Defending Democracy, News

Report from Burr’s committee urges White House to combat 2020 election interference

Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Richard Burr (R- N.C.) (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Senators say Kremlin-backed group targeted African Americans in 2016

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report Tuesday calling on the Trump administration to take steps to combat foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. elections.

The bipartisan recommendation was part of the committee’s new report detailing Russia’s attempts to use social media to sway the 2016 presidential election. The warning comes as President Donald Trump is the subject of an impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House over allegations that he has improperly urged other foreign governments to meddle in the 2020 presidential election.

“The Committee recommends that the Executive Branch should, in the run up to the 2020 election, reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election,” says the report, which was released jointly by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.).

The report is the second volume of the committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Burr and Warner released the first volume of their investigation in July. The two senators have stressed the importance of maintaining a bipartisan investigation even as the subject of election interference has become politically charged on Capitol Hill.

The report issued Tuesday found that the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA) sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and while supporting Trump.

The senators also concluded that the effort was “part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society.”

No single group of Americans was targeted by IRA information operatives more than African Americans, the committee found. “By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016,” the report says.

Burr said in a statement Tuesday, “Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election. Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government.”

Many of the Senate’s findings were also laid out in the report issued earlier this year by former special counsel Robert Mueller, who warned lawmakers that Russians continued to interfere with U.S. elections ahead of 2020. “They’re doing it as we sit here,” Mueller said in July.

In addition to urging the executive branch to guard against foreign election interference, the senators are recommending that social media companies improve information sharing between the public and the private sector. And the senators are urging Congress to consider legislation to ensure Americans know the source behind online political advertisements.

“Now, with the 2020 elections on the horizon, there’s no doubt that bad actors will continue to try to weaponize the scale and reach of social media platforms to erode public confidence and foster chaos,” Warner said in a statement. “The Russian playbook is out in the open for other foreign and domestic adversaries to expand upon – and their techniques will only get more sophisticated.”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief of the Newsroom Network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

Defending Democracy, News

Report: A different approach to policing and mental health in Mecklenburg

Sheriff Garry McFadden

North Carolina Health News published an in-depth look today at the state’s first behavioral health unit located in a county jail, which opened in August in Mecklenburg County.

The jail psychiatric unit in downtown Charlotte, known as “McP,” looks like a school, according to the news article. Residents take daily medications, attend group classes and participate in therapy with the goal of rehabilitating before returning to the general population in the Mecklenburg County Central Detention Center or being released to the outside world.

The unit is a voluntary program with space for 28 male residents, according to Health News. There are currently six men taking part in the program, each of whom have been diagnosed with a mental illness by a counselor upon intake.

Residents who join the psychiatric unit must participate in a full day of classes during the week, take their medications and be considered non-violent. Behavioral health counselors are contracted from a Tennessee-based company that provides staffing for correctional facilities and rehabilitation centers.

“One of our goals was to make sure that they’re good to be able to function in a normal pod in another unit,” said Sgt. Charles Pearson, the “P” in “McP.” “Some of them… they can’t function in another pod, they can’t be around a lot of people, they can’t follow orders. They end up in our segregation unit, and we don’t want that.”

Segregation (often referred to as solitary confinement) is exactly the opposite of what inmates with mental health issues need, said Luke Woollard, an attorney with the legal advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina.

“These folks with mental illness end up isolated … which often causes them to get worse because they’re not given any other care,” Woollard said. “[They need] the ability to get out of cells, access trained professionals like psychologists and psychiatrists [and] access medications they’ve been prescribed.”

There are already plans in the works to offer medication-assisted treatment to inmates with addiction and a goal to liven the place up while also raising funding for a women’s unit next year, according to the article.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden said he put together the unit without additional funding after chatting with Pearson, modeling it after a similar unit in Nashville, Tenn. He’s looking forward to buying cozy, high backed chairs for a “living room” effect and to finding funds to open a women’s unit next year.

“We want to be almost a community,” said McFadden, the “Mc” in “McP,” about their goals for the unit. “For me, I think it’s what we should’ve been doing the whole time.”

“When people say ‘Why are you doing this?’ [I respond] ‘I’m preparing your neighbor,’” McFadden continued.

Per the U.S. Department of Justice, 95 percent of people who enter prison eventually return to their communities.

“It’s helping our citizens, we want to return them back… we want to return that citizen back better.”

