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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

When President Donald Trump was interviewed by the New York Times this week, he reiterated his claim that the Trump Organization’s abandoned Trump Tower Moscow project was not a high priority for him in 2016. Trump told the Times that he wasn’t even sure his company found a location in Moscow for the project.

But BuzzFeed News’ Emma Loop reported that according to “hundreds of pages of business documents, e-mails, text messages” that BuzzFeed has obtained, the Trump Organization was looking into at least one prime location for the skyscraper.

For the Jan. 31 New York Times interview, Trump spoke to reporters Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker as well as publisher A. G. Sulzberger. And he said of Trump Tower Moscow, “That deal was not important. It was essentially a letter of intent or an option. I’m not even sure that they had a site.”

Trump also told the Times, “This was a very unimportant deal. I didn’t care.” And he insisted that he was so busy running for president in 2016 that “the last thing I cared about was building a building.”

But according to Loop, a “signed letter of intent” BuzzFeed obtained “includes a proposal to build the tower in Moscow City, a former industrial complex near the edge of the Moscow River that has since been converted into an ambitious commercial district clustered with several of the tallest skyscrapers in Europe. It is not clear whether any other sites ever came under consideration.”

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani had previously claimed that the president never even signed the letter of intent — but that was eventually proved false.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress about plans for a Trump Tower Moscow. Cohen told Congress that discussions pertaining to the project ended in January 2016, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team confirmed that negotiations had continued on until at least June.

Trump has distanced himself from Cohen’s actions, saying that the attorney (who has been sentenced to three years in prison) acted on his own. But on Jan. 17, BuzzFeed reported that according to law enforcement sources, Cohen was acting on direct orders from Trump when he lied to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow—an allegation Mueller’s team has disputed.

In an official statement, Mueller’s office said, “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.” Nonetheless, BuzzFeed has stood by its reporting and maintained that the law enforcement sources it interviewed were credible.

 

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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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