CA’s unemployment fraud may top $9 billion, doubling estimate, expert warns

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

As an army of investigators tries to pin down the scope of unemployment benefit fraud in California, the head of a security firm working for the state is warning that payments of fraudulent claims could more than double the $4 billion previously estimated, and that a flood of those claims involve overseas crime rings.

At least 10% of unemployment claims may have been fraudulent before controls were installed in October, according to Blake Hall, founder and chief executive of the company ID.me., which has been hired by the state Employment Development Department to weed out fraud. A 10% fraud rate could total $9.8 billion of the benefits paid from March through September.

Much of the fraud in California and other states is coming from organized criminal gangs operating in some 20 foreign countries, including Russia, China, Nigeria, Ghana, Turkey and Bulgaria, Hall said.

“When the Russians and the Nigerians and the Chinese are the players on the field, they are going to put up some points,” Hall told The Times. “This is a very sophisticated cyberattack that’s being run at scale.”

Hall’s firm was hired by the EDD to begin checking unemployment claims in October, and since then 30% of the claims it screened turned out to be fraudulent. Between Oct. 1 and Jan. 11, Hall said his firm blocked 463,724 fraudulent claims, which he said would represent more than $9 billion if the EDD had paid $20,000 on each claim.

The EDD has so far paid out $113 billion in unemployment benefits during the 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including $43 billion as part of an expedited — and less secure — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed.

State officials were recently warned by Bank of America, which is under contract with the EDD to issue debit cards to distribute benefits, that there is evidence that fraud could total more than $4 billion in California. A task force of county, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors is continuing an investigation to identify all of the fraud, which has also involved claims in the names of prison inmates.

Read the complete article here.

Sen. Ron Wyden: Capitol riots prove we must strengthen American democracy by protecting voting rights for all

From NBC News Online:

On Jan. 6, at the behest of the outgoing president of the United States, domestic terrorists attacked the legislative branch of the government of the United States. Bombs were left apparently targeting us, gunshots rang out, Molotov cocktails were brought to the building, and five deaths resulted from the melee on the Capitol grounds. It remains unclear who — if anyone — was in command of the military when officials were pleading for help from the National Guard, which didn’t receive orders to assist for several hours. It’s a miracle that the insurrection failed, that the building didn’t burn and that many more people weren’t killed.

At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, my colleagues and I walked past shards of glass and refuse left behind by the insurrectionist mob to resume debate on the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Some of my fellow senators said they felt that returning to the chamber and finishing the Electoral College count was a signal that America was already turning the page.

Not in my book.

In the wake of this attack, Democrats must use our majorities in Congress to pass reforms that will defend our democracy from the forces that supported, incited and fueled the riots — which means making it easier for every American to vote. Congress cannot — must not — move forward in the belief that the end of Donald Trump’s presidency means all is well in our country.

After all, what happened after police cleared the Capitol building and workers began cleaning up the wreckage and blood? Republicans walked right back into the House and Senate chambers and continued spreading the same lies about voters and voting rights that had drawn the mob to the Capitol in the first place.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for instance, claimed that he just wanted an election commission to study the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania — where Biden won decisive victories. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., claimed that he was just giving voice to his constituents’ concerns about election integrity by attempting to throw out the legally cast ballots of millions of Pennsylvanians. It was all nonsense.

Wednesday’s phony debate about counting the Electoral College ballots was just about two elected officials laundering a violent, fanatical conspiracy — one that had already done great harm to the country and the institution in which they serve — to further their own ambitions. It was nothing more than self-promotion and a barefaced, ham-handed attempt to delegitimize the next administration.

Read the complete article here.

Members of Trump Cabinet discussing invoking 25th Amendment

From ABC News Online:

There have been discussions among some members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet and his allies over invoking the 25th Amendment, a potential vehicle for removing the president from office, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the discussions told ABC News.

