WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Joe Biden is assembling a team of top lawyers in anticipation of court challenges to the election process that could ultimately determine who wins the race for the White House.
Biden’s presidential campaign says the legal war room will work to ensure that elections are properly administered and votes correctly counted. It will also seek to combat voter suppression at the polls, identify foreign interference and misinformation, and educate voters on the different methods available for casting ballots.
The effort, which the Biden campaign described as the largest election protection program in presidential campaign history, reflects the extent of the preparation underway for an already divisive presidential contest in November that could produce significant, perhaps even decisive, court cases over voter access and the legitimacy of mail ballots.
Democrats and Republicans are locked in legal fights on election rules that could help shape the outcome of the vote, and President Donald Trump’s campaign has its own attorneys handling cases on a variety of issues.
Trump in recent months has sought to preemptively cast doubt on the election, warning that the expected surge in mail ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic will lead to massive fraud and could open the door to foreign countries to print their own fraudulent ballots.
“Notwithstanding Donald Trump and his Republican allies’ hollow threats and constant misinformation, election officials around the country are working tirelessly to hold a free and fair and election, and we have an extraordinary national team in place to ensure that every eligible voter is able to exercise their right to vote and have their vote counted,” Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign and former White House counsel to President Barack Obama, said in a statement.
Bauer, who served as general counsel to the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012, will work with campaign general counsel Dana Remus on voter protection — an issue that thousands of Democratic lawyers around the country are also engaged in, according to the Biden campaign.
The campaign is also creating a special national litigation team involving hundreds of lawyers that will include as leaders Walter Dellinger, a solicitor general in the Clinton administration, and Donald Verrilli, a solicitor general under Obama.
Democratic lawyer Marc Elias and a team of lawyers from his firm, Perkins Coie, will focus on protecting voter access and ensuring a fair and accurate vote count.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder will also play an outreach role on the question of voting rights, according to the campaign.
“We can and will be able to hold a free and fair election this November and we’re putting in place an unprecedented voter protection effort with thousands of lawyers and volunteers around the country to ensure that voting goes smoothly,” Remus said in a statement.
The Trump campaign issued a statement from deputy manager Justin Clark saying that as “Democrats continue their push to weaken reasonable rules preventing fraud — like voter ID and signature matching — President Trump and his campaign will continue to protect the integrity of the vote.
“Our team will continue to fight every day in the courtroom and on the ground to make sure that every eligible voter has the right to vote and that their vote is counted — once,” Clark said.
The New York Times reported on the legal war room initiative earlier Monday.
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They Protested at a Police Station. They’re Charged With Trying to Kidnap Cops.
The July 3 protest in Aurora, Colorado, seemed, at least on the surface, like just another of the hundreds of racial justice protests that have swept the nation this year. Demonstrators sat outside a police station chanting and playing music. Although they said they wouldn’t leave until their demands were met, the protesters were cleared out by police around 4:30 a.m.
Colorado Protest Erupts in Panic as Car Drives Into Crowd, Shots Fired
But several of the protest leaders are facing felony attempted kidnapping charges for allegedly imprisoning police officers in their own precinct during the protest—charges their fellow activists are calling absurd.
Lillian House, Joel Northam, and Whitney “Eliza” Lucero are among a group of Denver-area activists facing a slate of charges related to their protest activities this summer. Local prosecutors say the activists tried to kidnap police by holding a short-lived “occupation”-style protest outside the precinct and blocking its doors. But activists allege a crackdown on the most visible members of their movement, leading to terrifying SWAT arrests and the threat of years in prison.
“This characterization that someone quote-unquote kidnapped officers is absolutely ridiculous,” Ryan Hamby, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Marxist group with which House, Northam, and Lucero are affiliated, told The Daily Beast.
“It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious,” he added.
The July 3 protest was one of many that called for the termination of officers involved in the killing of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who died in Aurora Police custody last year. McClain was not accused of any crime but became the subject of police suspicion while walking home from the convenience store when someone called 911 to report him “look[ing] sketchy.” Police placed McClain in a now-banned chokehold, causing him to vomit and lose consciousness. Paramedics later injected him with the sedative ketamine.
