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Trump Nominates Amy Coney Barrett for SCOTUS. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • President Donald Trump announced Saturday that he is nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court.
  • If confirmed, Barrett would likely signal a decades-long conservative shift.
  • Many have now scrutinized her previous writings and opinions on cases involving abortion, Obamacare, LGBTQ+ rights, and more.
  • Some have also questioned if her Catholic faith will play a role in her interpretation of the Constitution, which she has denied.
  • Other’s still have commended Trump for the selection and condemned criticisms of Barrett as attacks on freedom of religion.

Who is Amy Coney Barrett?

After weeks of swirling rumors, President Donald Trump officially announced on Saturday that he had selected Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett is a federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, a role she has held since she was appointed by Trump in 2017 after working as a law professor at Notre Dame for several years.

She was on the shortlist to be a Supreme Court Justice nominee back in 2018 for the seat that was eventually filled by Brett Kavanaugh. If appointed this time around, she will become the youngest member of the court at 48-years-old. 

That is notable because Supreme Court seats are lifetime appointments, and Trump’s two other appointees — Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — are both in their 50s, meaning that all three Trump-appointed justices could potentially serve for decades. Her appointment would firmly lead to a more conservative court, which would have a six-person majority. 

Barrett’s confirmation to the court would also mean that six of the nine justices are Catholic, a fact that is significant because Barrett has received a good deal of scrutiny over public comments she has made about Catholicism and the law in the past.

Religious Concerns

During her confirmation hearing to be a federal judge in 2017, many Democrats worried her religious beliefs would cloud her judgments. However, when pressed on the topic, Barrett swore that would not be the case.

“If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously and I’m a faithful Catholic, I am,” she told Senators at the time. “Although I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.”

That response did not dissuade all senators, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.).

“I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein told Barrett. “And that’s of concern.”

Those remarks, which now compose a viral clip, resulted in Feinstein and other Democrats receiving criticism for attacking Barretts faith and being biased, thus propelling her to be a major rallying flag for the religious right.

Now, with her nomination to the Supreme Court, both the concerns regarding her religion are resurfacing, as are the refrands that those concerns are simply anti-religious attacks. During the formal announcement of her nomination, both President Trump and Barrett herself addressed those concerns.

“She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials, and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution,” Trump said. “Amy Coney Barrett will decide cases based on the text of the Constitution as written.”

“No matter the issue, no matter the case before her, I am supremely confident that Judge Barrett will issue rulings based solely upon a fair reading of the law.”

Barrett, for her part, also echoed those remarks, addressing her “fellow Americans,” to tell them that Trump “nominated me to serve on the United States Supreme Court, and that institution belongs to all of us.”

“If confirmed, I would not assume that role for the sake of those in my own circle, and certainly not for my own sake,” she continued. “I would assume this role to serve you.” 

Barrett also further emphasized that point while describing her personal judicial philosophy, which she said was the same as former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who she clerked for and described as her mentor.

“His judicial philosophy is mine too: A judge must apply the law as written,” she said. “Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.” 

Whether or not Barrett would follow closely in Scalia’s footsteps is important to an ongoing debate that has popped up with the news of her nomination. On one side, many people and media outlets say that while Barrett will certainly shift the court, she is ideologically in-line with the other conservative judges.

But on the other side, plenty of others — specifically on social media — have said that her past decisions, public statements, and publications show she is an extremist and a religious fundamentalist.

Here’s a deeper look at Barrett’s record, where she stands on key issues, and how that could affect future Supreme Court decisions. 

Abortion

Let’s start with what Barrett’s nomination means for abortion rights because that has easily been the most talked-about and is likely to be a major focus at her confirmation hearings and throughout the nomination process.

Barrett has been quite public about her personal opposition to abortion in both academic and judicial writings. She has explicitly said that abortion is “always immoral,” and her nomination has been widely supported by anti-abortion groups.

Aside from personal views, in her role as a federal judge, she has overseen three cases regarding laws restricting abortions in her home state of Indiana. In all three cases, she expressed concerns over earlier rulings that had ended those restrictions, and twice she joined dissenting opinions that would have struck down lower court rulings and upheld abortion restrictions.

