Ken Paxton

Why Divisions Over Paxton Impeachment Are Roiling Texas GOP

Far-right Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been an incredibly polarizing figure in Lone Star politics — even among fellow Republicans. And his impeachment has brought those divisions to the forefront.

The Texas House of Representatives recently voted, 121-23, to indict Paxton on 20 articles of impeachment. And an impeachment trial in the Texas State Senate is forthcoming.

The impeachment cannot be honestly described as an act of partisanship, as Republicans control the Texas State Legislature. Paxton has been angrily railing against Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a conservative Republican who pushed for the impeachment. And Phelan hasn't been shy about slamming Paxton as a liability for the Texas GOP.

It remains to be seen how Texas Senate Republicans will vote in Paxton's impeachment trial. Texas-based reporter and author James Moore, in an article published by CNN's website on May 30, argues that the trial's outcome could have a long-lasting effect not only on Texas Republicans, but on Republicans in general.

Moore, who has been reporting on Texas politics since 1975, explains, "The impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton over allegations of corruption, bribery and obstruction of justice has political experts contemplating whether things are coming undone for the state's Republican Party and its control of government. The answer is no — at least not yet. The Texas GOP has decided to dump an officeholder who appears to have gone a bit too far and embarrassed the party to the point of becoming a political liability."

The Texan adds, "The challenge for Republicans will be how to remove him from office without harming the party or its members. And that won't be easy."

Paxton's impeachment is a hot topic far from Texas. Former President Donald Trump has been attacking Paxton's GOP foes as fake Republicans, while more traditional conservatives believe he is damaging the GOP in a state that is a must-win for them in presidential elections.

For decades, Democrats have fantasized about turning Texas blue. Texas' 2018 U.S. Senate race was a hopeful sign; Democratic former Rep. Beto O'Rourke narrowly lost to incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. But when O'Rourke ran for governor in 2022, he lost to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by 11 percent.

Texas' large urban centers lean Democratic, but thanks to a long list of rural counties, Texas remains a red state.

"If Paxton manages to survive his Senate trial," Moore observes, "he might seriously wound Texas Republicans' political strength — and that could have national repercussions into 2024. If enough Texans shun the Republican Party, the state — long an essential part of the GOP electoral strategy — could potentially flip in the other direction, dooming the party's presidential prospects."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Paul Gosar

Why Arizona's Gosar Is A 'Sort Of Hero' To Fascists And Neo-Nazis

In Arizona, far-right Rep. Paul Gosar is a polarizing figure even among fellow Republicans. Traditional McCain and Reagan conservatives have been highly critical of him, but MAGA Republicans who admire far-right figures like Kari Lake, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) tend to be Gosar admirers as well.

In an article published by Talking Points Memoon May 30, journalist Haley Orion stresses that Gosar is so far to the right that some white nationalists and Neo-Nazis look up to him.

Orion notes that in an earlier article, TPM reported that Wade Searle, Gosar's digital director, appeared to be "involved with an interlinked group of social media profiles that were deeply enmeshed with white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes' viciously antisemitic Groyper movement."

Orion explains, "While the revelations in the story were significant, they weren't necessarily surprising. The Groypers are deeply hateful and grotesque, but Gosar has never been shy in his flirtation with various factions of the fascist far-right, including the Groypers' leader, Fuentes. Or, as Gosar himself has bragged in the past: 'I’m considered the most dangerous man in Congress.' A large swath of the far-right has, in turn, taken notice, with Gosar becoming a sort of hero in some corners."

In 2021, Gosar set off a major controversy when he posted a video that depicted violence against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Gosar's defenders claimed she was overreaching, but his critics responding that depicting violence against a member of Congress is never acceptable.

Orion stresses that Gosar isn't afraid to associate with extremists.

"Gosar has lent his support to a broad coalition of far-right bigots and Christian supremacists: from the s***posting Groyper neo-Nazis to the camo-clad LARPers and hate groups to the suit-wearing, ultranationalist political elites at home and abroad," Orion notes. "He'll rile up the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers, telling them that the United States is already in a Civil War, 'we just haven't started shooting yet,' then repeat the same line in an interview with a well-documented neo-Nazi. He'll even associate with the conspiratorial, and often ridiculous, QAnon movement, tweeting out references to Q-drops — Gosar later said the tweet was sarcastic, though the tweet remains up to this day — and appearing at Q-friendly rallies."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

New Kremlin-Friendly Media Outlet Backed By Tech Mogul Singham

New Kremlin-Friendly Media Outlet Backed By Tech Mogul Singham

During the Cold War, Reagan and Goldwater Republicans were known for being scathing critics of the Soviet Union. And it wasn't uncommon for Democrats to bash the Kremlin in order to avoid being attacked by their GOP rivals as soft on Moscow.

But the rise of former President Donald Trump's MAGA movement has seen an abundance of Republicans expressing sympathy for President Vladimir Putin. "War Room" host Steve Bannon has praised Putin's anti-gay and "anti-woke" policies; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) slammed the U.S. military as "woke" and "emasculated" while exalting Russia's military as a symbol of manliness. And critics of former Fox News host Tucker Carlson have lambasted him for repeatedly echoing Kremlin talking points during the invasion of Ukraine.

In a report published on May 29, the Daily Beast's William Bredderman examines the pro-Putin sympathies of BreakThrough News — an online media outlet associated with U.S.-based tech entrepreneur Neville Roy Singham. Unlike the many MAGA pundits sympathetic to the Kremlin, BreakThrough has welcomed participation from the left.

