A jury in a federal civil case on Thursday found that Project Veritas, a conservative group known for its deceptive tactics, had violated wiretapping laws and fraudulently misrepresented itself as part of a lengthy sting operation against Democratic political consultants.
The jury awarded the consulting firm, Democracy Partners, $120,000. The decision amounted to a sharp rebuke of the practices that Project Veritas and its founder, James O’Keefe, have relied on. During the trial, lawyers for Project Veritas portrayed the operation as news gathering and its employees as journalists following the facts.
“Hopefully, the decision today will help to discourage Mr. O’Keefe and others from conducting these kind of political spy operations and publishing selectively edited, misleading videos in the future,” Robert Creamer, a co-founder of Democracy Partners, said in a statement after the jury had reached a verdict.
Project Veritas said it would appeal the decision.
The Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency this summer turned down a multimillion-dollar proposal to protect election officials from harassment ahead of the midterm elections, multiple people familiar with the matter told CNN.
The plan’s rejection comes as some DHS and cyber officials have expressed concern about their work to stem disinformation being cast as “partisan,” according to multiple people familiar with DHS policy discussions. Last month, DHS shut down its high-profile Disinformation Governance Board after Republicans criticized the expert chosen to lead the board as being overly partisan.
“DHS got very spooked after the failed rollout of the Disinformation Governance Board, even though the message [from administration officials] was clear that we can’t back down, we can’t be bullied by the right,” a senior US official told CNN.
The proposal, which was made by a federally funded nonprofit, also included plans to track foreign influence activity and modestly increase resources for reporting domestic mis- and disinformation related to voting.
DHS officials had legal concerns about the plan’s scope and whether it could be in place for November, the people said. But the decision not to adopt the anti-harassment part of the proposal has drawn frustration from at least two election officials as their colleagues nationwide continue to face an unprecedented wave of violent threats often inspired by online misinformation.
Newly released videos show allies of former President Donald J. Trump and contractors who were working on his behalf handling sensitive voting equipment in a rural Georgia county weeks after the 2020 election.
The footage, which was made public as part of long-running litigation over Georgia’s voting system, raises new questions about efforts by Trump affiliates in a number of swing states to gain access to and copy sensitive election software, with the help of friendly local election administrators. One such incident took place on Jan. 7 of last year, the day after supporters of Mr. Trump stormed the Capitol, when a small team traveled to rural Coffee County, Ga.
The group included members of an Atlanta-based firm called SullivanStrickler, which had been hired by Sidney Powell, a lawyer advising Mr. Trump who is also a conspiracy theorist….
The new videos show members of the team inside an office handling the county’s poll pads, which contain sensitive voter data. (The cases holding the equipment in the footage are labeled with the words “POLL PAD.”) In a court hearing on Sept. 9, David D. Cross, a lawyer for a nonprofit group that is suing over perceived security vulnerabilities in Georgia’s voting system — and that released the new videos after obtaining them in its litigation — told a judge that his group suspected that the “personally identifiable information” of roughly seven million Georgia voters may have been copied.
Charles Tonnie Adams, the elections supervisor of Heard County, Ga., said in an email that “poll pads contain every registered voter on the state list.” It was not immediately clear what specific personal information about voters was on the poll pads, or what, if anything, was done with the data.
Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, said a poll pad “does have voter information but it’s not accessible because it’s scrambled behind security protocols.” He added that there were no driver’s license numbers or Social Security numbers on poll pads at the time.
Spurred by conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, activists around the country are using laws that allow people to challenge a voter’s right to cast a ballot to contest the registrations of thousands of voters at a time.
In Iowa, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller had handled three voter challenges over the previous 15 years. He received 119 over just two days after Doug Frank, an Ohio educator who is touring the country spreading doubts about the 2020 election, swung through the state.
In Nassau County in northern Florida, two residents challenged the registrations of nearly 2,000 voters just six days before last month’s primary. In Georgia, activists are dropping off boxloads of challenges in the diverse and Democratic-leaning counties comprising the Atlanta metro area, including more than 35,000 in one county late last month.
Election officials say the vast majority of the challenges will be irrelevant because they contest the presence on voting rolls of people who already are in the process of being removed after they moved out of the region. Still, they create potentially hundreds of hours of extra work as the offices scramble to prepare for November’s election.
