That’s it for the US politics blog for the day and the week. Thanks for joining us.
Donald Trump’s wallet is a little lighter this weekend after he coughed up $110,000 in contempt of court fines for defying the New York attorney general’s investigation into the former president’s business dealings.
Here’s what else we followed today:
- A Florida appeals court reinstated Republican governor Ron DeSantis’s “racist” congressional redistricting map that disenfranchises Black voters.
- With no resolution yet in the Republican senate primary in Pennsylvania, neck-and-neck candidates Mehmet Oz and David McCormick are beefing up their staff with lawyers experienced in vote recounts.
- Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, conservative activist and wife of supreme court justice Clarence Thomas, pressed Arizona lawmakers to set aside Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state.
- Joe Biden ended the first day of his Asian tour with the lowest approval rating of his presidency.
- Bill Barr, attorney general in the Trump administration, is reportedly in negotiations to testify before the 6 January House committee investigating Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat by Joe Biden.
A reminder that you can follow coverage of the Ukraine conflict in our global live news blog here.
If you had billionaire tech mogul Larry Ellison on your insurrection bingo card, congratulations. The co-founder and chairman of the software company Oracle was identified by the Washington Post Friday afternoon as a participant in a call of staunch Donald Trump allies trying out ways to keep him in office after his election defeat by Joe Biden.
The 14 November 2020 teleconference focused on strategies for contesting the legitimacy of the vote, according to court documents and a participant, the Post said.
It included fellow Trump acolytes Lindsey Graham, Republican senator for North Carolina; Sean Hannity, Fox News host; Jay Sekulow, attorney for Trump; and James Bopp Jr, attorney for True the Vote, a nonprofit that has promoted the lie of widespread voter fraud.
That Ellison was/is a Trump supporter is not new. He gave significant support to Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, including hosting a fundraiser at his California mansion.
But the Post says Ellison’s reported participation in the call is “the first known example of a technology industry titan joining powerful figures in conservative politics, media and law to strategize about Trump’s post-loss options and confer with an activist group that had already filed four lawsuits seeking to uncover evidence of illegal voting”.
He was also among business figures identified by CNBC as distancing themselves from Trump in the wake of the deadly 6 January 2021 Capitol riot.
Ellison is the world’s eighth richest person with a net worth of $106bn, according to Forbes.
Oracle representatives did not respond to the Post’s request for comment.
As Tucker Carlson asked Hunter Biden for help getting his son into an elite Washington university in 2014, the Fox News host’s wife, Susie, reportedly wrote in an email: “Tucker and I have the greatest respect and admiration for you. Always!”
Since the 2020 election, however, Carlson has fueled rightwing attacks on Joe Biden’s son, particularly over business affairs in which he allegedly benefited from his father’s position.
The existence of emails about getting Buckley Carlson into Georgetown has been known for some time, thanks to a laptop once owned by Hunter Biden that was obtained by Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and pushed to media in 2020.
On Thursday the Washington Post revealed new emails and said analysis by security experts confirmed their authenticity.
The emails, the Post said, “reveal the extent to which Carlson was willing to turn on a former associate as he thrives in a hyper-partisan media world in which conservatives have made Biden a prime target for attack”.
“They also show how Carlson once sought to benefit from the elite political circles in Washington that he now regularly rails against as the ‘ruling class’.”
Carlson told the Post that in 2014, when Joe Biden was vice-president, “Hunter Biden was my neighbor. Our wives were friends. I knew him well.
“I talked to him many times about addiction, something I know a lot about. And I’ve said that. I think that Hunter Biden is an addict and that’s why his life is falling apart, and I feel bad for him. I’ve said that many times, and I mean it.”
With no resolution yet in the Republican senate primary in Pennsylvania, neck-and-neck candidates Mehmet Oz and David McCormick are beefing up their staff with lawyers experienced in vote recounts, the Associated Press reports.
A few hundred votes separated the candidates on Friday afternoon, with 99% of the count completed. Barring a surprise surge in the remaining votes one way or the other, an automatic recount is all but certain.
