WASHINGTON — Russia didn’t have to lift a finger.

Donald Trump

President Trump arrives to speak at a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington on Friday. The president repeated the lie that he has won the election. Susan Walsh/Associated Press

In the weeks before the U.S. presidential election, federal authorities warned that Russia or other foreign countries might spread false information about the results to discredit the legitimacy of the outcome.

Turns out, the loudest megaphone for that message belonged not to Russia but to President Trump, who has trumpeted a blizzard of thoroughly debunked claims to proclaim that he, not President-elect Joe Biden, was the rightful winner.

The resulting chaos is consistent with longstanding Russian interests to sow discord in the United States and to chip away at the country’s democratic foundations and standing on the world stage. If the 2016 election raised concerns about foreign interference in U.S. politics, the 2020 contest shows how Americans themselves, and their leaders, can be a powerful source of disinformation without other governments even needing to do the work.

“For quite a while at this point, the Kremlin has been able to essentially just use and amplify the content, the false and misleading and sensational, politically divisive content generated by political officials and American themselves” rather than create their own narratives and content, said former CIA officer Cindy Otis, vice president for analysis at the Alethea Group, which tracks disinformation.

U.S. officials had been on high alert for foreign interference heading into Nov. 3, especially after a presidential election four years earlier in which Russian intelligence officers hacked Democratic emails and Russian troll farms used social media to sway public opinion.

Public service announcements from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity arm warned of the ways Russia or other countries could interfere again, including by creating or altering websites after the election to spread false information about the results “in an attempt to discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions.”

Yet many of the false claims about voting, elections and the candidates in the months and weeks ahead of the election — and in the days since — originated not from foreign actors eager to destabilize the U.S. but from domestic groups and Trump himself.

Read the full story here.

Georgia secretary of state certifies election for Joe Biden

ATLANTA — Georgia’s top elections official on Friday certified results showing Joe Biden won the presidential race over Republican President Trump.

The certification brings the state one step closer to wrapping up an election that has been fraught with unfounded accusations of fraud by Trump and his supporters. It is now up to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to certify the state’s slate of 16 presidential electors. He has until 5 p.m. Saturday.

The results certified by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had Biden with 2.47 million votes, Trump with 2.46 million votes and Libertarian Jo Jorgensen with 62,138. That leaves Biden leading by a margin of 12,670 votes or 0.25 percent.

The certification of results reported by the state’s 159 counties followed a meticulous hand count of the 5 million ballots cast in the race. The hand tally stemmed from an audit required by a new state law and wasn’t in response to any suspected problems with the state’s results or an official recount request. The audit was meant to confirm that the voting machines correctly tabulated the votes.

Brad Raffensperger

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Friday in Atlanta. Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

“Working as an engineer throughout my life, I live by the motto that numbers don’t lie,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “As secretary of state, I believe that the numbers that we have presented today are correct. The numbers reflect the verdict of the people, not a decision by the secretary of state’s office or of courts or of either campaign.”

Kemp announced a news conference for Friday at 5 p.m. The Republican governor hasn’t stepped forward to defend the integrity of this year’s elections amid attacks by Trump and other members of his own party, who claim without evidence that the presidential vote in Georgia was tainted by fraud. Kemp has neither endorsed Trump’s fraud claims nor backed Raffensperger in his assertion that the election was conducted fairly.

Raffensperger’s office stumbled earlier in the day when it prematurely announced the certification while it was still unfinished. Forty minutes afterward, a corrected news release was sent out saying that the results would be released later. The momentary slip was yet another moment of drama in a race that has been fraught with accusations.

Biden is the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since 1992.

Now that the results are certified, Trump’s campaign will have two business days to request a recount since the margin is within 0.5 percent. That recount would be done using scanning machines that read and tally the votes and would be paid for by the counties, the secretary of state’s office has said.

Read the full story here.

Trump tries to discard tens of thousands of ballots in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. — The recount of the presidential election in Wisconsin’s two most heavily Democratic counties began Friday with President Trump’s campaign seeking to discard tens of thousands of absentee ballots that it alleged should not have been counted.

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Recount observers raise hands during a Milwaukee hand recount of presidential votes at the Wisconsin Center on Friday in Milwaukee, Wis. President Trump’s campaign is seeking to discard tens of thousands of absentee ballots that it alleged should not have been counted. Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Trump’s three objections attempting to discard the ballots were denied by the three-member Dane County Board of Canvassers, twice on bipartisan votes. Trump was expected to make the same objections in Milwaukee County ahead of a court challenge once the recount concludes, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.

Joe Biden won Wisconsin by 20,600 votes and carried Dane and Milwaukee counties by a 2-to-1 margin. Trump only paid for recounts in those two counties, not in the 70 others, 58 of which he won.

There’s no precedent for a recount overturning a deficit as large as Trump’s in Wisconsin, so his strategy is widely seen as seeking to build a case to take to court.

His team on Friday sought to have ballots discarded where election clerks filled in missing address information on the certification envelope where the ballot is inserted; any absentee ballot where a voter declared themselves to be “indefinitely confined” under the law; and any absentee ballot where there was not a written application on file, including roughly 69,000 that were cast in-person during the two weeks before Election Day.

