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    Will Trump Face Criminal Charges in Georgia Election Inquiry?

    The House Jan. 6 committee report offered fresh evidence that former President Donald J. Trump was at the center of efforts to overturn election results in Georgia.A few weeks after losing the 2020 election, President Donald J. Trump called Ronna McDaniel, the head of the Republican National Committee, with a plan for keeping himself in office. During the call, he asked John C. Eastman, an architect of the strategy, to lay it out: Trump supporters in states that the president had lost would act as if they were official Electoral College delegates, an audacious scheme to circumvent voters.After the plan was put in motion, Ms. McDaniel forwarded an “elector recap” report to Mr. Trump’s executive assistant, who replied soon after, “It’s in front of him!”Such details, from the report released in December by the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, offer fresh evidence that Mr. Trump was not on the periphery of the effort to overturn the election results in Georgia but at the center of it.For the last two years, prosecutors in Atlanta have been conducting a criminal investigation into whether the Trump team interfered in the presidential election in Georgia, which Mr. Trump narrowly lost to President Biden. With the wide-ranging inquiry now entering the indictment phase, the central question is whether Mr. Trump himself will face criminal charges.Legal analysts who have followed the case say there are two areas of considerable risk for Mr. Trump. The first are the calls that he made to state officials, including one to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, in which Mr. Trump said he needed to “find” 11,780 votes. But the recently released Jan. 6 committee transcripts shed new light on the other area of potential legal jeopardy for the former president: his direct involvement in recruiting a slate of bogus presidential electors in the weeks after the 2020 election.The Atlanta prosecutors have moved more quickly than the Department of Justice, where a special counsel, Jack Smith, was recently appointed to oversee Trump-related investigations. This month, the Fulton County Superior Court disbanded a special grand jury after it produced an investigative report on the case, concluding months of private testimony from dozens of Trump allies, state officials and other witnesses.Election personnel count absentee ballots in Atlanta in November 2020.Audra Melton for The New York TimesThe report remains secret, although a hearing is scheduled for Tuesday to determine if any or all of it will be made public. Nearly 20 people known to have been named targets of the investigation could face charges, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, and David Shafer, the head of the Georgia Republican Party.Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, which encompasses most of Atlanta, will need to make her case to a regular grand jury if she seeks indictments, which would likely come by May. That means the nation could be in for months more waiting and speculating, particularly if a judge decides after this week’s hearing not to make public the report’s recommendations.Mr. Trump’s lawyers said in a statement Monday that they would not be at Tuesday’s hearing, adding that Mr. Trump “was never subpoenaed nor asked to come in voluntarily by this grand jury or anyone in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.”Understand Georgia’s Investigation of Election InterferenceCard 1 of 5An immediate legal threat to Trump. More

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    In Pennsylvania, the 2020 Election Still Stirs Fury. And a Recount.

    Election deniers in Lycoming County convinced officials to conduct a 2020 recount, a three-day undertaking that showed almost no change, but left skeptics just as skeptical.WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — On the 797th day after the defeat of former President Donald J. Trump, a rural Pennsylvania county on Monday began a recount of ballots from Election Day 2020.Under pressure from conspiracy theorists and election deniers, 28 employees of Lycoming County counted — by hand — nearly 60,000 ballots. It took three days and an estimated 560 work hours, as the vote-counters ticked through paper ballots at long rows of tables in the county elections department in Williamsport, a place used to a different sort of nail-biter as the home of the Little League World Series.The results of Lycoming County’s hand recount — like earlier recounts of the 2020 election in Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona — revealed no evidence of fraud. The numbers reported more than two years ago were nearly identical to the numbers reported on Thursday.A ballot cast for former President Donald J. Trump that was part of the county’s recount.Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York TimesMr. Trump ended up with seven fewer votes than were recorded on voting machines in 2020. Joseph R. Biden Jr. had 15 fewer votes. Overall, Mr. Trump gained eight votes against his rival. The former president, who easily carried deep-red Lycoming County in 2020, carried it once again with 69.98 percent of the vote — gaining one one-hundredth of a point in the recount.Did that quell the doubts of election deniers, who had circulated a petition claiming there was a likelihood of “rampant fraud” in Lycoming in 2020?It did not.“This is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Karen DiSalvo, a lawyer who helped lead the recount push and who is a local volunteer for the far-right group Audit the Vote PA. “We’re not done.”Forrest Lehman, the county director of elections, oversaw the recount but opposed it as a needless bonfire of time, money and common sense. He sighed in his office on Friday.