However, both her personal beliefs and past rulings don’t necessarily mean she would strike down Roe v. Wade. While Trump has vowed to appoint justices ready to overrule the 1973 decision that established the Constitution recognizes a right to abortion, Barrett has not yet said publicly how she would rule on abortion if confirmed to the Supreme Court. 

This is where things get a little messy. Barrett has in the past called Roe an “erroneous decision” and claimed it “ignited a national controversy” by deciding the issue via the Supreme Court rather than leaving it up to the states. 

At the same time, she has also repeatedly said she does not think SCOTUS would overturn the ruling.

“I don’t think the core case, Roe’s core holding that women have a right to an abortion, I don’t think that would change,” she stated speaking at an appearance in 2016. “But I think the question of whether people can get very late-term abortions, you know, how many restrictions can be put on clinics, I think that will change.”

That last point is important because while many experts believe it is unlikely that SCOTUS will wholesale overturn Roe anytime soon, what is likely is that the court will make decisions on cases that will slowly chip away at the ruling instead.

However, others have said with the appointment of another conservative to replace Ginsburg, the conservative justices could have enough votes to go after abortion directly. If that were to be the case, it is unclear how Barrett would proceed here as well.

A fact that is significant because Barrett has also published controversial views regarding the judicial principle that justices should respect the past court precedents, and made it clear that she would be open to reversing a Supreme Court precedent if she believed it went against the Constitution.

Affordable Care Act

The second highly talked-about effect Barrett could have on the court is in regards to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — or Obamacare. Her views here are exceptionally important because a week after Election Day, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the latest challenge to the ACA. 

Barrett, for her part, has publicly criticized the Supreme Court decision that upheld Obamacare as constitutional repeatedly. In a 2017 article she wrote, she quoted her mentor Scalia’s dissension with the law by saying it should be called “SCOUTScare.”

In the article, Barrett argued for an originalist reading of the Constitution — interpreting the Constitution how it was originally written and with the same understanding the authors had when they wrote it. Under that view, she argued, the Supreme Court would not allow for Obamacare.

She also criticized Chief Justice Roberts’ stance on Obamacare, and said that he considered too many factors outside of the Constitution when considering Obamacare’s constitutionality. Her originalist interpretation of the Constitution lends fuel to Democrats claims that she could upend the Affordable Care Act.

Adding to concerns is her stance about Obamacare forcing employers to offer birth control, regardless of their religious preferences. In 2012, she allegedly signed a petition against this provision and is quoted by Newsweek as saying at the time: “This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.”

Other Important Rulings and Remarks

Abortion and the ACA are the two biggest talking points when it comes to Barrett, but those who believe she is an extremist have also noted her record on other hot button issues in the country.

For example, many have pointed to her stance on LGBTQ+ rights. According to reports, in 2015, Barrett signed a letter addressed to Catholic bishops that detailed her personal beliefs. It also included a statement about “marriage and family founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.”

Regarding marriage, some also cited a lecture she gave in 2016 where she defended Supreme Court justices who argued against making gay marriage legal. In a separate speech, she argued that Title IX does not apply to transgender individuals.

A lot of people also pointed to other controversial decisions she has made in her three years as a federal judge, like how she refused to rehear a racial segregation case in 2017, as well as a ruling she made in 2019 that made it easier for men accused of sexual assaults on college campuses to challenge the proceedings against them.

Some also condemned her stance on immigration. In one case, she oversaw, Barrett argued that the U.S. has a right to block people it deems likely to become dependent on public assistance — even if they’ve never used it in the past.

She has also repeatedly refused to review cases brought by immigrants who claim they’ve been wrongfully denied humanitarian protections or other immigration benefits.

What Next?

Of course, on the other side, Republicans have widely applauded Barrett’s nomination, including from key leaders, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Trump “could not have made a better decision.” 

Sen. Lindsey Graham — who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and is in charge of the nomination process — also called her an “outstanding” pick.

As for what happens next, Barrett will meet with Senators for the next two weeks — a timeline that Graham cut significantly short. Normally lawmakers are given around six weeks to meet with and vet a SCOTUS nominee, but Republicans have argued that the quick turnaround is okay because Barrett was already vetted by the Senate in 2017 for a Supreme Court seat. 

After meeting with Senators, Graham has scheduled four consecutive days of confirmation hearings starting Oct. 12, with a full committee vote set for Oct. 22. Graham’s intentions here are clear: he hopes to have a full floor vote before the election. 