Trump attorney Christ Troupis argued that certification envelopes filled out by people who voted absentee in-person do not count under the law as a written application, even though the envelope is identified as such. The board of canvassers, controlled 2-1 by Democrats, voted unanimously to reject the complaint.

Troupis also argued that people claimed to be indefinitely confined even though they were not. Such a declaration exempts the voter from having to show a photo ID to cast their ballot, which Troupis called “an open invitation for fraud and abuse.” The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court this spring ruled that it is up to individual voters to determine whether they are indefinitely confined, in line with guidance from the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.

The canvassing board voted 2-1 to count those ballots, with the Republican opposed.

Trump’s attorney also claimed that the law does not allow clerks to fill in missing information on the envelope that goes with absentee ballots. The state elections commission told clerks before the election that they can fill in missing information on the absentee ballot envelopes, a practice that has been in place for at least the past 11 elections.

The canvassing board voted unanimously to count those ballots.

Mnuchin denies he’s trying to hinder incoming administration

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied that he is attempting to limit the choices President-elect Joe Biden will have to promote an economic recovery by ending several emergency loan programs being run by the Federal Reserve.

Mnuchin said his decision was based on the fact that the programs were not being heavily utilized. He said Friday that Congress could make better use of the money by re-allocating it in another direction to support grants to small businesses and extended unemployment assistance.

“We’re not trying to hinder anything,” Mnuchin said in a CNBC interview. “We don’t need this money to buy corporate bonds. We need this money to go help small businesses that are still closed.”

However, critics saw politics at play in Mnuchin’s decision, saying the action would deprive the incoming administration of critical support the Fed might need to prop up the economy as coronavirus infections spike nationwide.

“There can be no doubt, the Trump administration and their congressional toadies are actively trying to tank the U.S economy,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a prepared statement Friday. “For months, they have refused to take the steps necessary to support workers, small businesses and restaurants. As the result, the only tool at our disposal has been these facilities.”

Steve Mnuchin

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks during a news conference at the U.S. State Department in Washington in September. Mnuchin said Thursday, Nov. 19, he will not to extend several emergency loan programs set up with the Federal Reserve to support the economy in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

Mnuchin on Thursday had written Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell announcing his decision not to extend some of the Fed’s emergency loan programs, which had been operating with support from the Treasury Department. The decision will end the Fed’s corporate credit, municipal lending and Main Street Lending programs as of Dec. 31.

The decision drew a rare rebuke from the Fed, which said in a brief statement Thursday that the central bank “would prefer that the full suite of emergency facilities established during the coronavirus pandemic continue to serve their important role as a backstop for our still-strained and vulnerable economy.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also criticized the move. “A surprise termination of the Federal Reserve’s emergency liquidity program, including the Main Street Lending Program, prematurely and unnecessarily ties the hands of the incoming administration and closes the door on important liquidity options for businesses at a time when they need them most,” said Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president, in a prepared statement.

Private economists argued that Mnuchin’s decision to end five of the emergency loan facilities represents an economic risk.

“While the backstop measure have been little used so far, the deteriorating health and economic backdrop could shine a bright light on the Fed’s diminished recession-fighting arsenal and prompt an adverse market reaction,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

Read the full story here.

Giuliani continues to push baseless claim of rigged election

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Thursday continued to amplify President Donald Trump’s baseless claim that the 2020 election was rigged.

Giuliani, who’s spearheading the Trump campaign’s long-shot legal battle to overturn Joe Biden’s victory, spent a Thursday news conference pushing the unfounded claim that Democratic officials engaged in a nationwide “conspiracy” to steal the election from Trump.

“This is real! It is not made up!” Giuliani shouted at reporters in the room. “There is nobody here that engages in fantasy. I have tried a hundred cases. I prosecuted some of the most dangerous criminals in the world. I know crimes. I can smell them.”

Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Thursday. Associated Press/Jacquelyn Martin

Despite Giuliani’s claims, there’s no evidence that Biden’s decisive victory was facilitated by any type of widespread fraud.

Giuliani went so far as to accuse Biden himself of crimes.

“He doesn’t get asked questions about all the evidence of the crimes that he committed,” Giuliani said Thursday, without explaining what crimes Biden supposedly committed.

“What’s going on in this country is horrible,” said Giuliani, who dabbed at his face with a napkin and at one point appeared to have hair dye running down his face.

Sidney Powell, another member of Trump’s legal team, piled on by falsely claiming the president won the election.

“President Trump won by a landslide,” she said. “We are going to prove it and we are going to reclaim the United States of America.”

While Trump keeps up his evidence-free fight for reelection, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spiral out of control, with the U.S. death toll surging past 250,000 this week.

Giuliani and his colleagues paid the pandemic no mind during their news conference, with none of them wearing masks.

Trump critics were aghast by Giuliani’s spectacle.

“That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history,” tweeted Chris Krebs, the cybersecurity official fired this week by Trump. “And possibly the craziest.”

