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Officials who won't yield to Trump's election claims face rising threats

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Monday. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / TNS / Saul Loeb

Danger on their doorsteps

Kim Ward, the Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate, said she wasn't asked in time whether she wanted to sign a letter from 64 other GOP lawmakers urging the state's congressional delegation to reject the state's Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden. But she doesn't want President Donald Trump's supporters to think she wouldn't have done it.

"If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ " she said about signing the letter, "I’d get my house bombed tonight," The New York Times reported. The other lawmakers acted after Trump allies branded GOP leaders "cowards" and "liars" for pointing out the legislature had no power to reverse the result.

Intimidation has become part of the drive to force Republicans to attest to the fairness of the balloting in battleground states, to embrace the president's baseless fraud claims. "Sometimes it even requires being threatened," Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said last week at a GOP event in Michigan. When Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling, citing death threats to his staff, pleaded with Trump that "it has got to stop," the president's tweet in response took no notice of the supporters' gangster-style behavior and accused Georgia officials, groundlessly, of a cover-up. "Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia," Trump said.

Armed, shouting Trump supporters gathered outside the home of the Michigan secretary of state on Saturday night. Racist death threats filled the voicemail of state Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson, a Democrat from Detroit who pushed back at Giuliani and his associates during a hearing in the state last week. Johnson responded with a video "warning" to "you Trumpers" that "we ain't playing with you" and a message seemingly aimed at her supporters to "make them pay." Republican leaders of the legislature retaliated by stripping her of committee assignments.

The Arizona Republican Party asked its Twitter followers this week if they would be "willing" to die to overturn Trump's election loss. Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who has refused Trump's demands to intervene in the state, which Biden also won, rebuked those who alluded to bloodshed. "The Republican Party is the party of the Constitution and the rule of law," Ducey said.

Trump and his allies have accused those who won't line up with him of lacking "courage." His Fox Business fawner Lou Dobbs on Tuesday denounced the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court as "cowardly" on Tuesday for refusing to hear a suit trying to negate Biden's win in Pennsylvania. Trump is calling on the high court or states' legislatures to "have the courage" to overturn the vote and make him the winner. It's a variant of classic Trump projection, ascribing courage as serving his will, and those who stand their ground in the face of MAGA menacing as "corrupt."

A Louisiana Republican, Rep. Mike Johnson, circulated a letter to House and Senate Republican colleagues at Trump's request, he said, asking all of them to sign on to Trump's next Supreme Court challenge. Trump "said he will be anxiously awaiting the final list to review," Johnson wrote.

A war between the states

Trump said of a Supreme Court lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general to erase Biden's wins in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin: "This is the big one. Our Country needs a victory!"

Despite the weight behind the suit — 17 Republican attorneys general from other states are supporting it — it looks as shaky as the dozens of other challenges that fell flat in state and federal courts. It's just as sloppy too, NBC News notes. For example, the AGs' lawsuit says the four states have a total of 72 electoral votes. (The total is actually 62.) Another problem: Texas has no legal right to claim that officials elsewhere didn't follow the rules set by their own legislatures.

The AGs' suit makes the absurd statistical claim that Biden's chances of winning the four states after trailing in early returns (duh, the in-person votes vs. later-counted mail-in votes) is less than one in a quadrillion. Another Aha! claim, amplified in a Trump tweet, is that "no candidate in history" has ever lost the presidential election after winning Florida and Ohio, as Trump did. Except that's fake history. In 1960, Richard Nixon won those two states but lost the election to John F. Kennedy.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's filing repeats a litany of false, disproved and unsupported allegations about mail-in ballots and voting in the four battleground states, The Associated Press reported.

One of Texas' Republican U.S. senators, John Cornyn, a former state attorney general, said of the lawsuit: "I frankly struggle to understand the legal theory of it."

Janison: The farce plays on

Dozens of other court decisions from judges of both major parties found the Trump camp's conspiracy and fraud claims to be vapor, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Assertions were shown to be not mistaken but bogus. Nasty, illegitimate claims were filed against people outside Trump's orbit, and everyone knew it. It was all intended to deny the obvious ballot results for as long as possible.

The election scandal lies in the deceptive denial of an American election's legitimacy. Call it Denialgate. For Trump, the goal of the grift may be simply to perpetuate the myth that he really won so that some citizens will repeat it. Trump screamed "voter fraud" even after he won in 2016.

Chris Krebs — the director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency who was fired for affirming the election's fairness and is now suing Trump's campaign after a lawyer for the president suggested that he be executed — characterizes the president's fake claims as not just dishonest or petulant but goal-oriented. That's a key point.

"Part of the conspiracy alleged is trying to hawk false evidence to courts, and part of it is to fraudulently raise money," Krebs' lawyer Jim Walden said of his client's lawsuit.