Read the full report here, which goes in depth into mental health care in jails and crisis intervention training.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Slate releases leaked audio of Republican gerrymandering strategies

Republican officials are learning a few things about strategizing when it comes to entrenching themselves in political power, and they recently shared their thoughts on redistricting, a “political adult blood sport,” at a conference in Texas, according to an article published this week by Dave Daley.

Daley, who wrote Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count, obtained a leaked audio recording of a panel from the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2019 annual meeting in Austin, Texas. The closed-door panel called “How to Survive Redistricting,” was moderated by influential Republican lawyer Cleta Mitchell, according to the article in Slate.

Daley described the panel’s four experts—Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, North Carolina election lawyer Thomas Farr, former Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, and Texas state Rep. Phil King—as architects and defenders of some of the most notorious gerrymanders and voter suppression plans of this decade.

Farr, who was unsuccessfully nominated by President Donald Trump to the federal judiciary in eastern North Carolina, recently defended the partisan gerrymanders in the 2017 legislative maps during the Common Cause v. Lewis trial.

Daley wrote that during the panel, legislators were advised to treat redistricting as “political adult blood sport,” trash potential evidence before it can be discovered through litigation, avoid the word gerrymander, and make deals with black and Latino legislators that guarantee them easy reelections by packing as many minority voters as possible into their districts, thereby making the rest of the map whiter and more conservative.

Panelists offered complicated technical advice, such as adding a legal provision that would allow a legislature to defend its maps in court even if the state attorney general refuses. And then there was less-technical advice, like being sure to put “sharp” legislators on redistricting committees because they’ll spend a lot of time explaining the maps in court.

“You are going to be sued. Let’s start with that,” Mitchell told a packed room at the ALEC gathering, attended by more than 1,400 people, including Trump administration officials and top conservative lawmakers, thinkers, donors, and activists. Mitchell made light of ALEC’s reputation as a conveyor belt for cookie-cutter conservative legislation enacted by state after state. “Mindless state legislators, we’re just pouring in information and we’re indoctrinating you, pouring into your empty skulls!” she said, sarcastically. “We’re going to teach you how to gerrymander.”

And then she did. “Let us begin with the fact that, probably, your notes from this conference, and this workshop, will probably be part of a discovery demand,” Mitchell said on the recording, dropping the sarcasm. “My advice to you is: If you don’t want it turned over in discovery, you probably ought to get rid of it before you go home.”

Farr compared lawsuits against GOP redistricting plans to a cancer diagnosis. “You better get some chemotherapy,” he said, “because if you don’t, things aren’t going to turn out real well for you.” He also told legislators that they needed to think about any trial as a play that he would direct as the counsel, and to be sure that they created a script that an attorney could work with before a judge.

Westmoreland, the former Georgia congressman who co-chaired a Republican 2010 redistricting initiative called REDMAP, told a story about giving black Democrats in his state mapmaking software and encouraging them to draw their “perfect district,” knowing that districts filled with minority voters would make surrounding districts whiter and more Republican.

“We ended up being very successful with it,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland recalled inviting the members of the “black caucus” to his office, “off campus,” to create their “perfect map.” One incumbent, he said, “finally fell into the trap and came over there and drew his perfect district.” To show the redistricting plan benefited black Democrats too, he “immediately got the local paper down there” to run an article on that lawmaker’s perfect district. Westmoreland then included a district as close as possible to that overwhelmingly black and Democratic one in the state’s official map. The legislator, he said, voted against the map and soon lost his seat.

“I promise you it’ll be beneficial to you,” he told the ALEC attendees. “They still want to be reelected. They still want to have the best district they can have.”

Daley reports about the leaked audio in great detail and outlines the entire meeting. It’s not clear who attended the panel but several lawmakers and legislative staff members from North Carolina were at the ALEC annual meeting, according to Documented, which posted a list of attendees.

North Carolina officials listed in attendance includes Senators William Alexander, Chuck Edwards, Matthew Todd Johnson and Vickie Sawyer; Representatives Destin Hall, Kyle Hall, Chris Humphrey, Steve Jarvis, Brendan Jones and Jason Saine. Policy Advisor Mark Coggins, Blue Cross Blue Shield Vice President Robert Fleming and State Treasurer Dale Folwell were also at the conference.

Read Daley’s full report about the panel and hear the leaked audio here.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Partisan gerrymandering plaintiffs only object to House remedial maps

The plaintiffs in North Carolina’s ongoing partisan gerrymandering case has asked the court to throw out some of the remedial House map after alleging lawmakers violated the court’s redistricting instructions.

