Hungary’s rightwing rulers downplay MEP ‘gay orgy’ scandal amid hypocrisy accusations

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/02/hungary-rightwing-rulers-downplay-mep-jozsef-szajer-gay-orgy-scandal-amid-hypocrisy-accusations

József Szájer had boasted of rewriting constitution to define marriage as heterosexual institution

 

József Szájer

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has condemned the behaviour of MEP József Szájer, from his rightwing Fidesz party, after Szájer’s participation in a “gay orgy” in Brussels prompted accusations of hypocrisy.

“What our representative, József Szájer, did has no place in the values of our political family. We will not forget nor repudiate his 30 years of work, but his deed is unacceptable and indefensible,” said Orbán on Wednesday evening. He said Szájer had left the party. He had already resigned as an MEP over the weekend.

 

Orbán’s government has enacted a range of legislation over the past decade infringing on LGBT rights, and Szájer boasted of personally rewriting Hungary’s constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual institution in 2011.

That made it all the more embarrassing when he was caught by Brussels police shimmying down a drainpipe to escape a gay orgy last Friday. Police raided the gathering as it violated Belgium’s coronavirus regulations.

In a terse statement, the Fidesz grouping in the European parliament commended Szájer’s resignation. “He made the only right decision. We acknowledge his decision, just as we acknowledge that he has apologised to his family, his political community and to the voters,” it read.

Prior to Orbán’s intervention, Hungarian ministers were tight-lipped when questioned by a reporter from the outlet Telex on Wednesday morning as they arrived for a cabinet meeting at a government building.

 

“Mr Szájer made the only possible right decision, and all the rest is his personal matter,” said the justice minister, Judit Varga. Other ministers ignored questions. A police cordon was set up to prevent the journalist from questioning any further officials.

Szájer, who is married, resigned unexpectedly on Sunday, without giving any reason. He made a statement on Tuesday when media reports about the orgy began to circulate. According to the Brussels region’s deputy public prosecutor, he was arrested with bloodied hands after a passerby spotted him “fleeing along the gutter” to escape the raid.

Szájer admitted he had been at a “house party” but said the drugs the police found on him were planted. He apologised to his family, but made no reference to the nature of the party. One person who knew Szájer said while the politician never discussed his sexuality, it was considered an “open secret” among Fidesz circles.

David Manzheley, the organiser of the party, told Belgian newspaper HLN that Szájer had come to the party as the plus-one of another guest. “I always invite a few friends to my parties, who in turn bring some friends along, and then we make it fun together. We talk a bit, we drink something – just like in a cafe. The only difference is that in the meantime we also have sex with each other,” he said. He added that guests had been “completely naked” at the time of the raid.

Belgian police have opened a case against those present for violating lockdown rules, as well as against Szájer for possession of drugs. But the “gay orgy” element is the one receiving the most attention, mainly because Szájer has played a key role as part of a rightwing government that has enacted numerous pieces of anti-LGBT legislation.

In 2011, Szájer boasted that he had drafted Hungary’s new constitution on his iPad, including a clause that explicitly defined marriage as between a man and a woman. He dismissed a question from a journalist who asked how he could refer to it as “a 21st-century constitution” when it did not guarantee LGBT rights.

Szájer said: “It depends how we interpret the 21st century. I don’t think that the traditional concept of marriage has changed just because we came into another millennium.”

In the intervening decade, Orbán’s government has gone further in its “traditional values” drive. Last year, senior Fidesz figures called for a boycott of Coca-Cola after it used gay couples in a Hungarian advertising campaign, while the country announced late last year it would not participate in the Eurovision song contest, with sources saying the contest was deemed “too gay” for conservative government and public media bosses.

Last month, as Hungary struggled amid surging coronavirus cases, Orbán’s government introduced a new set of constitutional amendments to parliament, including one that stipulates that, in a parent-child relationship, “the mother is a woman and the father is a man”. It also said that only heterosexual married couples could adopt children, with even single people requiring special ministerial dispensation.

The government’s justification for the amendment explained that “new, modern ideologies in the western world raise doubt about the creation of the male and female sex, and endanger the right of children to have healthy development”.

Opposition parties seized on the scandal as evidence of Fidesz hypocrisy, but leading government figures appear to have decided the best policy is to remove Szájer from the political spotlight and hope the scandal blows over.

In a programme on the pro-government Pesti TV, host Zsolt Jeszenszky criticised liberals for making “a huge political deal out of a sex scandal” and praised Szájer’s statement of apology. He also insinuated, as did many other pro-government commentators, that the scandal or arrest could have been a setup by unnamed enemies of Hungary’s government.

