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Mueller Report Includes 10 Possible Instances of Obstruction of Justice, Lacks Evidence, AG Says Ahead of Full Release

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  • Attorney General William Barr held a press briefing Thursday morning in advance of the public release of the Mueller report.
  • Barr stated that the report “found no evidence that any Americans – including anyone associated with the Trump campaign – conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”
  • Barr said that the special counsel looked at 10 instances where Trump acted in a way that could be considered an obstruction of justice, but defended his conclusion to ultimately clear Trump of any attempted obstruction of justice.

Barr Briefing Before Release

Attorney General William Barr gave a press conference Thursday morning as a precursor to the public release of the highly anticipated Mueller report.

During the briefing, Barr stated that while the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller “makes clear” that Russian operatives tried to interfere in the 2016 election, the investigations “found no evidence” that any member of President Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Russian efforts to interfere in the election.

“The special counsel found no collusion by any Americans,” said Barr.

“As you will see, the special counsel’s report states that his ‘investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” he continued.

Barr claimed that the White House “fully cooperated” with the investigation and that Trump did not have “corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.” He also said that Trump’s lawyers were given access to the report earlier this week before it was made public and that Trump’s lawyers did not ask for any additional redactions.

10 Instances of Possible Obstruction of Justice

Barr said that the special counsel looked at 10 instances where Trump may have obstructed justice. Despite these 10 instances and the fact that Mueller said he was neither charging nor exonerating Trump of obstruction of justice, Barr defended his own decision to clear the president of any potential charges.

Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein disagreed with “some of the special counsel’s legal theories,” and ultimately concluded the evidence was “not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.”

He also defended Trump’s actions, saying that he was “frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.”

The WikiLeaks Question

Regarding the question of the Trump campaign’s connection to WikiLeaks’ release of hacked DNC emails in the summer of 2016, Barr said that even if the Trump campaign colluded with WikiLeaks, that is not a crime.

“The special counsel also investigated whether any member or affiliate of the Trump campaign encouraged or otherwise played a role in these dissemination efforts,” said Barr. “Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy.”

This means that because WikiLeaks did not directly participate in the Russian hacking of the emails, WikiLeaks did not itself commit a crime. Meaning any collusion between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks is not an illegal conspiracy.

What Next?

At 11 a.m. EST, Barr sent the Mueller report to Congress and published the “lightly redacted” report on the Justice Department’s website. Now, reporters, legal experts, and lawmakers alike will analyze the findings of the 448-page report.

In the press conference, Barr said that most of the redactions fall into four categories: Content that involves grand jury material, content that involves foreign intelligence, content that implicates ongoing cases and investigations, and content that would violate the privacy of people who are not directly implicated in the report.

Barr said that redactions would be labeled according to their category. He also stated that the redactions were made by Department of Justice attorneys, attorneys from the Special Counsel’s Office, the intelligence community, and prosecutors in ongoing cases.

Democratic lawmakers have demanded to see the unredacted report, arguing that Barr cannot be trusted to provide an accurate portrayal of Mueller’s findings because Barr was appointed by Trump, and has openly argued against the obstruction case against Trump in the past.

Barr addressed this in his briefing, saying that he believed the redacted report “will allow every American to understand the results of the Special Counsel’s investigation.”

“Nevertheless, in an effort to accommodate congressional requests,” continued Barr, “We will make available to a bipartisan group of leaders from several Congressional committees a version of the report with all redactions removed except those relating to grand-jury information.”

Barr’s findings will surely continue to be questioned by legal experts and pundits as more analyses of the report are done on the historic Mueller report.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (Fox News)

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Florida Gov. DeSantis Temporarily Delayed From Voting After Someone Changed His Listed Address

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  • Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was delayed from voting on Monday after a man allegedly exploited a weakness in the State Department website, allowing him to change DeSantis’ home address. 
  • That man, Anthony Guevara, has now been arrested and charged with two felonies, including voter fraud. 
  • Meanwhile, state and election officials have reassured voters there is no need to worry about being unable to vote through similar attacks, as an address change will not prevent voters from casting their ballots. 

