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    Judge Says States Can Investigate WinRed’s Fund-Raising Tactics

    The Republican digital donation platform is facing inquiries from four state attorneys general into its use of prechecked boxes to withdraw donations automatically.A federal judge in Minnesota on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by WinRed, a company that processes online donations for Republicans, that sought to block state attorneys general from investigating fund-raising tactics that have triggered complaints of fraud.The attorneys general from four states — New York, Minnesota, Maryland and Connecticut — first sent letters to WinRed last April, asking for documents after a New York Times investigation revealed the company’s use of prechecked boxes to automatically enroll donors in recurring contribution programs. The boxes resulted in a surge in demands for refunds from supporters of former President Donald J. Trump.WinRed declined to provide the documents and instead went to federal court to argue that federal law should pre-empt any state-level consumer investigations. Chief Judge John R. Tunheim of the U.S. District Court in Minnesota ruled against the company on Wednesday.Judge Tunheim dismissed WinRed’s attempt to stop the attorneys general investigating outside Minnesota, ruling that he did not have jurisdiction. He ruled in favor of the Minnesota attorney general, Keith Ellison, writing that federal law would not pre-empt a state inquiry.“The court has confirmed an important principle that has nothing to do with politics: State attorneys general can use the laws and investigatory tools of their states to protect the consumers of their states from harm, deception, and abuse,” Mr. Ellison said.Judge Tunheim also denied a request to block a subpoena from the attorneys general, which was issued last July 16, shortly after WinRed went to federal court, according to the ruling issued on Wednesday.“WinRed will appeal,” the company said in an emailed statement.WinRed has argued that the attorneys general, all Democrats, are politically motivated. However, the four also sent a similar request for documents last year to ActBlue, the leading Democratic donation-processing platform. ActBlue said on Wednesday that it had also received a subpoena and that it had shared the requested information.After the ruling Wednesday, Attorney General Brian Frosh of Maryland urged WinRed to cooperate with the inquiry.“Now that its case has been dismissed, it is our hope that WinRed moves from a strategy of attack, attack, attack and cooperates in the investigation of allegations that it deceived consumers around the nation,” he said in a statement.New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, said, “It’s their responsibility to be honest and transparent with their services, and it’s the responsibility of the states to fight back against deceptive behavior in all its forms.”In the fall of 2020, the Trump campaign used prechecked boxes to get a donor’s permission to withdraw extra donations every week — then obscured that fact below extra text unrelated to the additional withdrawals. In the following weeks and months, demands for refunds increased sharply as supporters said they were duped into unwitting contributions.All told, the Trump operation, working with the Republican Party, refunded more than 10 percent of every dollar raised through WinRed in the 2020 campaign — a rate more than four times that of the Democrat Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s operation.The bipartisan Federal Election Commission voted unanimously last year to recommend that Congress outlaw the practice of prechecked recurring donation boxes. Legislation has since been introduced in both the House and the Senate.Kitty Bennett contributed research. More

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    Madison Cawthorn Challenge Raises the Question: Who Is an ‘Insurrectionist’?

    The challenge to Representative Madison Cawthorn’s re-election bid could set a precedent to challenge other Republicans who encouraged the Jan. 6 attack.WASHINGTON — A group of lawyers is working to disqualify from the ballot a right-wing House Republican who cheered on the Jan. 6 rioters unless he can prove he is not an “insurrectionist,” disqualified by the Constitution from holding office, in a case with implications for other officeholders and potentially former President Donald J. Trump.The novel challenge to the re-election bid of Representative Madison Cawthorn, one of the House’s brashest supporters of Mr. Trump and the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, could set a precedent to challenge other Republicans who swore to uphold the Constitution, then encouraged the attack.While the House committee investigating the assault on the Capitol has so far been unsuccessful in its effort to force key members of Congress to cooperate with the inquiry, the North Carolina case has already prompted a legal discussion — one that is likely to land in court — about what constitutes an insurrection, and who is an insurrectionist.And for the first time, a lawmaker who embraced the rioters may have to answer for his actions in a court of law.