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Reprinted with permission from Shareblue.com

EPA chief Scott Pruitt gave his staff a set of simple instructions when he had an urge to travel: “Find me something to do.”

Needing at least some sort of justification, Pruitt told his staffers to go hunting for excuses so he could write his personal trips off as official, government-related excursions.

Pruitt’s trips included spending taxpayer dollars to repeatedly fly home to Oklahoma on the weekends, as well as visit other destinations, last year. Pruitt also regularly demanded that his flights be booked on Delta airlines — even when the federal government didn’t have a government carrier contract with Delta — because Pruitt wanted to bank as many frequent flyer miles as possible.

Those are among the revelations detailed in a new, six-page letter from Senate Democrats, who recently interviewed the EPA’s former deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski, who was removed from his post after objecting to Pruitt’s runaway spending habits.

“Mr. Chmielewski also provided details about how Mr. Pruitt had assigned one of his aides, Millan Hupp, to ‘act as your personal real estate representative, spending weeks improperly using federal government resources and time to contact rental and seller’s agents, and touring numerous properties in which you might wish to reside,’” the New York Times reports.

The shocking disclosures add to the mountain of unethical behavior on Pruitt’s part. Last year he spent a staggering $3 million on travel, and today he’s reportedly protected by security force of 19 agents and a fleet of at least 19 vehicles, paid for by taxpayers, even though the EPA can’t explain why Pruitt needs unprecedented protection like that.

On Thursday, two Democratic senators also claimed that Pruitt has maintained “secret” email accounts while head of the EPA.

Still, after waging a public relations campaign last week, exclusively via the conservative media, Pruitt has been able to hang onto his job by portraying himself as a would-be martyr of the Trump era.

Pruitt’s fans think he’s the real victim and that he’s being targeted unfairly by liberal critics who will “use any means” to stop the Trump agenda.

Pruitt’s outlandish spending has been noted for many months, but the story exploded anew when he was caught “leasing” a luxury Washington, D.C., condo on a per-night basis from the wife of an energy lobbyist at far below market value, even while the EPA approved a pipeline extension for a company represented by that lobbyist’s firm.

Pruitt’s daughter also benefited from the sweetheart condo deal, which cost just $50 a night. But even with the discount, Pruitt didn’t pay the rent and the lobbyist landlord had to change the locks on him.

Meanwhile, the pressure on Pruitt continues to mount. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who’s retiring after this year, is pushing to get more documents about Pruitt’s sweetheart lease deal, as well as his costly plane travel.

It looks like Pruitt will even have to explain to Republicans what he meant by “Find me something to do.”

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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