Un-American.' 'Treasonous.': North Texas leaders decry mob breach at U.S.  Capitol

It’s unclear how extensive these conversations have been or whether Vice President Mike Pence is supportive of such action. Many were horrified by Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol as well as Trump’s apparent lack of urgency in marshaling resources to stop the mob, the sources said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., on Thursday became the first Republican to publicly call for the invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

The 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967 in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, lays out the procedures for replacing the president in the event of death, removal, resignation or incapacitation.

“The president not only abdicated his duty to protect the American people and the people’s house, he invoked and inflamed passions that gave fuel to the insurrection we saw here,” Kinzinger said in a video posted to Twitter. “When pressed to move and denounce the violence he barely did so, while of course victimizing himself … all indications are that the president has become unmoored, not just from his duty, or even his health, but from reality itself.”

“It is for this reason that I call for the vice president and members of the cabinet to ensure that the next few weeks are safe for the American people, and that we have a sane captain of the ship,” Kinzinger said.

Read the complete article here.

Electoral Vote Count to Resume After Pro-Trump Mob Storms US Capitol

From today’s NBC News Washington:

A mob supporting President Donald Trump forced its way into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, surging past security barriers and delaying the constitutional process to affirm Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.

A woman died after being shot by law enforcement at the Capitol, sources told NBC News, and several officers and others were injured.

Rioters used chemical irritants on police in order to gain access to the Capitol grounds — D.C.’s acting police chief said — broke glass and waved Trump flags. 

Officials declared the U.S. Capitol complex “secure” at nearly 6 p.m. after heavily armed police moved to end a violent, nearly four-hour occupation. An announcement saying “the Capitol is secure” rang out Wednesday evening inside a secure location for officials of the House. Lawmakers applauded.

Members of Congress said they were stunned by the violence. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said she had expected the day to be tense.

“Them actually entering the United States Capitol is not something anyone would have expected to see here in the United States of America. It it is a shameful and sad day for our democracy,” she said.

Rioters will be held responsible for the chaos, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

“The behavior that we are witnessing is shameful, unpatriotic and, above all, it is unlawful,” she said at a news conference. “Anyone who has engaged in these activities, continues to engage in these activities, will be held accountable.”

Read the complete article here.

Trump pressures GA election official to ‘find’ winning votes in taped call

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

President Trump demanded that Georgia’s top election official help him “find” enough votes to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state, according to a phone recording made public Sunday that pointed to a brazen new chapter in the president’s attempt to overturn his election defeat.

In an hour-long phone call Saturday, reported Sunday by the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Trump cajoled, flattered and implicitly threatened Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, marshaling elaborate conspiracy theories to support his claim that he had won a state that Biden carried by almost 12,000 votes.

Raffensperger, a Republican, rejected the president’s blunt overtures, telling him: “The data that you have is wrong,” according to the audio recording. The Journal-Constitution said the authenticity of the recording was confirmed by two people involved in the conversation.

Legal experts and some Democrats suggested the president’s actions may have violated the law. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Democratic whip, issued a strongly worded statement urging a criminal investigation, saying Trump sought to “intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing and misrepresenting” a legally counted vote. Law professors, including Stanford’s Nate Persily, tweeted out relevant sections of Georgia’s election code.

Two months after the election, and almost three weeks after the electoral college certified Biden’s victory by a 306-232 margin, Trump is backing expected challenges to the results by congressional Republicans in a joint session of Congress on Wednesday that typically is ceremonial in nature. Scores of Republican House members and at least a dozen GOP senators have signaled support for the effort, which could result in hours of debate before each chamber is expected to reject the protest.

Republican plans to contest the election have generated scorn from establishment GOP figures, including Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. On Sunday, seven conservative Republican House members issued an unusual joint statement announcing their opposition to the challenge, warning that congressional action “would amount to stealing power from the people and the states.”

Read the complete article here.

Battleground states urge SCOTUS to reject Texas bid to overturn Biden’s wins

From today’s CNBC News Online:

The battleground states whose presidential election results are being challenged by Texas at the Supreme Court urged the justices on Thursday not to take up the case.