“I don’t think we can have those persons who have engaged in acts of insurrection elected to office and serving in office in violation of their constitutional duties and oath,” said John R. Wallace, one of the lawyers on the case and a campaign finance and election law expert in Raleigh, N.C. He added, “It should not be difficult to prove you are not an insurrectionist. It only seems to be difficult for Madison Cawthorn.”Cases challenging the legitimacy of a candidate before election boards usually hinge on a candidate’s age, legal residency, place of birth or citizenship status, or the legitimacy of signatures in a candidacy petition.This case revolves around the little-known third section of the 14th Amendment, adopted during Reconstruction to punish members of the Confederacy who were streaming back to Washington to reclaim their elective offices — and infuriating unionist Republicans.That section declares that “no person shall” hold “any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath” to “support the Constitution,” had then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”Mr. Cawthorn, 26, who is in his first term in Congress, has denounced the case as an egregious misreading of the 14th Amendment, but he has retained James Bopp Jr., one of the most prominent conservative campaign lawyers in the country, as counsel.Mr. Bopp, in an interview, declared the matter “the most frivolous case I’ve ever seen,” but allowed that what he called an “unethical” exploitation of North Carolina law by “competent” lawyers could pose a real threat to Mr. Cawthorn — and by extension, to others labeled “insurrectionists” by liberal lawyers.“This is the real threat to our democracy,” he said. “Just by bringing the complaint, they might jeopardize a member of Congress running for re-election.”“They have multiple targets,” he added. “It just so happens that Madison Cawthorn is the tip of the spear.”That is because North Carolina’s election statute offers challengers a remarkably low bar to question a candidate’s constitutional qualifications for office. Once someone establishes a “reasonable suspicion or belief” that a candidate is not qualified, the burden shifts to the officeseeker to prove otherwise.If Mr. Cawthorn is labeled an “insurrectionist,” that could have broader ramifications. Other Republican House members, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, face similar accusations, but their state’s election laws present higher hurdles for challenges to their candidate qualifications. If one of their colleagues is disqualified for his role in encouraging the rioters, those hurdles might become easier to clear.The lawyers challenging Mr. Cawthorn’s eligibility are using an amendment last invoked in 1920, when Representative Victor L. Berger, an Austrian-American socialist, was denied his seat representing Wisconsin after criticizing American involvement in World War I.If nothing else, the lawyers, including two former justices of the North Carolina Supreme Court, want to depose Mr. Cawthorn as part of discovery to question his actions before, during and after the attack on the Capitol.“There is, of course, much that we don’t know, and the statute allows discovery by deposition and the production of records,” Mr. Wallace said.There is much that is known. Whether it makes Mr. Cawthorn an “insurrectionist” would have to be determined by North Carolina’s Board of Elections, or more likely, by the state’s courts, where the board might punt the matter.Weeks after the 2020 election, Mr. Cawthorn told a conservative gathering to “call your congressman” to protest the results, adding, “you can lightly threaten them.” He promoted the “Save America” rally behind the White House on Jan. 6, writing on Twitter, “the future of this Republic hinges on the actions of a solitary few,” then adding “It’s time to fight.” At the rally, he riled the crowd from the stage with talk of election “fraud.”He later called those jailed for storming the Capitol “political hostages” and “political prisoners” that he would like to “bust” out of prison.A mob rushing the Capitol on Jan. 6 were met with tear gas.Kenny Holston for The New York Times“The Second Amendment was not written so that we can go hunting or shoot sporting clays. The Second Amendment was written so that we can fight against tyranny,” he would later say in Franklin, N.C. He added, “If our election systems continue to be rigged, and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place, and it’s bloodshed.”Key Figures in the Jan. 6 InquiryCard 1 of 17The House investigation. More

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    Justice Dept. Is Reviewing Role of Fake Trump Electors, Top Official Says

