- Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger said he has been under pressure from members of his own party, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, who he accused of encouraging him to find ways to throw out legal ballots.
- Graham denied the allegations but confirmed that he had asked Raffensberger about the state’s signature verification system.
- Around the same time, President Trump also claimed that signatures were not being matched in the recount he requested. The signatures were already verified twice and are not re-verified during recounts to protect voter privacy.
- Raffensberger has continually defended the integrity of the election, even as he and his wife have been receiving death threats since the two Republican Senators in runoffs asked him to resign and claimed, without evidence, there were irregularities in the election.
Raffensberger Says He’s Under Pressure
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger accused Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) of encouraging him to throw out legal ballots in an interview with The Washington Post Monday.
Since Election Day, Georgia has become the center of the political world. Not only is the state home to the two Senate runoffs that will determine control of the chamber, but it is also nearing the end of a historic hand-recount of 5 million ballots. President Donald Trump requested that recount after former Vice President Joe Biden was projected to win the state by about 14,000 votes.
In the interview with The Post, Raffensperger said that as the state’s top election official, he was under enormous pressure from his own party.
That effort was launched two weeks ago when Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — the two incumbent Republicans facing runoffs — took the unprecedented step of asking Raffensperger to resign and claimed, without any evidence, that there were irregularities in the election process.
Raffensberger defended himself and denied the unfounded claims, arguing that there was no credible evidence that there had been any election fraud on a scale large enough to sway the outcome of the election.
But since then, the pressure has only mounted, with Raffensberger also telling The Post that both he and his wife started receiving death threats right after the senators sent that letter.
President Trump has also helped escalate the situation. In a tweet over the weekend, Trump called Raffensberger a republican in name only (RINO), and claimed that the top election official “won’t let the people checking the ballots see the signatures for fraud. Why? Without this the whole process is very unfair and close to meaningless. Everyone knows that we won the state.”
Most of the claims in that tweet, which was flagged by Twitter, are either misleading or downright false. First of all, recounts are meant to review ballots, not signatures. Absentee voters do not even sign the ballots but the envelopes they come in, which are permanently separated from the ballots after they are verified to protect voter privacy.
Beyond that, the process for verifying the envelope signatures in Georgia is exceedingly thorough. Signatures were already verified twice by election officials: once when absentee voters applied for the ballots, and then again when they sent them in.
Lindsey Graham Allegations
However, Raffensberger alleged in his interview with The Post that Sen. Graham echoed Trump’s claims and pressed him about the state’s election process during a call on Friday.
“In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger,” The Post reported.
“Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures,” the report continued. “Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots,”
When asked by reporters about the call, Graham confirmed that he had in fact called Raffesnberger to ask about Georgia’s signature-matching requirements but denied that he had suggested that Raffensperger throw out legal ballots, calling the accusation “ridiculous.”
“The main issue for me is: How do you protect the integrity of mail-in voting, and how does signature verification work?” he added.
When asked about Graham’s response during an interview with CNN last night, Raffensberger stood his ground.
“It’s just an implication that look hard and see how many ballots you can throw out,” he said of Grahams remarks.
Response and Backlash
Many social media users condemned Graham and said that he should be investigated. Some pointed out the apparent hypocrisy in the fact that a sitting Republican was being accused of attempting to influence the election results after Trump and his cronies have spent weeks spreading totally false claims of Democrats committing fraud.
Others also argued that if the allegations are true Graham should resign, and claimed that his actions were potentially illegal under both federal and state law.
“Why is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee calling Georgia’s Secretary of State to discuss mechanics of an ongoing ballot count?” Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted. “Such a call would be implicitly coercive in the best case, even without Graham’s alleged suggestion about throwing out lawful votes.”
Graham, for his part, continued to defend himself, telling reporters Tuesday morning that he also had similar conversations with election officials in Nevada and Arizona. He also said he was simply doing this because he is a senator who is concerned about election integrity.