“They at best overburden election officials in the run-up to an election, and at worse they lead to people being removed from the rolls when they shouldn’t be,” said Sean Morales-Doyle of The Brennan Center for Justice, which has tracked an upswing in voter challenges.
Former President Donald Trump said Thursday the nation would face “problems … the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen” if he is indicted over his handling of classified documents after leaving office, an apparent suggestion that such a move by the Justice Department could spark violence from Trump’s supporters.
The former president said an indictment wouldn’t stop him from running for the White House again and repeatedly said Americans “would not stand” for his prosecution.
“If a thing like that happened, I would have no prohibition against running,” Trump said in an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I think if it happened, I think you’d have problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before. I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.”
Hewitt asked Trump what he meant by “problems.”
“I think they’d have big problems. Big problems. I just don’t think they’d stand for it. They will not sit still and stand for this ultimate of hoaxes,” Trump said.
It’s not the first time Republicans have hinted at potential civil unrest if the DOJ indicts Trump. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham made headlines last month when he said there would be “riots in the street” if “there is a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information.” Graham’s comments were slammed as “irresponsible” and “shameful.” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, without naming the South Carolina senator, said these comments from “extreme Republicans” were “dangerous.”
Hewitt appeared to see Trump’s comments as a nod toward potential unrest, asking the former president how he would respond when the “legacy media” accuses him of inciting violence.
“That’s not inciting. I’m just saying what my opinion is,” Trump said. “I don’t think the people of this country would stand for it.”
Russia has covertly given at least $300 million to political parties, officials and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014, and plans to transfer hundreds of millions more, with the goal of exerting political influence and swaying elections, according to a State Department summary of a recent U.S. intelligence review.
Russia has probably given even more that has gone undetected, the document said.
“The Kremlin and its proxies have transferred these funds in an effort to shape foreign political environments in Moscow’s favor,” the document said. It added, “The United States will use official liaison channels with targeted countries to share still classified information about Russian activities targeting their political environments.”
The State Department document was sent as a cable to American embassies around the world on Monday to summarize talking points for U.S. diplomats in conversations with foreign officials.
Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, confirmed at a news conference on Tuesday that the findings on Russia were the result of work by U.S. intelligence agencies. He added that Russian election meddling was “an assault on sovereignty,” similar to Russia’s war on Ukraine. “In order to fight this, in many ways we have to put a spotlight on it,” he said….
The Russians pay in cash, cryptocurrency, electronic funds transfers and lavish gifts, the document said. They move the money through a wide range of institutions to shield the origins of the financing, a practice called using cutouts. Those institutions include foundations, think tanks, organized crime groups, political consultancies, shell companies and Russian state-owned enterprises.
The money is also given secretly through Russian Embassy accounts and resources, the document said.
The Justice Department has issued about 40 subpoenas over the past week seeking information about the actions of former President Donald J. Trump and his associates related to the 2020 election and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, according to people familiar with the situation.
Two top Trump advisers, Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman, had their phones seized as evidence, those people said.
The department’s actions represent a substantial escalation of a slow-simmer investigation two months before the midterm elections, coinciding with a separate inquiry into Mr. Trump’s hoarding of sensitive documents at his residence in Florida, Mar-a-Lago.
Among those the department has contacted since Wednesday are people who are close to the former president and have played significant roles in his post-White House life….
The Justice Department also executed search warrants to seize electronic devices from people involved in the so-called fake electors effort in swing states, including Mr. Epshteyn, a longtime Trump adviser, and Mr. Roman, a campaign strategist, according to people familiar with the events. Federal agents made the seizures last week, the people said….
The subpoenas seek information in connection with the plan to submit slates of electors pledged to Mr. Trump from swing states that were won by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the 2020 election. Mr. Trump and his allies promoted the idea that competing slates of electors would justify blocking or delaying certification of Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.
Some of the subpoenas also seek information into the activities of the Save America political action committee, the main political fund-raising conduit for Mr. Trump since he left office, a new line of inquiry.
Democrats have spent nearly $19 million across eight states in primaries this year amplifying far-right Republican candidates who have questioned or denied the validity of the 2020 election, according to a Washington Post analysis, interfering in GOP contests to elevate rivals they see as easier to defeat in November, even as those candidates have promoted false or baseless claims.