“It’s surreal to be talking about 2020 in the present tense, over two years down the road,” he said. He attributed the slight discrepancies between the hand recount and voting machine results to human error in reading ambiguous marks on the paper ballots.Lycoming County’s recount was part of the disturbing trend of mistrust in elections that has become mainstream in American politics, spurred by the lies of Mr. Trump and his supporters. Amid the Appalachian ridges in north-central Pennsylvania, such conspiracy theories have firmly taken hold.The county’s election professionals spent months responding to the arguments of the election deniers in public hearings and fielding their right-to-know requests for the minutiae of voting records. Mr. Lehman said he did not think an encounter with the facts would change the views of some people.“You close one election-denying door, they’ll open a window,” he said.Mr. Trump hosted a campaign rally in Lycoming County at the Williamsport Regional Airport in October 2020. Anna Moneymaker for The New York TimesOne of the residents who pushed for the hand recount, Jeffrey J. Stroehmann, the former chair of Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign in Lycoming County, said he was happy the results matched the 2020 voting machine counts, though he said other questions needed to be addressed.“Our goal from Day 1 when we approached the commissioners, we said our goal here is not to find fraud — if we find it, we’ll fix it — we just want to restore voter confidence,” said Mr. Stroehmann, a founder of the far-right Lycoming Patriots group.He and Ms. DiSalvo were inspired by the debunked claims of a retired Army officer named Seth Keshel, who gained attention in 2021 with the assertion that there were 8 million “excess votes” cast for Mr. Biden. His analysis has been dismissed by professors at Harvard, the University of Georgia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.A petition circulated by Ms. DiSalvo and Mr. Stroehmann noted that registered Republicans grew their numbers in Lycoming County compared with Democrats from 2016 to 2020, but that Mr. Biden managed to win more votes than Hillary Clinton. Election deniers found this suspicious.“If Republicans GAINED voters and Democrats LOST voters — why did Biden receive 30% MORE votes in the November 2020 election than Hillary Clinton did in 2016?” their petition asked.Mr. Lehman called the argument nonsensical. Party registration does not dictate how someone will vote, he said. Mr. Biden outperformed Mrs. Clinton in nearly every Pennsylvania county in the 2020 election. Mr. Trump also raised his vote totals in the county by 16 percent.“The voters’ unpredictability — it makes democracy both majestic and messy,” Mr. Lehman told county commissioners at a hearing last year. The commission ultimately approved the recount two to one, along partisan lines.Mr. Lehman monitoring ballots being recounted in Williamsport on Wednesday.Pat Crossley/Williamsport Sun-GazetteElection officials at every level have been harassed and vilified since 2020, when election conspiracists echoing Mr. Trump blamed officials and helped inspire the “Stop the Steal” movement. On an election conspiracy show that was streamed on Rumble, Mr. Stroehmann called for an investigation into Mr. Lehman, who he said is “part of the steal.”“Our director of voter services is playing for the other team,” Mr. Stroehmann said on the show. “He’s as liberal as the day is long.”Richard Mirabito, a Lycoming County commissioner who is a Democrat, said there was no evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing by Mr. Lehman. “He’s held in the highest esteem of integrity,” he said. “Those kinds of statements undermine the confidence of people in our system.”Mr. Mirabito voted against the recount but was overruled by the two Republicans on the board. Scott L. Metzger, a Republican and the chair of the county commission, also vouched for Mr. Lehman. “He’s done an outstanding job,’’ he said. After the 2022 midterms, requests for recounts in Pennsylvania races that were not close inundated counties, delaying the certification of some results. In Arizona and New Mexico, rural county commissions held up certifying primary or general election results last year.Across the country, a wave of Trump-backed election conspiracists who ran for statewide offices with control over voting lost their races. But some election deniers won races at the local level, where pressure by activists on officials has a better chance of yielding results.Officials in Lycoming County, a rural area of north-central Pennsylvania, were still estimating the final cost of the recount.Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York TimesMr. Metzger — one of the two Republicans on the commission who approved the recount — said that he voted for it after thousands of people signed petitions, and others approached him on the street saying they didn’t want to vote because they distrusted the system. Now that the recount matched what voting tabulator machines showed in 2020 and that there was no evidence of fraud, Mr. Metzger said, it was time to move on. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m done with it,” he said.Before the commissioners voted for the recount, Ms. DiSalvo and Mr. Stroehmann presented the results of what they called a door-to-door canvass of some county residences. The canvassing was conducted by volunteers from Audit the Vote PA, a group founded in 2021 under the false belief that Mr. Trump, not Mr. Biden, won Pennsylvania.Canvassers claimed to have found multiple “anomalies,” including votes that were tabulated from people in nursing homes who did not recall voting, as well as people who said they had voted, though there was no record of it.Mr. Lehman said he and his staff addressed each case. For those in nursing homes, the election office pulled records showing they had returned a mail ballot with their signature on the envelope. The canvass, he said, lacked rigor, adding that he was not surprised some people might have claimed to have voted in a face-to-face interview when they actually had not.Election deniers have no plans to stand down. They have requested reams of documents that they believe will expose fraud once and for all.“We’ve received a series of crazy records requests,” Mr. Lehman said. “You can quote me. They are insane.”Stacks of boxes containing ballots from the 2020 election, which are stored in a secure room of the county’s elections department. Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York TimesElection deniers asked for copies of every application for a mail ballot, requiring Mr. Lehman and his staff to laboriously redact all personal information. They are pressing for copies of every ballot cast on Election Day 2020, and they have gone to court to seek digital data from the voting machines at each of the 81 county precincts.Though observers from both parties watched the hand recount this week, Ms. DiSalvo raised questions about the process, including that Mr. Lehman oversaw the adding up of the recounted votes.“We asked to see the tally sheets before the final processing and were denied,” Ms. DiSalvo said, referring to the paperwork used by ballot counters. The elections director, she added, had a “vested interest in making sure the numbers aligned.”Her group has filed a right-to-know request for the hand-count tally sheets.Mr. Lehman, a former Eagle Scout and teacher, displays two iconic photographs in his office. One shows Harry S. Truman in 1948 holding aloft the famously erroneous “Dewey Defeats Truman” newspaper headline. The other shows Lyndon Johnson solemnly taking the oath of office on Air Force One in 1963 following the assassination of President Kennedy.“They’re both transitions of power,” Mr. Lehman said. “One is comic, the other tragic. We’ve managed to process them both as a country. I don’t know which category to put 2020 in. We need to get back to a place where we can process the outcomes of elections in a constructive, healthy way.” More

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    After Election Problems in Houston, Republicans Seek to Overturn Results

    A growing number of contests to elections in Texas’ Harris County are a broad attempt to cast doubt on an Election Day that officials concede had problems.HOUSTON — Jon Rosenthal has seen some close races, but his re-election to the Texas State House in November, in a Houston district redrawn to be a virtual lock for Democrats, was not one of them. Mr. Rosenthal won by 15 points.So it came as a surprise when his Republican challenger in the race contested the results, petitioning the State Legislature to order a new election.Another surprise came late Thursday when the Republican candidate for the top executive position in Harris County, which includes Houston, announced that she, too, would contest her much narrower loss, by about 18,000 votes, to the progressive Democrat who is the county’s incumbent chief executive, Lina Hidalgo. By Friday, more than a dozen losing Republican candidates had filed suits to contest the results of their races.Election Day in Harris County, Texas’ largest county, saw a range of problems at polling places, including some that opened late and others that ran out of paper for printing voted ballots. A court ordered the polls to stay open an extra hour to compensate; then the Texas Supreme Court stepped in and halted the extra voting.Republicans, who have been watching closely for election issues in races around the country, seized on the difficulties in Harris County, which is becoming a Democratic stronghold. Candidates called into question the reliability of the results in a bitter and expensive campaign that failed to dislodge Ms. Hidalgo and a slate of Democratic judges.“It is inexcusable that after two months, the public is no further along in knowing if, and to what extent, votes were suppressed,” said Alexandra del Moral Mealer in explaining her decision to contest her loss to Ms. Hidalgo, adding that her challenge was “fundamentally about protecting the right to vote in free and fair elections.”Candidates called into question the reliability of the results in a bitter campaign that ended with Republicans failing to oust Lina Hidalgo and a slate of Democratic judges. Annie Mulligan for The New York TimesElection contests are not uncommon in Texas, often involving down-ballot races in small counties where the margins are often notably slim. But the challenges in Harris County appeared to be uniquely broad in their attempt to cast doubt on much of the voting process in an election that involved 1.1 million votes. They followed calls from state leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, for an investigation into the county’s handling of the election. The local district attorney opened an inquiry in November.The election contests in Harris County have at times resembled the one mounted in Arizona by the Republican candidate for governor, Kari Lake, who has sought to overturn her loss by claiming that election officials in one major county deliberately disenfranchised her voters. A judge dismissed her claims last month for lack of evidence.But the latest contests in Texas have little precedent, said the Harris County attorney, Christian Menefee, a Democrat. “To my knowledge, this is the first election contest filed in Harris County that is wholly focused on these kinds of process failures,” Mr. Menefee said in an interview.The sprawling Texas county has shifted more decisively in the direction of Democrats in the last few election cycles, following in the direction of other major Texas population centers.For a variety of reasons, it has struggled to conduct elections smoothly, drawing repeated scrutiny from Republican lawmakers in the State Capitol. The county’s size has been a challenge, covering an area nearly the size of Delaware with 2.5 million registered voters and more than 700 polling places. It has struggled with newly mandated voting systems and has not had steady leadership at its elections office, with three different administrators since 2020.An audit of the 2020 election, conducted by the secretary of state, highlighted a range of issues, including instances where Harris County did not handle its electronic records properly, though there was no evidence of widespread fraud.Several steps that the county took during the coronavirus pandemic to make it easier to vote in Houston — such as limited 24-hour voting and drive-through polling places — also drew criticism from Republicans, who argued that the changes had made the election less secure. The Republican-dominated State Legislature, in its last session, took steps to curtail many of the measures.Voters waited in line at Damascus Missionary Baptist Church on Election Day