Hunter Biden under tax probe

Biden’s son Hunter said Wednesday that his "tax affairs" are under federal investigation, putting a renewed spotlight on the questions about his financial dealings that dogged his father’s campaign. A person familiar with the matter said Hunter's Chinese business dealings are among the transactions under scrutiny.

In a statement released by the president-elect’s transition office, Hunter Biden said he learned about the investigation on Tuesday. He did not disclose details of the matter. "I take this matter very seriously but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers," Hunter said in a statement.

Joe Biden's transition team said in a statement: "President-elect Biden is deeply proud of his son, who has fought through difficult challenges, including the vicious personal attacks of recent months, only to emerge stronger."

The disclosure of the federal investigation led by the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware comes at an awkward moment for the incoming president. His yet-unannounced pick for U.S. attorney general could have oversight of the investigation into the new president’s son if it is still ongoing when Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.

CNN reports that the probe was paused in the months before the election due to Justice Department guidelines prohibiting overt actions that could affect the contest, according to a person with knowledge of the inquiry. Investigators have been examining multiple financial issues, including whether Hunter Biden and his associates violated tax and money-laundering laws in business dealings in foreign countries, principally China, CNN said. But The New York Times, citing people familiar with the inquiry, reported the money-laundering aspect of the probe failed to gain traction after FBI agents were unable to gather enough evidence for prosecution.

Do the waive, Biden asks

Biden on Wednesday officially introduced his nominee to lead the Department of Defense, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, and urged Congress to waive the requirement that the position be filled by someone who has been out of active-duty military service for at least seven years. Austin retired from the Army in 2016.

"I would not be asking for this exception if I did not believe this moment in our history didn't call for it — it does call for it — and if I didn't have the faith I have in Lloyd Austin to ask for it," Biden said. If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first African American to be defense secretary.

Austin said Wednesday: "I come to this … new role as a civilian leader with military experience, to be sure, but also with a deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military."

Four years ago, Congress took similar action to allow retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis to serve in the role. The 17 Senate Democrats who opposed Mattis’ waiver may be in a difficult position when it comes to Biden’s nominee.

Biden picks' tie to Clinton clemency recalled

Two of Biden’s top Cabinet picks played key roles in a clemency scandal that arose from President Bill Clinton's last day in office in 2001, when the early release of a convicted cocaine trafficker raised complaints of political favoritism and drew sharp condemnations from prosecutors, The Washington Post reported.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is Biden's choice for health and human services secretary, and Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick for homeland security secretary, were among several prominent Los Angeles figures who reached out to the Clinton White House about the sentence of Carlos Vignali Jr., whose father was a wealthy entrepreneur and major Democratic donor in California, the Post wrote.

A spokesman for Becerra did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, Becerra has said he did nothing wrong and only asked the White House that the case be carefully considered. Mayorkas issued a statement shortly after the commutation, apologizing for his phone call to the White House, which he called a "mistake," but he said he had inquired only about its status.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Biden is considering a high-profile ambassadorship for Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and Democratic primary rival, possibly sending him to China, Axios reported.
  • Trump's lawyer for his attempt to join the Texas attorney general's suit is John Eastman, who last gained notoriety by arguing that Kamala Harris — born in Oakland, California — didn't meet the qualification for vice president of being a natural-born citizen because her immigrant parents weren't permanent U.S. residents. Trump also asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to argue the case in the Supreme Court if it gets that far, and Cruz agreed, The New York Times reported.
  • While Trump is looking for a way to stay in the White House, first lady Melania Trump is determining what to put in storage, what goes to the Trumps' New York City digs and what should be tagged for shipment to Mar-a-Lago, CNN reports. "She just wants to go home," said a source described as familiar with her state of mind. If Trump tried to run again in four years, the source added: "That might not go over well."
  • Large majorities of Republicans and independents believe Trump will run for president again in 2024, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday.
  • Giuliani, out of the hospital, conceded that his "celebrity" status had given him access to a level of care available to few other COVID-19 patients, The New York Times reported. Like Trump and others in the president's orbit, he received an antibody treatment in such short supply that some hospitals and states are doling it out by lottery.
  • Biden will nominate House Ways and Means Committee trade lawyer Katherine Tai as U.S. trade representative, according to several reports. Tai was a top USTR lawyer on China issues between 2007 and 2014, litigating Washington’s disputes against Beijing at the World Trade Organization.
  • When Biden becomes president, his team plans to have only a skeleton staff working at the White House at first, with most continuing to work remotely because of the pandemic, Politico reports. They also plan to have the executive complex — which has seen numerous coronavirus outbreaks among staffers and top officials this year — meticulously sanitized.

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