Both campaigns have hired Washington-based lawyers to lead their recount efforts, and both have hired Philadelphia-based campaign strategists who helped lead the operation to observe vote-counting on election day for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2020, the AP says.
The two campaigns already had dozens of lawyers and volunteers fanned out around the presidential battleground state as election workers and election boards toiled through the remaining ballots.
A recount would mean that the outcome of the race might not be known until 8 June, the deadline for counties to report their results to the state.
Oz, the celebrity TV doctor endorsed by Trump, led McCormick, a former treasury department official, by 1,092 votes, or 0.08%, out of 1,338,399 ballots counted by midday Friday.
Pennsylvania’s department of state, which oversees elections, said there were almost 28,000 mail-in and absentee ballots still to count.
Appeals court backs Florida's 'racist' congressional redistricting
A see-saw legal battle over Florida’s “racist” redestricting of its congressional maps has tilted back in favor of Republican governor Ron DeSantis.
An appeals court on Friday removed a block on the new maps that a circuit judge - one appointed by DeSantis himself - had imposed.
It means that, for now at least, the governor’s hand-drawn redistricting stands. It effectively removes Black representation from areas in the state’s north by dividing Florida’s Black majority fifth district into four smaller ones where the vote will be diluted.
Although Florida’s Republican controlled legislature should have been the body to draw up the maps, it abrogated the responsibility to DeSantis then obediently gave the governor’s proposal swift approval at a hastily convened special legislative session last month.
That sparked a lawsuit from voting rights groups, and the hold put on DeSantis’s map by circuit court judge Layne Smith last week that the 1st District Court of Appeals overturned today.
“Based on a preliminary review, the court has determined there is a high likelihood that the temporary injunction is unlawful, because by awarding a preliminary remedy to the appellees [plaintiffs] on their claim, the order ‘frustrated the status quo, rather than preserved it,’” the appeals court said.
In simple terms, the court indicated it was fine with DeSantis carving up the congressional map however he saw fit.
Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, said of DeSantis last month:
This is a deeply racist move that targets Black political power. What he’s doing in the Florida fifth just seems gratuitous. It seems mean-spirited.
It’s been a lively morning and there’s more to come in the next few hours so please stay tuned for live updates in US political news.
Here’s where things stand:
- Former US president Donald Trump has paid the $110,000 in fines he racked up after being held in contempt of court for being slow to respond to a civil subpoena issued by New York’s attorney general Letitia James.
- Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of supreme court justice Clarence Thomas, pressed Arizona lawmakers to set aside Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state, the Washington Post reports.
- There’s more trouble at home for Joe Biden as he ends the first day of his Asian tour: his approval rating has dropped to the lowest point of his presidency.
- Bill Barr, attorney general in the Trump administration, is reportedly in negotiations to testify before the special House committee investigating the events on and surrounding the insurrection at the US Capitol by extremist supporters of Donald Trump on January 6, 2021, who were intent on overturning Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Trump pays fine in New York contempt case
Former US president Donald Trump has paid the $110,000 in fines he racked up after being held in contempt of court for being slow to respond to a civil subpoena issued by New York’s attorney general, the Associated Press writes.
Trump paid the fine Thursday but must still submit additional paperwork in order to have the contempt order lifted, the office of attorney general Letitia James said Friday.
A message seeking comment was left Friday with Trump’s lawyer.
A Manhattan judge declared Trump in contempt of court on April 25 and fined him $10,000 per day for not complying with a subpoena in James’ long-running investigation into his business practices.
Judge Arthur Engoron agreed May 11 to lift the contempt order if, by Friday, Trump paid the fines and submitted affidavits detailing efforts to search for the subpoenaed records and explaining his and his company’s document retention policies.
Engoron also required a company hired by Trump to aid in the search, HaystackID, finish going through 17 boxes kept in off-site storage, and for that company to report its findings and turn over any relevant documents. That process was completed Thursday, James’ office said.
Engoron told Trump to pay the money directly to James’ office and for the attorney general to hold the money in an escrow account while Trump’s legal team appeals the judge’s original contempt finding.
