The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

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

Tag: 2020 presidential election

Eastman Devised Scheme For GOP Theft Of 2020 Pennsylvania Vote

Former Trump attorney John Eastman colluded with a Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania to formulate a pretext to seat Trump electors in a state Joe Biden won by nearly 82,000 votes. Their communications were discovered on his University of Colorado email account. It was a last ditch-bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election, as the new emails obtained by the House Select Committee show.

Eastman devised a sinister idea to label tens of thousands of absentee ballots illegitimate, thus giving then-President Trump the state’s popular vote lead. This method, Eastman proposed, “would help provide some cover,” beneath which Republicans could swap Biden’s electors with sham electors for Trump who would subvert the 2020 elections.

According to the emails, Eastman suggested that Republican officials voice their concerns with mailed-in ballots and, using historical data, “discount each candidate’s totals by a prorated amount based on the absentee percentage those candidates otherwise received,” according to Politico.

“Then, having done that math, you’d be left with a significant Trump lead that would bolster the argument for the Legislature adopting a slate of Trump electors — perfectly within your authority to do anyway, but now bolstered by the untainted popular vote. That would help provide some cover,” Eastman told Russ Diamond, the aforementioned GOP Pennsylvania state lawmaker, in a December 4, 2020, email. “That would help provide some cover.”

The messages sent to and from Eastman’s “colorado.edu” email address were obtained by the Colorado Ethics Institute via a request citing the state's Open Records law. A Democratic political consultant sent these emails to the House Select Committee on behalf of the institute.

The select committee sued Eastman’s former employer, Chapman University, to obtain 90,000 pages of the ex-Trump lawyer’s emails, but Eastman countersued to prevent Chapman from complying. The House panel won several rounds of that case — with a finding by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter that Eastman and Trump had “more likely than not” participated in criminal activity — and has already obtained crucial emails Eastman sent from January 4 to January 7, 2021. However, the select committee is still in court, asking to get 3,000 more pages of Eastman’s emails before its June-slated public hearings.

Eastman has claimed for months that his post-election work was “grounded in provocative-but-real legal scholarship,” per MSNBC, but the released emails, which underscore the length to which he tried to distort reality to earn Trump undeserved electors, render the attorney’s point moot.

"Here in Pennsylvania, numerous other frustrated colleagues and I are searching for legislative solutions to our current national predicament," Eastman told Diamond in another December 4 email. The “predicament” was Biden winning the state by tens of thousands of votes.

Not satisfied with the preponderance of advice he’d given Diamond on the language of his resolution, Eastman even offered to carry out specific line edits on the proposed resolution, the Washington Post reported.

“I would also include after paragraph 3 a specific legislative determination that the slate of electors certified by the governor under the illegally-conducted election are also null and void,” Eastman suggested.

When contacted by 9news for comment, Eastman rejected claims of wrongdoing on his part.

"I wasn't even aware that I had used a [University of] Colorado email, but somebody obviously reached out to me using that email and I just hit reply," said Eastman. "Look, I'm a constitutional expert. The notion that a legislator would reach out to me seeking my input on a key constitutional issue is not a surprise and well within my normal academic duties," Eastman said.

A member of the select committee disagreed. “Eastman wasn’t doing anything that Trump wasn’t doing himself,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told the Washington Post. “They,” he added, referring to Eastman and his cohorts, “were both trying to get officials in the electoral process to substitute a counterfeit for the actual vote totals.”

As the subject of investigations and lawsuits, Eastman turned to his far-right supporters for financial aid for his “Legal Defense Fund” and has raised nearly $180,000 in a crowdfunding drive, where he painted himself a victim of “hard-core leftist activists” and “hyper-partisan” investigators.

Michigan Lawyer Who Sought To Overturn Biden's Victory Tied To Russian Spy

A Tennessee attorney who worked on a Michigan lawsuit alleging voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election has a history of working with Russian nationals, an investigation by the American Independent Foundation has found.

The lawyer, G. Kline Preston IV, worked with a conservative legal group in Michigan as part of an effort to overturn the election results in the state, where Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by a slim margin in 2020.

Preston has worked for Republican politicians and causes as a legal adviser for nearly two decades. He has said he is "family friends" with Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, whose campaign he represented in 2005 as it was being investigated for possible finance violations. He gave legal advice to Blackburn's 2007 House campaign and worked with her as recently as 2014.

Preston has a long history of sharing pro-Confederate propaganda on social media. He even quoted a former Ku Klux Klan leader in one of the many books he's written. In 2013, Preston sent a tweet suggesting that former President Barack Obama is not American — the same "Birther" conspiracy theory that Trump pushed before he ran for president.

"As long as US is electing foreign-born presidents, I propose Vladimir Vladimirivich [sic] Putin," Preston tweeted in 2013.

