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Michael Cohen’s ongoing testimony before Congress and the evidence of criminal wrongdoing he is providing to lawmakers, prosecutors, and the media, must be making President Donald Trump, his former client, increasingly nervous.

So Rudy Giuliani, the president’s current lawyer, is frantically trying to spin a defense as the case spirals out beyond his control.

In a new report from the New York Times published Wednesday night, for example, Giuliani said that multiple lawyers for defendants in the Russia investigation have sought potential pardons. Giuliani claimed, though, that he has consistently rebuffed the request. Giuliani is an unreliable narrator in the best of times — he repeatedly mangles known facts when they benefit Trump. But in this case, his claims are even more dubious, because they clearly look like damage control; multiple reports have recently found that there were discussions of a possible pardon for Cohen, though it’s not clear who brought up the idea.

Giuliani seems to be trying to get ahead of the story.

The question of whether a pardon was offered and when is important because many legal analysts, including Trump’s new attorney general William Barr, have argued that exchanging a pardon for silence could be a crime.

According to the Times, Cohen has told federal prosecutors about discussions he had involving Giuliani and another lawyer regarding pardons after the FBI raided his properties.

Giuliani, the Times reported, “said he always insisted to defense lawyers that Mr. Trump would not consider granting pardons until the investigations were long over.” Of course, this might not be much of a help to Trump, because as the Times noted, previous reporting found that the president’s lawyers were raising the prospect of possible pardons to defendants in the Russia investigation before Giuliani came aboard.

And even earlier on Wednesday, Giuliani gave a different, much more definitive response about the possibility of pardons.

“We have unequivocally always said only one thing, and anything else would be entirely false,” Giuliani told ABC News. “We have said the president is not going to issue any pardons and is not considering any pardons at this time.”

The answer to ABC News, though, was in direct contradiction to known facts. Giuliani has previously said Trump “reserves the power to [pardon] if and when it’s appropriate.” Trump himself has said on the subject of pardons, “I’m not taking anything off the table.”

Giuliani’s desperate efforts to defend his client in public without regard to any concerns about coherence extended to another subject entirely on Wednesday: the criminal hush money payments Cohen has pleaded guilty to. Cohen has implicated Trump in this scheme, and he has recently produced several checks he says show the president reimbursed him for one of the illegal payments.

On Twitter, Giuliani tried to argue, as he has previously, that the crime itself wasn’t actually a crime, despite Cohen’s guilty plea:

But as legal experts have painstakingly explained, Giuliani is just plain wrong about what the law in question means.

“This is not an accurate statement of the law,” said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. “Based on the jury instructions given to the jury in the John Edwards case, if there was a ‘campaign purpose’ for the hush money payments, they were not legal.”

With investigators encircling him on all sides and the evidence looking worse and worse, Trump will need the best legal help he can get. As the meandering, contradictory, and factually mistaken statements above show, Giuliani is certainly not that.


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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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