    Lisa O. Monaco, the deputy attorney general, told CNN that she could not “say anything more on ongoing investigations.”WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating the fake slates of electors that falsely declared Donald J. Trump the victor of the 2020 election in seven swing states that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had in fact won, a top agency official said on Tuesday.“Our prosecutors are looking at those, and I can’t say anything more on ongoing investigations,” Lisa O. Monaco, the deputy attorney general, said in an interview with CNN.The false certificates appear to have been part of an effort by Mr. Trump’s allies to reverse his defeat in the presidential election. Even as election officials in the seven contested states sent official lists of electors who had voted for Mr. Biden to the Electoral College, the fake slates claimed Mr. Trump was the winner in an apparent bid to subvert the election outcome.Lawmakers, state officials and the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot have asked the Justice Department to look into the role played by those fake electors and the documents they submitted to the National Archives on Dec. 14, 2020.In some cases, top Republican Party officials in those seven states signed the false documents, according to copies posted online last March by American Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group.“The phony electors were part of the plan to create chaos on Jan. 6, as a pretext for a contingent election,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the committee.“The fake electoral slates were an effort to create the illusion of contested state results,” Mr. Raskin said. That, he added, would have given Mike Pence, who as vice president presided over Congress’s count of electoral votes on Jan. 6, “a pretext for unilateral rejection of electors.”In Michigan, Dana Nessel, the attorney general, gave federal prosecutors information from her yearlong investigation into the matter. She has said that she believes there is enough evidence to charge 16 Republicans in her state with submitting the fake certificates and falsely claiming that they were official electors for the state.And Hector Balderas Jr., the attorney general of New Mexico, and a local prosecutor in Wisconsin also asked the Justice Department to review the matter.If investigators determine that Mr. Trump’s allies created the fake slates to improperly influence the election, they could in theory be charged with falsifying voting documents, mail fraud or even a conspiracy to defraud the United States.It is unclear whether the Republican Party officials and others who submitted the false documents did so on their own or at the behest of the Trump campaign.“The people who pretended to be official electors in states that were won by Biden were undoubtedly guilty of fraud on the Constitution and on the democracy,” Mr. Raskin said. “It’s a trickier question whether they are guilty of either common-law fraud, state statutory fraud, federal mail fraud or some other offense.”Luke Broadwater More

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    What the Trump Documents Might Tell the Jan. 6 Committee

    Following last week’s Supreme Court ruling, the House panel has received material that it hopes could flesh out how the attack on the Capitol came about.The National Archives has turned over to the House select committee investigating the assault on the Capitol last Jan. 6 a large batch of documents that former President Donald J. Trump had sought to keep out of the panel’s hands, citing executive privilege.The committee has yet to make the documents public or disclose how far along it is in scrutinizing them for any new information about the roles played by Mr. Trump and his inner circle in the effort to delay certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.But in court filings, Mr. Trump, his legal team and the archives identified the documents that he was seeking to shield through claims of executive privilege, an argument that the Supreme Court rejected last week.It remains unclear how valuable the documents — at least 770 pages — will be to the investigation. But here is a list of them as identified in the court filings, what is known about them and how they might fit into the larger narrative being assembled by the committee:Proposed talking points for Mr. Trump’s press secretary and documents related to allegations of voter fraud (629 pages)Even before Election Day, Republicans and the Trump White House were pushing the notion — not backed by any evidence — that there could be widespread election fraud because of changes states enacted in response to the pandemic that made it easier for people to vote.Mr. Trump refused to concede on election night, saying publicly: “This is a fraud on the American public.” In the weeks that followed, the White House — through Kayleigh McEnany, the press secretary at the time — amplified Mr. Trump’s messaging from the briefing room and on television and social media.The materials could help the committee document the extent and intensity of the effort inside the White House to promote the baseless claims, along with more details about which members of the administration were most involved in the false claims.Presidential activity calendars and a handwritten note concerning Jan. 6 (11 pages)In a typical White House, a president’s calendar can provide an intimate picture of who the president meets with and the topics he may be discussing. Though Mr. Trump had a far less regimented schedule, there were still some meetings and events on his calendar, and aides kept track of where he was and what he was planning to do. The committee has indicated that it is especially interested in any communications that Mr. Trump had around Jan. 6 with top aides like Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, or with Vice President Mike Pence. A detailed calendar or notes could