2/16 Impeachment Strikes Back

The Senate acquitted former President Donald J. Trump in his second impeachment trial this weekend. While Trump was not ultimately convicted, the trial does represent the most bipartisan impeachment vote in history, and the arguments presented laid the groundwork for what comes next outside of Congress: accountability. Indeed, the first civil action against Trump and others involved in the insurrection was filed today, with more that is sure to follow.

In an op-ed for CNN, former Governor of New Jersey and VPP advisory board member Christine Todd Whitman joined Ambassador Norman Eisen and Joanna Lydgate, VPP outside counsel and national director respectively, to describe this new, post-impeachment time as the era of accountability. Highlighting the power of investigations, prosecutions, and litigation, they emphasize that state leaders and civil society organizations like the VPP have potent tools to bring democracy violators to justice. They also call attention to “the courageous votes of seven Republicans to hold Trump accountable [that show] the bipartisan opportunity for the road ahead.”

Here is today’s update:

National Update

Impeachment Concludes and Accountability Begins: The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump came to a close over the weekend, with the Senate acquitting Trump on a 57-43 vote in favor of conviction. Even though a bipartisan majority voted to convict Trump, House impeachment managers fell 10 votes short of the 67 necessary for conviction. The managers mounted an extraordinary case, using lots of visual evidence, some not previously seen. During the final vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the former President in a floor speech condemning his actions, but maintaining that the Senate did not have constitutional authority to convict a public official who has since left office. In his harshest rebuke of the former President to date, McConnell asserted that Trump was indeed responsible for inciting the January 6th riot, and pointed to the criminal courts and civil liability as possible ways to pursue accountability.

While the vote for conviction was bipartisan, questions have been raised about the supposed impartiality of those judging the impeachment allegations. Many of the Senators who voted to acquit Trump had also peddled the same misinformation about election fraud that fueled the January 6th riot. Sens. Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee were spotted entering a Capitol room that Trump’s lawyers were using to prepare for their arguments, raising the possibility that the Senators were unusually entangled in the impeachment defense for those intended to be impartial jurors.

As predicted by VPP’s CNN op-ed, the resolution of the impeachment trial was not an end but a beginning. Rep. Bennie Thompson filed suit today in the U.S. District Court in D.C. against Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and two militia groups. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants participated in a conspiracy to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the presidential election in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1985 (1). The case was assigned to Obama appointee Judge Amit Mehta.

Facing the Fallout: The seven Republican Senators– Richard Burr (NC), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Mitt Romney (UT), Lisa Murkowski (AL), Pat Toomey (PA), and Ben Sasse (NE)– who voted to convict former President Trump have faced significant blowback from their own party. Mere hours after the vote, Sen. Bill Cassidy was censured by the Louisiana Republican Party. State lawmakers in multiple Pennsylvania counties (Clarion, Lawrence, Washington, York and Centre County) voted to censure Sen. Patrick Toomey, and Sen. Richard Burr were censured by the North Carolina Republican Party last night. In Utah, while some politicians are circulating a petition to censure Sen. Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican Party released a statement Tuesday accepting the opposite votes cast by Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee at last week’s impeachment trial.

H.R. 1 On Deck: House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyerannounced in a “Dear Colleague” letter Tuesday that H.R. 1, which contains changes to campaign finance, voting, and ethics laws, is slated to come to the floor the first week of March. The House passed H.R. 1 last Congress, but legislation not signed into law expires at the end of each Congress and thus must go through the process again.

Domestic Extremism Threat: Five members of the far-right Proud Boys group have been charged with criminal conspiracy for their role in the January 6th riot attack. The Proud Boys was one of the chief facilitators of the riot, helping to organize it, transport members to the Capitol, and participate in the attack itself. Other far-right militia groups like the Oath Keepers and the Boogaloo Bois have also been identified as key facilitators of the attack. These charges come after Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys leader, blamed Trump for deceiving both him and his members into participating in the attack.

Recognizing the ongoing domestic threat white nationalists and far-right extremists pose, lawmakers have called for enhanced investigations into these groups. A group of lawmakers have already called for a bipartisan commission and special report to investigate the January 6th attack. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also called for the creation of a special panel– similar to the one created in the wake of 9/11– to investigate the insurrection.