Notably, McConnell has not yet committed to a pre-election vote, but regardless, right now, it seems almost certain he will have enough votes. Only two Republicans — Senators Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.) — have said they oppose filling the seat before the election.

However, even without them, the Republicans still have a clear path to a 51-47 majority vote. Still, even with the vote all but locked, everyone expects her confirmation process to be a deeply divisive, partisan battle.

This is by far the closest a confirmation fight has played out to an election in American history, and many Democrats have repeatedly condemned Republicans for trying to push through a nominee so fast — especially when Trump has said he expects the election results to end up in the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, as well as anyone who opposes Barrett’s nomination, there is really not much they can do. Regardless of what happens, this firmly places the nomination as a central issue in the election — and not just for Trump, but for the Senators too.

Trump and Republicans are hoping that the prospect of conservatives holding a 6-3 majority will energize conservative voters ahead of the election, but that could also go the other way: Republican’s trying to jam through a nomination could mobilize more liberal voters too.

Several recent polls have shown that a majority of voters want whoever wins in November to choose the SCOTUS nominee, so it is possible that moving too fast could backfire. 

“For many Republican senators up for re-election this year, the ideal situation might be to begin the confirmation process quickly, injecting it into the political bloodstream and energizing conservative voters, but waiting until after Election Day — when vulnerable incumbents no longer have to worry about being cast out by angry independent and liberal voters — to hold a confirmation vote,” The New York Times explained.

There are several key, incredibly close, Senate races happening in November, and political analysts say that control of the chamber is up for grabs. At the same time, even if Republicans lose the Senate, they could still approve Barrett in the time after the election and before the new session in January.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)

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House Panel Approves Commission To Study Reparations

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  • In a 25 to 17 vote along party lines, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation Wednesday that would establish a commission to study slavery reparations for Black Americans.
  • Republicans objected to the plan, arguing that it will cost too much money and that it is unfair to make all American taxpayers responsible for the consequences of slavery.
  • Democrats pushed back, claiming the modern oppression of Black people still holds roots in slavery, and noting that the bill just creates a commission to study reparations, not implement them.
  • While the proposal faces steep odds in the Senate, Wednesday’s historic vote will move the measure to the House floor for a full vote for the first time since it was introduced over three decades ago. 

Reparation Commission Achieves First Approval

The House Judiciary Committee voted for the first time on Wednesday to advance a bill that will create a commission to consider paying slavery reparations for Black Americans.

The legislation was first proposed over 30 years ago, and if signed into law, it would create a 13-member commission that would study the effects of slavery and racial discrimination in the U.S. and then give Congress a recommendation for “appropriate remedies” to best compensate Black Americans.

The measure passed the committee 25 to 17 along party lines, as expected, with objections from Republicans, who claimed reparations will cost too much and that they are unfair to Americans who have no history of enslavers in their families.

Democrats pushed back against those assertions, arguing that the federal government does have enough money to take some kind of action. They also noted that the commission will not actually implement any reparations, but rather just look into the options and then make a non-binding recommendation.

There are a lot of different ideas for what reparations could look like. While some support direct cash payments of various sizes, others have argued there are different proposals that might be more realistic to put into law, like no-interest loans for Black homeowners or free college tuition.

“I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not cancel us tonight. Do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday.

Others also condemned the argument that some Americans, particularly those whose ancestors did not directly benefit from owning slaves, should not bear responsibility. They said that this line of thinking ignores both generational wealth, which vastly benefits white Americans over all others, as well as how Black Americans are hurt by modern-day discrimination and oppression that has roots in slavery.

“Slavery was indeed ended 150 years ago but racism never took a day off and is alive and well in America,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said in committee Wednesday. 

“You can ask the family members of Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd. Black folks in this country cannot keep living and dying like this. But we’ll be forced to do so if White folks in America continue to refuse to look back at history.”

Uphill Battle

While many have described the legislation as a flexible first step, any further congressional action will almost certainly be an uphill battle. The committee vote is just the very first step: the proposal still has to go to a vote by the full House, where it is unclear if it will even garner enough support among the House Democrats’ slim majority. 