An autopsy did not conclusively identify a single cause of death, and two of the three arresting officers have not been fired. The third arresting officer was fired for responding “ha ha” to pictures of other officers re-enacting and mocking McClain’s death. (That officer is suing the city over his termination.)
The firings of the police who re-enacted McClain’s death were announced July 3, the same day as the protest outside the police precinct where demonstrators believed the remaining officers worked. Media reports—and even police tweets from most of the night—characterize the demonstration as peaceful, with some 600 protesters sitting around. Police ordered protesters to disperse at 2:30 a.m., tweeted a half-hour later that protesters were throwing things, and had cleared out the site by 4:30, the Denver Post reported at the time.
But a statement from the Adams County district attorney this month accused protesters of holding cops hostage. Protesters “prevented 18 officers inside from leaving the building by barricading entrances and securing doors with wires, ropes, boards, picnic tables and sandbags,” the statement read. (The district attorney was unavailable for comment. In a call with Denver’s 9News, defendant Lillian House said she was unaware of the alleged barricade.)
Those allegations come alongside serious criminal charges for six protest leaders, including three who are accused of attempted kidnapping, inciting a riot, and inciting a riot by giving commands, all of which are felonies.
The protesters and prosecutors both point to a mid-protest phone call between activist Lillian House and Aurora’s interim police chief Vanessa Wilson, which House broadcast to protesters over a microphone. House called on Wilson to fire the remaining officers involved in McClain’s death; Wilson said she didn’t have the authority to do that but thanked the protesters for not trying to enter the precinct.
“I appreciate that you haven’t breached the building and I hope that you continue to keep that promise,” Wilson said.
Activists like Hamby have pointed to the call as evidence that protesters stayed within their rights.
“Like, why would you even say that?” Hamby said of Wilson’s call. “She’s basically admitting on the phone that we have not done any of the things that they’re now claiming we did in this affidavit.”
On the phone call, House, who is also accused of a felony count of attempting to influence a public servant, affirmed that the protesters wouldn’t enter the building. But they wouldn’t leave, either, until the two remaining officers in McClain’s killing were fired.
“I just want to make it perfectly crystal clear that everyone here has agreed that we are going to sit here,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re not going in, we’re not going out, we’re sure not going out, and neither are these pigs that are inside the building. So we’re not doing anything wrong. We’re standing here.” (The protesters did, in fact, reportedly leave before sunrise, when police advanced on them.)
House’s statements appear to be part of the basis for the prosecution’s claims that the protest was actually a kidnapping attempt. What followed, fellow activists allege, was a heavy-handed roundup of the protest’s most visible faces.
Hamby, who organizes with House, Northam, and Lucero, claimed the busts were an attempt to “strike fear into organizers, strike fear into the movement.”
House and Lucero were arrested by multiple squad cars—House while driving and Lucero while in her apartment—and detained in jail for eight days, Hamby said. Fellow organizers have accused corrections officers of verbally abusing the two women and failing to provide adequate COVID-19 protections. Another protester, John “Russel” Ruch, was followed from his home in unmarked cars and scooped up in a Home Depot parking lot around dawn by officers who gave him “no information” about the cause for his arrest, Hamby claimed.
In the most aggressive instance, multiple organizers claimed a SWAT team showed up to arrest protester Joel Northam, allegedly banging on the door and refusing to slide a warrant underneath. Aurora Police did not return a request for comment.
“He was on the phone with a lawyer the entire time, and the lawyer ended up telling him, ‘You need to comply with what they’re saying,’” Hamby said. “Because at that point we were worried that they were going to bust down the door and kill him.”
If convicted on all counts, the activists accused of attempted kidnapping could face decades in prison. The charges come as other activists associated with Black Lives Matter protests face heavy-handed charges, including a Utah protester who faced life in prison for allegedly purchasing paint that was used in a demonstration (the most aggressive charging enhancements in that case have since been dropped).
