether to prosecute.In a letter obtained by the Associated Press, the White House also worked to undercut Bannon’s argument. The deputy counsel, Jonathan Su, wrote that the president’s decision on the documents applied to Bannon, too, and “at this point we are not aware of any basis for your client’s refusal to appear for a deposition.“President Biden’s determination that an assertion of privilege is not justified with respect to these subjects applies to your client’s deposition testimony and to any documents your client may possess concerning either subject,” Su wrote to Bannon’s lawyer.Bannon’s attorney said he had not yet seen the letter and could not comment on it.While Bannon has said he needs a court order before complying with his subpoena, the former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former White House and Pentagon aide Kashyap Patel have been negotiating with the committee. It is unclear whether a fourth former White House aide, Dan Scavino, will comply.The committee has also subpoenaed more than a dozen people who helped plan Trump rallies before the siege, and some of them have said they would turn over documents and give testimony.Lawmakers want the testimony and the documents as part of their investigation into how a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in a violent effort to halt the certification of Biden’s election win.The committee demanded a broad range of executive branch papers related to intelligence gathered before the attack, security preparations during and before the siege, the pro-Trump rallies held that day and Trump’s false claims that he won the election, among other matters.Trump’s lawsuit says the “boundless requests included over 50 individual requests for documents and information, and mentioned more than 30 individuals, including those working inside and outside government”.The files must be withheld, the lawsuit says, because they could include “conversations with (or about) foreign leaders, attorney work product, the most sensitive of national security secrets, along with any and all privileged communications among a pool of potentially hundreds of people”.The suit also challenges the legality of the Presidential Records Act, arguing that allowing an incumbent president to waive executive privilege of a predecessor just months after they left office is inherently unconstitutional.Biden has said he would go through each request separately to determine whether that privilege should be waived.While not spelled out in the constitution, executive privilege has developed to protect a president’s ability to obtain candid counsel from his advisers without fear of immediate public disclosure and to protect his confidential communications relating to official responsibilities.But that privilege has had its limitations in extraordinary situations, as exemplified during the Watergate scandal, when the supreme court ruled it could not be used to shield the release of secret Oval Office tapes sought in a criminal inquiry, and after 9/11.Monday’s lawsuit was filed by Jesse Binnall, an attorney based in Alexandria, Virginia, who represented Trump in an unsuccessful lawsuit last year seeking to overturn Biden’s victory in Nevada. Trump and his allies have continued to make baseless claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election.Trump’s suit quotes from the supreme court’s 2020 ruling in a case by House committees seeking the then sitting president’s tax returns and other financial records. But that case involved courts enforcing a congressional subpoena. The high court in that case directed lower courts to apply a balancing test to determine whether to turn over the records. It is still pending.The White House spokesperson Mike Gwin said: “As President Biden determined, the constitutional protections of executive privilege should not be used to shield information that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the constitution itself.”The select committee did not have immediate comment.TopicsUS Capitol attackDonald TrumpUS elections 2020US politicsJoe BidenTrump administrationBiden administrationnewsReuse this content More

  • in

    Malcolm Turnbull on Murdoch, lies and the climate crisis: ‘The same forces that enabled Trump are at work in Australia’