If it were to pass the lower chamber, the bill faces almost insurmountable odds in the 50-50 split Senate, where ten Republicans would have to join all Democrats to break the legislative filibuster.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that he will start considering when to schedule the vote, though it is unlikely to be considered soon. Hoyer also urged President Joe Biden to use his executive power to create the commission if the legislation fails.

The White House has said that Biden supports the commission, but administration officials have not confirmed whether he would act unilaterally on the subject.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (USA Today) (Vox)

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Biden To Pull All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11

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  • President Biden declared Wednesday that he will pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, which also marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
  • The Afghanistan war is the longest war the U.S. has ever been in. It has resulted in the deaths of 2,400 American troops, injured and killed almost 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
  • Some praised the decision as a key step to address seemingly endless wars and promote diplomacy.
  • Many experts and defense officials, however, have warned the withdrawal could undermine American goals in the region and embolden the Taliban, which is currently the strongest it has been since the U.S. invasion removed the group from power in 2001.

Biden Announces Troop Removal Amid Growing Violence

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that drew the U.S. into its longest war in history.

“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden said in an afternoon speech. “It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for America’s troops to come home.’’

The decision comes as Biden nears the May 1 deadline set under a February 2020 peace deal by the administration of former President Donald Trump to bring the troops home from the war, which has killed nearly 2,400 troops, injured and killed nearly 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.

Biden had previously said that it would be hard to meet the date after taking office, but even with the extended timeline, many experts and defense officials have warned against the move.

The U.S. first entered the war to oust the Taliban government, which was harboring al-Qaeda militants involved in planning the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban was removed within months, but the group still had support in parts of the country and steadily regained territory and strength.

Now, almost two decades later, the group is the strongest it has been since the 2001 invasion, and according to reports, controls or has influence over half the country. The situation has also escalated in the months after Trump, during his last week in office, reduced the official number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500, which is the lowest level since 2001.

As the U.S. has scaled down its operations, the Taliban has taken control of major highways and tried to cut off cities and towns in surges that have exhausted Afghan security forces. Violence has also ramped up in recent months.

According to a U.N. report released Wednesday, nearly 1,800 civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of the year, a nearly 30% increase from the same period last year.

Notably, U.S. intelligence agencies have said that they do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations present an immediate threat to strike the U.S. from Afghanistan, an assessment that reportedly played a big role in Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.

However, many experts are more concerned about how the move will impact Afghanistan and its citizens. 

Concerns Over Withdrawal

The Pentagon has warned against removing American troops from the region until Afghan security forces can effectively fight back against the Taliban.

As a result, critics of the plan have argued that withdrawal will leave the forces  — which have limited capacities and until now have been funded and trained by the U.S. — entirely in the dust

Beyond that, many also worry that the move could undermine the entire goal of the 2001 invasion by empowering al-Qaeda operates that remains in the country and who could become emboldened once the U.S. troops left.

Some experts and Afghan politicians have said that withdrawing from the country without a solid peace deal in place could end in concentrating more power in the hands of the Taliban. After a long delay following the U.S. agreement in February of last year, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban finally started up in September.

But those talks have since stalled, partly due to Biden’s win and the anticipation of a possible change in policy under the new administration.

While other countries have recently made moves to restart the talks, and there are a number of possible options on the table, nothing is set in stone. American commanders, who have long said a peace deal with the Taliban is the best security measure for the U.S., have argued that the U.S. will need to use the promise of withdrawing their forces as a condition for a good deal.

Now, the U.S. has taken a major bargaining chip off the table, causing concerns that if a deal is struck, the already weakened Afghan government will make key concessions to the Taliban. Many Afghan citizens who oppose the Taliban worry that if the group secures a role in a power-sharing agreement, it could eventually take over the government and re-impose the harsh rule it imposed before the U.S. removed it in 2001. The leadership was particularly tough on women, who were largely barred from public life.

Politicians Respond

Biden’s decision has sparked a divided front from both political parities, though Republicans have largely remained united against the move.

“It is insane to withdraw at this time given the conditions that exist on the ground in Afghanistan,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. “A full withdrawal from Afghanistan is dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous. President Biden will have, in essence, canceled an insurance policy against another 9/11.”

Many Democrats, however, have argued that U.S. presence in the region is not helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals, and that if withdrawal is based on conditional approaches, the troops will never be able to leave. 