DeSantis’ Trouble Voting

Investigators in Florida have arrested and charged a man with voter fraud after alleging that he changed the listed address of Gov. Ron DeSantis on Florida’s Department of State website, a move that temporarily delayed DeSantis from casting his vote. 

DeSantis arrived at the Leon County Courthouse Monday afternoon around 2 p.m. to cast his vote, but he was soon stopped by a clerk who noticed an issue with his home address. Reportedly, it had somehow been changed from the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee to a random home in West Palm Beach.

Though the situation was also investigated as a possible technical glitch, the following day, investigators arrested a man in what they described as a much more malicious and intentional attack on DeSantis.

In now-unsealed court documents, investigators said DeSantis’ address had been changed illegally without his knowledge. Those investigators also charged the man they arrested, 20-year-old Anthony Guevara, with two third-degree felonies, including voter fraud.

According to investigators, Guevara admitted changing DeSantis’ address last week to that of an unnamed YouTube personality. He also allegedly accessed voter information on Senator Rick Scott, as well as basketball legends Lebron James and Michael Jordan. However, unlike DeSantis, Guevara didn’t change any of their records. It is unclear why Guevara, a registered Republican, changed DeSantis’ address.

How Guevara Allegedly Changed DeSantis’ Address

It turns out that changing someone’s address in some Florida counties is surprisingly easy. In fact, in Leon County, the only requirement needed is a person’s date of birth. 

For a public figure like DeSantis, that is incredibly easy to find. In fact, Guevara reportedly told investigators that he got the information by simply looking on DeSantis’ Wikipedia page

While Mark Earley, the election supervisor in Leon County, said the system has safeguards to prevent mass changes, he noted that it is designed to be deliberately convenient for address changes. In fact, Earley cited college students who tend to move frequently as a key reason why the system is so simple.

“What is abnormal is for that change to be done fraudulently,” Earley told the Tampa Bay Times.

“This is not a hard thing to do, but there are pretty severe penalties for doing this,” he added. 

Other counties in Florida require more information from voters wishing to change their listed address. For example, in Polk County, voters also need to provide their social security number, the number and issued date of their state driver’s license, and their date of birth. 

Will This Compromise Anyone’s Ability to Vote?

Election security is one of the biggest concerns at the forefront of the 2020 Elections, and before this news, tensions around voter fraud were already high.

Still, both state and election officials in Florida have reassured voters not to worry about being unable to cast a vote if their address doesn’t match. In fact, Earley has told media outlets that any fraudulent changes or outdated information quickly can be corrected at any polling place.

According to Earley, if a similar attack were to happen to another voter (or if a voter forgot to update their current address), they would still be able to vote. In such a situation, election staff would do a statewide search for the person’s voting record and would then verify that the person is able to vote. From there, those officials would pull the individual’s voter information into their county’s system. 

Both Earley and Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee have also stressed that the state’s systems are “secure,” noting that this was not an incidence of hacking the State Department’s website. 

“This incident was perpetrated using publicly accessible voter data, and there is no evidence to suggest that this change was made through the Florida Department of State,” Lee said. 

See what others are saying: (Tampa Bay Times) (Associated Press) (The Washington Post)

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Facebook Struggles With Roll Out of Election-Week Political Ad Ban

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  • Facebook announced in September that it would ban all new political ads the week before the election, but the company’s first day enforcing the policy was met with a number of issues. 
  • Both Republicans and Democrats reported having ads banned that were approved before the deadline, a factor that could be very harmful to small, local campaigns that rely on the platform to share their messages.
  • Meanwhile, a Trump campaign ad arbitrarily saying “Today is Election Day” and encouraging people to “vote TODAY!” — in violation of the platform’s rules — was allowed to run before Facebook removed it. 