Big Tech Has a Say: Yesterday, Parler went back online more than a month after Amazon kicked it off its technical cloud computing support system. The conservative social media platform housed over 12 million users before it went offline and is now back at semi-functioning capacity. Parler did not provide details about its new hosting service, which is reported to be using cloud hosting company SkySilk to support its return. Trump supporters flocked to the platform as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube banned accounts and flagged content that promoted misinformation. In contrast to these other platforms, Parler promised unconditional free speech. Since the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, platforms that either actively encouraged the riot– as right-wing radio did— or allowed users to spread misinformation that fueled the attack– as Parler allows– have come under fire for their role in fomenting violence.

Last week, Twitter CFO Ned Segal confirmed that the platform’s ban on Donald Trump’s account is indeed permanent. Additionally, Twitter banned Project Veritas’s account last week for repeatedly violating Twitter’s private information policy. For months, Project Veritas had promoted conspiracy theories and other misinformation about election fraud. It was followed by millions of former President Trump’s supporters as well as his two sons, Eric and Don Jr. Twitter also announced the release of Birdwatch, a new method of crowdsourcing misinformation flags. Birdwatch will allow Twitter users– all 192 million– to link context and information directly below a questionable tweet.

Meanwhile, Facebook is continuing to scale down political content on the platform. Starting this week, it will cut down on political content for users in three different countries and will start doing the same for American users in the coming weeks. The announcement comes as Facebook’s Oversight Board will consider whether to match Twitter and make Donald Trump’s ban from the platform permanent. The Board is expected to reach a decision either this week or next.

State Updates

Arizona: Today, the Arizona State Senate will vote on Senate Bill 1069, legislation that would purge voters from the state’s permanent early voting list (PEVL). The bill would allow voters to be removed from the list if they fail to vote in two consecutive election cycles. This bill was introduced amidst the wave of anti-voting legislation, a response to the baseless claims of election fraud and former President Trump’s loss in Arizona’s 2020 presidential election. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs highlighted that this bill would disproportionately target independents, the overwhelming majority of whom do not vote in state primaries. Hobbs shared on Twitter an op-ed from the Arizona Republic, which demonstrates that Independents would simply have fewer elections to establish a “two consecutive elections” voting pattern, and are therefore at greater risk of removal from the PEVL.

Georgia:  Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is expanding her criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump and his allies’ effort to overturn the state’s election results. The probe will now examine the call between Sen. Lindsey Graham and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Graham asked if Raffensperger had the power to throw out all mail-in ballots from certain counties in the state. The probe will investigate whether Graham’s comments on the call violated state law.

The Georgia state bar sent a disciplinary complaint to pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood, who worked on behalf of the former President’s campaign to dispute Georgia’s election results due to unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. The bar will formally explore whether Wood committed professional violations by spreading misinformation in his legal challenges of the state’s election results.

Michigan: An audit of Michigan’s presidential election results was completed this weekend, confirming, yet again, the accuracy of the certified results. With a less than one percent margin of error, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson stated that, “This statewide audit process affirms what election officials on both sides of the aisle have said since November – that Michigan’s election was conducted securely and fairly, and the results accurately reflect the will of the voters.” Benson has proposed multiple changes to the state election law in order to protect voting rights and make election administration easier, more transparent, and more streamlined. One of these proposed changes is allowing an audit prior to vote certification, a measure she hopes will be risk-limiting and increase confidence in election results. The other changes include making Election Day a state holiday, allowing early in-person voting, and prohibiting open-carry of a firearm around or near polling places.

Pennsylvania: Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are calling for a formal investigation into the involvement of other state lawmakers in the January 6th riot. State Sen. Doug Mastriano has already publicly admitted to attending the rally, but some state officials suspect that there may have been more like him. They are calling for a federal investigation in hopes that it will unveil the true extent of lawmakers’ involvement– from spreading false claims of election fraud, to helping Pennsylvania-based rioters find transportation to the Capitol, to even attending the riot itself.

Some state lawmakers are calling for a new method of electing state court judges in Pennsylvania, a move that would increase the probability of conservative-leaning judges serving on the courts. Currently, judges are decided based on a state-wide election; these lawmakers are proposing that judges be voted on by judicial districts that would be drawn up by the conservative majority in the legislature. The proposal– a new type of judicial gerrymandering– is raising alarm for its potential to blur the lines separating the judiciary and legislative branches, allowing for one to hold undue influence over the other.

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