"Since it started posting to Instagram and YouTube in early 2020," Bredderman notes, "nearly all BreakThrough News' camera-facing personalities have been veterans of Kremlin-backed outfits."

Examples that Bredderman cites include Eugene Puryear (ex-Radio Sputnik) and Brian Becker, formerly of the now-defunct RT America. BreakThrough News has attracted both right-wing and left-wing critics of the Biden Administration's support of Ukraine during the conflict with Russia.

Singham is married to Code Pink co-founder Jodi Evans, whose organization has often criticized U.S. foreign policy from the left. Singham is also known for his left-of-center politics.

"Beginning in January 2022, amid the build-up to Russia's unprovoked assault on Ukraine," Bredderman notes, "the channel began sharing videos with titles like 'Risking World War III with Russia: Why?' and 'If NATO Goes to War, U.S. & European Soldiers Will Be Called On to Kill & Die.' More recent clips have carried such headlines as 'Leaked Pentagon Docs Show U.S. Elites Want Never-Ending Ukraine War' and 'G7 Sends F-16 Jets to Ukraine: Flirting with Disaster, Direct War on Russia.'"

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.


Right-Wing Legislators Threatening Librarians With Imprisonment

In the Netherlands and other European democracies, comprehensive sex education starts at an early age. Dutch officials reason that the more youths know about sex, the more likely they are to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

But in the United States, the religious right has a radically different viewpoint. Far-right white evangelical Christians who oppose abortion often oppose any type of sex education.

According to the Washington Post's Hannah Natanson, MAGA Republicans in state legislatures have been pushing bills threatening librarians with either heavy fines or prison time if they give minors a book they consider "obscene." And material doesn't have to be explicit to fit the Religious Right's definition of obscenity.

In an article published on May 18, Natanson reports that "at least seven states" in the U.S. have, in the "last two years," passed laws that "permit criminal prosecution of school and library personnel" for "providing sexually explicit, obscene or 'harmful' books to children."

According to Natanson, "Another dozen states considered more than 20 similar bills this year, half of which are likely to come up again in 2024, The Post found. Some of the laws impose severe penalties on librarians, who until now, were exempted in almost every state from prosecution over obscene material — a carve-out meant to permit accurate lessons in topics such as sex education. All but one of the new laws target schools, while some also target the staff of public libraries and one affects book vendors."

The religious right movement, led by white evangelicals like the Rev. Pat Robertson and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., has been a major influence in the GOP since President Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign. But Keith Gambill, a teachers union president in Indiana, believes that religious right-inspired bills and laws of the last few years have been especially bad.

Gambill told the Post, "This is my 37th year in education. I've never seen anything like this.… We are entering a very frightening period."

Natanson notes that school librarians in Indiana have "begun removing books that deal with LGBTQ issues, sex, race and violence" in order to avoid legal problems.

"All 50 states maintain obscenity laws, which typically prohibit the distribution of obscene material to minors and impose heavy fines and prison sentences for violations," the reporter explains. "But the vast majority adopted exemptions for schools, public libraries and museums in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to ensure educators could provide full information to children on topics such as biology, health and sex education without facing expensive litigation, according to a research report from the advocacy group EveryLibrary."

John Chrastka, EveryLibrary's executive director, told the Post, "We are, as a country, at a very broken place right now. We have a fundamental break in trust between some groups of society and the educational system."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Joe Biden

RNC Responds To Biden Announcement With Weirdly Ominous Ad (VIDEO)

On Tuesday, April 25, President Joe Biden confirmed something that many fellow Democrats had been anticipating: He is running for reelection and is officially seeking the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination. So far, only two other Democrats have officially entered the primary: anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and new age self-help guru Marianne Williamson. And most of the Democratic Party is expected to coalesce around the president in 2024, from centrists to liberals and progressive.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) responded to Biden's announcement with an attack ad obviously designed to terrify voters — an ad that RNC critics are slamming for its use of artificial intelligence (AI) software as well as for listing things that haven't actually happened.

In the RNC video, ominous-sounding music plays while imaginary headlines of the future are predicted: "An emboldened China invades Taiwan. Financial markets are in freefall as 500 regional banks have shuttered their doors. Border agents were overrun by a surge of 80,000 illegals yesterday evening…. It feels like the train is coming off the tracks."

Responding to the RNC ad on Twitter, the Washington Monthly's Bill Scher posted, "Very weird choice to go after an incumbent with fictional depictions of the future instead of problems in the present." Axios' Alex Thompson noted, on Twitter, that the RNC ad "is 100 percent generated by AI software meant to create images that look and feel real" — images depicting "an imagined dystopia look at the future" if Biden is reelected in 2024.

Thompson observed, "Why it matters: AI-generated images are disrupting art, journalism, and now politics. The 2024 election is poised to be the first election with ads full of images generated by modern Artificial Intelligence software."

Democratic strategist Sam Cornale slammed the RNC's use of AI software, tweeting, " When your operative class has been decimated, and you're following MAGA Republicans off a cliff, I suppose you have no choice but to ask AI to help."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

E. Jean Carroll

Trump Attorneys Seek Political Screen For Defamation Case Jurors

No presidential candidate in U.S. history has had more legal problems than Donald Trump. The former president and 2024 GOP presidential frontrunner is not only facing a 34-count criminal prosecution from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Jr., but also, two federal criminal investigations from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and special counsel Jack Smith and a state criminal investigation from Fulton County Georgia DA Fani Willis. And Trump has civil worries as well.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has been conducting a civil probe of the Trump Organization's financial activities, and journalist/author E. Jean Carroll (a former Elle columnist) has filed two separate civil defamation lawsuits against Trump — who she alleges sexually assaulted her in Manhattan department store Bergdorf Goodman's dressing room during the 1990s. Trump and his attorneys have vehemently denied Carroll's allegations.