Others have also applauded the plan as a careful solution and will still emphasize diplomatic efforts in the region while simultaneously removing the U.S. from a highly unpopular and expensive war.

“The President doesn’t want endless wars. I don’t want endless wars. And neither do the American people. ” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “It’s refreshing to have a thought-out plan with a set timetable instead of the President waking up one morning getting out of bed, saying what just pops into his head and then having the generals having walked it back.”

In a series of tweets Wednesday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said had spoken to Biden, and emphasized that the two nations would continue to work together.

“’Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along,” he wrote.

The Taliban, for its part, has focused more on the fact that the initial timeline had been delayed.

“We are not agreeing with delay after May 1,” a spokesperson said on television Tuesday. “Any delay after May 1 is not acceptable for us.”

It is currently unclear how that stance might affect the situation, especially when it comes to peace deal negotiations.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (TIME)

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Matt Gaetz Reportedly Venmo’d Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Sent Money To Teen

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  • A report published by The Daily Beast Thursday alleges that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) sent $900 through Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the funds to pay three young women, including one teenager.
  • Gaetz is currently under federal investigation as part of a broader inquiry into Greenberg, a former politician who has been charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking an underage girl.
  • Investigators are reportedly looking into the involvement of politicians with women who were recruited online for sex and paid in cash, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws by paying for her to travel with him.
  • Greenberg’s lawyer did not comment on the new allegations but said Thursday his client would soon enter a plea deal and implied that Greenberg would testify as a witness against Gaetz. Meanwhile, Gaetz has accused The Daily Beast of spreading “rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements.”

Gaetz’s Alleged Venmo Payments 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly sent money via Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the money to pay three young women, including at least one teenage girl, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.

Greenberg, a former local Flordia politician and an associate of Gaetz, was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers said in court Thursday that he would plead guilty as part of a plea deal.

Legal experts say the move almost certainly indicates that Greenberg plans to cooperate as a witness against Gaetz, who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department as part of a broader probe into Greenberg.

According to The New York Times, among other things, the DOJ inquiry is looking into their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and paid cash, as well as whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws.

Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg met the women through a website for people willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and money, and then arranged for them to meet with himself and associates including Gaetz, The Times reported.

The new report from The Daily Beast, published Thursday, appears to support this narrative. According to the outlet, which viewed the transactions before they were made private this week, Gaetz sent Greenberg two late-night Venmo payments totaling $900 in May 2018. 

In the text field of the first payment, Gaetz wrote “Test.” In the second, he asked Greenberg to “hit up” a teenager who he allegedly referred to by her nickname. The Daily Beast did not publish the name of the girl “because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.”

The next morning, Greenberg transferred a total of $900 to three different young women using the same app.

One of the transfers was titled “Tuition,” and the other two were both listed as “School.” The Daily Beast also said it was able to obtain “partial records” of Greenbergs Venmo, which is not publicly available.

Those records, the outlet reported, show that the two men are connected through Venmo to at least one other woman who Greenberg paid with a government-funded credit card, and at least two other women who received payments from Greenberg.

Ongoing Investigation

Gaetz, for his part, has not directly addressed the latest allegations. A representative from the Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm, provided The Daily Beast with a statement from the congressman.

“The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team,” the statement said, with the firm also informing the outlet that their lawyers would be “closely monitoring your coverage.”

Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, also declined requests to comment, but during a press conference Thursday, he implied that the plea deal his client is expected to accept spelled trouble for Gaetz.

“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.

The Daily Beast story also comes amid reports that that the FBI has widened its probe of Gaetz. According to The Times, sources familiar with the inquiry have said investigators are also looking into a trip he took to the Bahamas with other Florida Republicans and several women.

Sources said the trip took place shortly after Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, and that the FBI has already questioned witnesses about whether the women had sex with the men in exchange for money and free travel.

It is illegal to trade sex for something of value if prosecutors can provide the exchange involved force, fraud, or coercion.

The Times also reported that investigators are now additionally looking into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in discussions to run a third-party candidate in a State Senate race to make it easier for an associate of his who was running for the seat to win.

The act of recruiting so-called “ghost candidates” who run for office purely to divert votes from one candidate is not usually illegal. However, paying a ghost candidate is normally considered a violation of campaign finance laws.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (The New York Times) (The Hill)

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