On Nov. 8, 2020, lawyers with the right-leaning Great Lakes Justice Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Wayne County residents alleging fraud took place during the vote count. The lawsuit, which alleged that officials affiliated with Democrats "allowed illegal, unlawful, and fraudulent processing of votes cast" in a plot to sink Trump's chances of winning the state, was initially dismissed by the Wayne County Circuit Court. The lawyers behind the legal effort then appealed the ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

During the effort to get the Michigan Supreme Court to hear their case, the Great Lakes Justice Center's lawyers filed affidavits from 47 witnesses who alleged they saw voter fraud during the vote count at Huntington Place, the convention center in Detroit where the voting and vote-counting were conducted. Among the affidavits is a sworn statement from Preston that identifies him as "an attorney for the GOP in Michigan on November 3-4, 2020."

In the statement, Preston claimed that election officials at the venue where the vote-counting took place intentionally set up their process in an obscured area so Republican election observers couldn't see what they were doing.

"The entire set-up of the administration and calculation of ballots on November 4, 2020, at the Detroit Department of Elections in the TCF Center was improper because a central part of their procedure was hidden and obscured in plain sight by the raised stage on which unknown functions were performed involving ballots which were not subject to observation, review, scrutiny or challenge," the statement reads.

On Nov. 23, 2020, the Michigan canvassing board voted to certify the state's election results, with one of two Republicans joining the Democratic board members in the vote.

One of the Russian nationals Preston is connected to is Maria Butina, an unregistered foreign agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association as part of a Russian effort to influence conservatives. In 2018, The Daily Beast uncovered that it was Preston who first introduced Butina's handler, Alexander Torshin, a former Russian parliamentarian who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department, to David Keen, the former president of the NRA. According to their reporting, Preston is a "friend and confidant" of Torshin. In 2011 — the same year he introduced Torshin to Keene — Preston traveled to Russia to serve as a foreign elections observer. Preston also told The Tennessean in 2018 that Torshin "was interested in the NRA so I hooked him up."

In speaking with Rolling Stone in 2018, Preston waved off suspicion about introducing his friend to the NRA's leader. "Torshin is a gun enthusiast," he said. "I just called [Keene] out of the blue. I told him, 'Hey, I got a friend who is interested in the NRA, gun rights, that kind of stuff. Happens to be a Russian senator.'"

Preston is mentioned several times in the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Most notably, the report mentions that "according to Butina and press reporting, Tennessee attorney G. Kline Preston may also have been involved in the introduction."

From 2015 to 2017, Butina acted "as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence over American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation," according to the Justice Department.

Butina was working at the direction of an unnamed individual only described as a "high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank," according to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint against her.

The "high-level official in the Russian government" mentioned in the affidavit was later revealed to be Torshin, Preston's "friend and confidant."

Preston's ties to Moscow extend far beyond the Butina episode. As an undergraduate, he studied in Russia at Leningrad State University and is said to speak Russian fluently. In the affidavit, Preston says he's written 14 books on law, most of which are about Russian law and elections, including "Parliamentary Elections of the Russian Federation: The Case Against Western Media Bias and Prejudice" and "The Law on Advertising of the Russian Federation." According to Preston's website, he served as a freelance elections observer in at least three Russian parliamentary elections in 2011, 2012, and 2016.

In August of 2020, Preston appeared on the internet show of Johan Bäckman, a Finnish pro-Russian political academic, and said he anticipated there would be widespread voter fraud to prevent Trump from being reelected. "We also have an issue now with the integrity of our voting system," Preston said. "So I anticipate a lot of voter fraud during our election ... U.S. elections are nothing like what we see in Russia."

He also has decades of business experience with Russia, according to his LinkedIn profile. The Daily Beast found a cached version of his law office's website that expands on his years of work with Russian clients, including a claim to have organized the "visit, participation and conference for Russian Government Officials to attend the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association."

In an interview, Preston said he volunteered for Lawyers for Trump, a coalition of right-wing lawyers formed in July of 2020 that led legal efforts to overturn the election results in several states with false allegations of election fraud. Preston said the group placed him in Michigan to serve as an "election observer."

"[Lawyers for Trump] reached out and I got back in touch with them and said I'd be happy to [help] and went and spent about a week up in Detroit," Preston told the American Independent Foundation. "A lot of it was monitoring. We had people at the precincts."

Preston insisted he worked with Lawyers for Trump of his own accord, not at the direction of any Russian nationals. But in speaking with the American Independent Foundation he repeatedly praised the way Russia runs its elections, saying the country is "much better" at running elections than the United States, which he called "a joke."

Preston looks to Russian elections — which are historically mired in corruption and fraud — as an exemplar of how the United States should run its elections.

"I've been an observer in five federal elections in Russia," Preston said. "And I'm just here to tell you their elections are run much more smoothly — and with much more credibility than what I saw in Detroit."

