We've got two lede stories really on today's BradCast. You can decide for yourself which one is the more maddening. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]
Late last week, the bi-partisan Federal Elections Commission (FEC) announced they were ignoring the advice of their own General Counsel by voting down further investigation of the Stormy Daniels hush-money case payoffs by a former disgraced President. Two Republican appointees voted to kill, two Dem appointees voted to continue the probe (with one Repub recusing and one independent absent for the vote). The way the broken, six-person FEC is structured, no investigations of campaign finance reform violations --- no matter how obvious and blatant, as in this case --- can move forward unless there are four votes to do so.
Here, it's a slam dunk. Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was already found guilty and sent to prison for the criminal campaign finance conspiracy in which he paid off the adult film star to keep quiet about her affair with Trump. The affair took place ten years before the 2016 election. The payments were given to her just days before the election. It was clearly an election related expense, yet the Trump Campaign failed to report it, and Trump himself paid Cohen back for the payouts during his time as President.
Both Cohen and the DoJ stated in Court, before Cohen went to prison, that the payments were part of a criminal conspiracy "directed by" and "for the benefit of" Trump himself.
The explanation of the Republican commissioners on the FEC for killing the probe is ridiculously laughable, as we discuss with our guest today, former FEC Chair ANN RAVEL. She was appointed to the Commission under President Obama in 2013 and served until 2017. She, too, agrees this was a "slam dunk" case against Trump, which serves to highlight how the GOP have permanently "captured" the Commission in order to make certain that Republicans are never held to account for violations of federal campaign finance laws.
"Wanting to do nothing is exactly how the Republican Commissioners have always been able to assure that the Commission doesn't do what it is supposed to do to make elections and the electoral process fair, and to make sure that there is total disclosure of campaign finance activities," Ravel explains. "You're right to say that it's a 'slam dunk' case. In particular, because the [FEC's] General Counsel said [Trump's behavior] was 'knowing and willful', which it clearly was. 'Knowing and willful' is the criminal standard. So that may be an alert to the Justice Department that they need to now go forward and prosecute the case."
The DoJ prosecuted Cohen for participating in the conspiracy. Now the nation's top law enforcement agency needs to prosecute the man that the DoJ has already said "directed" it!
Ravel also offers her insight on how the FEC became so captured and broken in the first place (Hint: Trump's former White House Counsel and longtime GOP operative Don McGahn struck a corrupt bargain with Mitch McConnell years ago) and on the Democratic plan in the For the People Act (otherwise known as H.R.1 and S1) to reform the FEC. The plan would restructure it from a 6-person panel designed to deadlock and never move anything forward, to a 5-person panel of appointees selected by non-partisan judges and attorneys, with the fifth appointed by the President. No more than two people from any one political party could serve on the Commission at once, and appointees would have to have spent a number of years not working on political campaigns or as staffers for elected officials, among other sensible restrictions.
"The positive about what they have proposed in HR1 is that there would be a blue-ribbon commission, comprised of people who actually believe in the law and enforcement of the law, who would be nominating and reviewing particular individuals to be on the commission who would abide by the law. That is key to making the change --- to have people who are not beholden to a particular political party, who independently would look at the law and make decisions based on what the legal requirements are."
Naturally, Republicans oppose the reform (along with HR1 in its entirety) and are lying about it to say that it would turn the Commission from a bi-partisan commission into one that gives Democrats partisan control.
Ravel also explains how the Stormy Daniels case --- which can still be prosecuted on a criminal level by the DoJ --- is not necessary over at the FEC either, since the vote to kill the inquiry can now be appealed in a court of law by an outside group.
Then, I've got a bit of a today on the absurd clown show of an audit of the 2020 Presidential election still under way in Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona (which we've been covering in detail for the past several weeks); the legitimate audit, being led by several top shelf election and voting systems experts set to begin this week in Windham, New Hampshire (as we detailed in some length last Friday); and the remarkable 8,500 word deep-dive investigative report published over the weekend by Washington Post, detailing how the phony myth of Donald Trump's "stolen" 2020 election came together beginning way back in 2018.
In short (which is not easy with an 8,500 word story!), a wealthy Texas businessman and some Republican operatives calling themselves Associated Specials Operations Group (or ASOG) took the research on vulnerabilities in computer voting and tabulation systems compiled by folks like Bev Harris of Black Voting, Cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter, myself and others, to morph those very real vulnerabilities into phony claims of actual election fraud. Simply because a system is vulnerable, does not mean the vulnerabilities have been exploited. But such distinctions did not matter to this group which is clearly operating in bad faith, or to Trump who was happy to highlight any lie to cover for his shame of having been a failed, one-term President.
As I have been trying to explain for nearly 20 years on this beat, whether an election is stolen or not, the fact that we now use privatized, non-overseeable computers to cast and tabulate votes is itself a grave threat to democracy. Ultimately, as I've warned over and over again over the years (and as we are now seeing play out), it doesn't matter if an election is 100% accurate and secure if the public can't know that it is. Secret software and concealed vote counting inside computers run by private companies --- even when done perfectly and securely --- allows those operating in bad faith (as is the case with Republicans right now), to claim an election was stolen, even when there is no proof to support such an extraordinary charge. It's nearly impossible to refute such claims, bogus or otherwise.
I have warned about exactly this scenario as a dangerous threat to democracy itself for years, and now, as I explain on today's show, my worst nightmare is now playing out before all of our eyes...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)