The practice by some campaigns and outside groups this year has divided Democrats, with some in the party complaining that such tactics are risky and could ultimately result in the election of candidates who pose serious threats to democracy.
The approach often involves TV ads suggesting that a far-right GOP candidate is too conservative for a state or district and drawing attention to the candidate’s hard line views on abortion, guns and former president Donald Trump — messages that resonate with conservative primary voters. In other cases, Democrats have run ads attacking GOP candidates seen as tougher to defeat in general elections in ways that could erode support for them in Republican primaries.
Total Democratic spending rises to roughly $53 million when a ninth state, Illinois, is added. There, the Democratic Governors Association and the campaign of Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) spent a combined $34.5 million successfully elevating a GOP candidate who has said it was “appalling” that party leaders in Illinois wanted Trump to concede the 2020 election.
Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman didn’t recognize the man who banged on her door. Terrified, she called 911. She had reason to fear.
By the morning of Dec. 15, 2020, when she saw the stranger’s red sedan parked in her driveway, she had received hundreds of threats from supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Two weeks earlier, Trump’s campaign had falsely accused Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, of pulling fake ballots from suitcases at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena to rig the 2020 election for Democrat Joe Biden.
The man had already passed a message to Freeman through a neighbor: Freeman’s time was running out, he said, and he could help her and her daughter. When a police officer responded and questioned the man outside Freeman’s home, he introduced himself as Steve Lee, a police chaplain from Illinois.
Now Lee is under scrutiny in a criminal investigation into alleged election interference by Trump and his allies in Georgia, according to a source with direct knowledge of the probe.
Lee played a central role in a failed effort to pressure Freeman to admit to an election fraud that never occurred, according to a Reuters examination of police body camera footage and court documents, as well as interviews with key participants. After being rebuffed by Freeman, Lee contacted Harrison Floyd, who had run outreach to black voters for Trump’s 2020 campaign. Floyd arranged another visit to Freeman on Jan. 4, 2021, this time from Chicago publicist Trevian Kutti, who threatened Freeman with jail unless she provided information on election fraud, Reuters reported last December.
Natalie Adona, the clerk-recorder and registrar of voters in California’s Nevada County, is having a bad week.
For almost two years now, her inbox has been inundated with public records requests from people who falsely believe the 2020 election was stolen. Thanks to a handful of online conspiracy theorists, though, this has been the worst week yet — not just for Adona, but for many election officials around the state.
“The requests are growing exponentially,” she said. “There is some comfort in knowing that it’s not just us.”
Every one of the requests, which are often copy/pasted from templates distributed by influencers peddling falsehoods about the 2020 election, must be carefully reviewed and responded to. Several counties have had to hire outside assistance to sort through the swarm, which officials told SFGATE is a labor-intensive distraction from their work preparing for the upcoming elections this year.
A federal grand jury in Washington is examining the formation of — and spending by — a fund-raising operation created by Donald J. Trump after his loss in the 2020 election as he was soliciting millions of dollars by baselessly asserting that the results had been marred by widespread voting fraud.
According to subpoenas issued by the grand jury, the contents of which were described to The New York Times, the Justice Department is interested in the inner workings of Save America PAC, Mr. Trump’s main fund-raising vehicle after the election. Several similar subpoenas were sent on Wednesday to junior and midlevel aides who worked in the White House and for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.
The fact that federal prosecutors are now seeking information about the fund-raising operation is a significant new turn in an already sprawling criminal investigation into the roles that Mr. Trump and some of his allies played in trying to overturn the election, an array of efforts that culminated with the mob attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021….
Save America has shared only a small portion of its bounty with candidates in contested midterm races. Instead, it has hoarded cash or used it to pay firms and groups devoted to helping Mr. Trump, including his own businesses, or to undermining his enemies.
It has brought in more than $135 million, including more than $30 million transferred from Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign committee in the weeks after the election.
It has spent a little more than $36 million, leaving it with $99 million in the bank at the end of July, the most recent period covered by its monthly filings to the F.E.C. (The Republican National Committee had about one-third as much money in the bank at the end of July — $33.6 million.)