Though the lead-up to the 2020 election in the U.S. was once again fraught with concerns of Russian interference, there's been no evidence that Russia or any other country had a hand in the post-election efforts to overturn the results in Michigan or any other state. A declassified intelligence report from March of 2021 confirmed that Putin did in fact authorize interference in the 2020 election by attempting to influence people close to Trump. "Neither Russia nor other countries tried to change ballots themselves," the report concluded.

Ultimately, the Great Lakes Justice Center's lawsuit was tossed by a Wayne County Circuit Court judge, who found that "the affidavits supplied by plaintiffs, purporting fraud, were 'rife' with generalization, speculation, hearsay, and a lack of evidentiary basis." An appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court was later dismissed as moot after the Michigan Board of Elections certified the state's election results.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

Running For Senate, Brnovich Embraces Trump Lies He Had Rejected

A Republican attorney general who in November 2020 publicly pushed back at former President Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud changed his tune after announcing his run for Senate -- an about-face that has won him high-profile GOP support.

Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s Attorney General, told Steve Bannon, a former Trump advisor indicted for contempt of Congress, that he had “serious concerns” about the findings his investigation into the state’s vote was turning up.

“It’s frustrating for all of us, because I think we all know what happened in 2020,” Brnovich said on Bannon’s podcast in a segment the conspiracy-pushing host titled “AZ AG On Interim Report On Stealing The 2020 Election.”

A GOP-led partisan “audit” of Arizona’s 2020 ballots turned up more votes for Joe Biden than previously reported. The sham review, orchestrated by the Republican state Senate to legitimize Trump’s claims of “massive fraud,” was shamed even by right-leaning publications.

In November 2020, Brnovich himself rejected claims of widespread voter fraud in Arizona, saying, “There is no evidence, there are no facts that would lead anyone to believe that the election results will change.”

“It does appear that Joe Biden will win Arizona,” Brnovich told Fox Business host Neil Cavuto after the AP, Decision Desk HQ, and even Fox News called Arizona for Biden.

However, times have changed for Brnovich, who in January sent out a fundraising letter that contained a photo of himself and Trump and a cringey message: “DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO BE ON TRUMP’S TEAM!”

According to the Washington Post, Brnovich, in a campaign email this week, said his office had learned that almost a fifth of Maricopa County’s early ballots were “transported outside the chain of custody,” a claim he offered no evidence to support.

Brnovich also claimed — without evidence, of course — paperwork was “missing” information and that Maricopa County verified its ballot signatures with artificial intelligence. However, every signature was verified by election staff, according to the Post.

Arizona’s attorney general is not the only GOP candidate embracing Trump’s false fraud claims in the hopes of winning the former president’s endorsement.

For his charade, Brnovich did earn himself an endorsement from a staunch Trump ally: Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO).

But critics have slammed Brnovich for caving to “promoters of disinformation for political gain in the Republican primary,” according to the Post.

“If no one is held responsible for lying … or undermining confidence based on their own greed and, you know, desire for power to either be elected or be reelected — if no one is held accountable for those actions, then we are in real trouble right now,” said Tammy Patrick, an ex-elections officer in Maricopa County, per the Post.

Another critic has recently ripped into Brnovich for his bogus elections investigation — former President Trump.

The former president assailed Brnovich in a Monday statement for doing nothing about the 2020 election in his state. "Rather than go after the people that committed these election crimes, it looks like he is just going to 'kick the can down the road' and stay in that middle path of non-controversy," Trump said.

The former president also said he will be making his endorsement in the Arizona Senate race in the “not so distant future.” The announcement will be a significant blow to Brnovich’s chances, as he’s one of several Republican candidates in the race.

Feds Charge Texas Man Who Threatened Georgia Election Officials

By Linda So and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department on Friday announced it has charged a Texas man with making violent threats against Georgia election and government officials. The indictment marked the first case brought by a federal task force formed in response to a wave of intimidation that has engulfed election administrators since the 2020 presidential vote.

The matter is one of “dozens” of such cases under federal investigation, said Kenneth A. Polite Jr., the assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division.

The election threats task force was announced last June, shortly after Reuters published the first in a series of investigative reports that have documented more than 850 threats and menacing messages to U.S. election workers. This campaign of fear has been carried out by supporters of former President Donald Trump who embrace his false claims that he lost the election because of widespread voter fraud.

Polite said the Justice Department had also analyzed more than 850 reports of threats to local election officials.

The indictment alleges that Chad Christopher Stark of Leander, Texas, posted a Craigslist message on January 5, 2021 entitled, “Georgia Patriots it’s time to kill.”

"It's time for us to take back our state from these Lawless treasonous traitors," he wrote, calling one of the Georgia officials a “Chinese agent.” "It's time to invoke our Second Amendment right” and “put a bullet in the treasonous Chinese” official.

Stark could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday. He was scheduled to make his initial appearance at the federal courthouse in Austin, Texas, at 1:30 p.m. CST in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Hightower.