Carroll's first civil lawsuit against Trump was originally scheduled to go to trial on April 10, but that trial was delayed. The trial in her second civil lawsuit, however, is set begin on Tuesday, April 25.

In an article published by the Daily Beast on April 13, journalist Jose Pagliery describes the types of questions that attorneys for Trump and Carroll have in mind for voir dire (jury selection) in Carroll's second defamation case. And some of those possible questions, according to Pagliery, are highly political.

"With just weeks to go before E. Jean Carroll's rape trial against Donald Trump in New York,” Pagliery reports, "lawyers on both sides are figuring out what questions to ask prospective jurors. And while some questions are the run-of-the-mill kind used to screen biased jurors, a fair share highlight the bizarre nature of the case involving the country's most divisive politician."

According to Pagliery, Carroll's attorneys "are trying to screen the crazies who still parrot Trump's unfounded claims that he lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden unfairly."

One of the questions that Trump's attorneys have in mind, Pagliery reports, is: "Do you think that the #MeToo movement has gone too far?" Another is: "Have you ever used the hashtag #BelieveAllWomen when discussing sexual assault?"

Meanwhile, Carroll's lawyers have proposed asking possible jurors, "Is there anyone who uses or has used the social media platform Truth Social?" as well as "Is there anyone who believes the results of the 2020 presidential election are illegitimate?"

"Both sides' proposed lists include several questions on a person's feelings about alleged sexual assault, and scoring open-minded jurors who haven't already labeled Trump a scumbag will be difficult," Pagliery notes. "At trial, Carroll’s lawyers are hoping to convince jurors that Trump's abundant history of misogynist comments paint the picture of a serial sexual predator protected by his entitlement and wealth. In that sense, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan has already tilted the trial in Carroll's favor by allowing jurors — if they somehow haven't already — to watch the leaked 2005 'Access Hollywood' tape where Trump infamously said, 'When you're a star, they let you do it…. You can do anything…. grab 'em by the pussy.'"

Pagliery continues, "Trump's lawyers also want to engage in what several legal scholars noted was a blatant litmus test for people's politics: dredging up the debacle that was the Senate's contentious confirmation of Trump's Supreme Court pick in 2018, Brett Kavanaugh…. Carroll's lawyers seem intent on using the jury selection process to point out how Trump is also under criminal investigation, with proposed questions probing people's familiarity with the Manhattan District Attorney's criminal case against him for faking business records to hide his hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels and the Justice Department's investigation into his hoarding of classified documents at his Florida oceanside estate of Mar-a-Lago."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Charlie Kirk

Charlie Kirk Worries Biden Will Be 'Really Hard To Beat' In 2024

It remains to be seen whether or not Democratic President Joe Biden will seek reelection in 2024, and which Republican he will be up against if he decides to run. But Biden certainly sounded like he was planning to run when he gave an aggressive 2023 State of the Union address in February and focused heavily on the economy.

Biden, during that forceful speech, sounded like he was laying out a list of reasons to give him four more years in the White House.

Charlie Kirk, the far-right MAGA Republican and talk show host who heads Turning Point USA, discussed the 2024 election during an April 17 broadcast of his "Charlie Kirk Show" — and argued that Biden will be "tough to beat" in 2024 if he runs.

"Now, we made the prediction that Joe Biden is not going to run for reelection," Kirk told listeners. "That remains to be a mystery. Is he going to run? Is he not going to run? Very soon, we're gonna have to find out. But it doesn't matter. Joe Biden running in 2024 is going to be really hard to beat."

Kirk went on to tell his audience that Democratic organizers will have a strong ground game in 2024.

"Candidate quality means next to nothing right now," Kirk argued. "Because the Democrats have such a structural advantage with how they built the infrastructure in these key states, they can run a brain-dead person like they did — a pseudo-brain-dead person like John Fetterman, who could become a senator. They just chase ballots…. They have their thousands of paid community organizers…. They do not run a campaign; they run 40 different campaigns."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Coulter Warns Republicans: 'Stop Pushing Strict Limits On Abortion'

Coulter Warns Republicans: 'Stop Pushing Strict Limits On Abortion'

The anti-abortion movement suffered a major disappointment on Tuesday, April 4, when liberal Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz defeated far-right MAGA Republican Dan Kelly by 11 percent in a race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Protasiewicz campaigned aggressively on abortion rights, hammering Kelly nonstop as an anti-choice "extremist."

Right-wing author/pundit Ann Coulter, who identifies as "pro-life," was quick to weigh in on Protasiewicz's double-digit win. And she acknowledged that abortion has become a major liability for her party, tweeting, "The demand for anti-abortion legislation just cost Republicans another crucial race. Pro-lifers: WE WON. Abortion is not a 'constitutional right' anymore! Please stop pushing strict limits on abortion, or there will be no Republicans left."

Technically, the Wisconsin Supreme Court race was nonpartisan. But Protasiewicz enjoyed considerable Democratic Party support, while MAGA Republicans and the religious right got behind Kelly.

Protasiewicz was hardly the first post-Roe v. Wade candidate to prioritize abortion rights and enjoy a double-digit victory. In the 2022 midterms, pro-choice Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defeated far-right Republican challenger by 11 percent. And in Pennsylvania, Democratic now-Gov. Josh Shapiro won by around 15 percent after attacking the GOP nominee, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, relentlessly on his abortion record.