    Australian politicsMalcolm Turnbull on Murdoch, lies and the climate crisis: ‘The same forces that enabled Trump are at work in Australia’ Systematic partisan lying and misinformation from the media, both mainstream and social, has done enormous damage to liberal democracies, the former PM writesMalcolm TurnbullSun 17 Oct 2021 16.41 EDTLast modified on Sun 17 Oct 2021 17.09 EDTThe United States has suffered the largest number of Covid-19 deaths: about 600,000 at the time of writing. The same political and media players who deny the reality of global warming also denied and politicised the Covid-19 virus.To his credit, Donald Trump poured billions into Operation Warp Speed, which assisted the development of vaccines in a timeframe that matched the program’s ambitious title. But he also downplayed the gravity of Covid-19, then peddled quack therapies and mocked cities that mandated social distancing and mask wearing.Trump’s catastrophic management of the pandemic resulted in election defeat in November 2020. It says a lot about the insanity of America’s political discourse that the then presidential nominee Joe Biden had to say, again and again: “Mask wearing is not a political statement.”Australia’s ambition on climate change is held back by a toxic mix of rightwing politics, media and vested interests | Kevin Rudd and Malcolm TurnbullRead moreFrom our relative safety and sanity, Australians looked to America with increasing horror. If the Covid-19 disaster was not enough, the callous police murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 ignited a wave of outraged protest against racism in the US and around the world. And then events took another sinister turn.Anticipating defeat, Trump had been busy claiming the election would be rigged by the Democrats. He predicted widespread voter fraud, setting himself up for an “I wuz robbed” case if the result went against him. He had done the same in 2016.As it happened, Biden won convincingly. Trump and the Republican party launched more than 60 legal challenges to the result. Their failure did not stop the misinformation campaign.Relentlessly, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and the rest of the rightwing media claque claimed Biden had stolen the election. A protest march was scheduled in Washington for 6 January 2021, the day Congress was scheduled to formally count the electoral college votes and confirm Biden’s win. The protest was expressly designed to pressure Congress, and especially the then vice-president, Mike Pence, to overthrow the decision of the people and declare Trump re-elected.They assembled in their thousands. Trump wound them up with a typically inflammatory address, culminating in a call to march on the Capitol. The mob proceeded to besiege and break into the home of US democracy. They surged through the corridors, threatening to hang Pence and the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Several security guards were killed, as was one of the insurgents. Luckily, none of the legislators were found by the mob, although several appeared to have encouraged them in the lead-up to the assault.It was nothing less than an attempted coup, promoted and encouraged by the president himself and his media allies like Murdoch who, through Fox News, has probably done more damage to US democracy than any other individual.Vladimir Putin’s disinformation campaigns have sought to exacerbate divisions in western democracies and undermine popular trust in their institutions. By creating and exploiting a market for crazy conspiracy theories untethered from the facts, let alone science, Murdoch has done Putin’s work – better than any Russian intelligence agency could ever imagine possible.That is why I supported the former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s call for a royal commission into the Murdoch media, which does not operate like a conventional news organisation but rather like a political party, pushing its own agendas, running vendettas against its critics and covering up for its friends.Murdoch empire’s global chief Robert Thomson to front questions at Australian Senate inquiryRead moreIn April I reinforced these points in an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, as I had to the Australian Senate’s inquiry into media diversity. Of all the endorsements, none was more significant than that of James Clapper, the former US director of national intelligence, who said Fox News was “a megaphone for conspiracies and falsehoods”.We have to face the uncomfortable fact that the systematic partisan lying and misinformation from the media, both mainstream and social – what Clapper calls the “truth deficit” – has done enormous damage to liberal democracies, and none more so than the US itself. Thanks to this relentless diet of lies, a quarter of all Americans and 56% of Republicans believe Trump is the true president today.Biden is leading a more traditional and