The indictment said Stark threatened at least three Georgia officials but did not identify them. A source familiar with the investigation into Stark told Reuters that two of the officials were Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp.

Both Raffensperger and Kemp are Republicans who defended the integrity of the Georgia election despite intense pressure from Trump, who in January 2021 called Raffensperger and told him to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss.

“I strongly condemn threats against election workers and those who volunteer in elections,” Raffensperger said in a statement to Reuters on Friday. “We need to support and protect our local election officials and volunteers now more than ever.”

Raffensperger’s wife Tricia also received a wave of death threats that Reuters documented in its June report. Election workers in Georgia faced an onslaught of menacing messages following the 2020 vote as Trump and his allies sought to overturn election results in the state.

Reuters also spotlighted threats of lynching and racist taunts against Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss. Both received a deluge of hate after they were falsely accused of fraud by Trump himself. A senior member of the Trump campaign confirmed to Reuters that he participated in a bizarre attempt to pressure Freeman to falsely admit voting fraud, Reuters reported.

Trump is facing a criminal investigation by the district attorney in Fulton County, which includes part of Atlanta, into alleged election interference in Georgia.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday emphasized the importance of protecting election officials from threats during a speech before the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"An important part of keeping the American people safe is protecting those who serve the public from violence and unlawful threats of violence," he said. "There is no First Amendment right to unlawfully threaten to harm or kill someone.”

Polite, the assistant attorney general, called the officials being threatened “the backbone of our electoral system,” made up of “ordinary people from across the political spectrum.”

Federal officials declined to elaborate on Polite’s statement about “dozens” of open investigations into election threats. Sources familiar with two such investigations have told Reuters that the FBI is probing the cases in response to the news organization’s reports about them. One involves Gjurgi Juncaj, who threatened a Nevada election official whose ordeal was highlighted in a Reuters report in September. Another targets an anonymous man who threatened Vermont officials and was featured in a November Reuters investigation.

In a previous interview with Reuters, Juncaj said he had done nothing wrong and “didn’t threaten anybody.” He could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

The indictment by the task force is only the second known federal charge for threatening election workers since the 2020 vote. In December 2020, federal prosecutors charged a New Hampshire woman with threatening a Michigan official.

The task force’s indictment of Stark “sends a critical message that threatening an election official or worker will be treated as a threat to our democracy,” said Matt Masterson, a Republican who ran election security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security between 2018 to 2020.

Luis Quesada, an assistant director with the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said “the right to vote is a cornerstone of American democracy.”

“Threats targeting the officials and frontline workers who do the critical work of administering free and fair elections in the United States undermines this vital right," he said.

(Reporting by Linda So and Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Andy Sullivan and Brian Thevenot)

Michigan Attorney General Refers Electoral Certificate Forgers For Federal Prosecution

The group of Michigan Republicans who created a false electoral college certificate, claiming that Donald Trump had won the state and they were the duly appointed electors, have been referred to federal prosecutors by State Attorney General Dana Nessel. The Detroit News reports that even though Nessel indicated her intention to send the case to federal authorities, state charges remained possible.

"Under state law,” said Nessel during an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show, “I think clearly you have forgery of a public record, which is a 14-year offense, and election law forgery, which is a five-year offense.”

Over the last week, information has been released showing that Republicans in multiple states created false election certificates claiming to certify a slate of electors supporting Donald Trump. In the case of Michigan, that certificate falsely claimed that Donald Trump had won the state, falsely claimed to record the official slate of electors, and falsely claimed that those electors had been selected at the state capitol. In fact, they were selected in the Michigan Republican Party headquarters in Lansing. This collection of false claims was sent by registered mail to the archivist at the National Archives as part of an extensive scheme to justify refusing to recognize the actual results of the election.

Republicans didn’t just scheme to overthrow democracy. They put it in writing and signed their names.

Trump supporters created false electoral certificates in at least Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, and New Mexico, in addition to Michigan. These certificates weren’t created by random supporters on the street, or as part of some Q-Anon forum. They came from Republican Party leaders, local officials, and state legislators. As an example, the Michigan certificate included the state party’s co-chair and vice chair, along with a member of the national committee and a township election clerk. The 16 signatories of the Michigan document purport to be "duly elected and qualified electors" under the false claim that they "convened and organized" in the state Capitol. In truth, when the group tried to enter the Capitol building, they were stopped by police.

As the News sums up nicely:

Democrat Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points, a result that's been upheld by a series of court rulings, more than 200 audits and an investigation by the GOP-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee.

Asked why she had attempted to send a false certificate to the National Archives, Republican National Committee Member Kathy Berden replied, "I can’t comment on anything like that. That was a long time ago."

But Republicans in Michigan and elsewhere may not have the luxury of falling back on their oh-so-short memories. The series of false election certificates are a tangible representation of the coup attempt organized by the Trump White House.