Engoron stopped the fine from accruing May 6, when Trump’s lawyers submitted 66 pages of court documents detailing the efforts by him and his lawyers to locate the subpoenaed records. He warned that he could reinstate it, retroactive to May 7, if his conditions weren’t met.
James, a Democrat, has said her three-year investigation uncovered evidence that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, misstated the value of assets like skyscrapers and golf courses on financial statements for over a decade.
Trump, a Republican, denies the allegations.
Trump’s lawyers have accused her of selective prosecution. Trump is also suing James in federal court, seeking to shut down her probe.
Last week, a lawyer for James’ office said that evidence found in the probe could support legal action against the former president, his company, or both.
The lawyer, Andrew Amer, said at a hearing in Trump’s lawsuit against James that:
There’s clearly been a substantial amount of evidence amassed that could support the filing of an enforcement proceeding.”
A final determination on filing such an action has not been made.
Ginni Thomas urged Arizona lawmakers to reverse Biden victory - report
The Washington Post said Friday it had obtained emails showing that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of supreme court justice Clarence Thomas, pressed Arizona lawmakers to set aside Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state and choose “a clean slate of electors”.
Thomas wrote to two unidentified lawmakers on 9 November 2020, the newspaper says, six days after the general election, arguing they needed to intervene because the vote had been marred by fraud.
The emails came two days after media organizations declared Biden the victor in Arizona, and nationally.
Thomas urged the lawmakers to “stand strong in the face of political and media pressure”, the Post says, telling them responsibility to choose electors to present Arizona’s result to Congress for certification was “yours and yours alone” and that they had the “power to fight back against fraud”.
In Arizona, as in the rest of the country, there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
Yet in sending the emails, the newspaper noted, Thomas played a significant role in Donald Trump’s scheming to substitute the will of Republican-controlled legislatures for the will of voters.
Thomas has come under increasing scrutiny for her activities since the election and support of Trump’s big lie that it was stolen from him.
In March, the Post obtained text messages between Thomas and Trump’s then chief of staff Mark Meadows, also sent in the days following the election, calling on him to do anything he could to subvert the democratic result.
Either Joe Biden is having a very late night, or somebody on his staff is. It’s after 1.30 in the morning in Seoul, South Korea, and the president’s official Twitter account has burst back into life with news and photos from the first day of his Asia tour (this after a lengthy two-stage flight late Thursday into Friday morning from Washington DC to Seoul, via Alaska):
In a week when a teenager shot dead 10 Black people in Buffalo, New York, apparently motivated by the ‘great replacement’ theory, Jonathan Freedland speaks to Michael Harriot and Anne Applebaum about why this racist ideology has become mainstream in rightwing circles in the US, and why we shouldn’t be surprised.
Listen to the Guardian’s latest Politics Weekly America podcast here:
Donald Trump appears to be engaged in a hasty retreat from next week’s Republican governor’s primary in Georgia, in which his vendetta against the incumbent Brian Kemp looks about to blow up in his face.
The former president went all in on the candidacy of former senator David Perdue, convinced his hand-picked choice was certain to oust Kemp from the governor’s mansion.
Kemp angered Trump by refusing to bend to his demands to overturn his 2020 defeat by Joe Biden.
However, after a bright start in the polls, Perdue - a recent convert to Trump’s big lie of a stolen election - appears to have lost his luster and now trails Kemp by a seemingly unassailable margin, according to RealClearPolitics.
Accordingly, Trump is washing his hands of Perdue, according to NBC News, which said on Friday he’s given up the Perdue campaign for dead and won’t be making any more appearances or offering any further support.
Trump, the article says, citing anonymous insiders, “has groused about what he believes is a lackluster campaign effort from Perdue”.
It also quoted Kemp’s lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan, who said Trump had engaged in “a very shallow attempt at trying to unseat a perfectly fit conservative governor”:
At the end of the day, Donald Trump doesn’t care about David Perdue winning. He just cared about Brian Kemp losing.