The four states targeted in the lawsuit warned in uncharacteristically sharp briefs that granting Texas’ unprecedented request would “do violence to the Constitution” and “disenfranchise millions” of voters. Those states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia — have all certified their election results, with Democrat Joe Biden defeating President Donald Trump.

Nearly simultaneously, Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine filed a brief at the court on behalf of the District of Columbia and 22 states and territories defending the four states targeted by Texas. That friend-of-the-court brief was joined by California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington.

The flurry of major briefs related to the case — including Trump’s own request to intervene — demonstrated the dramatic and lingering polarization of the U.S. just weeks after one of the most contentious elections in memory.

Pennsylvania in its brief called Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-shot bid to overturn other states’ elections “legally indefensible” and “an affront to principles of constitutional democracy. Texas seeks to invalidate elections in four states for yielding results with which it disagrees,” Pennsylvania’s scathing brief read.

Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan, told the court in her state’s brief to reject Texas’ case outright. “To do otherwise would make this Court the arbiter of all future national elections,” Nessel wrote.

Christopher Carr, the attorney general of Georgia, told the court that Texas was seeking to “transfer Georgia’s electoral powers to the federal judiciary.” “Respect for federalism and the constitutional design prohibits that transfer of power, but this Court should never even reach that issue,” he wrote.

The replies came one day after Trump asked the high court to let him intervene in the case. The president, who is refusing to concede to Biden, has hyped Texas’ case as “the big one” — but election law experts say there’s little if any chance the court will allow it to proceed.

So far, the justices have not taken any action in the case. Despite Trump’s frequent pleas, the court has not shown an eagerness to get involved in any litigation related to the presidential election.

Read the complete article here.

Georgia’s GOP senators falsely claim election fraud just to stay in power

From today’s NBC News Online:

We are a conservative and a centrist who — at various times in our careers — have served in significant federal government roles. From the time of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush through today, we have seen in action how the adherence to the principles of federalism and the separation of powers has served the people of the United States as our Constitution’s framers wisely intended.

But the position of Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., on federal interference in their own state’s electoral processes is unfaithful to that tradition; it is neither conservative nor effective. Georgians should demand more of their senators — and so should the people of every state where similar, spurious challenges against their electoral processes are being leveled on behalf of a failed president.

The joint statement of Perdue and Loeffler claiming mismanagement and corruption in their state’s elections reflects both bad temper and bad judgment. Their claim lacks any specificity or description of evidence of actual fraud, and was issued with a malicious, menacing tone befitting dark conspiracy theorists rather than high public officials.

And, since their initial statement, neither has provided any specific evidence of fraud. (On Thursday, Georgia finished a hand recount of ballots in the state showing Joe Biden had indeed won presidential race.)

Forced to demonstrate any possible sources of election fraud, Perdue’s cousin, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, also made hollow, unsupported assertions of unidentified people voting twice, others engineering votes by or on behalf of those who have died, moved out of state, and yet others voting despite being ineligible convicted felons. He cited no evidence — and, in fact, there may be no such illegal voters — of any such voter fraud or any basis for believing that it could disqualify enough ballots to flip the outcome.

To make matters worse, Sens. Perdue and Loeffler used the opportunity to demonize Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who not only voted to re-elect President Donald Trump, but also to re-elect both of them. “I’d like our side to win,” Raffensperger said in an interview with Atlanta’s Fox affiliate Nov. 10, “but then you have to win fair and honestly.”

He added: “I want 100 percent of the people to understand that the process was fair and accurately counted.”

That is how a democracy is supposed to work; anything else, and we might as well live in Russia or China.

Read the complete article here.

Trump lies in the White House briefing room, and networks pull the plug

From today’s New York Times:

President Trump broke a two-day silence with reporters to deliver a brief statement filled with lies about the election process as workers in a handful of states continue to tabulate vote tallies in the presidential race.

The president painted the election results so far as part of a broad conspiracy to deprive him of winning a second term by Democrats, election officials in various cities and the media.

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Mr. Trump said shortly after he took the podium in the White House briefing room, a false statement that cast aspersion on the rest of the election. He offered no evidence.