in Houston in November.Annie Mulligan for The New York TimesOn Election Day in November, the county experienced problems at a number of polling places, including several that were significantly delayed in opening and others that reported running out of paper ballots.A judge ordered polling places in the county to remain open for an extra hour after the Texas Organizing Project, a nonprofit, filed suit over the issues, claiming that voters were being prevented from casting ballots. The Texas Supreme Court stepped in and stayed the ruling in response to a challenge from the Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton. The court eventually allowed about 2,000 provisional ballots that were cast during the extra voting time to be added to the official count.The county elections administrator, Clifford Tatum, has defended the election process and said the issues that came up reflected small problems in an otherwise well-run election. “Overall, Election Day was a success,” a postelection report from Mr. Tatum’s office concluded.But the report, released last week, also found that the county’s voting system was in “an immediate need of upgrades or replacements” to correct software issues, simplify voting day setup and create a system for the elections administrator to know in the moment whether problems reported at polling places had been resolved.The Harris County Republican Party has focused on a broad range of issues that arose on Election Day, including not only sites that ran out of paper ballots but also others where poll workers incorrectly fed paper ballots into the voting machines.In its report, the election administrator’s office said that officials at 68 voting centers reported running out of the initial allotment of paper on Election Day, and that only 61 of them said they had received deliveries of more paper.But it remained unclear how many voters were turned away because of the paper shortages, in part because, according to the report, some of the election judges “declined to speak after reportedly being advised not to do so by the Harris County Republican Party.”A spokeswoman for the county Republican Party, Genevieve Carter, denied any such instructions. “We encouraged them to provide their firsthand account of any issues that occurred,” she said. “Our goal is to get to the bottom of what went wrong during this election.”The party’s lawyers and leaders have not claimed that they can prove their candidates should have won. Instead, they have argued that the scope of the problems on Election Day were so great — including, they claimed, allowing some voters to cast ballots who were no longer eligible to do so in the county — that the true results in the election cannot be known; they are demanding that new elections be held. (More than two-thirds of the ballots were cast either during early voting or by mail, not on Election Day.)“We have a systematic cancer that has invaded our election process,” said the chair of the county Republican Party, Cindy Siegel.Democrats have not raised public challenges, but have privately complained that the repeated issues in the election process in Houston were not being adequately addressed, giving Republicans fuel for their efforts to pass new restrictive laws and, now, election contests.Jon Rosenthal said he believed the challenge to his election was frivolous, and that allowing it to go forward in the State House could cause future headaches for lawmakers. Kevin Dietsch/Getty ImagesOnly the candidates themselves can initiate the contests, and so far at least 14 have done so, including Ms. Mealer, a first-time candidate who received millions in campaign contributions from top Houston-area donors; Mr. Rosenthal’s challenger, Michael May; a candidate for county district clerk; and nine Republican judicial candidates.One of the earliest challenges came from a judicial candidate, Erin Lunceford, who lost by 2,743 votes, and filed suit late last year. Ms. Lunceford’s suit includes 19 separate claims of issues with the way votes were handled or counted during the November election and asks the court to void the judicial election and “declare that the true outcome of the election cannot be ascertained.” Ms. Lunceford is represented by Andy Taylor, an election lawyer for the county Republican Party.Ryan MacLeod, a lawyer for the Democrat who won the race, Tamika Craft, described the suit in court papers as a “stunt to make headlines” after an election was lost, and said that “no allegations are supported by facts” and that no evidence had been provided.In the latest challenge on Thursday to the outcome of the race for Harris County judge — effectively the county’s chief executive — Ms. Mealer’s lawyers focused primarily on the paper ballot issues, arguing that they had been concentrated in high-turnout Republican areas and that county officials had “suppressed the voting rights” of residents in those places.Ms. Hidalgo’s office referred questions to the county attorney, Mr. Menefee, who described the challenges as “frivolous attempts to overturn the votes of more than a million residents.”Unlike the other challenges, Mr. May’s contest to his loss against Mr. Rosenthal does not go before a judge, because it involved a State House race. Instead, under Texas law, it will be considered by state legislators, who reconvene this month. The House could decide that the challenge is frivolous and reject it quickly, or choose to investigate the allegations by gathering testimony and evidence before deciding whether the result should be voided and a new election held.Mr. May, in his petition, cited the paper ballot issues and argued that eligible voters were turned away and unable to cast ballots. He has not provided evidence and did not respond to a request for comment.Mr. Rosenthal said he believed the challenge was frivolous and that allowing it to go forward could cause future headaches for lawmakers.“If there is life given to this, and there is no consequence for bringing something this frivolous, you’re setting up for election challenges across the state,” he said. “You could have dozens of challenges per cycle.” More

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    Donald Trump Is Weak. And Powerful. Now What?