In an article published by Politico on April 8, journalist Steven Shepard emphasizes that abortion is becoming more and more of a liability for the Republican Party. And he cites polls showing that Americans on the whole are even more pro-choice that they were in the past.

"Conservatives are finding out the hard way that abortion isn't a 50-50 issue anymore," Shepard explains. "Janet Protasiewicz's 11-point blowout victory this week for a state Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin was just the latest example of voters who support abortion rights outnumbering — and outvoting — their opponents. There was little polling in Tuesday's race, but in a 2022 midterm exit poll of the state, a combined 63 percent of Wisconsin voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 34 percent thought it should be illegal in all or most cases."

The reporter adds, "Moreover, for the 31 percent of 2022 voters who said abortion was their most important issue — second only to inflation at 34 percent — they overwhelmingly backed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers (83 percent) and Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes (81 percent), who lost narrowly to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson."

During the 1990s and 2000s, Shepard observes, Gallup found that Americans were "divided roughly evenly between those who called themselves 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice.'" But now, the reporter adds, polls show "roughly six in 10 voters supporting legal abortion in most cases."

In February, Gallup found that 69 percent of "U.S. adults" were "dissatisfied with abortion laws."

Pew Research Group, in 2022, found that "a 61 percent majority of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37 percent think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases."

In January, a National Public Radio/Ipsos poll found that three in five Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

In an article published by CNN on April 9, reporter Harry Enten cited the abortion issue and former President Donald Trump's legal problems as two major liabilities for the GOP in 2024.

"Neither abortion nor Trump seem to be going away as an issue in 2023," Enten observes. "Abortion was at the forefront of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, with liberals hoping that a win by Protasiewicz would provide them with a majority to legalize the procedure statewide. And Trump remains the clear favorite for the GOP nomination for president, despite his indictment and continuing unpopularity among the general electorate. If those things don't change going into 2024, Republicans may be in big trouble."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Trump Allies Ousted Weisselberg's Lawyer As 'Too Friendly' With Prosecutors

Trump Allies Ousted Weisselberg's Lawyer As 'Too Friendly' With Prosecutors

Although former President Donald Trump hasn't been indicted on any type of criminal charge, many of his associates have — from Paul Manafort (Trump's first 2016 campaign manager) to Michael Cohen (Trump's former personal attorney and "fixer") to Steve Bannon (former White House chief strategist) to long-time GOP operative and self-described "dirty trickster" Roger Stone. Veteran television journalist Dan Rather has described them as Trump's "flock of felons."

Another is 75-year-old Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer for the Trump Organization. After pleading guilty to financial crimes that included tax fraud and falsifying records, Weisselberg began serving a five-month sentence in January. That case was prosecuted by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, now headed by Democratic DA Alvin Bragg, Jr.

Cohen, now a blistering critic of Trump, has been cooperating with Bragg's office in a separate case: the one involving hush money payments Cohen said he made to Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. adult film star Stormy Daniels, on Trump's behalf in 2016. And Cohen, who served time in federal prison, alleges that Weisselberg arranged for the Trump Organization to pay him $35,000 a month to reimburse him for the $130,000 he gave Daniels.

In an article published by the Daily Beaston March 30, journalist Jose Pagliery reports that the Trump Organization has fired attorney Nicholas Gravante — who represented Weisselberg until recently — for being, according to sources, insufficiently "Trumpy" and "too willing to play ball with" Bragg.

"Gravante, one of the city's top criminal defense lawyers, aggressively advocated for Weisselberg last year and played a key role in securing a plea deal that helped the Trump Organization executive avoid a long sentence in state prison — by testifying at the tax fraud trial of the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation," Pagliery explains. "Weisselberg's lukewarm testimony wasn't exactly friendly to Manhattan prosecutors, but it was enough to convince the jury to convict the companies, which were fined $1.6 million."

The reporter continues, "According to a source familiar with the dispute, Trump associates were bitter about Gravante's decision to have Weisselberg meet with Manhattan prosecutors to prepare his testimony for that trial, a move they saw as being too friendly with law enforcement…. Essentially, Gravante was so protective of Weisselberg that he was willing to have sit-downs with prosecutors to ensure the executive wouldn’t be in further legal jeopardy — even if that made the Trump Organization uncomfortable."

According to the Beast's sources, Seth L. Rosenberg has replaced Gravante as Weisselberg's attorney.

Trump has been firing up his MAGA base, anticipating his own arrest in connection with Bragg's investigation of hush money payments to Daniels. He is also facing two federal criminal probes from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and special counsel Jack Smith and a state-level probe from Fulton County, Georgia DA Fani Willis.

Pagliery notes, "For years, local prosecutors have tried to figure out a way to criminally charge Trump himself over the way he approved paying $130,000 to the porn star Stormy Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 election to keep her quiet about their sexual affair — raunchy details that might have tanked his presidential campaign."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Rupert Murdoch

'Hardly Infirm': Judge Mocks Bid To Spare Murdoch From Trial Testimony

At 92, Rupert Murdoch is far from retired. Much of the coverage at Fox News and Fox Business reportedly reflects his enthusiasm for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a possible 2024 GOP presidential candidate. And the Melbourne, Australia native (who has homes in London as well as different parts of the United States) continues to be a highly influential figure in right-wing media.

During a late March pre-trial hearing in Delaware, Judge Eric M. Davis pushed back against what he said were efforts by Fox News attorneys to prevent him from traveling to testify in Dominion Voting Systems' $1.6 billion defamation case against the right-wing cable news outlet. Davis, according to National Public Radio (NPR), believes that Murdoch is still perfectly capable of traveling.