1/ Why does it matter that Viktor Orbán’s close friend and ally, MEP József Szájer was caught having an orgy with 20+ men? Very simple. While he was enjoying himself in LGBT-friendly Brussels, he made life for LGBT people in Hungary miserable by rewriting the constitution. THREAD

2/ After Viktor Orbán came to power in 2010, Szájer famously drafted a new constitution for Hungary on his iPad (yes, really), becoming the legal architect of Orbán’s regime. There was no consultation with the opposition or anyone outside the government.

https://www.intellinews.com/prominent-orban-ally-who-drafted-hungary-s-new-constitution-on-an-ipad-retires-from-politics-197734/?source=hungary

3/ Here’s the English version of Hungary’s (Szájer’s) constitution. 'Article L' on "protecting the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman" was inserted, essentially making it impossible for gay couples to get married. But that’s not all.

4/ It’s not just about marriage – this part of the constitution on marriage and families became a reference point for future legislations aimed at restricting the rights and freedom of LGBT people. Moreover, it became the legal justification for Viktor Orbán’s culture war.

5/ Just a few examples (and I’m gonna be using lots of Guardian articles by @floragaramvolgy and @shaunwalker7 on this)… Most recently, a consitutional amendment was introduced that "would ensure that only heterosexual married couples can adopt children”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/11/hungarian-government-mounts-new-assault-on-lgbt-rights

6/ In May – also following up on Szájer's original 'Article L’ -, Orbán’s parliamentary majority "has voted to end legal recognition for trans people (…) The new law defines gender as based on chromosomes at birth”.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/19/hungary-votes-to-end-legal-recognition-of-trans-people

7/ It’s not just about what is included in the constitution drafted by Szájer – it is just as important what’s lacking. For example, there is no constitutional protection against discrimination based on the grounds of sexual orientation.

8/ And then there is all the culture war going on, where the Szájer-drafted constitution always comes up as an argument against anything that is pro-LGBTQ. Look at this story from last year, for example:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/05/pro-lgbt-coca-cola-ads-spark-boycott-calls-in-hungary

9/ The whole anti-gay crusade became such an integral part of the Orbán government’s agenda that it started allying itself with some really weird and scary people.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/hungary-lgbt-world-congress-families-viktor-orban

10/ From last year: "Hungary will not participate in next year’s Eurovision song contest, amid speculation the decision was taken because the competition is “too gay” for the taste of the country’s far-right government and public media bosses."

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/nov/27/hungary-pulls-out-of-eurovision-amid-rise-in-anti-lgbt-rhetoric

11/ Recently, the government's anti-gay crusade reached new levels when even Viktor Orbán spoke out against a children’s book (!) with LGBTQ characters, saying that "there is a red line that cannot be crossed (…) Leave our children alone!"

https://time.com/5897312/hungary-book-lgbt-rights/

Originally tweeted by Szabolcs Panyi (@panyiszabolcs) on December 1, 2020.

Trump Has Discussed With Advisers Pardons for His 3 Eldest Children and Giuliani

Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is promoting baseless claims of widespread election fraud, talked about a pardon with President Trump as recently as last week.

 

President Trump has discussed with advisers whether to grant pre-emptive pardons to his children, to his son-in-law and to his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and talked with Mr. Giuliani about pardoning him as recently as last week, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Mr. Trump has told others that he is concerned that a Biden Justice Department might seek retribution against the president by targeting the oldest three of his five children — Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump — as well as Ms. Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser.

Donald Trump Jr. had been under investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, for contacts that the younger Mr. Trump had had with Russians offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, but he was never charged. Mr. Kushner provided false information to federal authorities about his contacts with foreigners for his security clearance, but was given one anyway by the president.

The nature of Mr. Trump’s concern about any potential criminal exposure of Eric Trump or Ivanka Trump is unclear, although an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into the Trump Organization has expanded to include tax write-offs on millions of dollars in consulting fees by the company, some of which appear to have gone to Ms. Trump.

 

Presidential pardons, however, do not provide protection against state or local crimes.

Mr. Giuliani’s potential criminal exposure is also unclear, although he was under investigation as recently as this summer by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for his business dealings in Ukraine and his role in ousting the American ambassador there. The plot was at the heart of the impeachment of Mr. Trump.

The speculation about pardon activity at the White House is churning furiously, underscoring how much the Trump administration has been dominated by investigations and criminal prosecutions of people in the president’s orbit. Mr. Trump himself was singled out by federal prosecutors as “Individual 1” in a court filing in the case that sent Michael D. Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, to prison.