also help shed light on Mr. Trump’s activities as the riot unfolded on Capitol Hill.Mr. Trump’s supporters before his rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021.Jason Andrew for The New York TimesA draft of Mr. Trump’s speech for the “Save America” rally that preceded the mob attack (10 pages)On Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies spoke at a rally on the Ellipse before his supporters marched more than a mile to the Capitol. The draft speech — which Mr. Trump’s longtime aide, Stephen Miller, helped write — would show whether Mr. Trump’s incendiary language that encouraged the protesters was ad-libbed by him or whether it was included by his speechwriters, who may have been coordinating the president’s messaging with others. In his book, Mr. Meadows claimed Mr. Trump had ad-libbed his remarks telling the crowd to march on the Capitol.A note from Mr. Meadows about briefings and calls about the certification of the election and related issues (2 pages)In the days leading up to Jan. 6, there was a flurry of meetings in the Oval Office. Among the most dramatic was one on Jan. 4, when Mr. Trump had a lawyer named John Eastman — who had written a memo essentially saying that the vice president had immense powers to decide who won the election — make the argument directly to Mr. Pence that he could delay the certification of the election on Jan. 6. (Mr. Pence later rejected the advice.) On Jan. 2, three of Mr. Trump’s advisers — Rudolph W. Giuliani, Peter Navarro and Mr. Eastman — held a conference call with about 300 state lawmakers about election fraud. On Jan. 4, Phil Waldron, a former U.S. Army colonel who rose to prominence in Mr. Trump’s inner circle after the election, said members of his team briefed some senators on foreign interference in the election. Mr. Waldron said he personally gave the same briefing the next day to members of the House.Details of meetings like those, and the planning for them, could help the committee assess whether Mr. Trump’s efforts justify a criminal referral to the Justice Department on a charge like obstructing an official proceeding in Congress.A draft executive order on the topic of election integrity (4 pages)A range of outside advisers were pushing for Mr. Trump to sign executive orders to help him block or slow certification of the election. Among the most audacious was one that said Mr. Trump could use the Defense Department to seize voting machines based on false claims that there had been foreign interference in the election. Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and a lawyer advising him, Sidney Powell, were urging Mr. Trump to take this action. A copy of a draft executive order about seizing election machines was posted on Politico’s website on Friday.But that memo is three pages, and the National Archives described a memo that is four pages. There is another memo, mentioned in a recent disclosure to the committee by the Trump ally Bernard Kerik, that could also fit this description. It was withheld by Mr. Kerik under the theory of executive privilege but was described in a log of documents that Mr. Kerik refused to turn over as, “DRAFT LETTER FROM POTUS TO SEIZE EVIDENCE IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL SECURITY FOR THE 2020 ELECTIONS.”Handwritten notes from the files of Mr. Meadows (3 pages)As chief of staff, Mr. Meadows served both as a top aide and as a conduit for outside advisers, including members of Congress, to contact Mr. Trump and visit him at the White House. Mr. Meadows has provided investigators with hundreds of pages of documents that he had on his personal phone but has refused to sit for questioning, leading the committee to ask the Justice Department to prosecute him. His notes could potentially shed light on what Mr. Trump was hearing and saying at key moments.Key Figures in the Jan. 6 InquiryCard 1 of 17The House investigation. More

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    Court Approves Special Grand Jury in Trump Election Inquiry

    A district attorney in Georgia is investigating possible election interference by former President Donald J. Trump and his allies.A Georgia district attorney’s request to convene a special grand jury was approved Monday in the criminal investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.Fani T. Willis, an Atlanta prosecutor, requested the grand jury last week after crucial witnesses identified by investigators refused to cooperate voluntarily. Assembling a grand jury — which could issue subpoenas — is the next step in an inquiry that legal experts see as potentially threatening for the former president.