Davis, the judge in that civil defamation case, noted that he had received a letter saying that Murdoch "couldn't travel" to Delaware because of COVID-19. But the judge cited recent examples of the right-wing media mogul planning to travel between his various homes. Davis, according to NPR, warned Fox News' attorneys to "be careful" and not make him "look like an idiot."

"I also have people telling me that he's done some things recently that (show) he's hardly infirm," Davis told the courtroom.

"On Tuesday, [March 28]," NPR's Karl Baker reports, "Fox attorney Matthew Carter pointed to Murdoch's deposition when responding to Davis' incredulity about the media magnate's ability to travel. Carter said there had been a miscommunication. He said his side hadn't argued that Murdoch was infirm, but that there was no reason for his trial testimony given that the Murdoch had already submitted to seven hours of questioning in the deposition."

Baker adds, "In his deposition, Murdoch asserted that he knew Trump had lost the 2020 election, but certain Fox hosts, including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, had ‘endorsed’ the narrative of a stolen election."

It remains to be seen what jurors will think about Dominion's arguments and Fox News' counterarguments in the defamation case. Dominion alleges that Fox News defamed the company when, after the 2020 presidential election, it promoted the false claim that Dominion's voting equipment had been used to help now-President Joe Biden steal votes from then-President Donald Trump.

Fox News, in the Dominion case, has maintained that it wasn't trying to convince viewers that the company did anything illegal in 2020 — it was simply asking questions. But Dominion, in response, alleges that Fox News knew that the allegations against the company were false but promoted them anyway. As evidence, Dominion is presenting examples of e-mails and text messages in which Fox News hosts — including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity — acknowledged that claims of a stolen election were nonsense. Moreover, according to Dominion, Carlson attacked Fox News' reporters for debunking claims of a stolen election, as he believed doing so would alienate the cable channel's audience and hurt its brand.

Nonetheless, defamation is very difficult to prove under the U.S. Supreme Court's 1964 standard in New York Times versus Sullivan. According to the Sullivan standard, a plaintiff in a civil defamation case must show that the defendant acted with "actual malice" — and things like sloppy reporting and inflammatory comments do not meet that tough standard.

Dominion has also filed separate defamation lawsuits against Newsmax TV, One America News (OAN) and attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, all of whom it says promoted false claims about the company after the 2020 election.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Donald Trump

Trump Wants Everyone To Know He's Ready For His Perp Walk

Public figures who become defendants in criminal cases usually try to avoid being seen doing "the perp walk" — that is, being publicly led around in handcuffs by law enforcement officers while cameras are rolling. In some countries, it is illegal for journalists to film or photograph a defendant who is handcuffed, as their courts have ruled that doing so can prejudice a jury and make it more difficult for the person to receive a fair trial.

The United States, however, has no such prohibition. American television journalists reporting on criminal cases often show images of defendants in criminal cases being led around in handcuffs.

According to The Guardian's Hugo Lowell, former President Donald Trump wants to do "the perp walk" and be seen publicly handcuffed if he is indicted on criminal charges because he believes it would benefit him politically.

Trump predicted that he would be criminally indicted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Jr.'s office and arrested on Tuesday, March 21 in connection with allegations of hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels. But as of early Wednesday afternoon, March 22, Bragg's office had not indicted Trump for anything.

Lowell, in an article published by The Guardian on March 22, reports, "Donald Trump has told advisers that he wants to be handcuffed when he makes an appearance in court, if he is indicted by a Manhattan grand jury for his role in paying hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels, multiple sources close to the former president have said. The former president has reasoned that since he would need to go to the courthouse and surrender himself to authorities for fingerprinting and a mug shot anyway, the sources said, he might as well turn everything into a 'spectacle.'"

The Guardian reporter adds, "Trump's increasing insistence that he wants to be handcuffed behind his back for a perp walk appears to come from various motivations, including that he wants to project defiance in the face of what he sees as an unfair prosecution and that it would galvanize his base for his 2024 presidential campaign."

If Trump does face any type of criminal indictment in 2023, it won't necessarily come from Bragg. Trump is also dealing with two federal criminal investigations from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and special counsel Jack Smith and, at the state level, an investigation by Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis. Meanwhile, New York State Attorney General Letitia James has led a civil probe of the Trump Organization's finances.

Trump has often painted himself as a victim of persecution, from former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe to his two impeachments. And according to Lowell, he believes that doing "the perp walk" in the Daniels hush money case would rally the Republican Party base and play into the persecution or martyrdom theme.

"The recent discussions that Trump has had about his surrender with close advisers at Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere opens a window onto the former president's unique fears and anxieties as the grand jury, which next convenes on Wednesday, appears on course to return an indictment," Lowell explains. "Trump's legal team in the hush money case has recoiled at the idea of him going in person and recommended that Trump…. quietly turn himself in next week and schedule a remote appearance, even citing guidance from his Secret Service detail about potential security concerns. But Trump has rejected that approach and told various allies, over the weekend, that he didn't care if someone shot him — he would become 'a martyr.' He later added that if he got shot, he would probably win the presidency in 2024, the sources said."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Doug Mastriano

Possible Mastriano Senate Bid Terrifies Keystone State Republicans

When Politico's Holly Otterbein reported, in early March, that Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano (a far-right MAGA Republican) was seriously considering a U.S. Senate run for 2024, she predicted that the news was "sure to give GOP leaders heart palpitations." Otterbein's prediction was spot on.

According to reporting in The Hill, Republican strategists fear that if Mastriano decides to run and receives his party's nomination, it would doom their chances of capturing the U.S. Senate seat presently held by three-term incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA).