rational administration. The friends and allies Trump had outraged around the world are breathing a sigh of relief. The US has rejoined the Paris agreement on climate change and Biden is seeking to lead the world with deeper, faster cuts to emissions.But the same forces that amplified and enabled Trump are still at work in the US and here in Australia. In April the Murdoch press bullied the New South Wales government into reversing its decision to appoint me chairman of a committee to advise on the transition to a net zero emission economy. My “crime” was to not support the continued, unconstrained expansion of open-cut coalmining in the Hunter Valley. In the crazed, rightwing media echo chamber so influential with many Liberal and National party members, the primary qualification to advise on net zero emissions is, apparently, unqualified support for coalmining.As though we hadn’t had enough demonstration of the Murdochs’ vendetta tactics, right on cue on 2 May Sky News Australia broadcast a “documentary” designed to disparage me and Rudd as being, in effect, political twins separated at birth. As a job, I am told it gave hatchets a bad name. But the message was clear to anyone inclined to hold Murdoch to account: step out of line and you will be next.And while politicians are accountable, the Murdochs are not. Their abuse of power has been so shameful that James Murdoch has resigned from the company. His brother, Lachlan, however, is thoroughly in charge and apparently more rightwing than his father. Yet he has chosen to move back to Australia with his family, fleeing the hatreds and divisions of America that he and his father have done so much to exacerbate.As bushfires raged in the summer of 2019-20 I hoped that this red-raw reality of global warming would end the crazy, politicised climate wars in Australia. Well, it didn’t. The onset of the pandemic served to distract everyone, although the irony of following the virus science while ignoring the climate science seems to have been lost on too many members of the Australian government.Australia is more out of step with its friends and allies than it has ever been. All of our closest friends – the US, the UK, the EU, Japan and New Zealand – are now committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.On 18 May the International Energy Agency released a new report on how the world can, and must, reach net zero.For the first time this expert agency, always regarded as sympathetic to the oil and gas sectors, demanded that investment in new oil, gas and coal projects cease and that we make a rapid shift to renewables and storage. They described how this would enable us to have more, and cheaper, electricity.02:13To coincide with this report (of which the Australian government had full prior notice), Scott Morrison chose to announce that his government would invest $600m to build a new gas-fired power station in the Hunter Valley. The energy sector, the regulators, the NSW government and other experts were united in saying the power station was not needed – $600m wasted. To the rest of the world, increasingly puzzled by Australia’s fossil-fuel fetish, it must have looked like a calculated “fuck you” to the global consensus demanding climate action.More Australians than ever are worried about the climate crisis, annual survey suggestsRead moreTo those concerned about the lack of leadership on climate, Morrison says his five predecessors all lost their job, one way or another, because of climate policy. He is determined not to let the right wing of the Coalition do to him what it did to me. Before June he would point to the instability in the National party and warn how a shift on climate could trigger a party room revolt, led by Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan and others, to overthrow Michael McCormack. That has now happened, and Joyce made his case for change on the basis of McCormack not doing more to oppose Morrison’s edging towards a net zero commitment.So Morrison is determined not to lead on climate; he wants business and other governments to take the lead and for events to take their course so that the transition to zero emissions happens without any discernible action from the Australian government at all. In the meantime he will continue to use support for coal as a totemic issue to rally working-class voters in mining areas.Scott is long on tactics and very short on strategy. With climate, he underlines my biggest concern about his government: that it will be successful at winning elections but do little in office. And with Barnaby back as deputy prime minister, he has another excuse to do nothing.
    This is an edited extract from the new foreword to A Bigger Picture by Malcolm Turnbull (Hardie Grant Books, available now in paperback)
    TopicsAustralian politicsMalcolm TurnbullAustralian mediaNews CorporationScott MorrisonUS Capitol attackDonald TrumpextractsReuse this content More