“The special purpose grand jury shall be authorized to investigate any and all facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to alleged violations of the laws of the State of Georgia,” stated the approval order, signed by Christopher S. Brasher, the chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court.The grand jury would start its work on May 2 and continue “for a period not to exceed 12 months,” the order said.Legal experts have been watching the Georgia case for months, and say that the former president’s criminal exposure could include charges of racketeering or conspiracy. It is the only known criminal case that focuses directly on Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.Politically, the case takes place in a state that played a pivotal role in President Biden’s path to the White House. Mr. Biden became the first Democrat since 1992 to win Georgia’s electoral votes in 2020. The actions of Mr. Trump and his allies during the two-month period that followed Mr. Biden’s victory has been the focus of Ms. Willis’s criminal investigation.After Mr. Trump’s election loss — and before Georgia held two Senate elections in January — Mr. Trump began to publicly dispute the results of the election in states he lost, including Georgia. On Jan. 2, he called Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, and asked him to “find 11,780 votes” — the margin by which Mr. Trump lost the state.The call kicked off a firestorm that continues to have political and legal ramifications. Mr. Trump, who remains the most influential figure in the Republican Party and is a likely candidate for president in 2024, has previously stated that his call with Mr. Raffensperger was “perfect.”The former president has stared down legal troubles before, including investigations into his businesses and finances, and is the only president to have been impeached twice. He has previously dismissed other investigations as politically motivated. Ms. Willis, the Atlanta prosecutor, is a DemocratThe Georgia case is one of several criminal, civil and congressional investigations focused on Mr. Trump. A Democrat-led Congressional inquiry into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol recently won a Supreme Court victory, which will allow it to obtain White House records.The Trump InvestigationsCard 1 of 6Numerous inquiries. More

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    Joe Biden Would Like to Know What Your Problem Is

    Doug Mills/The New York TimesBret Stephens: Gail, that was one long presidential news conference last week. If Joe Biden wanted to show he has stamina, I guess he proved it. Otherwise, how did you think it went?Gail Collins: Bret, I really, really wish I could give three cheers and a few fireworks here, but I have to admit it … could have been better.Bret: It reminded me of the scene in some old movie where the car takes the wrong turn on a foggy night. It could have used some background music, like the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” Let’s hope the next song won’t be “The End.”Gail: As you know, I try to steer clear of foreign policy, but I was shocked that the president didn’t seem to have a good answer on the Russia-Ukraine issue.Bret: It was exactly the kind of thing we might have expected of Donald Trump but that we elected Biden not to do — mindless verbal blundering leading to potentially catastrophic real-world consequences, like Dean Acheson’s infamous Korea gaffe, when he omitted South Korea from the U.S. defense perimeter in Asia in a speech just a few months before the North invaded in 1950. I hate to think of Vladimir Putin pondering just what kind of “minor” invasion of Ukraine will serve his interests best.My bigger beef with Biden’s presser is that he didn’t seem to grasp the need to reboot his presidency. Contrary to what the president is suggesting, his administration isn’t suffering from a failure to communicate, “Cool Hand Luke”-style. It’s suffering from a failure to execute, in part because it set unrealistic legislative goals, in part because it screwed up the delivery. It’s why the president needs a new team, starting with the chief of staff position.Your thoughts?Gail: You’re referring to Ron Klain — who is either a Biden old hand with the drive and connections to help muscle the infrastructure bill through Congress or the out-of-touch liberal who persuaded the president to go for a way-too-ambitious social agenda.Klain deserves sympathy for his goals — and plight. Still, I’m kinda heartless on this front. Biden needs a turnaround, and if a high-profile internal shake-up will make the country feel as if it’s opening a new chapter, let’s go for it — whether Klain is the real problem or not.Your nomination for a replacement would be …Bret: Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, who I think could be to a Biden White House what Leon Panetta was to Clinton’s or Howard Baker to Reagan’s. Another name that comes to mind would be Evan Bayh, the former senator from Indiana and another Midwestern Democrat with moderate instincts whose experience Biden would respect.Gail: You’ve mentioned Daschle before. But give me details on your thinking.Bret: Biden needs someone who is more of a peer than a subordinate. He needs someone who can check his worst impulses, above all his cocksureness. He needs someone who can do some Clintonian triangulation by picking a few popular fights with the far left while going to war with the Josh Hawleys of the far right. He needs someone who can help struggling Democratic incumbents in the midterms. Above all, Biden needs someone who can get clear legislative wins.Gail: Sounds good so far …Bret: Three yards and a cloud of dust moves the football a heck of a lot further than one missed Hail Mary pass after another, which is the way the administration has operated since the summer.Gail: Bret, this is generally the point where you tell the administration to stop thinking