Read the full story here.

Biden to meet with Pelosi, Schumer as challenges loom

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden is set to hold his first in-person meeting since winning the election with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on Friday.

The incoming Democratic president will host the top Democrats in the House and Senate at his makeshift transition headquarters in a downtown Wilmington, Delaware, theater. Their discussion is expected to be private, although the immediate challenges they face are no secret.

The new governing team is already facing intense pressure to approve another COVID-19 relief bill, come up with a clear plan to distribute millions of doses of a prospective vaccine, and Biden is just days away from unveiling the first of his Cabinet picks, which are subject to Senate confirmation.

The president-elect has also promised to work closely with Republicans in Congress to execute his governing agenda, but so far, he has focused his congressional outreach on his leading Democratic allies.

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President-elect Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, speaks at The Queen theater, Thursday, Nov. 19, in Wilmington, Del. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The meeting comes two days after House Democrats nominated Pelosi to be the speaker who guides them again next year as Biden becomes president, although she seemed to suggest these would be her final two years in the leadership post. The California Democrat, the first woman to be speaker, already has served six years in the job, but the next two loom as her toughest.

President Donald Trump continues to block a smooth transition of power to the next president, refusing to allow his administration to cooperate with Biden’s transition team. Specifically, the Trump administration is denying Biden access to detailed briefings on national security and pandemic planning that leaders in both parties say are important for preparing Biden to govern immediately after his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Trying to bypass the Trump administration altogether, Biden on Thursday met virtually with a collection of leading Republican and Democratic governors.

“Unfortunately, my administration hasn’t been able to get everything we need,” Biden told the National Governors Association’s leadership team as he vowed to rise above politics in a unified front against the virus. “There’s a real desire for real partnership between the states and the federal government.”

Trump, meanwhile, is intensifying his brazen attempts to sow doubt on the election results. The outgoing president’s unprecedented campaign to spread misinformation now includes pressuring Michigan officials to block the certification of their state’s election results.

Biden won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes, a margin 15 times larger than Trump’s when he won the state four years ago.

Election law experts see Trump’s push as the last, dying gasps of his campaign and say Biden is certain to walk into the Oval Office come January. But there is great concern that Trump’s effort is doing real damage to public faith in the integrity of U.S. elections.

Georgia Secretary of State to certify election for Biden

ATLANTA  — Georgia’s top elections official said he will certify that Joe Biden won the state’s presidential election after a hand tally stemming from a mandatory audit affirmed the Democrat’s lead over Republican President Donald Trump.

“Working as an engineer throughout my life, I live by the motto that numbers don’t lie,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “As secretary of state, I believe that the numbers that we have presented today are correct. The numbers reflect the verdict of the people, not a decision by the secretary of state’s office or of courts or of either campaign.”

In the end, the hand count affirmed Biden won by more than 12,000 votes out of about 5 million cast, according to data released by Raffensperger’s office Thursday.

State law says Raffensperger must certify the election results by 5 p.m. Friday. Then, Gov. Brian Kemp has until 5 p.m. Saturday to certify the state’s slate of 16 presidential electors.

Wisconsin recount: Masks, plexiglass and lots of ballots

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin on Friday begins recounts of the presidential race in the state’s two biggest and most Democratic counties. It’s a longshot bid by President Donald Trump — who paid a required $3 million fee — to undo Joe Biden’s victory. Trump, who lost by more than 20,600 votes in Wisconsin, has alleged “mistakes and fraud” in the two counties, though he has produced no evidence to back up his claims.

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Election officials from around Dane County unload ballots for the recount that begins Friday in Madison, Wis. Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via Associated Press

The recount will bring together hundreds of people at a time when the coronavirus is ravaging Wisconsin, which has been one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 hot spots for weeks. One in every 118 people in Wisconsin has tested positive in the past week. To help reduce the risk, both counties are renting convention centers so that workers and observers can be properly distanced. In Milwaukee, where the recount will be conducted at the 186,000-square-foot Wisconsin Center, everyone inside will be required to wear a mask, pass a temperature screening and maintain appropriate social distancing. Anyone not following those requirements will be ejected.

The recounts must be finished by a Dec. 1 deadline. Milwaukee County expects to be finished the day before Thanksgiving, an event widely expected to hasten the spread of the virus. Dane County is planning 16-hour days and wasn’t expected to finish before the holiday. Both plan to use machines to recount the ballots, although Dane County says it will do some hand-counting from randomly selected precincts for an audit, as required by law.

Citizens can watch the recount in person, although Dane County wasn’t immediately sure how many would be allowed in because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both counties said safety would be a priority; in Milwaukee County, on-site observers will have to go through security and a temperature check, and will have to wear masks.

Both counties also plan livestreams; Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said $400,000 was being spent on audiovisual equipment to make sure the recount is transparent.

As for challenges, representatives of both campaigns must be allowed to observe and challenge ballots, although they must “provide offers of evidence” to justify them. Disputed ballots are set aside to be considered by the canvassing board. Observers can also challenge the makeup of the board of canvassers and the procedures being followed.

 

 


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