    Everyone knows by now how many Trump candidates lost this year, especially the higher-profile, more hard-core ones who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Kari Lake lost in Arizona. Doug Mastriano lost in Pennsylvania. Most of the notable pro-Trump secretary of state candidates lost. The Senate candidates, too. The Democrats even added on in Georgia on Tuesday, with the same, central animating force behind each development: that Donald Trump forced his party to run a candidate, Herschel Walker, who lost, weakening Mr. Trump and the party — a mutual descent.What everyone does not know by now is what to do with Mr. Trump’s third candidacy for president. What is this campaign? He’s a candidate without opponents, who has made less frequent public appearances since his announcement than he did before, whose party’s other notable members seem to want to move on but often still don’t really say so publicly. The 2022 incarnation of Mr. Trump is like some kind of trap: He keeps losing and forcing others to go with him, in part because of his and their nature and in part because without him, Republicans might not quite be able to win, either.Looming over every aspect of Mr. Trump’s current campaign is the simple question: Will this be like before? That has a technical, outcome-driven dimension (will he win and become president?) and a more cultural, psychological one (will he dominate American life, and will each day’s news turn on the actions and emotions of one person cascading through society?). Politics is about a lot more than just the outcomes of elections; a long time separates us from the 2024 election, and each day has the potential to influence the ones after. Something can be weak and a considerable force in politics or culture at the same time; someone can be losing and influential at the same time. These things are compatible.The country spent nearly two years hearing about voting machine conspiracies and the possibility of subversion in future elections. Voters rejected all that in many cases. What did the last two years mean for Mr. Trump and these candidates? For all of us? Nobody got anything of real value out of conspiracy theories and Trump recriminations. Not the Republicans, certainly, and that’s been the tenor of much post-election coverage and conversation — the way Mr. Trump’s choices produced certain outcomes that hurt the Republican Party.“The people that were on the crazy side, they’ve kind of been sent off to the frontier,” Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, told Semafor this week. “If you’re denying the last election or any election, I think that balloon has been popped.” Even so, it’s no great gift to the country as a whole that candidates ran for two years on suspicion about normal election practices or advancing conspiracy theories, which people heard and internalized — a more intangible result with effects harder to measure.Since Mr. Trump’s announcement for president, as you have also heard by now, he’s repeatedly demanded that the 2020 election be redone, even straight up saying that there could be a “termination” of the Constitution. Two nights before Thanksgiving, he ate dinner with a white supremacist and Kanye West, who can’t stop saying antisemitic things. These events can also be viewed through this dual dynamic of weakness and influence. In the most basic horse race political sense, Mr. Trump’s actions almost certainly hurt him; more Republicans have criticized him, and we have multiple election cycles of results suggesting that people reject his choices. This weakens him. But he still has influence, and through this one dinner, for instance, many, many people heard about an extreme racist they probably never heard about before.In 2022, even when Mr. Trump seems to be fading politically, nobody has conclusively resolved the question of how to deal with him — when to step in and when to ignore, how to measure one action against another. The central issue flows from an understanding that most people in this country seem to share, however they feel about him: Mr. Trump will not be stopped from endlessly wanting things. And he will not confine himself to the ways in which a president or public person is supposed to behave, in pursuit of this endless array of wants and needs.Faced with this uncontrollability, people fall into complex emotional dynamics of how to react to Mr. Trump — to care or not care, how to demonstrate caring, to ignore him or this or that, to never ignore it, how far to go, when to walk away, when to stay, when someone else’s silence becomes unacceptable. How is a person supposed to be? What can a single person do? What are our duties and obligations? These questions animate centuries of literature and philosophy, but Mr. Trump’s chemical mix of emotion and power turns them into an hourly concern. He will not change; you can. This is an exhausting texture of American life in this era, even now.It’s almost hard to remember what the first campaign was like, though it, too, started with a weak hand. Mr. Trump defeated a splintered field with, initially, mere pluralities of votes. And you were constantly finding out how weak American institutions were: the thinness of political belief among Republican politicians, the inability of different institutions to do anything about Mr. Trump’s candidacy, the true incentives of cable news, how game people were to go along with, for instance, an attack on Mexicans or Gold Star parents. Practically overnight, Republican and conservative groups went from opposing Mr. Trump to caving in to the reality of his candidacy to emphatically supporting him. This general dynamic repeated again and again for years.Seven years in, one of the more disorienting aspects of the Trump era is the way there’s never any sense of resolution. The entire population hangs in a kind of eternal suspense, without past or future. Since the week of Jan. 6, 2021, without Mr. Trump’s ceaseless presence on the major social platforms, things have been somewhat different. But who knows where he goes from here? He might return to Twitter. He might really be fading. He might lose to Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor. He might not accept a loss to anyone, at any point. He might be president again. Could we really revert to the full chaotic, exhausting, late-2010s immersion in Mr. Trump’s emotions?The need to know how it ends with Mr. Trump, what will happen next and how people respond to him, can obscure the current situation. And over the past year, it’s become clearer how power and weakness and influence can exist in one space and in one person. In this dark environment, Mr. Trump can lose an election and still change American life indefinitely.Katherine Miller is a staff writer and editor in Opinion.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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    Defamation Suit Against Fox Grows More Contentious