Mastriano is the QAnon-friendly conspiracy theorist, election denialist, and Christian nationalist who ran against Democratic now-Gov. Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania in 2022 and lost by 15 percent. Shapiro's campaign ads slammed Mastriano as a dangerous extremist, noting his ties to Gab (a favorite among white nationalists) and his opposition to abortion under any circumstances.

Now, Republican strategists fear that Mastriano could cause them to lose another statewide race in the Keystone State.

In an article published by The Hillon March 15, journalist Al Weaver reports, "The prospect of a Pennsylvania Senate bid by State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) has Republicans feeling a sense of déjà vu and reigniting fears that he could cost them up and down the ballot. The state and national GOP machinery is lining up solidly behind David McCormick, who was narrowly defeated in the 2022 Senate primary, believing he's the party's only chance to defeat Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) in what could be a tough presidential cycle. Put simply, it's McCormick or bust for Republicans in Pennsylvania and in the U.S. Senate."

One of the Pennsylvania Republicans who is hoping that McCormick runs and wins the nomination is someone who once held that U.S. Senate seat: Rick Santorum. In 2006, Santorum was voted out of the Senate when he lost to Casey, the son of the late Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, Sr. The younger Casey was reelected in 2012 and 2018, and a victory in 2024 would give him a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.

The centrist Casey, Jr., in 2006, attacked Santorum, a strident social conservative known for his anti-gay views, as being too far to the right. But Mastriano is even to the right of Santorum.

Santorum told The Hill, "A lot of people want [McCormick] to run, put it that way. I think Pennsylvanians have learned a lesson here, and (the) lesson is you go with candidates that are strong principled conservatives that don’t have baggage that can hurt you in a general election.… Tying yourself to the [stolen] election stuff and tying yourself too close to (former President Donald) Trump is destructive. It hurt the entire ticket [in 2022]."

A Republican operative in Pennsylvania, interviewed on condition of anonymity, believes that Mastriano hasn't learned anything from his 15 percent loss to Shapiro.

That Republican told The Hill, "Usually, when you get your pants taken down on a statewide scale, a race that has national attention, you don't want to go for it again because there's some level of embarrassment people feel. That's clearly not the case with [Mastriano]. I think he lives in his own la-la land…. He's a lost cause."

But if Mastriano does run for the Senate he has, according to Public Policy Polling (PPP), a good chance of winning the nomination. PPP, in a poll of Pennsylvania-based Republican voters released on March 13, found that McCormick would lose to Mastriano by 14 percent in a hypothetical matchup. Among those voters, Mastriano had a 47 percent favorability rating compared to only 22 percent for McCormick.

The Philadelphia-based Otterbein, in an article published by Politico on March 14, notes that Mastriano's hardcore supporters from 2022 haven't given up on him despite his 15 percent loss.

Jamie Crowe, a Mastriano supporter and conspiracy theorist who favors releasing all of the January 6, 2021 rioters from jail, believes that the 2022 election was stolen from Mastriano — a claim that there is absolutely no evidence to support.

Crowe told Politico, "Doug Mastriano's a true patriot. He's for the American people. He's for the state of Pennsylvania…. Doug Mastriano won that election. It was a false election, and I think the people know that it was a false election."

Crowe, according to Otterbein, is a prime example of what McCormick and the GOP establishment will be up against if McCormick runs.

"In a midterm cycle that was disappointing for the GOP across the country [in 2022]," Otterbein explains, "Pennsylvania Republicans were among the biggest losers. Along with Mastriano's flogging, GOP candidates fell short in the Senate contest and the majority of state House races."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Jerome Powell

When 'Free Marketeers' At Silicon Valley Bank Begged For A Federal Bailout

On Sunday, March 12, Biden Administration officials announced that Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) depositors would have full access to their funds the next morning. The announcement came two days after SVB's collapse.

SVB lobbyists has been highly critical of federal banking regulations. But The Nation's Jeet Heer, in a biting article published on March 13, emphasizes that bankers who rail against regulations are the first to ask for help from the federal government when they run into problems.

Heer explains, "In 2015, Greg Becker, then president of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), lobbied Congress to exempt his institution from what he saw as onerous and unnecessary regulations imposed on the banking industry after the 2008 financial meltdown…. Over the last few days, the many critics of SVB have been vindicated. It turned out that SVB's 'strong risk management practices' were nonexistent. In fact, the bank was carrying out an extremely risky strategy that ended with its collapse on Friday, (March 10), making it the second-biggest banking failure in American history."

SVB, Heer notes, had a problematic business plan that emphasized serving tech start-ups in the Silicon Valley. But the bank didn't plan for interest rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve. Under Chairman Jerome Powell, the Fed has been gradually increasing interest rates as a way to fight inflation.

"SVB's strategy of putting all its eggs in the basket of long-term bonds itself made sense only as long as interest rates remained low, and as long as the start-ups were flush with enough cash that they continued to pump money into the bank," Heer observes. "The rise of interest rates changed both dynamics, creating a situation where depositors were pulling out more cash — which the bank didn't have on hand, because its investments were tied up in long-term bonds…. As SVB circled the drain, Silicon Valley plutocrats and their political allies started agitating for a bailout of depositors. Very quickly, the very free-market absolutists who love agitating for austerity and a pull-up-by-your-bootstraps ethos for the poor suddenly discovered the value of collective action and government intervention in the economy."

Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley was quick to attack President Joe Biden in response to SVB's problems. In a March 13 tweet, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and ex-governor of South Carolina, tweeted, "Joe Biden is pretending this isn't a bailout. It is. Now depositors at healthy banks are forced to subsidize Silicon Valley Bank's mismanagement."