Defeat for Perdue would be a particularly bloody nose for Trump, who likes to boast about the power of his endorsements. Former president Mike Pence, with whom Trump has also feuded in recent months, campaigned for Kemp.
Regardless of the outcome of the Kemp v Perdue race, Georgia is unlikely to be a total dead loss for Trump. His pick for the Republican senate nomination, former NFL star Herschel Walker, enjoys a huge lead, more than 60% in some polls, over rivals.
Joe Biden has been talking microchips in South Korea, touring a factory that could become the model for a similar facility in Texas he says will keep the US at the forefront of new technology.
The president also promised closer cooperation between the US and South Korea in an address with the country’s leader Yoon Suk Yeol.
“It’s emblematic of the future of cooperation and innovation that our nations can and must build together,” Biden said of the Samsung semiconductor plant in Pyeongtaek.
The company he said, was investing $17bn in US operations, including the new factory in Texas he said would create 3,000 new jobs:
So much of the future of the world is going to be written here, in the Indo Pacific, over the next several decades. This is the moment, in my view, to invest in one another to deepen our business ties, to bring our people even closer together.
It’s past midnight now in Seoul, so we’re not expecting any more news from the president’s first Asian visit of his presidency in the next few hours.
But we do know that the bill passed by the US Senate on Thursday approving $40bn in new military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine is being flown to South Korea for Biden’s urgent signature.
Here’s the video of Biden’s address from Friday night:
We’re still waiting for the final result from Tuesday’s Republican senate primary in Pennsylvania, in which Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate, celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, and former treasury official David McCormick are separated by only a few hundred votes with 99% of the count in.
But there was a clear winner in the race to become the Republican nominee for state governor in November’s midterms - Trump loyalist and big lie proponent Doug Mastriano.
My colleague Sam Levine has this profile of the extremist, whom critics fear will be in charge of appointing officials to oversee the state’s elections if he wins later this year, and who will theoretically have the power to reject a result he doesn’t like:
Bill de Blasio, the former mayor of New York city, is running for Congress in a district that includes areas of Manhattan and his home in western Brooklyn.
He made the announcement on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday, shortly before his Bill de Blasio for Congress website went live with the campaign slogan: “The only way to save our democracy is to be a part of it”.
De Blasio, whose second term as NYC mayor ended last year, is seeking election in New York’s 10th congressional district, currently represented by Democrat Jerry Nadler.
Redistricting under the supervision of a New York judge, which Nadler says is unconstitutional, has forced him into a race for the 12th district with another Democratic incumbent, Carolyn Maloney, opening up the 10th for de Blasio’s run.
The state’s primary has been pushed back from June to 23 August following legal wrangling over the legality of New York’s maps and a court’s decision last month that Democrats’ original proposals were too heavily in their own favor.
De Blasio, 61, toyed with running for governor this year, the Associated Press says, but decided not to challenge incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul. He also had a short-lived run for president in 2019.
Biden approval rating at lowest point of presidency
There’s more trouble at home for Joe Biden as he ends the first day of his Asian tour: his approval rating has dropped to the lowest point of his presidency.
Raging inflation, soaring gas prices, the baby formula shortage and a failure to deliver on campaign promises were cited by respondents in an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Research study that also reflects deepening pessimism among his own Democratic party.
Only 39% of US adults approve of Biden’s performance as president, a further drop from already negative ratings a month earlier.
Overall, only about two in 10 adults say the US is heading in the right direction or the economy is good, both down from about three in 10 a month earlier. Those drops were concentrated among Democrats, with just 33% within the president’s party saying the country is headed in the right direction, down from 49% in April.
Of particular concern for Biden ahead of the midterm elections, his approval among Democrats stands at 73%, a substantial drop since earlier in his presidency. In AP-NORC polls conducted in 2021, Biden’s approval rating among Democrats never dropped below 82%.
The findings reflect a widespread sense of exasperation in a country facing a cascade of challenges ranging from inflation, gun violence, and a sudden shortage of baby formula to a persistent pandemic.