 

The discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani occurred as the former New York mayor has become one of the loudest voices pushing baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, which Mr. Trump still proclaims publicly that he won. Many of Mr. Trump’s longtime aides have refused to do his bidding to try to overturn an election that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. won by nearly seven million votes. But Mr. Giuliani has repeatedly thrust himself into the spotlight to cast doubt on the results, which has ingratiated him with the president.

ABC News reported earlier on Tuesday that Mr. Trump was considering pardoning family members.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Mr. Giuliani did not respond to a message seeking comment, but after a version of this article was published online, he attacked it on Twitter and said it was false.

And Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, said, “He’s not concerned about this investigation because he didn’t do anything wrong, and that’s been our position from Day 1.”

 

The Fox News host and Trump ally Sean Hannity said on Monday that given the animosity from Democrats directed at Mr. Trump, the president should consider pardoning his entire family. “If Biden ever became president, I’d tell Trump pardon yourself and pardon your family,” Mr. Hannity told his viewers.

Mr. Trump is an avid consumer of Fox News, particularly Mr. Hannity’s show.

Such a broad pardon pre-empting any charge or conviction is highly unusual but does have precedent. In the most famous example, President Gerald R. Ford pardoned Richard M. Nixon for all of his actions as president. President George Washington pardoned plotters of the Whiskey Rebellion, shielding them from treason prosecutions. And President Jimmy Carter pardoned thousands of American men who illegally avoided the draft for the Vietnam War.

Mr. Trump has wielded his clemency powers liberally in cases that resonate with him personally or for people who have a direct line to him through friends or family, while thousands of other cases await his review.

A pardon for Mr. Giuliani is certain to prompt accusations that Mr. Trump has used his pardon power to obstruct investigations and insulate himself and his allies. Andrew A. Weissmann, a top prosecutor for Mr. Mueller, has said that Mr. Trump’s dangling of pardons for his allies impeded their work.

In July, the president commuted the sentence of his longtime adviser Roger J. Stone Jr., who had refused to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigators and was eventually convicted of seven felonies. Last week, Mr. Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who had backed out of his cooperation agreement with the special counsel’s office for “any and all possible offenses” beyond the charge he had faced of lying to federal investigators.

 

The Flynn pardon raised expectations that Mr. Trump would bestow clemency on other associates — like his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who refused to discuss matters from the 2016 election with prosecutors — in his final weeks in office.

Mr. Giuliani has asked Mr. Trump’s campaign to pay him $20,000 a day for his work on trying to overturn the election, a figure that would make him among the most highly paid lawyers in the world. The staggering sum has stirred opposition among Mr. Trump’s aides who worry that Mr. Giuliani has perpetuated the claims of election fraud in hopes of making as much money as possible.

Mr. Giuliani has expressed concern that any federal investigations of his conduct that appear to have been dormant under the Trump administration could be revived in a Biden administration, according to people who have spoken to him.

Legal experts say that if Mr. Trump wants to fully protect Mr. Giuliani from prosecution after he leaves office, the president would most likely have to detail in the language of the pardon what crimes he believed Mr. Giuliani had committed.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have since 2019 been investigating the role of Mr. Giuliani and two other associates in a wide-ranging pressure campaign directed at pushing the Ukrainian government to investigate Mr. Trump’s rivals, namely Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden.

The two Giuliani associates — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — were arrested in October 2019 as they prepared to board a flight from Washington to Frankfurt with one-way tickets. They were charged with violating campaign finance laws as part of a complex scheme to undermine the former American ambassador in Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, who Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump believed should have been doing more to pressure the Ukrainians.

Prosecutors in Manhattan continued to investigate Mr. Giuliani’s role in the scheme over the past year, focusing on whether he was, in pushing to oust Ms. Yovanovitch, essentially double dipping: working not only for Mr. Trump but also for Ukrainian officials who wanted the ambassador gone for their own reasons, according to people briefed on the matter.

 

It is a federal crime to try to influence the United States government at the request or direction of a foreign official without disclosing their involvement. Mr. Giuliani has said that he did nothing wrong and that he did not register as a foreign agent because he was acting on behalf of Mr. Trump, not any Ukrainians.

Even as Mr. Trump maintains that the election was stolen and files lawsuits aimed at delaying its certification, his White House is preparing for the final stages of his presidency. The end of any administration typically prompts a wave of pardons, particularly when a term has been engulfed in controversy like Mr. Trump’s, in which several people close to him became ensnared in federal investigations.