Facebook Rolls Out Election-Week Policy

Facebook implemented its new policy on Tuesday prohibiting any new political ads from running the week before the election in a rollout that was riddled with glitches.

The company first announced the ban in September as part of a broader set of policies aimed at combatting misinformation ahead of the election. Notably, the rule does not prohibit all political ads — campaigns can still run old ones.

In fact, political advertisers are even allowed to change the budget of those ads and decide when they would run. Under the election week ban, anyone running a political ad is simply required to submit and run any new ads before midnight Pacific Time on Monday.

But on Tuesday, both Democratic and Republican strategists reported immediate problems and told reporters that ads they had previously run, and thus met Facebook’s guidelines, had been banned.

Eric Frenchman, the chief marketing officer at Republican digital firm Campaign Solutions, told Reuters that several campaigns he was working with were hit. A spokesperson for the campaign of Democratic nominee Joe Biden also informed the outlet that an undisclosed number of the former vice president’s campaign ads had been impacted.

In a statement on Twitter, Biden’s digital director Rob Flaherty slammed Facebook and called the company’s ban a “silly, performative pre-election hoop-jumping exercise.”

Big Issues for Small Campaigns

That criticism was also echoed by Maddie Kriger, the Integrated Media Director at the progressive advocacy organization and super PAC Priorities USA, who told CNBC the organization’s previously-approved ads had been blocked too.

“Even [with] accidental errors, an error like this has a huge impact on our program and our ability to communicate to voters,” she said. “It’s really unacceptable at this stage of the election. It’s just such high stakes that 12 hours in a week left situation is a real loss.”

Facebook has been one of the cheapest and most effective ways for candidates — especially in local races — to share their messages with voters. At the end of the day, glitches like this may not be a big deal for campaigns like Biden’s or President Donald Trump’s, which have a lot of money and manpower. 

However, these technical issues can seriously impact those smaller campaigns that might not have enough financial and physical support for alternative outreach like emails and phone banking during this key final stretch before the election. This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic when in-person outreach like door-knocking and campaign events are limited.  

It is unclear if these problems persisted into Wednesday, though Facebook spokesperson Rob Leathern said in a tweet that the company was looking into it.

“We’re investigating the issues of some ads being paused incorrectly, and some advertisers having trouble making changes to their campaigns,” he said. “We’re working quickly on these fixes, and will share an update once they are resolved.”

Trump Campaign Ads

The glitches were not the only backlash Facebook experienced Tuesday over the policy. While strategists for smaller, local campaigns worried about communicating with voters, others noted that the Trump campaign had been allowed run ads that appeared to violate Facebook’s rules on election misinformation and declaring victory before all votes are counted.

In one ad, a picture of Trump with the text “Election Day is Today” implored people to “vote TODAY!” without any further context. 

CNBC also reported that the campaign also had an ad boasting about GDP figures that have not yet been released, as well as another that the outlet described as a “victory ad.”

“A video in the ad shows the president’s face superimposed on a sun, with a voiceover pulled from various sources,” CNBC reported. “‘It’s morning in America. Donald J. Trump is still president of the United States,’ the video says. Flowers rise from the ground and open to faces, who scream, ‘NOOOO!’ as the smiling president, now also a hummingbird, flits around.”

According to reports, those ads are not currently being run. They are, however, visible in Facebook’s ad library as pre-approved ads, which means that in order to have met Facebook’s rules for election week ads, they had to have been run at some point before now. As a result, some outlets claimed the messages appeared to be the Trump campaign’s way of getting around the ban.

Despite having previously approved the ads and even letting them run at some point, a few hours after media reports about the technical issues began to surface, Facebook told reporters that it would be removing the “vote TODAY!” ads.

“As we made clear in our public communications and directly to campaigns, we prohibit ads that say ‘Vote Today’ without additional context or clarity,” the company said in a statement.

