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Reprinted with permission from Alternet

With the release of the Ukraine report from the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Chair Adam Schiff and his colleagues laid out the damning case for impeaching President Donald Trump in excruciating detail. Much of it, however, has been publicly known as transcripts of the inquiry depositions and public hearings revealed the key facts of Trump’s effort to induce Ukraine into investigating his political rivals while withholding military aid and White House meeting.

But because of Trump’s stonewalling — which itself features as a pillar of the president’s misconduct in the report — Republicans have argued that Schiff and the Democrats haven’t persuasively made the case that Trump was a part of the effort to leverage official acts in exchange for the political investigations. While extensive evidence strongly suggests that Trump was at the center of the scheme, not one witness’ testimony tied Trump directly to the quid pro quo.

The Ukraine report, however, gets around this fact by pointing to key statements not as a part of the inquiry itself, but made in public by White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump himself.

“On October 17, at a press briefing in the White House, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed that President Trump withheld the essential military aid for Ukraine as leverage to pressure Ukraine to investigate the conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election,” the report explained. “As Dr. [Fiona] Hill made clear in her testimony, this false narrative has been promoted by President Putin to deflect away from Russia’s systemic interference in our election and to drive a wedge between the United States and a key partner”

It continued:

According to Mr. Mulvaney, President Trump “[a]bsolutely” mentioned “corruption related to the DNC server” in connection with the security assistance during his July 25 call. Mr. Mulvaney also stated that the server was part of “why we held up the money.” After a reporter attempted to clarify this explicit acknowledgement of a quid pro quo, Mr. Mulvaney replied: “We do that all the time with foreign policy.” He added, “I have news for everybody: get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

Ambassador Taylor testified that in his decades of military and diplomatic service, he had never seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the President. Rather, “we condition assistance on issues that will improve our foreign policy, serve our foreign policy, ensure that taxpayers’ money is well-spent,” not specific investigations designed to benefit the political interests of the President of the United States.

This is particularly damning. When it happened, I called Mulvaney’s stunning press briefing an “avalanche of confessions.” So despite the fact that Mulvaney, as a part of the president’s stonewalling, defied a subpoena to testify before the inquiry, his own voluntary remarks play a key role in the report.

It doesn’t note, as I also previously argued, that Mulvaney’s subsequent efforts to lie and say that he didn’t confirm the quid pro quo — even though he unequivocally did — actually strengthens the case that his admission was damning.

The report goes on:

In contrast, President Trump does not appear to believe there is any such limitation on his power to use White House meetings, military aid or other official acts to procure foreign help in his reelection. When asked by a reporter on October 3 what he had hoped President Zelensky would do following their July 25 call, President Trump responded: “Well, I would think that, if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer.”

This isn’t the only point in the report when Trump’s own public words were used against him. It noted that Trump denied remembering July 26 call with Ambassador Gordon Sondland, a key player in the scandal, in which they explicitly discussed getting Zelensky to do the political investigations. Though Sondland, too, initially failed to mention this call to the inquiry, later, he “noted that White House call records made available to his legal counsel confirmed that the July 26 call in fact occurred.” This suggests Trump clearly thinks he has something to hide in the scandal.

Unfortunately, though, the report seems to neglect another piece of evidence I flagged recently. In an interview with Fox News on  Nov. 22, Trump essentially admitted to the key charge against him — leveraging the military aid to get the investigations he wanted. It wasn’t necessary to prove the case — Mulvaney’s comments and the other evidence do that — but it makes it even starker and reveals that, to this day, Trump can’t grasp what he did wrong.

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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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