about universal early childhood education or clamping down on the prescription drug industry.Are we there now?Bret: Maybe the president should settle on one or two progressive policy goals, not a dozen of them. The alternative is a Republican Congress in a year and a Republican president in three years. How does President DeSantis sound to you?Gail: Well, you can guess. Totally apart from his right-wing agenda, we’re talking about a guy who’s crusaded against vaccine mandates while refusing to say whether he’s been boosted himself.But let me ask you the same question. I know you’d never vote for Donald Trump even if the Democrats nominated Felix the Cat. But what about Ron DeSantis? Is he on the Trump level for you? Slightly better? Even worse?Bret: The litmus test for me is whether a Republican will clearly denounce Trump for Jan. 6 and the whole big-lie election meshugas. DeSantis seems to have pressed the mute button on that score, which pretty much loses me at hello. The anti-vaccine-mandate attitude bothers me less: I have my own doubts about the wisdom and efficacy of a mandate.Gail: Always good to hear you say something I disagree with.Bret: People should be kindly encouraged to get vaccinated. Businesses and schools should also be able to require vaccines, on the “our house, our rules” principle. And I have no objection to regular testing. But government mandates are a different matter, especially considering the fact that fully vaccinated people can still transmit the virus. If the primary justification for a mandate is to make better health choices for people who won’t make the choices for themselves, I think that’s a basic infringement on individual freedom.Gail: Gonna argue with you there, but first, finish your thoughts.Bret: About the next election, if the fourth year of the Biden administration resembles the first, particularly when it comes to inflation, I’ll be hard-pressed to vote for him. And so, I suspect, will many of the people who supported him last time.Which brings me to my latest hobby horse, which is to get Biden to announce early that he won’t run again so other Democrats can start exploring a run. Critics of the idea think it turns him into a lame duck, but I think it would look statesmanlike and actually strengthen his hand. Am I wrong?Gail: I’ve been thinking about that, and at this point I’d say yeah, you’re wrong. If he officially announces he’s out this early in the game, it’ll kick off a two-and-a-half-year campaign for the nomination. In the age of the internet that’s just … too long.As far as strengthening Biden’s hand, I just don’t see it. We’re talking more than 35 months of lame duck.Bret: Isn’t every re-elected president an automatic lame duck, because they can’t run for a third term? Biden can still get a lot done in 35 months, without sitting on the rest of the Democratic Party like a wet blanket on a cold day. And we can all stop pretending that we’re totally OK with the idea of an 86-year-old president, which is what Biden would be at the end of a second term.Gail: Yeah, I see your point. But I don’t see why he should do an official announcement yet. If you don’t have to be a lame duck, why volunteer to hobble when you waddle?Bret: A line for the ages, Gail. But how much longer will voters put up with his twaddle?Gail: Back to the vaccine mandate for a minute: We have hospitals all around the country at crisis capacity. If a loved one has to have treatment for a serious condition or an all-out emergency, he or she’s going to be battling for attention and space with Covid cases. A large chunk of whom would not be sick if they had gotten their shots.Bret: Definitely a fair point. Though it works both ways: Vaccine mandates have led to thousands of health care workers being fired or walking off the job, which compounds the very problem you’re describing.Gail: I really think there’s enough of a public health issue to justify a mandate. It’s not like people are going to be rounded up and dragged to a clinic.Bret: True. But they might be let go from their jobs. I don’t think that helps persuade them to get vaccinated: It just angers, marginalizes and probably radicalizes them. It’s an invitation to further Trumpify the nation. Also, I think people have a basic right to make bad personal decisions about their own health, even knowing that their choices can have adverse effects on other people. Otherwise, we should also ban drinking, which didn’t work out so well, last time we tried it.It’s not a bad argument for drug legalization, either, though that may be a subject for another time.Gail: Putting down a marker to return to that subject, repeatedly.Meanwhile, I know it’s early in the game but I want to get back to your drawing the line at voting for a Biden re-election. Not that I think it’s a good idea for him to run — but we have to discuss my conviction that voting for some third-party candidate, or leaving a race blank on the ballot, is always a bad idea.Bret: I like having choices as a voter. I’d never vote for Trump or a Trumpian, but if the Democrats can’t get their act together and learn how to govern, Felix the Cat sounds like the right write-in candidate for me.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    Ann Coulter Is Rooting for a Trump-DeSantis Throw-Down. She’s Not Alone.

