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Reprinted with permission from Alternet

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton gave the Justice Department a pointed rebuke last September because of President Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on former Deputy FBI Director Andy McCabe, new documents released on Friday showed.

At the time, McCabe was the target of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department for charges that arose regarding his apparent lies during an inspector general investigation. But as was also revealed on Friday, the department has now determined that it will not pursue charges against McCabe in this matter.

Judge Walton was overseeing a related Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the non-profit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Washington. In September, the Justice Department was seeking delays in the case because it hadn’t yet decided how it would handle the potential charges against McCabe. But Walton didn’t think it was appropriate to drag out the process.

Assistant U.S. Attorney J.P. Cooney told the court that the situation surrounding the case had been “exceedingly difficult.”

He didn’t say why it was so difficult, but it’s not hard to imagine why. Trump has publicly lambasted McCabe for years, and he clearly wanted him prosecuted. Though the potential charges are entirely unrelated, Trump’s animus at McCabe stems from the former deputy director’s role leading the Russia investigation.

Judge Walton’s comments, which had previously been sealed, reflected broader concerns in the public and the media that Trump’s efforts to publicly pressure the Justice Department are corrupting the rule of law.

“I fully appreciate the complexity of the assessment, especially, unfortunately, to be candid in light of the way by the White House, which I don’t think top executive officers should be doing,” Walton said. “Because it does I think really complicate your ability to get a fair adjudication from the government’s perspective.”

He continued: “Because the public is listening to what’s going on, and I don’t think people like the fact that you got somebody at the top basically trying to dictate whether somebody should be prosecuted. I just think it’s a banana republic when we go down that road and we have those type of statements being made that are conceivably even if not influencing the ultimate decision, I think there are a lot of people on the outside who perceive that there is undo inappropriate pressure being brought to bear.”

He added that the “mess” created by the inappropriate pressure was “disturbing.”

“I just think the integrity of the process is being unduly undermined by inappropriate comments and actions on the part of people at the top of our government,” Walton said. “I think it’s very unfortunate. And I think as a government and as a society we’re going to pay a price at some point for this.”

It seemed Cooney took the judge’s remarks seriously, accepting a shorter timeline and saying that he would “report back” on the court’s complaints.

“I want to assure the court that I and others involved in this take our representation of the United States and the Department of Justice very seriously,” Cooney said. The judge made clear, though, that he wasn’t criticizing the prosecutor himself.

After Walton agreed on the extension, Anne Weismann, a lawyer for CREW, was allowed to speak to the judge.

“Sadly, we’re in dark times where there’s growing evidence that the president, aided by the attorney general, is using the power of his office to go after perceived political enemies,” she said. “He’s going after the intelligence community. He’s going after the law enforcement community. And we believe that Mr. McCabe was swept up in that.”

“Going after the courts, too,” the judge interjected.

“And he’s going after the courts, the press,” Weismann agreed. “It’s hard to find someone who isn’t a victim of his abuse of powers.”


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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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