Both the Arizona and Nevada Secretaries of State said they had not spoken to Graham, and when pressed later, Graham said he spoke to the Governor of Arizona, not the state’s election official, and said he could not remember who he had spoken to in Nevada.
Notably, most Republicans stayed silent on the accusations on Monday and Tuesday, and the few who did mention the Georgia election again attacked Raffensberger. In a tweet Monday, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said the state needed accountability and claimed “Georgians have lost confidence” in Raffensberger’s ability to lead.
Raffensberger Denounces Attacks
Raffensberger has continually hit back against the attacks and defended the integrity of the signature verifications, absentee ballots, and voting machines.
In a series of posts on Facebook, he debunked false claims made by Trump and explained that Georgia has had no-excuse absentee voting the last 15 years. He also said under his control of the election process, absentee ballots had been strengthened and secured for the first time since they were put in place.
Among other points, Raffensberger noted that he had outlawed absentee ballot harvesting, required mail-in ballots to be uploaded to an online portal with photo ID for each voter, and trained election officials on signature matching.
The state of Georgia has had no excuse absentee ballots since 2005— only those who request a ballot can vote absentee….Posted by GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Sunday, November 15, 2020
**Lin Wood Lawsuit** My team secured and strengthened absentee ballots for the first time since 2005. As Secretary of…Posted by GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Sunday, November 15, 2020
As for the integrity of the recount, Raffensperger said in the interview with The Post that he believed it would simply “affirm” the results of the initial count. He also added that the hand-count will provide evidence that the voting machines the state used — which have been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories spread by the president and his supporters — were accurate.
Raffensberger even told The Post that some counties in the state have already reported that their hand recounts matched the machine’s tallies exactly. However, he did also confirm that election officials in Floyd County did discover about 2,600 eligible votes that had not been included in the first tallies because election workers had failed to upload them off a memory stick.
While Raffensberger’s office did say the votes probably would have been discovered, it still called for the resignation of the county election director.
“The Floyd County situation was unfortunate,” a spokesperson told reporters, noting that the process had gone smoothly in most other large counties. The spokesperson also said that a good chunk of the newly discovered ballots were cast for Trump, which officially brings Biden’s lead from around 14,200 to around 13,300.
Biden is still expected to ultimately be called as the winner of the state, and even if there is another unexpected curveball in the Georgia recount, he still has enough electoral votes by far to secure the presidency.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (CNN)
Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds
In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.
A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse
More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.
Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.
All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.
“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”
“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.
“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”
Abuses Go Unreported
Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.
Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.
Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.
In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.
In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.
The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Deseret) (Standard Examiner)
Texas AG Ken Paxton Allegedly Flees Official Serving Subpoenas in Truck
Following the news, a judge granted the attorney general’s request to quash the subpoenas.
Paxton on the Run
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his own home in a truck Monday morning to evade an official trying to serve him a subpoena, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Last month, several nonprofits filed a lawsuit seeking to block Texas from charging individuals under the state’s abortion ban in cases that happened out of state or prior to Roe v. Wade being overturned.
Two subpoenas were issued summoning Paxton to a Tuesday court hearing, one for his professional title and the other addressed to him personally.
Early on Monday Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, knocked on the front door of Paxton’s home in McKinney and was greeted by Texas state senator Angela Paxton, who is the Attorney General’s wife.
According to the affidavit, Herrera identified himself and informed her that he was delivering court documents to Mr. Paxton. She responded that her husband was on the phone and in a hurry to leave, so Herrera returned to his vehicle and waited for Ken to emerge.
Nearly an hour later, the affidavit states, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, the attorney general stepped out.
“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name,” Herrera wrote in the affidavit. “As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage.”
Shortly afterward, Angela exited the house and climbed into a truck in the driveway, leaving a rear driver-side door open.
“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him.”
“Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck,” he continued.
The affidavit adds that Herrera placed the documents on the ground by the vehicle and stated that he was serving a subpoena, but the Paxtons drove away.
Process Server or Lingering Stranger?
Following the publication of the affidavit in The Texas Tribune, Ken attacked the news outlet on Twitter and claimed to fear for his safety.