“I don’t know how much worse it can get,” Milan Ramsey, a 29-year-old high school counselor and Democrat in Santa Monica, California, told the AP. She said she and her husband had to move into her parents’ house to raise their infant son.
“He hasn’t delivered on any of the promises. I think he’s tired and I don’t blame him, I’d be tired too at his age with the career he’s had.”
Biden has been attempting to play up his successes at home over improved unemployment figures and his bipartisan infrastructure bill, and the White House sees his tour of Asia, including meetings with the leaders of South Korea and Japan, as an opportunity to market the US abroad.
But the trip has already attracted unwelcome headlines. A member of Biden’s advance security detail was arrested for allegedly assaulting a South Korean citizen in Seoul in a dispute over a taxi, and CNN reports that two secret services agents have been sent home.
It is not known if it relates to the same incident.
6 January inquiry wants former attorney general on the record, sources say
Bill Barr, the former attorney general who says he told Donald Trump his fantasy of a stolen election was “bullshit”, could soon be on the record with the 6 January House panel.
Axios is reporting that Barr, who resigned in the waning days of Trump’s single term of office, is in negotiations with the committee to tell what he knows of the days surrounding the deadly insurrection, and Trump’s demand for the justice department to declare the election fraudulent.
Details are scant, the committee is refusing to confirm the story, and it’s not known if Barr will be invited to take part in public hearings the panel will be holding this spring.
But Axios says it has sources with knowledge of the situation who insist Barr is in “active discussions” to follow up his previous informal conversations with the committee with on-the-record testimony and transcribed interviews.
The news comes at an important juncture for the bipartisan inquiry, which wants to complete its work ahead before November’s midterms, when Republicans are expected to win back control of the House and shut it down.
What information Barr has to offer remains to be seen. Most of what we already know about his knowledge of Trump’s desperate efforts to stay in power comes from his book, which the Guardian reviewed in March as a “self-serving narrative that ignores tricky truths”.
But the pace of the 6 January investigation is undoubtedly picking up as members scramble to complete their work.
Separately on Friday, CNN reported that John Eastman, the rightwing attorney and Trump acolyte, was deeply involved in the plot to steal back the election, and has revealed in a court filing that he spoke regularly with, and had handwritten notes from the former president, concerning those efforts.
The panel is chasing those documents, and on Thursday wrote to Georgia congressman Barry Loudermilk seeking information about “reconnaissance tours” of the Capitol the Republican is reported to have hosted on 5 January 2021, one day before Trump’s supporters ransacked the building in efforts to stop Congress certifying his defeat.
Bill Barr poised to give testimony to January 6 panel
Good morning blog readers, and welcome! We’ve made it to Friday, but as you know, the pace of US politics never winds down!
We’re learning that Bill Barr, the former attorney general, is poised to give sworn testimony to the 6 January House committee investigating Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
Axios reports that Barr, who has already spoken informally to the panel, is in “active discussions” for a formal, transcribed interview.
We’ll have more on that coming up, as well as the following:
- Joe Biden is in Seoul, South Korea, talking computer chips at a technology factory with ties to Texas. Meanwhile, his popularity rating back home has taken another dive.
- Vote counting from Tuesday’s Republican senate primary in Pennsylvania is limping towards the finish line, with Trump-endorsed TV doctor Mehmet Oz in a neck-and-neck race with former treasury department official David McCormick.
- Polls suggest Trump is set for a bruising in next week’s Georgia primary, where David Perdue, the former senator Trump wants to replace incumbent Republican governor Brian Kemp, has fallen further behind.
- Covid-19 cases are rising again across the US, and there’s little sign that Congress is willing to fund Biden’s requested $22.5bn relief package for vaccines, testing and therapeutics.
- A decision is expected imminently from a federal judge in Louisiana, who will decide if the Biden administration can proceed with plans to end next Monday the Trump-era Title 42 immigration policy keeping refugees at the border because of the pandemic.
Stick with us as the days unfolds, and you can also follow developments in the Ukraine conflict in our global live news blog here.