Among the roughly half-dozen current and former Trump aides in the White House and the 2020 presidential campaign who are said to have received subpoenas this week were William B. Harrison, an aide to Mr. Trump in the White House and after his presidency, and William S. Russell, who similarly served in the West Wing and now works for Mr. Trump’s personal office, according to several people familiar with the events.
Julie Radford, who served as chief of staff to Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and who was not known to have any role in any of Mr. Trump’s post-election activities, also received a subpoena. Nicholas Luna, another personal aide to Mr. Trump who witnessed some of his behavior in his final weeks in office, received a subpoena as well, as did Sean Dollman, who was chief financial officer of Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign….
The subpoenas sought information about communications with a range of people, many of them lawyers who were also listed on earlier subpoenas that focused on the fake elector plan. Among the lawyers appearing as subjects of interest on both sets of subpoenas were Jenna Ellis, who was part of Mr. Trump’s initial legal team after the election, and Kenneth Chesebro, a Wisconsin-based lawyer who helped devise the fake elector scheme.
But at least one of the most recent subpoenas included a new name: Bruce Marks, a lawyer in Pennsylvania who had worked on efforts to challenge the results of the election there. In an email, Mr. Marks said, “It is a frightening attack on attorney-client privilege if D.O.J. is targeting my communications.” He said that to his knowledge he had not communicated with any White House employees, though he had been in touch with Rudolph W. Giuliani and Boris Epshteyn, who were acting as lawyers for the Trump campaign and Mr. Trump.
Despite such crossovers, it remained unclear how the examination of Save America PAC intersects with the investigation of the fake electors. The electors strand of the inquiry is being led by a federal prosecutor named Thomas P. Windom. But at least one of the new subpoenas bore the name of a different federal prosecutor in Washington who specializes in fraud cases, suggesting that this avenue of inquiry is devoted primarily to examining the spending and fund-raising at Mr. Trump’s PAC.
The PAC has paid more than $3.1 million to an array of law firms for “legal consulting.” And it has paid salaries to a number of aides to Mr. Trump, including at least four of the new subpoena recipients: Mr. Dollman, Mr. Russell, Mr. Luna and Mr. Harrison. It has also paid the lawyers Christina Bobb and Lindsey Halligan, who have been representing Mr. Trump in the classified documents investigation.
A federal grand jury investigating the activities leading up the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the push by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the result of the 2020 election has expanded its probe to include seeking information about Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, sources with direct knowledge tell ABC News.
The interest in the fundraising arm came to light as part of grand jury subpoenas seeking documents, records and testimony from potential witnesses, the sources said.
The subpoenas, sent to several individuals in recent weeks, are specifically seeking to understand the timeline of Save America’s formation, the organization’s fundraising activities, and how money is both received and spent by the Trump-aligned PAC.
Sue Halpern in The New Yorker on the Tina Peters saga.
In Wisconsin, one of the nation’s key swing states, cameras and plexiglass now fortify the reception area of a county election office in Madison, the capital, after a man wearing camouflage and a mask tried to open locked doors during an election in April.
In another bellwether area, Maricopa County, Ariz., where beleaguered election workers had to be escorted through a scrum of election deniers to reach their cars in 2020, a security fence was added to protect the perimeter of a vote tabulation center.
And in Colorado, the state’s top election official, Jena Griswold, the secretary of state and a Democrat, resorted to paying for private security out of her budget after a stream of threats.
As the nation hurtles closer to the midterm elections, those who will oversee them are taking a range of steps to beef up security for themselves, their employees, polling places and even drop boxes, tapping state and federal funding for a new set of defenses. The heightened vigilance comes as violent rhetoric from the right intensifies and as efforts to intimidate election officials by those who refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election become commonplace.
Discussing security in a recent interview with The Times, Ms. Griswold, 37, said that threats of violence had kept her and her aides up late at night as they combed through comments on social media.
At a right-wing group’s gathering in Colorado earlier this year, she said, a prominent election denier with militia ties suggested that she should be killed. That was when she concluded that her part-time security detail provided by the Colorado State Patrol wasn’t enough.
“They called for me to be hung,” said Ms. Griswold, who is running for re-election. “It’s a long weekend. I’m home alone, and I only get seven hours of State Patrol coverage.”