However, a spokesperson also told CNBC Facebook would not take down the ads where Trump claimed he was “still your president” because regardless of the election outcome, Trump will still be president until Jan. 20.

In a statement, Trump’s Deputy National Press Secretary Samantha Zager condemned Facebook for removing the “vote TODAY!” ads and accused the company of censoring political messages to sway the election in favor of Biden.

“This is election interference at the hands of the Silicon Valley Mafia, and it is dangerous for our democracy,” she said.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNBC) (Reuters)

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Amy Coney Barrett Sworn In As Newest Supreme Court Justice. Here’s What Comes Next

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  • On Monday, Amy Coney Barrett was officially sworn in as the new justice on the Supreme Court, ending a highly contentious partisan battle just a week before the election.
  • In the weeks following the election, the new justice is set to hear several landmark cases, including the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and another lawsuit that involves LGBTQ discrimination protections.
  • Many critics have expressed concerns that Barrett will push the court to overrule the ACA and try to roll back LGBTQ protections based on her previous public statements and personal views.
  • As soon as the end of this week, the Supreme Court will also decide whether or not to hear two election-related cases regarding mail-in ballots extensions in key battleground states.

Barrett Appointed to Supreme Court

The Senate officially approved the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday with a vote of 52 to 48.

The decison fell almost entirely along party lines, and though her nomination was hotly contested, this outcome was largely expected.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) was the only Republican to vote against the appointment. No Democrats voted to confirm Barrett, marking the first time in 151 years that not one member of the minority party voted to confirm a justice.

The confirmation marks the end of the historic, lightning-fast nomination process defined by partisan divisions. Democrats repeatedly accused their Republican colleagues of hypocrisy for breaking the precedent they themselves set when they blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination ten months before the 2016 election.

That decision was made under the premise that the nomination came too close to the election and that the next president should get to pick the nominee.

Now, with just seven days to go before the election, Republicans have their new Supreme Court justice, as well as a solid conservative majority on the highest court for the first time since the 1930s.

Here’s a look at what happens next.

Affordable Care Act

Judge Barrett is being seated right as the court is scheduled to hear some highly consequential cases. Arguably the most significant is the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The court will begin hearing oral arguments on starting Nov. 10, just one week after the election.

With Barrett assuming her role on the bench right as the court is set to hear the landmark case, many expressed concerns that she could still sway the court to get rid of the ACA, thus leaving more than 20 million Americans without health insurance during a pandemic.

The new justice has publicly criticized the Supreme Court decision that upheld Obamacare as constitutional. In a 2017 article, she argued that under an originalist reading of the Constitution —  interpreting it the way it was originally written — Obamacare would not be allowed.

In that same article, Barrett also criticized Chief Justice Roberts’ stance on the ACA and claimed that he considered too many factors outside of the Constitution

Notably, when pressed on the topic during her Senate confirmation hearings, she did give some supporters of the law hope when she outlined her views on the legal doctrine known as severability, which allows for parts of a law to be struck down without getting rid of an entire law.

Barrett told the Senators that the presumption is to always favor severing parts of a given law rather than scrapping the whole thing. Some argued that opinion would be favorable for how she may rule on Obamacare, but others remained skeptical.

LGBTQ Protections

Even before hearing the ACA arguments, the Supreme Court is also set to take up another key case that could allow private agencies that receive taxpayer funding to provide government services to deny those services to people based on their sexual orientation.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed against the City of Philadelphia by Catholic Social Services (CSS) in 2018. City officials canceled a contract with the agency to provide foster care services to children after learning that CSS refused to accept same-sex couples as foster parents because of its own religious objections.

A lower court ruled that the city was allowed to end the contract because it fell under the enforcement of its anti-discrimination policy, and an Appeals Court upheld that decision. Now the case is set to go before the Supreme Court, and the consequences could highly significant.