Hamby said protesters planned on further mobilizing around a call to drop the charges. “If anything, the fight-back will be strengthened and emboldened,” he said.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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Trump Paying $750 in Income Tax Shows Why He’s a Billionaire
(Bloomberg) — A New York Times story based on Donald Trump’s long-sought-after tax data shows he avoided paying income taxes for most of the past two decades and paid only $750 the year he was elected president.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t a billionaire.
By pairing moneymaking businesses with spectacular money-losers, the Trump Organization has been able to shield profits generated by office properties and “The Apprentice” from tax collectors. It’s a souped-up version of the formula deployed by America’s landlord class for decades. But tax losses are different from operating losses, and the new data don’t necessarily show his business empire is heading into crisis, even if it’s carrying sizable debts.
“Your tax return at the end of the day shows income and whatever deductions are claimed against that income. That’s it,” said Thorne Perkin, president at Papamarkou Wellner Asset Management. “It doesn’t necessarily show net worth.”
The newspaper’s report described the extent of Trump’s tax-cutting strategies, such as taking deductions for consulting fees to his daughter and for hairstyling, which resulted in paying far less than poorer Americans. Although the report raises questions about the legality of some of the maneuvers, the new details don’t affect the Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimate of his wealth. His net worth is based chiefly on the value of his office and commercial property holdings, minus debts that were already known. The index estimated his net worth at $2.7 billion as of August, down $300 million from mid-2019, hurt by declining prices for certain types of real estate holdings.
Trump’s office properties include commercial spaces at Trump Tower, a leasehold on 40 Wall Street in downtown Manhattan and a 30% interest in two office towers co-owned with Vornado Realty Trust. Collectively, the assets are valued at about $1.9 billion, and Trump’s share of the debt that encumbers them is about $670 million — meaning they constitute almost half of his net worth.
Financial records for his golf courses in Europe have long shown that, after including items such as depreciation, they run in the red. The tax data obtained by the Times reveal Trump’s American golf courses operate similarly.
Depreciation is crucial for real estate investors. Depending on the type of property at hand, they can write off a portion of its value over a useful lifetime pre-determined by the Internal Revenue Service. That allows investors to claim tax losses on the property even when they’re putting money in their pockets.
“You want to show as much losses as you possibly can for your deductions,” said Papamarkou’s Perkin. “That’s a big part of the advantages of real estate investing.”
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Trump’s re-election campaign, said in an interview on Fox News on Monday that the Times story is “not accurate” without specifying which parts. “I paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled, like everyone else, to depreciation & tax credits,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The tax documents described by the Times aren’t enough to draw conclusions about the profitability of Trump’s empire. But even if his golf courses are bleeding money, they contribute comparatively little to the tally of his fortune — about $430 million before debt. Prices for golf resorts are down after years of decreasing interest in the sport. Younger generations simply aren’t taking it up as quickly as their elders are leaving it behind.
Trump has long been required to disclose a road map to his assets and liabilities. In 2015, then a contender for the Republican party’s nomination for president, he released a financial disclosure listing the lenders behind his loans, ranges for their outstanding balances, when they were issued and when they must be repaid.
That several are due in the next few years isn’t unusual in commercial real estate, where most loans run five to 10 years and are refinanced regularly. Unless there is a serious deterioration in the performance of his properties, it’s likely his portfolio can be refinanced before loans mature.
Though Trump has carried on this balancing act for years, his re-election could make obtaining new loans harder if potential lenders don’t want to face the prospect of foreclosing on a sitting U.S. president. Conversely, Trump is engaged in a variety of court fights that could accelerate once he leaves office and complicate refinancing. The Covid-19 pandemic also may take a lasting toll on the value of his holdings, making future loans more onerous.
His biggest financial vulnerabilities remain his hotel in Washington, where the pandemic has slowed business, and Doral, a sprawling golf resort in Florida. He has taken out nearly $300 million of personally-guaranteed loans from Deutsche Bank AG against these properties. The debts mature in 2023 and 2024, according to his personal financial disclosure.