“This is a ridiculous waste of time and the media should be ashamed of themselves,” he wrote. “All across the country, conservatives have faced threats to their safety – many threats that received scant coverage or condemnation from the mainstream media.”
“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he continued.
On Monday, the attorney general filed two requests: a motion to quash the subpoena and another to seal the certificates of service, which included the affidavit.
His lawyers argued that Herrera “loitered at the Attorney General’s home for over an hour, repeatedly shouted at him, and accosted” him and his wife.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted both requests on Tuesday.
In a statement, the attorney general said that Herrera is “lucky this situation did not escalate further or necessitate force.”
See what others are saying: (The Texas Tribune) (CNN) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit, Investigation for “Human Trafficking” of Migrants
A woman only known as “Pearla” allegedly lured the desperate migrants onto planes with monetary incentives and false promises.
A Political Stunt Blows Up in the Governor’s Face
After unexpectedly flying some 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is staring down a class action lawsuit, a local investigation, and a potential probe from the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, Lawyers for Civil Rights, in conjunction with the nonprofit Alianza Americas filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants. The filing names DeSantis, the state of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and their accomplices as defendants.
It alleges they fraudulently induced the migrants to cross state lines to Martha’s Vineyard, where shelter and resources were not prepared.
According to several accounts, the migrants were falsely promised work, free rent, and immigration assistance in exchange for taking the trip.
The migrants are seeking unspecified damages on top of the cost of their legal fees for emotional and economic harm.
On Monday, Texas Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced that he was opening an investigation into the migrant flights and DeSantis’s role in the scheme, which he called an “abuse of human rights.”
“They feel that they were deceived in being taken from Bexar County — from San Antonio, Texas — to where they eventually ended up,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “That could be a crime here in Texas and we will handle it as such.”
Salazar also said in a statement that his office was working with private attorneys representing the victims and advocacy organizations and that he was prepared to work with “any federal agency with concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.”
Since making the announcement, the sheriff’s office has been bombarded by threats via phone and email, according to a statement by a spokesperson.
Dylan Fernandes, a Massachusetts state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard, called on the DoJ to launch a human trafficking probe into DeSantis Sunday.
He wrote on Twitter about the “inhumane acts,” saying, “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”
A Mysterious Woman Named Pearla
Several migrants have told reporters, and claimed in the class action lawsuit, that they were lured onto the planes by a tall, blonde woman calling herself Pearla.
She reportedly approached them outside the San Antonio shelter, on the street, and in a McDonald’s parking lot, talking to them in broken Spanish.
Eduardo Linares, a migrant who said he rejected Pearla’s offer, told The Boston Globe that she promised them a free trip to Massachusetts and guaranteed work.
Another migrant named Alejandro told the outlet she offered him three months of free rent, job placement, and help with his immigration case.
The San Antonio Report interviewed a migrant named Emmanuel who said Pearla paid him $200 to recruit other migrants for the flights.
Tuesday’s lawsuit filing elaborates on their claims, saying that they were enticed with $10 McDonald’s gift cards to fly to Boston or Washington.
It alleges that the migrants were rounded up in hotel rooms while the scheme’s organizers gathered enough people to fill two planes, with them sequestered so they could not discuss the plan with anyone else.
“Once the individual Plaintiffs and class members landed, it became clear that the promises made to induce them on the planes were in fact bold-faced lies,” the filing says.
DeSantis defended himself on Fox News Monday night, saying, “They all signed consent forms to go and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard, it has the number for different services that are on Martha’s Vineyard.”
The brochures given to the migrants, however, listed services for refugees, not asylum seekers, and some migrants have said they weren’t aware of this fact. If the migrants were misled, the participants in the scheme could be criminally liable.
Who Pearla is and who employs her is still unknown, but DeSantis has publically taken credit for chartering the flights.
The League of United Latin American Citizens is offering $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of Pearla.
Two days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants voluntarily took shelter in a Cape Cod military base, which is designed for such emergency purposes.