Under that scheme, as presented by attorney John Eastman, Republicans would object to the counting of votes in “disputed” states on January 6. The false slates of electors could then be used as supposed evidence that there was a question about the outcome in these states. Then-Vice President Mike Pence could then either simply leave out the electoral votes from these states, declaring Trump the winner of a much-reduced electoral college, or throw the question to Republican-dominated state legislatures. A version of this plan was briefed to Republicans in Congress in a lengthy PowerPoint presentation so they would know their roles in the scheme.

As more information reaches the public, the odds that the House select committee on January 6 will refer criminal charges of conspiracy to the Department of Justice only increases. However, in the case of Michigan at least, the Department of Justice may not be waiting for the committee.

Article reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Louie Gohmert Wanted Coup So Badly He Sued Mike Pence

Article reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

In the last days of December 2020, Politico noted a decidedly odd story. That’s when Rep. Louie Gohmert, along with a group of would-be Donald Trump electors from Arizona, filed suit against Mike Pence—not for violating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, but for following it. And if that doesn’t sound strange enough already, Gohmert was likely acting as a stand-in for Trump.

In an update, Politico ponders why this story has gotten so little attention. And it’s a good question.

The suit against Pence seems to have been a proxy fight in two ways: First, the suit from Gohmert put more pressure on Pence to go along with the coup plan that was being circulated around the White House and briefed to Republicans in Congress. Second, it was a direct attempt to get the Department of Justice to weigh in on the constitutionality of the Electoral Count Act. Scoring points on either of those fronts might seriously advance the hopes of running through Trump’s plan to overthrow the election while giving it a patina of legality.

Despite claims that the plan presented to Republicans by Phil Waldron was not the same as the “official” plan that Mark Meadows, Trump, and attorney John Eastman pressed on Pence in the Oval Office, it’s clear that the critical points of the plan are the same. The details of Gohmert’s suit show that it follows the same basic themes. There was only one coup plan: Have Pence refuse to count enough electoral votes for Joe Biden so he could either claim that Trump was the outright victor or make a case that the election was “in dispute,” giving Trump the pretense to call for a do-over election under military supervision.

Well before January 6, Republicans were out there in public, explaining that scheme in court. It’s just that no one in the media took them seriously.

In that December 2020 lawsuit, Gohmert and company explicitly make the claim that would be repeated in the memos from Eastman and the PowerPoint from Waldron.

"Under the Twelfth Amendment, Defendant Pence alone has the exclusive authority and sole discretion to open and permit the counting of the electoral votes for a given state, and where there are competing slates of electors, or where there is an objection to any single slate of electors, to determine which electors’ votes, or whether none, shall be counted," claims the suit.

In other words, Pence, with no other authority or evidence, could determine which states got counted, and which states did not. The 1887 Electoral Count Act, according to the suit, is unconstitutional because it puts limits on that unlimited authority to decide what’s in, and what’s out.

It seems clear at this point that Gohmert was only acting as a stalking horse for Trump. It also seems clear that the real intent of the suit wasn’t to generate any kind of legal precedent but simply to force Pence to act. Opposing the suit would also mean opposing Trump, and would send an early signal of Pence’s intentions on January 6.

The signal on how all this would play out came just one day later when the Department of Justice stepped in to defend Pence. That came after Gohmert’s attorneys had a chat with Pence’s attorneys, offering what Gohmert’s team described as “a meaningful attempt to resolve the underlying legal issues by agreement, including advising the Vice President's counsel that Plaintiffs intended to seek immediate injunctive relief in the event the parties did not agree.” In other words, Gohmert offered to drop the suit if Pence would just commit to the scheme to overturn the election results. Pence did not sign on.

Gohmert’s suit was rejected by the federal district court in Texas. This was followed by a thumbs down in the circuit court of appeals. In both cases, judges ruled that decorating the suit with the names of people who would have been electors had Trump won did not give Gohmert standing to sue Pence for following the law.

At the time, it was easy to lose Gohmert’s suit in the sea of lawsuits that Trump’s legal team was launching against election results across seven states. The same team of attorneys who sued Pence for Gohmert were also responsible for some of the suits against the election outcome in Arizona—which is a pretty good clue to who was really calling the shots.

But a year later, it’s now clear that this suit was another piece of the plan represented by Eastman’s memo, Waldron’s PowerPoint, and the texts that were delivered to Meadows up to and during the assault on the Capitol. There was just one coup plot. And they were all in on it.

Article reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Dominion Voting Systems Files $1.3B Lawsuit Against MyPillow Guy

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Like many things about the Trump era and its lingering remnants, the news that a voting machine maker is suing a pillow executive for $1.3 billion sounds faintly ridiculous—but is part of a very serious effort to undermine democracy. The big lie, pushed by Donald Trump for months, is that the election was stolen, that President Biden won only through theft. The specific lie involved in this lawsuit is that voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems deleted votes for Trump or double-counted votes for Biden or were manipulated by foreign governments.