    Ann Coulter has a gift for pushing just the right buttons to inflict maximum irritation. She has been a top-tier troll since Donald Trump was little more than a failed casino magnate.Which makes Ms. Coulter’s recent attacks on the former president — her onetime political idol — at once delectable and illuminating. Take her contrarian assessment of Mr. Trump’s chokehold on the Republican Party.“No one wants Trump,” she asserted in a column last week. “He’s fading faster than Sarah Palin did — and she was second place on a losing presidential ticket.”Parsing recent polling data, Ms. Coulter made the case that high approval for Mr. Trump among Republicans is less about his enduring appeal than about the G.O.P. having been boiled down to a Trumpian rump. Increasingly, she contended, “the only people calling themselves ‘Republicans’ these days are the Trump die-hards.”Ms. Coulter’s anti-Trump bile is not entirely new and carries the bitter fury of a disillusioned believer. While an early and enthusiastic MAGA convert — during the 2016 campaign Ms. Coulter cheekily proclaimed herself ready to die for her candidate and penned a cringey hagiography titled “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!” — she began souring on his presidency pretty quickly over his failure to make good on his more draconian immigration promises. (Ann really wanted that border wall.)When Ms. Coulter turns, she does not go gently. Her critiques of Mr. Trump have included calling him “a shallow, lazy ignoramus,” “a complete moron,” “a blithering idiot” and “a lout.” She now considers his entire presidency a flop. “Trump accomplished everything he was ever going to accomplish at 2 a.m.” on election night in 2016, she emailed me last week. “The best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party (and the country) would have been for him to be vaporized at the moment he was announcing his victory. Pence would have been afraid to betray Trump’s supporters. Trump wasn’t!”Of late, Ms. Coulter has begun poking at Mr. Trump from a very specific angle: comparing him — unfavorably — to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.Mr. DeSantis is a ticklish topic around Trumpworld. The governor rose to power by becoming a mini-Trump, and the former president still considers Mr. DeSantis his creation. But the governor is clearly eyeing the White House in 2024, and, unlike other potential candidates, he has not pledged to sit things out if Mr. Trump runs. Such disloyalty does not sit well with the former president, and there are rumblings of a brewing feud between the two Florida Men. As the water cooler chatter goes: Mr. Trump sees Mr. DeSantis as an ungrateful upstart, while Mr. DeSantis sees Mr. Trump as expecting too much groveling.Earlier this month, when Mr. Trump called politicians who refuse to reveal their booster status “gutless,” it was seen as a slap at Mr. DeSantis, who has been shifty about his booster situation. A few days later, Mr. DeSantis voiced regret over not aggressively opposing the nationwide lockdown that Mr. Trump ordered early in the pandemic.Republicans are eager to downplay tensions that risk undermining party unity.But Ms. Coulter is eager to fan the flames. “Trump is demanding to know Ron DeSantis’s booster status, and I can now reveal it,” she tweeted about the kerfuffle. “He was a loyal booster when Trump ran in 2016, but then he learned our president was a liar and con man whose grift was permanent.”Ms. Coulter, it seems, has found a shiny new leader with whom to antagonize her former hero. “For months now, Trump’s been playing the aging silent film star Norma Desmond in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ to DeSantis’s younger, prettier Betty Schaefer,” she wrote in her column Wednesday, which closed with this punch to the throat: “Give voters a populist conservative who’s not a con man and a liar and they’ll be ‘Republicans’ again. No wonder Trump hates DeSantis.”In her email, Ms. Coulter got even more personal. “DeSantis is better than Trump, for many, many reasons, including: He won’t bring Jared and Ivanka into the White House.” She also expressed confidence that Mr. DeSantis can handle Mr. Trump. “He’s mostly just ignoring the 11-year-old. Unlike Trump, DeSantis has a day job.”Having split with Mr. Trump, Ms. Coulter has an obvious interest in pushing the line that he is a washed-up relic. That said, the gal has a track record for sensing — and exploiting — political vulnerabilities.She is also just one tiny piece of a bigger predicament the G.O.P. is facing. Every whisper of discord between Mr. Trump and other Republican leaders is going to be devoured — and amplified — by a political class still obsessed with the former president and his influence.There are plenty of reasons for this. Many Trump critics are panting to see the ex-president’s acolytes and enablers, like Mr. DeSantis, pay a price for snuggling up to him for so long.Old-school Republicans are hoping that the party’s up-and-comers will start putting some distance between themselves and the chaos of the Trump era, a necessary step toward rescuing the G.O.P. from its MAGA quagmire.As for the political media, it loves a good fight. And any fight featuring the former president promises to be tacky, unhinged and entertaining.Going forward, Ms. Coulter won’t be the only force tweaking Mr. Trump and focusing on any hint of friction. As usual, she’ll simply be more shameless about it than most.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    Jan. 6 Panel and State Officials Seek Answers on Fake Trump Electors