“The pardon power has been used by many presidents in politically self-serving ways, whether it was George H.W. Bush or Clinton,” said Jack L. Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School, citing how Mr. Bush pardoned six of his associates — including the former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger — for their role in the Iran-contra affair.

“Politically, a pardon of Giuliani would be explosive,” Mr. Goldsmith added, “but pardoning pals has been done before.”

Under previous administrations, presidents have largely granted pardons after they have gone through a formal review process at the Justice Department, where lawyers examined the convictions, discussed the ramifications of a potential pardon with prosecutors and then provided the White House with recommendations on how to proceed. On several occasions, Mr. Trump has gone against the Justice Department’s recommendations and the advice of his own White House advisers, granting pardons to political allies and celebrities.

When presidents have deviated from that process, scandals have occasionally occurred, especially after pardons in the last days of an administration. On the final day of Bill Clinton’s presidency, he granted a pardon to Marc Rich, a wealthy financier and longtime Democratic donor who was considered a fugitive as he had fled the United States to avoid tax charges.

Prosecutors in Manhattan investigated whether the pardon had been part of a quid pro quo, but no one was ever charged. At the time, Mr. Giuliani, who had helped bring criminal charges against Mr. Rich years earlier as a federal prosecutor, was deeply critical of the move, calling it “a disgrace” and declaring it “a midnight pardon.”

 

No president has tried to grant someone a pardon for crimes they have not yet committed — essentially a prospective get-out-of-jail-free card — and legal experts say it is unlikely to hold any weight. In the case of Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Mueller’s investigation examined questions of whether his contacts during the 2016 election with WikiLeaks and Russians offering dirt on Mrs. Clinton amounted to campaign finance violations. Donald Trump Jr. was never interviewed by the special counsel’s office and was never charged.

In the case of Mr. Kushner, he omitted several significant contacts with foreigners when he filled out a form for his White House security clearance, including ones with the Russians offering damaging information on Mrs. Clinton during the campaign. Under federal law it is a crime to provide inaccurate or incomplete information on the background check documents for security clearances.

In 2018, the White House counsel and chief of staff recommended that Mr. Kushner not receive a Top Secret security clearance because of issues that had been discovered during his background check. Over the objections of Mr. Trump’s aides, the president unilaterally granted Mr. Kushner the clearance.

Ben Protess contributed reporting.

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SD City Advances Opt-Out Mask Rule After Christians Recite Reasons Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Face Covered

Really?   Why have rules at all if you can opt out?   This is more of the religion can opt out of any laws they wish, religious people do not have to follow rules or laws because … Jesus.   God did not want you to cover your face?   He can see you through walls to watch you masterbate and have same gender sex for fuck sake!   But these same people will wear ski masks and other face coverings in the cold?   I am so tired of exceptions and allowances being made for the most stupid and unwilling to have responsibility for their actions people.    Hugs

The Rapid City Journal reports:

The Rapid City Council voted 9-1 on Monday night to move a mask-optional ordinance to a second reading with council member John Roberts voting no. The majority of the public attending the meeting did not wear masks despite a mask requirement while in city buildings. There were also three police officers present as well as Rapid City Police Chief Don Hedrick, who all wore masks.

After about three hours of public comment, council members approved Ordinance No. 6454. It will be heard once more for the second reading. If approved, it will go into immediate effect and last until Feb. 28, 2021. Instead of requiring the public to wear a mask in public indoor places where six feet of social distancing was not possible, businesses and other facilities that have an occupancy of 50 people or more will be able to opt out of the regulations.

Watch the below TikTok compilation for some of the reasons Jesus doesn’t want you to wear a mask. Really. The full meeting is surely more than you can endure, but it’s also below if you want to skip around for maximum crazy.

 

@rae.kars

Anti-maskers in Rapid City, SD at a mask mandate meeting 11/30/20 – This is real life parks and rec lmao #covid19 #mask #parksandrec #politics

♬ original sound – Rae

There is a 4 hour video at the link above.   Way too much crazy for me to watch or repost.   Hugs

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Supreme Court Denies Crazy Pastor’s Lawsuit Against LA Gov.’s COVID Restrictions

Supreme Court Denies Crazy Pastor’s Lawsuit Against LA Gov.’s COVID Restrictions

Pastor Tony Spell, the head of Louisiana’s Life Tabernacle Church, has once again lost a legal challenge, this time at the highest possible level.