  • in

    Pressure mounts on ex-DoJ official Jeff Clark over Trump’s ‘election subversion scheme’

    US elections 2020Pressure mounts on ex-DoJ official Jeff Clark over Trump’s ‘election subversion scheme’ Former assistant attorney general faces possible disbarment and charges after report details machinations on Trump’s behalfPeter Stone in WashingtonSun 17 Oct 2021 02.00 EDTLast modified on Sun 17 Oct 2021 02.01 EDTJeffrey Clark, a former top environmental lawyer at the Trump justice department accused of plotting with Trump to undermine the 2020 election results in Georgia and other states, is facing ethics investigations in Washington that could lead to possible disbarment, as well as a watchdog inquiry that might result in a criminal referral.Steve Bannon: Capitol attack panel to consider criminal contempt referralRead moreThe mounting scrutiny of the ex-assistant attorney general, who led the justice department’s environment division for almost two years and then ran its civil division, was provoked by a report from the Senate judiciary committee whose Democratic chairman, Richard Durbin, has asked the DC bar’s disciplinary counsel to examine Clark’s conduct and possibly sanction him.The panel’s exhaustive 394-page report followed an eight-month inquiry, and included voluntary testimony from former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, revealing how Clark schemed privately with Trump about ways to pressure Rosen to help launch an inquiry into baseless charges of voting fraud in Georgia and other states that Joe Biden won.The report noted Clark repeatedly tried to “induce Rosen into helping Trump’s election subversion scheme”, including by telling Rosen that if he agreed to join their cabal to overturn election results, Clark would turn down an offer Trump had made him to become attorney general in place of Rosen.Clark was asked by the Senate panel to testify voluntarily in July but declined, according to a source familiar with the matter.The Senate report was shared with the House select committee that has been investigating the 6 January attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, and Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. On 13 October, the committee issued a subpoena seeking deposition testimony, and it requested records from Clark on 29 October, after reportedly struggling to get his cooperation.“It’s no mystery why Clark is playing hard to get with Congress,” said former justice department inspector general Michael Bromwich in an interview with the Guardian. “He faces a meaningful threat of criminal liability based on the facts contained in the Senate report.“The Senate report provides overwhelming evidence that Jeffrey Clark became a witting pawn of Trump’s in trying to launch a coup in the justice department, which would then serve as the launching pad for the broader coup whose aim was to overturn the results of the election.”Clark’s covert efforts to help Trump have been under scrutiny by the current inspector general at the justice department, Michael Horowitz, since January, when news reports surfaced about his machinations with Trump to help overturn the election results by spurring an investigation in Georgia focused on baseless claims of voting fraud.It’s unclear when the inspector general inquiry will be concluded, but depending on the findings, a criminal referral could result.The Senate report provided new details about the secretive pressure tactics deployed by Trump and Clark to persuade Rosen to accede to their schemes to help nullify Biden’s win, even after Trump staunch ally, attorney general William Barr, publicly stated on 1 December that the election results were not marred by fraud that “could have effected a different outcome in the election”.Strikingly, the report described a bizarre multi-hour White House meeting on 3 January that was attended by Trump, Rosen, Clark and other top administration lawyers, where Trump initially showed strong interest in ousting Rosen, who had been resisting pressures from Clark to open an inquiry into fraud allegations, and replacing him with Clark.According to Rosen’s testimony, Trump began the meeting by taking an aggressive posture and declaring: “One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election.”At the end of the meeting, Trump dropped the covert scheme to oust Rosen after Rosen’s deputy Donoghue told Trump that he, Rosen and others, including the two top White House attorneys, would resign in protest.Pat Cipollone, the top White House lawyer, condemned Trump’s plan as a “murder-suicide pact,” according to the Senate report.The Senate report formally recommended that the DC bar’s disciplinary counsel “evaluate Clark’s conduct to determine whether disciplinary action is warranted”.Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a top Democrat on the judiciary panel, in a statement to the Guardian said: “Either Jeffrey Clark was an enterprising sycophant looking to score points with a transactional president, or he was a cog in a much larger election-theft scheme.“Clark’s testimony under oath will be very important to arrive at the full truth, which is why it’s very hard to imagine he avoids testifying – either before Congress or a grand jury.”Before the release of the Senate report, ABC News unearthed emails revealing that Clark tried to get Rosen and his deputy to approve a letter he drafted on 28 December that would have pressed Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp to “convene a special session” of the state legislature to examine unfounded allegations of voting fraud before 6 January, when Congress met to certify the results.The Senate GOP’s minority in a separate report offered a tepid defense for Trump and Clark’s actions, stating that Trump “listened to all data points” at the White House meeting where several resignations were threatened, and “rejected” the path Clark promoted with Trump’s apparent blessings. Grassley also faulted the Democrats for issuing their report before hearing from Clark and receiving more documents.Still, two days before the majority report, about three dozen prominent lawyers and former DoJ officials signed an ethics complaint orchestrated by Lawyers Defending American Democracy which also asked the DC disciplinary counsel to investigate Clark’s conduct with an eye to sanctions.The lawyers wrote that Clark “made false statements about the integrity of the election in a concerted effort to disseminate an official statement of the United States Department of Justice that the election results in multiple states were unreliable”.Trump nominated Clark in mid-2017 to serve as assistant attorney general of the DoJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, but he was only narrowly confirmed in October 2018.During his tenure running the division, Clark reportedly often was at odds with veteran lawyers there, because of his narrow reading of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. By late 2020, Clark had become acting chief of the civil division at the DoJ.Previously, Clark had been a partner at the powerhouse law firm Kirkland & Ellis, where he defended BP in Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation and represented the US Chamber of Commerce in litigation that challenged the federal government’s power to regulate carbon emissions.Barr and Rosen were also top partners at the firm before their stints leading the Department of Justice.Clark’s distaste for strong environmental rules during his tenure at the department was presaged by some of his earlier comments about climate change in which he derided the need for more regulations to address it.Clark, a member of the conservative Federalist Society, gave a talk at its 2010 convention, where he bitterly denounced the Obama administration’s policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions as “reminiscent of kind of a Leninistic program from the 1920s to seize control of the commanding heights of the economy.”Given Clark’s anti-regulatory background in the private sector and his stint at the DoJ, it’s perhaps not surprising that he landed a top post working for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a conservative law firm funded by the Charles G Koch Foundation.Clark was tapped in July to be the alliance’s chief of litigation and director of strategy. Two calls to the alliance’s press office to reach Clark and seeking comment about his status there in the wake of the Senate report did not get responses. But on Wednesday Clark’s name had disappeared from its website’s roster of staff.TopicsUS elections 2020Trump administrationUS politicsUS SenateDonald TrumpnewsReuse this content More