But the specific lie matters—in the world at large, not just to Dominion—because of the power of the big lie. Trump spent months pushing the claim that the election was stolen, delegitimizing Biden's presidency, and polls show that large majorities of Republicans—65 percent in one poll, 76 percent in another—believe there was widespread fraud or that Biden's win was not legitimate. And in this, as in so many things, Trump continues to lead the institutional Republican Party. On Sunday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise went on ABC's This Week and repeatedly insisted that Biden's win was related to there being "a few states that did not follow their state laws."

That right there is all the evidence you need that Trump has made the effort to undermine U.S. democracy mainstream in the Republican Party.

Dominion's lawsuit against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, which also names MyPillow, relates to a less establishment-friendly form of the big lie, but it's all part of the same effort, and Lindell wasn't pushing his Dominion claims alone. This lawsuit follows similar ones by Dominion against Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and voting company Smartmatic similarly sued Giuliani, Powell, Fox News, and some Fox hosts for $2.7 billion.

In the lawsuit, Dominion alleges that "Acting in concert with allies and media outlets that were determined to curry favor with one of their biggest sponsors and to promote a false preconceived narrative about the 2020 election, Lindell launched a defamatory marketing campaign about Dominion that reached millions of people and caused enormous harm to Dominion."

As for those media outlets, Lindell paid to air his lies about the election and Dominion in a two-hour documentary that ran on One America News. OAN offered an extensive disclaimer about how the documentary was just Lindell's opinion, "not the product of OAN's reporting." But it also promoted the show as "a never-before-seen report breaking down election fraud evidence & showing how the unprecedented level of voter fraud was committed in the 2020 Presidential Election." The video was subsequently pulled from YouTube for violating the platform's presidential election integrity policy.

OAN, one of Trump's current favorite media outlets since he turned against Fox News, has been the target of a defamation suit by a Dominion executive and, following cease and desist letters from Dominion itself, quietly removed a bunch of election-related conspiracy theory coverage from its website in January.

So this is very much not just a voting machine maker suing a pillow maker. Lindell, as absurd as it may seem, is part of a much bigger effort to overturn or at least throw doubt on the results of a presidential election, an effort that started with someone who, as absurd as it may seem, was then the sitting president of the United States. It was pushed in its extreme forms by the latter's lawyers, including a once-respected former mayor of New York City, and widely aired on more than one right-wing television news network. The big lie led directly to a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol aimed at stopping Congress from certifying the election results. The lie continues, in a slightly watered-down form, to be spread by one of the top Republicans in the House of Representatives on a major network's flagship Sunday news talk show. The veneer of absurdity does not make this any less serious.

Study: How Online Propagandists Targeted The 2020 Election

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Partisan disinformation to undermine 2020's presidential election shadowed every step of the voting process last year but took an unprecedented turn when the earliest false claims morphed into intricate conspiracies as Election Day passed and President Trump worked to subvert the results, according to two of the nation's top experts tracking the election propaganda.

At the general election's outset, as states wrapped up their primaries and urged voters to use mailed-out ballots in response to the pandemic, false claims began surfacing online—in tweets, social media posts, text messages, reports on websites, videos and memes—targeting the stage in the electoral process that was before voters. These attacks on the nuts and bolts of voting, from registration to the steps to obtain and cast a ballot, began as "claims of hacking and voter fraud… [that] honed [in] on specific events," said Matt Masterson, who helped lead the Department of Homeland Security's election security team.

"This is a lot of what we talked about with you at CISA [the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] in the lead-up [to Election Day], anticipating that were there were problems experienced, and then in the contested elections, those would be used to blow out of proportion or lie about what was actually taking place," Masterson said, speaking to the nation's state election directors in early February at a winter 2021 conference.

But as November 3's Election Day approached and the vote-counting continued afterward in presidential battleground states, Masterson and a handful of teams working inside and outside of government to trace and track disinformation, and to urge online platforms and sources to curb their false content, saw an unexpected development. The narrowly focused threads that attacked earlier steps in the process of running elections swapped out purported villains and protagonists and became a full-blown conspiratorial tapestry attacking the results.

"They all got combined into one big narrative… one large lie to try to undermine confidence in the election," said Masterson, whose presentation at the National Association of State Election Directors' (NASED) meeting traced this evolution.

"Misinformation is the frontier in election security and election integrity," said Aaron Wilson, senior director for election security at the Center for Internet Security, which tracked 209 cases of misleading or deliberately false attacks on voting, at the same NASED forum.

Early Predictable Attacks

Masterson's and Wilson's presentations were some of the most detailed analyses yet tracing the evolution of propagandistic attacks on 2020's voting process and election administration. The Stanford Internet Observatory, where Masterson is a fellow, will release a full report—including naming the biggest purveyors of 2020 election disinformation, both the platforms and their highest-volume users—later this winter.