Haley didn't mention that she was a major Donald Trump ally during his four years in the White House, or that Trump did everything he could to roll back Barack Obama-era financial regulations.

Heer warns that a "reprise of the Tea Party backlash that started in 2009" following the 2008 crash "might be in the cards."

"Given the potential for demagogic abuse, it's imperative that the Biden White House develop a counternarrative — one that emphasizes the role of Trump’s deregulation," Heer argues. "There needs to be an active push to restore and enhance regulations, not just because it is good economic policy, but also, as a way to counter demagoguery. If Democrats don't offer more than bailouts for rich investors, then they’ll face the wrath of a righteously — and rightly — angry citizenry."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Matt Schlapp

Plaintiff Who Charged CPAC Boss With 'Groping' Discloses His Identity

In early January, the Daily Beast's Roger Sollenberger reported that a former staffer for MAGA Republican Herschel Walker's 2022 U.S. Senate campaign was alleging that right-wing GOP activist Matt Schlapp had sexually harassed him — an allegation that Schlapp has denied. Schlapp is a major figure in Republican politics, chairing the American Conservative Union and serving as the main organizer for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

The former Walker staffer, now 39, agreed to be interviewed by the Beast, but only on condition of anonymity. Two months later, however, he has finally revealed his identity.

His name, according to CNN, is Carlton Huffman. The former Walker staffer agreed to let CNN publish his name after a judge, on Wednesday, March 8, ruled that his civil lawsuit against Schlapp could not proceed anonymously. Huffman is asking for more than $9 million in damages.

Huffman alleged to CNN, "On October 19, 2022, Matt Schlapp attempted to take my dignity, but he did not take my voice. Today, I reclaim that voice, and for every victim of sexual assault, I am here to say there is justice and there will be accountability. I look forward to our day in court."

Attendance at CPAC was down this year even though the speakers included two Republican presidential candidates: former President Donald Trump and Nikki Haley (ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations). Others featured at CPAC 2023 ranged from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Some pundits have attributed the fall in attendance to the fact that CPAC has become so hyper-MAGA, excluding other conservative viewpoints. But others have wondered if the Schlapp sexual harassment scandal had anything to do with the decline.

A GOP operative, interviewed on condition of anonymity, told CNN, "It's a scandal. If you are thinking about running for president and you're not Donald Trump, you can't afford a misstep. You can't afford to be linked to a scandal."

Schlapp is married to fellow Republican Party activist and former Trump White House staffer Mercedes Schlapp.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Kari Lake

MAGA Conspiracy Loons Spark Civil War Among Arizona Republicans

If the Arizona Republicans of the 1980s and 1990s had been able to predict the future, they would have no doubt been shocked by the state's political environment of 2023. Arizona, in those days, was a deep red state, and its most influential Republicans were Sen. Barry Goldwater and the conservative who took over his U.S. Senate seat in January 1987, Vietnam veteran John McCain. Goldwater suffered a landslide defeat at the hands of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964's presidential election; in Arizona, he was a conservative rock star, and McCain was proud to be called a "Goldwater Republican."

But in 2023, Arizona is as much of a swing state as Pennsylvania and Virginia and has a Democratic governor (Katie Hobbs), a Democratic U.S. senator (Mark Kelly), a Democratic state attorney general (Kris Mayes) and a once-Democratic U.S. senator who is now an independent (Kyrsten Sinema). Arizona is way more Democrat-friendly than it was 30 or 40 years ago, yet much of the Arizona Republican Party has moved to the extreme right. And MAGA Republicans like Kari Lake (the conspiracy theorist who Hobbs defeated in 2022) regard the late McCain and his admirers as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only).

In an article published by HuffPost on March 7, journalist Matt Shuham examines the divisions in the Arizona GOP and the disdain that MAGA conspiracy theorists have for more traditional conservatives.

"Since the 2020 elections," Shuham explains, "Arizona has been Ground Zero for wild conspiracy theories about supposed voter fraud leading to Joe Biden's victory. The claims gripped state Republicans to the point that nearly the entire slate of GOP midterm candidates for statewide office last year consisted of election deniers. To this day, Kari Lake, who lost the governor's race, maintains that she is actually Arizona’s governor now. Even after getting washed out in the midterms, state Republicans can't quit these outlandish theories. And now, it has thrown the party into chaos. For the past two weeks, Republicans have faced wild accusations of bribery, money laundering and election fixing — from their own supporters."

Two of Arizona's MAGA conspiracy theorists, according to Shuham, are attorney John Thaler and his ally Jacqueline Breger. During her testimony at an Arizona State Legislature hearing on February 23, Shuham notes, Breger 'accused everyone from state officeholders to judges, prosecutors and court-appointed medical health care advisers of accepting bribes from a criminal enterprise." And she "alleged that dozens of public officials were on the take, from judges to state officeholders and everyone in between."

Breger has accused fellow Arizona Republicans of being allies of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, whose infamous former leader, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzman, is serving a life sentence in a Colorado prison and has been the subject of numerous narcocorridos (Mexican corridos about the drug trade). Thaler and Breger's conspiracy theories, according to Shuham, have "created" a "near-civil war…. within the Arizona GOP."

"Following Breger's appearance (at the February 23 hearing) — Thaler left the state months earlier due to fears about his safety, he says — the two became instant celebrities among election conspiracy theorists," Shuham observes. "And Republican politicians now find themselves, some for the first time, on the wrong end of unfounded conspiracy theories and angry right-wing social media mobs."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

He Got Rich By Pushing America's Judiciary Toward the Far Right

He Got Rich By Pushing America's Judiciary Toward the Far Right

The religious right movement, which gained considerable momentum during President Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, has had a complex relationship with Catholicism over the years. The religious right is dominated by far-right white evangelical Protestant fundamentalists, who are vehemently critical of Catholic practices (the confessional, physical images of Jesus). Yet Republican evangelicals will work with the Catholic right when it comes to fighting abortion or same-sex marriage.