  • in

    Rigged review: shameless – and dangerous – catnip for Trump’s base

    BooksRigged review: shameless – and dangerous – catnip for Trump’s baseMollie Hemingway says the 2020 election ‘went terribly wrong’. In a divided America, her deeply flawed book will find readers Lloyd GreenSun 17 Oct 2021 02.00 EDTLast modified on Sun 17 Oct 2021 02.01 EDTThe state of the union is sulfurous. Donald Trump’s defeat did not change that.More than 80% of Trump and Biden voters think elected officials from the other party “present a clear and present danger to American democracy”. Half of Trump supporters and two-fifths for Biden think secession would be a good idea.Into the fray leaps Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway with Rigged, 488 pages on “How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections”. Hemingway’s is an immovable feast. It’s about owning the libs.“If you believe things went terribly wrong in the 2020 election, well, you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone,” she writes. “But most of all, you’re not wrong.”In 2015, Hemingway branded Trump a “demagogue with no real solutions”. Now, like so many Republicans, she’s a fan. She discounts Charlottesville, where in August 2017 far-right marchers earned kind words from the president, as a “hoax”. She castigates those who denounce the events of 6 January this year, when Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol.“People who call the few-hour riot at the Capitol by unarmed protesters an ‘insurrection’ are bad people who are harming the country,” she tweeted in July.The riot was an attempt to overturn the election. Five people died, a police officer among them. Rigged is catnip for Trump’s base.“They used Covid to rig an election,” Trump whines, in an interview. “There was nothing I could do.” He has been singing that song since May 2020. And then there is reality: the administration’s performative nonchalance in the face of Covid undermined Trump’s chances of reelection.That was understood by his campaign as early as spring 2020. According to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post, in April Trump’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, warned that Covid could cost the boss re-election.“We have seen the enemy and it is us,” Fabrizio wrote. “It isn’t [Trump’s] policies that cause the biggest problem, it is voters’ reactions to his temperament and behavior.”Hemingway looks in other directions, pointing a finger at Democratic lawyers and voters for supposedly gaming the system amid a pandemic, berating Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell for pursuing the wrong legal strategies, and ignoring comments by Bill Barr, who she interviews but who as attorney general let Trump know he had not “seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome of the election”.It’s true that Trump might have mounted more of a fight. His campaign and the GOP had real lawyers on the payroll and Republicans were secretary of state in Arizona and Georgia. But the party had squandered the advantages of incumbency. Trump and Hemingway both go at Silicon Valley with a vengeance, reserving a special place in hell for Mark Zuckerberg.“Big tech got meaner, bigger, stronger, and they were crazed,” Trump says. As for Zuckerberg, he “should be in jail”. One suspects many Americans might agree.Hemingway criticizes the Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) for funding election operations in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. She contends that such private-public partnerships undermine the public’s faith in electoral integrity. For the record, courts repeatedly denied pre-election efforts to block CTCL funding. One federal judge, William C Griesbach, a George W Bush appointee, acknowledged the “receipt of private funds for public elections may give an appearance of impropriety” – but dismissed the lawsuit. Hemingway does not examine Team Trump’s own relationship with Facebook and Zuckerberg. In 2014, Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct company part-owned by the Mercer family, Trump benefactors, used Facebook to illegally harvest personal data. Steve Bannon, who would become Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, was a board member and officer. He denies personal culpability.There’s more that Hemingway leaves untouched. According to The Contrarian, a recent book by Max Chafkin of Bloomberg News, in a 2019 meeting between Zuckerberg, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist and Trump ally, Zuckerberg basically agreed to champion “state-sanctioned conservatism”. Zuckerberg has called the claim “pretty ridiculous”. Thiel, an original Facebook investor, still sits on the board.It doesn’t end there. A recent lawsuit commenced by the Rhode Island Retirement System against Facebook, Zuckerberg, Thiel and his company, Palantir, alleges “significant damage” caused by the data-harvesting scandal. The suit quotes the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, in alleging that Palantir employees “regularly worked in person, during normal business hours, at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in London”.Back on the page, it seems Hemingway cannot resist the siren song of race. In Justice on Trial, her last book, about the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, she rubbished the legal underpinnings of Brown v Board of Education, the 1954 supreme court ruling that made state-imposed school segregation unconstitutional. Such decisions, she wrote, “may have been correct in their result but were decided on the basis of sociological studies rather than legal principles”.It’s a unique take, with which even Trump’s three supreme court picks would not agree. Amy Coney Barrett has called Brown a “super-precedent … unthinkable” to overrule. Kavanaugh has said the same. Neil Gorsuch concedes it was properly decided.Stephanie Grisham: Trump turncoat who may be most damaging yetRead moreUndeterred, Hemingway now takes aim at the 1964 Civil Rights Act, resurrecting Barry Goldwater’s contention that it evinced “an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the federal government”. Hemingway also derides Lyndon Johnson’s support for civil rights as a blatant appeal to black voters.In 1964, Senator Goldwater lost to Johnson in a landslide. That was the last time a Democrat accomplished that feat – or won the “white vote”, for that matter.The news remains a battleground. Ryan Williams, president of the rightwing Claremont Institute, has made it known his mission is to save western civilization.“We believe in truth and reason,” he recently told the Atlantic. “The question is whose truth and whose reason.”Williams also said “a third of the country thinks the election was given to Biden fraudulently”. Hemingway is sure to find an audience.
    Rigged is published in the US by Regnery
    TopicsBooksPolitics booksDonald TrumpUS politicsRepublicansThe far rightreviewsReuse this content More