    Lachlan Murdoch is set to be deposed on Monday, the latest in a flurry of activity in the high-stakes case.Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation, is expected to be deposed on Monday as part of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News for amplifying bogus claims that rigged machines from Dominion Voting Systems were responsible for Donald J. Trump’s defeat in 2020.Mr. Murdoch will be the most senior corporate figure within the Fox media empire to face questions under oath in the case so far. And his appearance before Dominion’s lawyers is a sign of how unexpectedly far and fast the lawsuit has progressed in recent weeks — and how contentious it has become.Fox and Dominion have gone back and forth in Delaware state court since the summer in an escalating dispute over witnesses, evidence and testimony. The arguments point to the high stakes of the case, which will render a judgment on whether the most powerful conservative media outlet in the country intentionally misled its audience and helped seed one of the most pervasive lies in American politics.Although the law leans in the media’s favor in defamation cases, Dominion has what independent observers have said is an unusually strong case. Day after day, Fox hosts and guests repeated untrue stories about Dominion’s ties to communist regimes and far-fetched theories about how its software enabled enemies of the former president to steal his votes.“This is a very different kind of case,” said David A. Logan, dean of the Roger Williams School of Law, who has argued in favor of loosening some libel laws. “Rarely do cases turn on a weekslong pattern of inflammatory, provably false, but also oddly inconsistent statements.”Dominion, in its quest to obtain the private communications of as many low-, mid- and high-level Fox personnel as possible, hopes to prove that people inside the network knew they were disseminating lies. Fox hopes to be able sow doubt about that by showing how its hosts pressed Trump allies for evidence they never produced and that Dominion machines were vulnerable to hacking, even if no hacking took place.The judge, Eric M. Davis, has ruled in most instances in Dominion’s favor, allowing the voting company to expand the pool of potential evidence it can present to a jury to include text messages from the personal phones of Fox employees and the employment contracts of star hosts such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, along with those of Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News Media, and her top corporate managers.More on Fox NewsDefamation Case: ​​Some of the biggest names at Fox News are being questioned in the $1.6 billion lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against the network. The suit could be one of the most consequential First Amendment cases in a generation.Exploring a Merger: Fox and News Corp, the two sides of Rupert Murdoch’s media business, are weighing a proposal that could put Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and the Fox broadcasting network under the same corporate umbrella.‘American Nationalist’: Tucker Carlson stoked white fear to conquer cable news. In the process, the TV host transformed Fox News and became former President Donald J. Trump’s heir.Empire of Influence: ​​A Times investigation looked at how the Murdochs, the family behind a global media empire that includes Fox News, have destabilized democracy on three continents.Dominion has conducted dozens of depositions with current and former network personalities, producers, business managers and executives. The people questioned come from the rungs of middle management at Fox News headquarters in Manhattan to the corner office in Century City, Los Angeles, where Mr. Murdoch oversees the Fox Corporation and its sprawling enterprise of conservative media outlets.The fight over depositions has intensified in recent weeks as lawyers for the two companies sparred over whether Mr. Hannity and another pro-Trump host, Jeanine Pirro, should have to sit for a second round of questioning about messages that Dominion obtained from their phones as part of the discovery process. Fox lawyers have argued that the hosts should not be compelled to testify again, citing the legal protections that journalists have against being forced to reveal confidential sources.The judge ruled that Dominion’s lawyers could question both Mr. Hannity and Ms. Pirro again but limited the scope of what they could ask. Ms. Pirro’s second deposition was late last month; Mr. Hannity’s has yet to be scheduled.Fox has accused Dominion in court filings of making “escalating demands” for documents that are voluminous in quantity, saying it would have to hire a second litigation team to accommodate such a “crushing burden.” (The judge has largely disagreed.)In a sign of the simmering tensions between the two sides, Fox lawyers have asked the court to impose tens of thousands of dollars in sanctions against Dominion. Fox has accused the voting machine company’s chief executive, John Poulos, and other senior company officials of failing to preserve their emails and text messages, as parties to a lawsuit are required to do with potentially relevant evidence.After Dominion filed its lawsuit in March 2021 — claiming that Fox’s coverage of its machines not only cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in business but “harmed the idea of credible elections” — many media law experts assumed this case would end like many other high-profile defamation case against a news organization: with a settlement.Fox News has a history of settling sensitive lawsuits before they reach a jury. In the last several years alone, it has paid tens of millions of dollars in claims: to women who reported sexual harassment by its former chief executive, Roger Ailes, and by prominent hosts including Bill O’Reilly; as well as to the family of Seth Rich, a former Democratic Party staff member who was killed in a robbery that some conservatives tried to link to an anti-Clinton conspiracy theory.But a settlement with Dominion appears to be a remote possibility at this point. Fox has said that the broad protections provided to the media under the First Amendment shield it from liability. The network says it was merely reporting on Mr. Trump’s accusations, which are protected speech even if the president is lying. Dominion’s complaint outlines examples in which Fox hosts did more than just report those false claims, they endorsed them.