    Pressure is mounting on the Justice Department to investigate bogus electors who claimed that Donald J. Trump defeated Joseph R. Biden Jr. in their states.WASHINGTON — Law enforcement officials, members of Congress and the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol are digging deeper into the role that fake slates of electors played in efforts by former President Donald J. Trump to cling to power after he lost the 2020 election.In recent days, the state attorneys general in Michigan and New Mexico have asked the Justice Department to investigate fake slates of electors that falsely claimed that Mr. Trump, not Joseph R. Biden Jr., had won their states. Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, wrote to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Friday demanding an investigation into the same issue in his state.And this week, members of the House committee scrutinizing the Jan. 6 riot said that they, too, were examining the part that the bogus electoral slates played in Mr. Trump’s scheme to overturn the election.“We want to look at the fraudulent activity that was contained in the preparation of these fake Electoral College certificates, and then we want to look to see to what extent this was part of a comprehensive plan to overthrow the 2020 election,” Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill.“There’s no doubt that those people were engaged in a constitutional fraud on the public and on the democracy,” he added in a separate interview, referring to the bogus electors.The false slates, put forth in seven contested swing states, appear to have been part of a strategy by Mr. Trump’s allies to disrupt the normal workings of the Electoral College. After election officials in those states sent official lists of electors who had voted for Mr. Biden to the Electoral College, the fake slates claimed that Mr. Trump had won.“I’ve had people in my district ask me what’s being done with these folks,” said Mr. Pocan, who forwarded the names of the 10 fake pro-Trump electors from his state to Mr. Garland in his letter demanding an investigation. “Enough people kept bringing it up. If people think they can get away with some scam, they’ll try another and another.”Attorney General Dana Nessel of Michigan said this week that she believed there was enough evidence to charge 16 Republicans in her state for submitting false certificates claiming Mr. Trump won her state’s electoral votes in 2020. She said she had handed over to federal prosecutors the results of a yearlong investigation into Republicans who signed documents in December 2020 falsely identifying themselves as Michigan’s electors. New Mexico’s attorney general, Hector Balderas Jr., referred similar allegations to federal law enforcement. And a local prosecutor in Wisconsin also recommended that state or federal prosecutors investigate fake electors in that state.Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, called the fake electors a “concern.” They could also play a role as the committee considers making criminal referrals to the Justice Department.If investigators determine that the fake slates were meant to improperly influence the election, those who created them could in theory be charged with falsifying voting documents, mail fraud or even a conspiracy to defraud the United States.Mr. Thompson’s committee this week received more than 700 pages of documents from the Trump White House related to various attempts to challenge the election, according to a National Archives log, including a draft of an executive order calling for extreme measures.The draft executive order, which was obtained by Politico and called for the military to seize voting machines and deploy the National Guard, was the subject of heated debate inside the White House in December, as the pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn promoted wild conspiracies about voting machines. Others in the room, including the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, repeatedly and aggressively pushed back on the ideas being proposed.Mr. Raskin described the executive order as “right out of a dictator’s playbook in a banana republic.”“Slightly cooler heads may have prevailed in the moment,” he said, “but we are in the process of trying to reconstruct the history of all these events.”The flurry of interest around the actions of the fake electors comes after reports in The Washington Post, CNN and Politico revealed new details about the Trump campaign’s efforts to organize the slates. Ultimately, the efforts were rejected by Vice President Mike Pence.Though he did not directly acknowledge the existence of alternate electors as he presided over Congress’s official count of electoral votes on Jan. 6, Mr. Pence did amend the traditional script read by a vice president during such proceedings, adding language making clear that alternate slates of electors offered up by states were not considered legitimate.As he ticked through the states, Mr. Pence said repeatedly that the result certified by the Electoral College, “the parliamentarian has advised me, is the only certificate of vote from that state that purports to be a return from the state, and that has annexed to it a certificate from an authority of the state purporting to appoint and ascertain electors.”It is not clear who first proposed that Republican-led state legislatures in key states that Mr. Biden won could replace the electors chosen by the voters with a different slate. But John Eastman, a lawyer who would later present Mr. Trump with an elaborate plan for overturning the election, was one of the first to bring the idea up publicly when he addressed Georgia lawmakers by video on Dec. 3, 2020, and advised them to “adopt a slate of electors yourself.”At the time, the notion was roundly ridiculed by legal scholars who dismissed it as a futile attempt to subvert the will of the voters.But a review of the steps taken by Mr. Trump’s allies to push the plan suggests that the effort was widespread and that it caught on among influential players, including those in conservative law and media circles and with White House aides.At the heart of the plan was an effort to empower Mr. Trump’s allies in Congress to hand him the election. Under the Constitution, if the Electoral College deadlocks or if no candidate receives a majority of its votes, the House of Representatives decides the victor. Each state delegation casts a single vote in these so-called “contingent elections.” Under that scenario, Mr. Trump would almost certainly have won.The Trump InvestigationsCard 1 of 6Numerous inquiries. More