Room to Borrow
But Trump, whose earlier career included a series of bankruptcies, also has a safety valve: the office properties.When he refinanced Trump Tower in 2012 with a $100 million loan, it was appraised at $480 million. A 2015 refinancing of 40 Wall Street fetched a $160 million loan on a $540 million appraisal.That left both properties relatively low-levered for Manhattan real estate, suggesting either a newly learned financial conservatism on Trump’s part or a squeamishness on the part of the lender, Ladder Capital. Ladder, which specializes in loans for commercial property, is Trump’s second-biggest lender after Deutsche Bank.An August appraisal of the buildings by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, based on current net income and prevailing capitalization rates, was less sanguine, valuing them at $365 million and $375 million respectively. But so long as the pandemic doesn’t crater office values, the properties could carry far more debt, were Trump to need it.
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Pelosi and Mnuchin make one final attempt at Covid talks before elections
Top Democrats spent much of the weekend and Monday finalizing the roughly 2,152-page bill before releasing it Monday evening. A vote could happen as soon as Wednesday, though nothing has been scheduled and lawmakers and aides warned that timeline could easily slip.
The package is essentially a scaled back version of the House’s sweeping bill passed in May, which Republicans have already rejected. It includes nearly a half-trillion dollars to shore up state and local governments, as well as a second round of stimulus checks to most Americans. It also restarts the extra $600-per-week in federal unemployment benefits, which expired in late July.
The Democratic bill includes some new money for airlines and restaurants, two industries that have faced dramatic financial losses since the House’s last package this spring.
Pelosi held a call with her leadership team Monday afternoon to discuss the current strategy. The full Democratic Caucus will be briefed on the bill Wednesday morning.
This week’s vote on a Democratic proposal is intended to mollify an increasingly vocal group of moderate Democrats, who have demanded that Pelosi bring more pandemic aid bills to the floor, after key relief programs expired for millions of Americans.
But the House bill, if it passes, will do little to deliver real relief to the American public. The House Democrats’ proposal will stand virtually no chance of becoming law, and both parties acknowledge that this is the final week to strike an accord before Congress departs for its roughly month-long recess before Election Day.
Democrats and Republicans are still more than $1 trillion apart in coronavirus talks, which have been stalled for months despite mounting pressure from desperate U.S. businesses and households. And Pelosi has repeatedly said Republicans will have to bridge the trillion dollar gap, noting she sliced $1 trillion from Democrats initial $3.4 trillion proposal — something GOP negotiators have been unwilling to do.
“We’ve come down $1 trillion and they need to come up because we have to crush this virus,” Pelosi said on MSNBC Monday.
Pelosi and Mnuchin quietly restarted talks on coronavirus aid in recent days, after the two successfully navigated a short-term fix to avert a federal government shutdown on Sept. 30.
The two spoke briefly Sunday, and made plans to speak again Monday night. But Pelosi told MSNBC on Monday that Republicans would still need to commit to “much more” spending to reach a bipartisan deal on a relief package.
“When he’s ready to come back to the table we’re ready to have that conversation. But he has to come back with much more money to get the job done. So I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi initially directed her committee chairmen to begin drafting a pared down coronavirus relief bill last week, shifting strategies after resisting calls for weeks to put a smaller stimulus package on the floor. Until then, Pelosi stood behind the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act the House passed in May, saying the onus was on Senate Republicans — not her — to take the next step.
But moderate Democrats, particularly those in the most vulnerable districts, were particularly uneasy with that strategy. Those Democrats, staring down the dwindling weeks before the election, have repeatedly sounded alarms in recent weeks, calling on leadership to redouble efforts to reach a bipartisan agreement.
“As of right now, this is the last week the House has votes before we head back to our districts,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who co-leads the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, which has pushed for months for the two parties to negotiate a deal. “It would be unconscionable for Congress to go home without taking action.”
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