“A broad ruling could decide when religious organizations deserve exemptions from anti-discrimination laws that the groups say would cause them to violate deeply held beliefs, such as what constitutes a marriage,” The Washington Post explained.

Many Democrats and activists have criticized Barrett for her controversial views on LGBTQ rights, specifically pointing to a lecture she gave in 2016 where she defended Supreme Court justices who argued against making gay marriage legal.

Others have also noted a separate speech she gave, where she argued that Title IX — the law that protects people from sex-based discrimination in education programs or other activities that receive federal funding — does not apply to trans people. 

During the Senate hearings, Barrett was largely tight-lipped about her views on key Supreme Court decisions. At one point she refused to say whether she believed the case that established gay marriage as legal had been decided properly.

Election Cases

There are also some other legal battles that Barrett could rule on as early as later this week. This Friday, the justices are expected to meet privately to decide what cases could still be added to this term’s docket.

Two of the cases they are considering are emergency orders regarding ballot extensions in two key battleground states: Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Last week, the Supreme Court denied a request from Pennsylvania’s Republican Party to shorten the deadline in which state election officials could receive absentee ballots. The highest court took up the case after Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court sided with Democrats and allowed them to extend the deadline that mail-in ballots could be received to three days after the election.

Notably here, the Supreme Court did not directly rule against the Republicans, but instead split the decision 4-4, meaning the court was deadlocked, and thus the decision from the lower court would stand.

But now, with the ninth seat filled, Pennsylvania Republicans are asking the court to reconsider blocking the extension and to fast-track the decision.

In a very similar legal battle, the high court has also been asked to consider whether or not to hear a case brought by the Trump campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party asking them to block a mail-in ballot extension approved by the State Board of Elections last month.

The extension would allow officials to receive ballots postmarked by Election Day for nine days after the election. So far, that new deadline has already been held up by a district court and a federal appeals court.

Wisconsin and Kavanaugh

Currently, it is unclear if the court will hear either case, though it is worth noting that they have taken up a number of similar election-related legal battles in recent weeks.

On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to reject attempts by Democrats in Wisconsin to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots to six days after the election. Instead, the court ruled that mail-in ballots in the state can only be counted if they arrive on Election Day.

While the court did not provide a reason for this decision, as is normal in cases like this, some justices filed opinions including Brett Kavanaugh, who sparked controversy in his defense of his decision to strike down the extension.

“Those States want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election,” he wrote, arguing for the importance of deadlines. “And those States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.”

Many condemned the justice, accusing him of issuing a shockingly partisan opinion and arguing that the situation he detailed would not be considered “flipping” the election, including Justice Elana Kagan, who took aim at Kavanaugh’s argument here in a footnote in her own opinion.

“But there are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted,” she wrote. “And nothing could be more ‘suspicio[us]’ or ‘improp[er]’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night. To suggest otherwise, especially in these fractious times, is to disserve the electoral process.”

Some also pointed out the fallacy in Kavanaugh’s argument that mail-in ballots that arrive after election day will change the outcome that a majority of voters wanted. 

“If Trump leads by 10 votes on Nov. 3 but 6,000 ballots arrive the day after having been sent on Oct. 24, most of them preferring former vice president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Kavanaugh worries that this constitutes an unfair rejection of the will of the public,” The Post wrote.

Others still argued that Kavanaugh’s opinion is especially concerning given the fact that currently, election officials in at least 18 states and Washington, D.C., do count ballots that arrive after Election Day. 

“In these states, there is no result to ‘flip’ because there is no result to overturn until all valid ballots are counted,” Slate reported, noting that Kavanaugh’s opinion echoes false claims repeatedly made by President Donald Trump about absentee voting.

In fact, early that same day, the president posted a tweet that mirrored the justices’ argument almost exactly. 

“Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA,” he wrote. “Must have final total on November 3rd.”

The post was quickly flagged by Twitter as election-related misinformation.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Slate) (CNN)

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