Election officials knew they would be targets for partisan misinformation (mistaken claims) and disinformation (intentionally distorted claims) in 2020. Their first lines of defense, following the cyber intrusions by Russia in 2016, were hardening their infrastructure—the computers that run elections—and creating clearinghouses to rapidly communicate about threats and responses among the nation's more than 8,000 election jurisdictions. Masterson and Wilson led efforts within this sphere, where, by all accounts, 2020 saw no major cybersecurity breaches.

But while election officials were pleased with the steps they were taking inside their state and local offices, the outside attacks on the nuts and bolts of voting kept building during the general election. The early attacks were narrowly focused but shrewd, noted Wilson, who said election disinformation's purveyors exploited the public's lack of knowledge of how elections are run. As Masterson noted, the initial wave cited procedural steps to claim voter fraud and hacking.

For example, as voting rights groups sent absentee ballot applications to voters in swing states, posts appeared on social media falsely stating that voters—and dead people—were receiving multiple ballots, Wilson said. As states put up online voter registration portals to assist voters during the pandemic, online posts falsely asserted that voter information could be sabotaged—altered by political opponents to block would-be voters. When early in-person voting began, false claims erupted about when and where to vote, using ballot drop boxes, the results (before there were any), and votes being thrown out.

"A theme that permeated the misinformation that was reported to us was that it really resulted from or took advantage of people's lack of knowledge of how elections are run," Wilson said.

In the week before Election Day and in its immediate aftermath, the volume of misinformation and disinformation increased. Half of CIS's cases emerged in this period. As the process shifted to casting ballots and counting votes, more conspiratorial narratives emerged where the vote-counting process became the target—and the villains were swapped to fit the new storyline.

Masterson offered two examples of this transition. The first showed how ex-President Trump's fervent supporters rapidly embraced the false claim that Trump votes were being disqualified because of the pens they used to mark their ballots. The second example showed how older false claims were updated and expanded in ways not seen in prior election propaganda.

More Than Echo Chambers

The first example was "Sharpiegate," which emerged on November 4, a day after Election Day.

"Sharpiegate was, of course, the claim that using Sharpies [pens] on ballots either invalidated the ballots or the votes weren't counted," said Masterson. "It originated in Arizona. And what you saw was these messages really begin to take off. Of the 100 messages that were shared [on Twitter], they got 200,000 or more retweets, or likes, or furtherances."

Within hours, fact-check organizations like PolitiFact posted responses on Twitter, he said. But those posts barely drew more than 10,000 viewers on November 4 and the next day, whereas the "#Sharpiegate" retweets escalated to 20 times that volume. Masterson said Sharpiegate showed "how quickly a narrative can take off, and despite really good efforts to push back, how fast people will latch onto a false or misleading narrative."

The episode didn't stop there—and showed how the architecture of online communications amplified a patently false claim to an audience primed to receive it.

"It started in Arizona, but it didn't take much time to then have those claims alleged in other states, other jurisdictions, Michigan specifically, even if the same [voting] systems, the same pens, Sharpies, weren't used at all," Masterson said.

Election officials did not sit idly by. The secretaries of state in Arizona and Michigan, and county election departments in those states, all responded with their own tweets on November 4, he said. Their rebuttals took the best form at dispelling misinformation: first stating facts, then addressing the disinformation's claims, and then laying out other information, he said.

Notably, two Arizona NBC TV affiliates reported on the fabricated controversy and posted on its Twitter page, "Sharpies do not invalidate ballots," Masterson recounted, showing slides of the posts. "Those are two local television stations pushing back, offering facts, [yet] along the side there, in the comments, people are basically saying, 'You're lying,' 'You're incorrect,' 'You don't know what we are talking about…' 'You're covering it up.'"

Masterson then turned to his second case study, which showed "the building of the conspiracy or narrative around a fraudulent election."

Hammer And Scorecard Becomes Dominion

Masterson started with a November 2018 post on a social media page for QAnon, which is an increasingly popular and layered far-right conspiracy that, among other things, baselessly accuses leading Democrats of operating pedophile rings and drinking the blood of children. The 2018 post includes "claims or theories—false, incorrect—that DHS [the Department of Homeland Security—where Masterson was a senior adviser for election security] was putting watermarks and isotopes on ballots in order to track those ballots to track voter fraud."

"It was not new to 2020. But it built. It grew. The narrative got more and more complex as it went on," he said. "And 'Ballotgate' became a phrase that started with that tighter conversation around how DHS was going to track voter fraud and crack down on it, and began to be used to describe any claims of any manipulation of any ballots… which then grew into 'Hammer and Scorecard."