He then listed a series of conspiracy theories about why ballots arrived late in places. And at the same time that he insisted Democrats were figuring out how many mail-in ballots they need in order to counteract his performance in various states, the president listed off a series of Republican wins on Tuesday. He appeared not to see the cognitive dissonance in saying that other Republicans won while he lost as he outlined a plot about others harming him, and left the room without taking reporters’ questions.

The three big broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — all cut away from President Trump’s appearance as the president’s false claims about the integrity of the election mounted.

Read the complete article here.

CA Republican Party Admits It Placed Misleading Ballot Boxes Around State

From today’s New York Times:

The California Republican Party has admitted responsibility for placing more than 50 deceptively labeled “official” drop boxes for mail-in ballots in Los Angeles, Fresno and Orange Counties — an action that state officials said was illegal and could lead to voter fraud.

The dark gray metal boxes have been popping up over the past two weeks near churches, gun shops and Republican Party offices, mostly in conservative areas of a deep-blue state, affixed with a white paper label identifying them as either an “Official Ballot Drop off Box” or a “Ballot Drop Box.”

To the average voter, they are virtually indistinguishable from drop-off sites sanctioned by the state, which are governed by strict regulations intended to prevent the partisan manipulation of ballots.

The actions of the largely marginalized state party come at a moment when Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a bitter national struggle over voting rights, with President Trump’s allies accusing Democrats in Minnesota and elsewhere of undermining the integrity of the electoral process by expanding absentee voting and other measures to increase ballot access.

On Monday, California’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla, and Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a cease-and-desist order to the state- and county-level Republican parties, ordering them to remove the boxes. They also urged voters who might have unknowingly dropped off their ballots in the receptacles to sign up with the state’s voter tracking website to ensure their vote is counted.

“Misleading voters is wrong regardless of who is doing it,” Mr. Padilla said in a conference call with reporters, adding that the boxes “are not permitted by state law.”

Mr. Becerra called the boxes “fake,” adding that it was “illegal to tamper with a citizen’s vote.” He warned that anyone “engaging in this activity” could be subject to criminal prosecution or civil action.

Hector Barajas, a spokesman for the California Republican Party, said the party would continue to distribute the boxes, without adding any label identifying them explicitly as Republican ballot drops.

Mr. Barajas — who disclosed that Republicans were responsible for the boxes only after being bombarded by questions by reporters on Monday — said the party’s actions were legal because state law did not restrict “ballot harvesting,” a practice that allows businesses or other organizations to collect batches of completed ballots.

Read the complete article here.

New TN law penalizes protesters with felony and loss of voting rights

From today’s CNN Online:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed legislation on Thursday that will increase penalties for individuals caught camping on state property.

Bill HB 8005 increases the punishment for camping on state property from a misdemeanor to a class E felony that is punishable by up to six years in prison.

Signing of the bill comes as protesters have been camping outside the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville, demanding a meeting with the Republican governor to discuss racial inequality and police brutality since June, according to the Washington Post. Protesters are also asking for the removal of a Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the State Capitol. Forrest was a slave trader and early Ku Klux Klan leader.

Campers would first be given a warning and those who refuse to leave would then be charged with a felony. Notably, convicted felons in Tennessee lose their right to vote, which could be a major blow to protesters amid a high-stakes election year.

Lee’s signing of the bill comes just one week after the GOP-controlled General Assembly first passed the legislation. At the time, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate Randy McNally, a Republican, touted the bill as a preventative measure against the forming of autonomous zones like the ones in other major cities.

“It is to prevent what has happened in other cities like Portland and Washington, DC,” McNally said at a news conference after the measure passed. “If people, knowingly violate the law, knowingly thumb their nose at authority and don’t do what authorities have requested they do, they should be charged with a serious crime.”

The bill’s sponsor, Republican House Majority Leader William Lamberth, said at the same news conference that the bill was to crack down on “criminal elements” and protect law enforcement officers.

Read the complete article here.