The Catholic right is by no means universally loved by American Catholics. President Joe Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), for example, are both known for being devout Catholics, but they are also major critics of the Religious Right and its influence on the U.S. Supreme Court — which the Catholic right now dominates. Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett are all hard-right Catholics and GOP appointees who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling of 2022.

In contrast, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Democratic Barack Obama appointee, is a Catholic who was a dissenter in Dobbs and has been a scathing critic of the High Court's current direction. She even used the word "stench" to express her disdain. Sotomayor is to the left of the Vatican, while Thomas, Alito ,and Barrett are to the right of the Vatican.

One of the Catholic right's most influential figures is judicial activist Leonard Leo, former executive vice president of the Federalist Society. Leo has spent decades lobbying to push the federal courts to the far right. And according to Politico's Heidi Przybyla, he has made a fortune in the process.

In an article published by Politico on March 1, Przybyla reports, "A network of political nonprofits formed by judicial activist Leonard Leo moved at least $43 million to a new firm he is leading, raising questions about how his conservative legal movement is funded. Leo's own personal wealth appeared to have ballooned as his fundraising prowess accelerated since his efforts to cement the Supreme Court's conservative majority helped to bring about its decision to overturn abortion rights. Most recently, Leo reaped a $1.6 billion windfall from a single donor in what is likely the biggest single political gift in U.S. history."

According to Przybyla, Politico's analysis of "dozens of financial, property and public records dating from 2000 to 2021" shows that Leo's "lifestyle took a lavish turn beginning in 2016." And his fortunes grew considerably during the Trump years, Przybyla reports.

The Politico journalist explains, "The spending by Leo-aligned nonprofits on his for-profit businesses coincided with changes in his personal lifestyle and finances. IRS and other public records between 2016 and 2020 show a major expansion of Leo's personal wealth that coincided with the start of his work for Trump and the creation of his own for-profit entity called BH Group. Both happened in 2016."

The former Federalist Society vice president forcefully lobbied for many of the severe social conservatives who are now on the Supreme Court, including Barrett. In 2016, he encouraged then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to do everything he could to derail then-President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia (a far-right Catholic social conservative). It worked; that seat stayed open until 2017, when then-President Donald Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch — another justice who voted to overturn Roe in 2022. Gorsuch was raised Catholic but has more recently attended an Episcopal church.

Trump was very specific about the type of justices he wanted: hardcore social conservatives. Former Justice Anthony Kennedy was a right-wing fiscally conservative 1987 Reagan appointee, but he was much more of a libertarian than Scalia, Alito or Thomas and often voted with Democratic justices when it came to abortion or gay rights. And that wasn't the type of justice that Trump and Leo wanted.

Przybyla notes, "The Court’s 2022 decision overturning half a century of the federal right to abortion was widely seen as a victory for the conservative legal movement led by Leo. Trump picked his Court nominees from a list drawn up by Leo, who then served as his unofficial adviser in the White House. A constellation of outside groups affiliated with Leo poured tens of millions of dollars in anonymous donor funds into promoting those nominees — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — thereby cementing a new conservative majority for the next generation."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Kyrsten Sinema

Payday Lenders Finance Sinema As She Enables Their Exploitation Of Poor

If Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona decides to seek reelection as an independent in 2024, her state could see a three-way U.S. Senate race between centrist Sinema, liberal Rep. Ruben Gallego (who is seeking the Democratic nomination) and a Republican candidate (possibly far-right conspiracy theorist Kari Lake if she decides to run). It remains to be seen whether or not Sinema, a former Democrat turned independent, will run; if she does, Gallego will no doubt slam her for her corporate ties. And one of those ties could be her involvement with the payday loan industry.

That involvement, according to journalist Daniel Boguslaw, included the firm Forza Consulting, which Sinema co-founded.

In an article published by The Intercept on February 13, Boguslaw explains, “In 2007, according to Arizona LLC filings, Sinema started a consulting firm with her friend and former Democratic State Rep. Chad Campbell, a major backer of industry-backed bills in the legislature who would go on to become a payday loan industry lobbyist in Arizona…. The firm, Forza Consulting LLC, remains active, according to filings, though there is no public indication of corporate activity. Campbell and Sinema are the principals in the company, with Sinema listed as manager, alongside former Democratic State Rep. David Lujan.”

Boguslaw reports that Sinema, who served in the Arizona House of Representatives and later, the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Senate in the 2018 midterms, has “consistently” taken “positions aligned with payday lenders.”

“Payday lenders charge exorbitant fees for short-term loans with interest rates as high as 400 percent, named because borrowers are expected to pay off the loans with their next paycheck,” Boguslaw points out. “The loans, however, are considered predatory and banned or restricted in 18 states because they can lead to a chain of further loans that bury borrowers in debt…. Community Choice Financial, one of the payday lenders represented by the Arizona Financial Choice Association, has donated $21,000 dollars to Sinema since 2016. The donations were part of Sinema’s haul from payday lenders.”

Boguslaw adds, “She has received the most money of any active senator from the industry, $168,000, and comes in third among lifetime industry recipients, behind Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), and the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). Forza Consulting LLC, the firm Sinema started with Campbell, has not appeared on any of Sinema’s U.S. House or Senate disclosure forms, despite the company’s active status.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.