"For those of you not familiar, Hammer and Scorecard was a claim that there were two pieces of software that U.S. intelligence had developed to use internationally to rig [voting] systems, and the two pieces of software allowed for the manipulation of the systems in it," he continued. There were several versions of this claim. One said that foreign governments were using the software against Trump. Another claimed that federal officials were using this software against Trump. Another blamed unspecified domestic "bad actors."

The "obviously, demonstrably false" Hammer and Scorecard story drew hundreds of thousands of retweets and shares in the week after Election Day, Masterson noted. By the next weekend, the related traffic on Parler—an unregulated platform favored by Trump supporters until it was taken offline in January—escalated into hundreds of thousands of messages, as traced hashtags. Those conversations then began to blend with claims that Dominion Voting Systems, whose balloting and counting machines were used in a few swing states, were secretly stealing Trump votes.

"Hammer and Scorecard morphs into, instead of just this CIA-, intelligence community-focused theory, to then begin to talk about Dominion and the various conspiracies about Dominion," he said. Theories about unadvertised counting features on voting systems being used by insiders to steal votes have circulated among the political left for two decades, Masterson noted.

"But now they got all combined into one big narrative that used Hammer and Scorecard, and Dominion, and other systems into one large lie to try to undermine confidence in the election," he said, "to the point… [where] there were conversations [by Republican legislators in Arizona] about the seizure of voting systems. That should make any state election official's skin crawl and shudder. Because none of it is true, and yet there's this push to use the lie to undermine the results completely."

More Transparency, More Propaganda

Masterson and Wilson discussed other 2020 trends that had unexpected consequences that fed the stolen election narrative. By many measures—live video streams, public and press viewing areas, partisan election observers—the 2020 presidential election was the most transparent ever. But some of those public images were put forth as false evidence of election theft, they said. Images of ballot drop boxes and storage bins were top examples, where pro-Trump pundits and bloggers claimed that the images showed vote theft in progress.

"The same goes for data," Masterson said. "We have more data available around elections than we've ever had before. I think that's only going to increase. That is, again, a positive, a good thing. But we saw over and over again the misapplication of election data, whether it was election night reporting… [or] vote totals—you know, the claims that there were dumps of votes, even though election officials had messages over and over and over again [about] how the vote count was going to proceed."

More insidious were statistical reports that purported to show vote count irregularities from academics and others who had little experience running elections or that made big assumptions—such as that registered Republicans would only vote for Trump. "I know [MIT election scholar] Charles Stewart and the folks at Stanford [Internet Observatory and its partners] just picked apart all these statistical inaccuracies and claims. But [those making the claims were] using the data to create really good-looking but completely misleading and incorrect charts… to undermine confidence."

Masterson said that foreign adversaries, such as Russia and Iran, both overtly and covertly drew on the domestic disinformation campaigns to fan an already chaotic election—for example, there were reports of Iranian intelligence officials posing as the far-right Proud Boys and sending threatening emails to Democrats.

He praised some statewide election officials, such as Wisconsin's Meagan Wolfe and Georgia's Gabriel Sterling, for being constant presences that debunked disinformation. He said that a constant media presence was needed in 2020 and would be needed in future elections.

"The more avenues that it's coming at people, the more likely they are to both see it and digest it, because they are seeing it [disinformation] from multiple sources," he said. "The response to these claims needs to be a continued broad push of transparency and facts, not recoiling and saying, 'It doesn't matter. It's already too late…'

The Platforms Feint Response

Masterson and Wilson ended their NASED presentations on upbeat notes. But their analyses underscored that online disinformation attacking the voting process was often more effective in its ability to propel cynical partisan beliefs than factual rebuttals.

Immediately after their talk, another little-known aspect to combatting 2020's misinformation emerged. The next panel featured representatives from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. They defended how their platforms dealt with the falsehoods on their perches, such as posting labels on posts that were disputed or false, posting voter alerts, and occasionally taking down posts.

When the time for questions came, the very officials who avoided cybersecurity breaches in 2020, who pivoted to voting by mail and early voting in the pandemic, and who presided over America's highest-turnout presidential election sat in grim silence.

"I'll jump in," said Judd Choate, Colorado's elections director. "There was a real concentrated effort to dismiss or undercut all the basic tenets of the way we operate elections."

"We had Sharpiegate. We had attacks on our voting systems and on our election policies, claims of fraudulent votes, dead voters, and so forth, all of which we have the facts. We have the ability and wherewithal to… attack on each one of those claims," he said.

But after Election Day, when counting votes was under attack and new narratives emerged that attacked the accuracy of the results and election's legitimacy, Choate said that the platforms' ban on political ads prevented officials from responding to falsities filling their platforms.

"Colorado, in particular, made several attempts to purchase time on Google, and [we] were rebuffed every time. We were categorized as a political ad. We're clearly not a political ad. We were the facts. We were the trusted voice," he said, adding that Colorado met similar obstacles at Facebook.

"Going forward… we need the ability to be proactive," he said. "And we really didn't have it in this post-election environment."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.