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There is no penalty for lying on television, as anyone who watches cable news already knows. It is considered normal today when Fox News personalities — to name one prominent group of habitual liars — repeat absurd falsehoods, even if the result is that people contract the coronavirus and die.

There is no penalty for lying on the radio, as everyone has known for decades. It is a highly lucrative daily routine for talk jocks such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage — among the most successful of their ilk — who are often exposed but never feel embarrassed.


There is no penalty for lying on the internet, where spreading the most implausible conspiracy theories, bogus rumors and fake videos is literally a billion-dollar industry and, in some countries such as Russia, a government function.

But sometimes, there's a penalty for lying to a court or a federal law enforcement official. Which is why the mendacious claims about the presidential election now running unabated online and on air can suddenly turn to ashes in the mouths of President Donald Trump's lawyers. So eager to proffer fraudulent claims of vote fraud, those loudmouths start mumbling when reminded that they are subject to statutory discipline.

More than once during the past few days, Trump attorneys who brought actions against election authorities in battleground states have lapsed into what the late Jimmy Breslin used to call "off-English." In a Breslin column, "off-English" described words used to evade inconvenient truths.

The hard truth dodged by those Republican attorneys — and their client and his cult — is that Joe Biden soundly defeated the president by much larger margins than he achieved four years ago, and that there is simply no plausible evidence to diminish those totals. Outside the courthouses, on TV and online, those lawyers and their publicity apparatus, including the taxpayer-supported propagandists in the White House, say whatever Trump wants to hear, no matter how untrue.

They're not quite so brazen when appearing before a judge, however.

In Philadelphia, the Trump brief insisted that Republicans weren't being permitted to observe the counting of votes as required by law — a charge tweeted out by the president and repeated by Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr. and company. When Trump attorney Jerome Marcus went into federal court demanding a halt to vote tabulation, however, U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, appointed by former President George W. Bush, sharply reminded him of his obligation to be truthful.

Judge: Are your observers in the counting room?

Marcus (lapsing into off-English): There's a non-zero number of people in the room.

Judge: I am asking you as a member of the bar of this court: Are people representing the plaintiffs in the room?

Marcus: Yes.

Roughly the same humiliating scenario played out in a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, courthouse, where Trump lawyer Jonathan Goldstein presented vague insinuations of vote fraud.

Judge: I am asking you a specific question, and I am looking for a specific answer. Are you claiming that there is any fraud in connection with these 592 disputed ballots?

Goldstein: To my knowledge at present, no.

Judge: Are you claiming that there is any undue or improper influence upon the elector with respect to these 592 ballots?

Goldstein: To my knowledge at present, no.

In Michigan, a Detroit postal worker who gained a moment of internet fame by claiming that the postmaster had "backdated" ballots changed his story under questioning by federal investigators. He suddenly realized, according to a tape he surreptitiously recorded and then released, that he hadn't actually heard any incriminating conversations and had simply signed an affidavit handed to him by right-wing provocateurs. (The same character then made a Facebook video recanting his recantation, but remember, there's no penalty for lying online.)

Similar melodramas are occurring in courtrooms across the country, as judges dismiss the trumped-up assertions used by Trump's legal minions to delay the inevitable. We're learning that too many Republicans have no respect for democracy and will eagerly pervert its outcome — unless they face the prospect of punishment.

Happily, not every American requires a threat of legal sanctions to be truthful, even in this age of streaming deception. Republican election officials in Georgia and many other places; Republican legislators in Pennsylvania and Michigan; and even a handful of Republican senators in Washington are refusing to parrot Trump's authoritarian nonsense.

When this is all over, let's remember honest officials who stood up for truth, as well as those who failed the test of democratic integrity.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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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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