A three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court ruled that Republican lawmakers went too far with partisan gerrymandering and gave strict instructions to redraw certain districts within both the House and Senate legislative maps from 2017. Instructions included using traditional redistricting criteria to redraw districts, to do it in full public view and to not use partisan data in the process.

One of the two chambers of the General Assembly violated every one of these commands,” states a court document objecting to the House’s remedial redistricting process.

The document, which was filed Friday, alleges the House Redistricting Committee secretly engaged two of their experts from the Common Cause v. Lewis trial who specialize in elections data analytics — they were supposed to ask the court for permission to engage anyone outside legislative staff. It also notes that all members of that committee were also emailed partisanship data about their base maps by their counsel. It states that House incumbents were allowed to revise their own county groupings to their personal liking, and largely out of public earshot.

“These procedural violations would provide ample grounds to throw out the House’s remedial plan (the ‘Proposed House Plan’) in its entirety, but in an effort to limit the scope of relief the Court must grant, Plaintiffs focus their objections here on five House county groupings
where the House’s procedural violations led to the most significant substantive violations of the Court’s Decree,” the motion states.

The five groupings are: Columbus, Pender and Robeson counties; Forsyth and Yadkin counties; Cleveland and Gaston counties; Brunswick and New Hanover counties; and Guilford County.

“Incumbents in these groupings acted with partisan intent and impermissibly sought to preserve the cores of their prior districts, in violation of the Court’s mandates,” the document states.

The document notes that the Senate did what it was supposed to do, even with some flaws. It should be noted though that incumbents in the Senate were also permitted to revise their own districts and many, many of the changes to maps on the computers in public view were also made out of earshot of the public.

Read the full objection below. Lawmakers have until Friday to address the objection and supply any alternative maps to the court.



Plaintiffs Objections to Remedial Plans Brief (Text)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Dispute over Hofeller files severed from Common Cause redistricting lawsuit

The fight over the files from deceased Republican mapmaker Tom Hofeller has taken on a life of its own.

On Monday, the three-judge panel overseeing the remedial redistricting process in partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis officially severed the issue of whether the Hofeller files should become public or not. They assigned Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier to preside over any related hearings and make the final decision.

“During the course of the litigation of plaintiffs’ action challenging the validity of the acts of the General Assembly in 2017 … an issue now wholly separate from plaintiffs’ claims has developed that will in all likelihood outlast the full resolution of plaintiffs’ action: a dispute as to proper ownership and possible protection of what is now referred to as the Hofeller files.”

Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Lizon Hofeller, turned over his electronic files to the Common Cause plaintiffs after his death. The confidentiality of those files has been at issue almost during the pendency of that litigation, though 35 specific documents related to North Carolina redistricting in 2017 were released for a trial.

A few other documents related to Hofeller’s involvement in creating a citizenship question on the 2020 Census were also released before the three-judge Wake County Superior Court marked the files confidential pending litigation. Geographic Strategies, a political consulting firm Hofeller co-founded, was the first to try to claim ownership of the documents, despite admitting knowing what all was contained in them.

The court has since given the firm an opportunity to review the files and identify specifically which documents they own, but in the mean time, Hofeller’s daughter released the entirety of the Hofeller files to the New Yorker. Now Geographic Strategies has filed a motion to hold Stephanie Hofeller in contempt of court and to enjoin the New Yorker from releasing any more information about the files. That matter is still pending.

In an unrelated motion, the Republican National Committee has filed a similar motion to Geographic Strategies’ to also claim ownership of the Hofeller files. Nueces County has filed a separate motion to inspect the files and asked the court not to destroy any files that belong to them, and North Carolina lawmakers have asked for permission to destroy the “privileged’ files it has possession of, according to Monday’s order.

Those and several other motions are still pending before the court related to the Hofeller files, which remain confidential until at least 11:59 p.m. Friday.

The Monday order states there is a longstanding principle that trial judges have the inherent authority and discretion to manage proceedings before them — that includes separating claims and issues within an action. It states that separating the claims will also convenience the parties to Common Cause, the court and non-parties, will avoid prejudice and keep the court from having to expend resources.

The three-judge Common Cause panel will retain authority over any issue or claim arising in the Hofeller files dispute that will require an order or judgement to be entered affecting the validity of acts of the General Assembly that has to do with apportionment or redistricting.

Rozier has been provided all relevant and necessary materials, filings and pleadings, according to the order. It’s expected there will be a court hearing to follow shortly.