“This does not appear to be a case that’s going to settle — but anything can happen,” said Dan K. Webb, a noted trial lawyer who is representing Fox in the dispute. “There are some very fundamental First Amendment issues here, and those haven’t changed.”In a statement, Dominion said the company was confident its case would show that Fox knew it was spreading lies “from the highest levels down.”“Instead of acting responsibly and showing remorse, Fox instead has doubled down,” the statement said. “We’re focused on holding Fox accountable and are confident the truth will ultimately prevail.”The judge has set a trial date for April of next year. A separate defamation suit against Fox by the voting company Smartmatic is not scheduled to be ready for trial until the summer of 2024.Part of the reason Fox executives and its lawyers believe they can prevail is the high burden of proof Dominion must reach to convince a jury that the network’s coverage of the 2020 election defamed it. Under the law, a jury has to conclude that Fox acted with “actual malice,” meaning that people inside the network knew that what they were reporting was false but did so anyway, or that they recklessly disregarded information showing what they were reporting was wrong.That is what Dominion hopes to show the jury with the private messages it obtained from a several-week period after the election from Fox employees at all levels of the company. Very little is known publicly about what those messages could contain.In addition to arguing that its coverage of Dominion was protected as free speech, Fox argues it was merely covering statements from newsmakers. “There is nothing more newsworthy than covering the president of the United States and his lawyers making allegations of voter fraud,” a spokeswoman said.Fox’s lawyers are also planning lines of defense that they hope will dent Dominion’s credibility, even if that means leaning into some of the conspiracy theories that are at the heart of Dominion’s case. They may argue, for example, that it was plausible that the machines had been hacked, pointing to questions that were raised by at least one independent expert about whether the software was secure.As part of their fact-finding, Fox lawyers sought information from a University of Michigan computer scientist who wrote a report this year saying there were vulnerabilities in Dominion’s system that could be exploited, even though there is no evidence of any such breach.Mr. Webb said the intent would be to show that the fraud allegations “were not made up out of whole cloth.” But it was not his plan, he said, to pretend that Mr. Trump’s voter fraud falsehoods — which were the same as many of the falsehoods uttered on the air at Fox — were true. “The president’s allegations were not correct,” Mr. Webb said. He added that he planned “to show the jury that those security concerns were there and were real and added plausibility to the president’s allegations.”After Mr. Murdoch’s deposition on Monday, lawyers on both sides of the case said they expected one additional senior executive to be questioned by Dominion’s lawyers: Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the Fox Corporation, who founded Fox News with Mr. Ailes more than 25 years ago. More

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    Republican-Controlled County in Arizona Holds Up Election Results

    Republican local officials are threatening to disrupt the final tally of midterm votes in one more sign of the politicization of elections.Republican officials in an Arizona county voted on Monday to hold up certification of local results in this month’s midterm elections, reflecting an expansion of partisan battles into obscure elements of the election system and largely uncharted legal territory.The Cochise County board of supervisors refused to certify the results, although members cited no issues with the count or problems in the vote. In Mohave County, Republican supervisors delayed a vote to certify the election, but then backtracked and certified the vote on Monday.The move is unlikely to significantly stall the final results of this year’s elections; state officials have said that if necessary they will pursue legal action to force the board’s certification. But it represents a newfound willingness by some Republican officeholders to officially dispute statewide election results they dislike, even when the local outcomes are not in doubt.“Our small counties, we’re just sick and tired of getting kicked around and not being respected,” said Peggy Judd, one of two Republican supervisors in Cochise who voted to delay the certification of county results until Friday.Ms. Judd described the move as a protest over the election in Maricopa County, where Republican candidates have claimed — with no evidence — widespread voter disenfranchisement, largely as a result of ballot printing errors.Similar actions have taken place in Pennsylvania, where activists have sued to block certification in Delaware County, and Republican election officials in Luzerne County voted against certification, forcing a deadlock on the county election board after one of the three Democratic board members abstained from voting.In Arizona and Pennsylvania as in most states, elections are run by county governments, which must then certify the results. The act was regarded as little more than a formality until the 2020 election.Since then, local Republican officials aligned with the election denier movement have occasionally tried to use their position to hold up certification. The tactic has become more widespread this year and earned encouragement from Republican candidates and right-wing media personalities.“People were suppressed and disenfranchised,” Charlie Kirk, the conservative pundit, said on his radio show this month. Mr. Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, which is based in Phoenix, cheered on Cochise and Mohave officials in their efforts: “We’re not going to let this one go.”These actions have mostly unfolded in heavily Republican counties and have only rarely been prompted by suspicions about local elections. More often, local Republican officials and activists have described the actions as an effort to complicate or at least protest the certification of elections elsewhere that they claim have been compromised.The Aftermath of the 2022 Midterm ElectionsCard 1 of 6A moment of reflection. More

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    Judge Slaps Down Bolsonaro’s Late Bid to Overturn Brazil’s Election

    President Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign argued many votes should be nullified because of a software bug. But experts said the bug did not affect the vote, and Brazil’s elections chief dismissed the complaint.RIO DE JANEIRO — For more than a year, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil had warned that he might not accept a loss in last month’s presidential election. Then he lost. In response, he reluctantly agreed to begin the transition of power — while his allies inspected the election results for evidence of anything amiss.This week, his campaign claimed to have found it: a small software bug in the voting machines. On Tuesday, the campaign filed a request to effectively overturn the election in Mr. Bolsonaro’s favor, saying the bug should nullify votes from about 60 percent of the voting machines.Of the remaining votes, Mr. Bolsonaro would win 51 percent, the campaign said, making him the victor instead of the leftist former president who defeated him, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.The request was a Hail Mary. Independent experts said the bug had no impact on the integrity of the vote. And then, late Wednesday, Brazil’s elections chief dismissed the complaint and fined the three conservative parties behind it $4.3 million for filing it.Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court justice who runs Brazil’s electoral agency and who has become one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s most prominent political adversaries, said in a decision Wednesday night that the campaign’s arguments were “absolutely false” and that the request to overturn the election was “ostensibly an attack on the democratic rule of law and carried out recklessly, with the aim of encouraging criminal and anti-democratic movements.”Mr. Moraes had previously given the campaign 24 hours to explain why it had only questioned votes from the election’s second round, in which Mr. Bolsonaro lost, and not the first round, in which his political party won the most seats in Congress using the same voting machines. After the head of Mr. Bolsonaro’s party said on Wednesday that it lacked information about the first round, Mr. Moraes dismissed the complaint.No evidence of fraud in Brazil’s voting machines, which are not connected to the internet, has emerged.Victor Moriyama for The New York TimesThe back-and-forth is the latest twist in the president’s unusual response to his loss. At first, he waited two days to publicly address his loss. When he did, he refused to concede. Then, as his administration began the transition of power, Mr. Bolsonaro stayed out of the spotlight for weeks.His vice president said he was dealing with a skin infection that made it difficult to wear pants. Mr. Bolsonaro returned to the presidential offices on Wednesday.At the same time, thousands of Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters have been protesting outside military bases across the country, begging the armed forces to intervene in the government and prevent Mr. Lula from taking office. Many protesters claim the election was stolen, citing analyses and evidence that have been debunked by experts. The military inspected the vote and found no signs of fraud.Mr. Moraes, the elections chief, has become one of Brazil’s most powerful political figures in the face of criticism of the elections system from Mr. Bolsonaro and his allies. Mr. Moraes’s aggressive response to what he has called attacks against Brazil’s democracy, including his orders for social networks to take down thousands of posts, has drawn widespread criticism from the Brazilian right.On short notice on Wednesday afternoon, hours before Mr. Moraes’s decision, Mr. Bolsonaro’s right-wing Liberal Party had called reporters to a hotel in Brasília, the nation’s capital, to explain its findings.Valdemar Costa Neto, the party’s president, said the software bug demanded a review of the election results. “There can’t be any doubts about the vote,” he said. “If this is a stain on our democracy, we have to solve it now.”Mr. Moraes on Wednesday also ordered an investigation into Mr. Costa Neto and the official who oversaw the party’s audit.The software bug highlighted by Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign causes an error in one document produced by some older voting machines. The error affects the identification number connected to the voting machine. Liberal Party officials argued that made it difficult to verify the votes.Independent computer security experts who have studied Brazil’s voting machines and who reviewed the campaign’s findings said that was wrong. They said that while the bug exists, it has no bearing on the integrity of the results. That is because there are a variety of other ways to identify the voting machines, including on the very documents that have the error.“They pointed out a bug that needs to be corrected. That’s great, and it’s actually easy to correct,” said Marcos Simplício, a cybersecurity researcher at the University of São Paulo. But he said that the campaign’s suggestion that votes should be nullified is like arguing a car is totaled because of a scratch on the door.“Try to convince your insurance company of that,” he said. “It’s nonsense. Complete nonsense.” More