In case you need a refresher, Spell was first arrested in April — remember April?! — for aggravated assault against a protester. But he became notorious for holding in-person church gatherings and putting countless people in harm’s way. Despite being under house arrest, he defied the law to preach at his nearby church multiple times a week, even asking supporters to send him portions of their stimulus checks.

Spell’s more recent legal troubles involved a lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards for issuing an order that limited the size of gatherings, including church services. Spell claimed that violated his First Amendment rights.

But two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson tossed those claims aside, essentially saying that churches weren’t being treated unfairly. If anything, they were given more leeway than public institutions.

Governor Edwards’s Proclamations have always treated comparable secular institutions similarly to comparable religious institutions. In the earliest days of the pandemic, the only businesses or individuals who were treated more leniently than religious organizations were essential workers and businesses, such as healthcare workers and grocery stores. With every restriction on places of worship, identical or more stringent restrictions have been placed on similarly situated secular businesses. Indeed, religious organizations have often been privileged over similar secular businesses.

That ruling stood in stark contrast to the one the Supreme Court issued in favor of churches this week, saying that New York’s restrictions treated churches unfairly, but the conservative bloc compared churches to places like grocery stores — as if they’re both equally “essential” — when they should’ve done with this judge did, comparing churches to bars or concert venues, places where people also gather, speak, and stick around for longer periods of time.

In any case, the ruling sent a clear message to Spell: Stop acting like a precious little snowflake. We’re all dealing with the pandemic. You need to make the same sacrifices as everyone else.

Spell’s claims were also dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning he couldn’t raise the same issue again in court — or pursue legal costs.

(For what it’s worth, the most recent executive order in Louisiana wasn’t even that restrictive: Rather than prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people or anything like that, the order allowed churches to be filled to 75% of their capacity. It was far too much. But nothing is ever good enough for COVID-denying Christian pastors who don’t live in reality.)

But Spell wasn’t done whining. Within a week of that ruling, his lawyers — including alleged pedophile Roy Moore — filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. As explained by Law & Crime, the ruling asked the Court to say Spell had a First Amendment right to gather — and that the government had absolutely no power in any situation to stop him.

In one passage, the application suggests Spell was merely “[f]ollowing his religious conviction that he must obey God rather than man” when he chose to keep his church fully open. The application later argues that the First Amendment separation of church and state “was to protect the church from the state.”

Later on, it argued for the supreme authority of the church:

When the State’s order prohibits a church from assembling, singing together, hearing the word of God preached, laying hands on the sick, baptizing, taking communion, and the like, then the courts owe the State no deference at all.

Taking up that case — and ruling in favor of Spell — would’ve been an unmitigated disaster. It would have suggested churches exist in their own world, unable to be controlled for any reason no matter how much tangible damage they cause.

The good news is that Justice Samuel Alito, who handles these kinds of emergency cases from this region, rejected the plea altogether. The case won’t come before the Court at all. The earlier decisions stand.

Tony Spell is a loser yet again.

That’s especially ironic given that Spell just gave a sermon days ago saying God would be on his side, calling his filing with the Supreme Court the “most theologically sound documents and arguments that has ever been in Washington, D.C… in the highest court of the land.”

His theology is as pathetic as his legal record.

She Witnessed the Aftermath of the Kyle Rittenhouse Shootings. Now She’s Scared for Herself.

Really scary what passes for rule of law in the US right now.   Gangs of thugs, some with legal degrees trying willing to violate others rights and cause harm to promote their cause.  How are these any different from the drug cartel gangs?   Hugs

She Witnessed the Aftermath of the Kyle Rittenhouse Shootings. Now She’s Scared for Herself.

A protest medic filed a complaint about Rittenhouse’s legal team: “I believe they are harassing witnesses including myself.”

Katie Walker was reading in bed just before midnight on October 8 when she saw a strange text message on her phone. It was a student who lived in the apartment building that Walker (not her real name) had recently moved out of. He was alarmed, because two men he’d never met had knocked on his door around 9 p.m., asking for Walker. They said they were investigators but refused to identify themselves, and they proceeded to knock on just about every other door in the apartment building asking for her whereabouts. “My roomate [sic] asked to see ID and they laughed said no and walked out of the building,” the student texted her. He said the guys looked “sketchy.”

Walker sat up in bed, nervous. She wondered whether the men were white supremacists, coming after her now because of what she’d seen in August in Kenosha, Wisconsin, less than an hour’s drive from her home. She’d gone there as a medic, to help people who were tear-gassed or otherwise injured during anti-police demonstrations. During the protests, she’d spotted Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17-year-old with an assault-style rifle. Soon after, he shot and killed two people, one of whom Walker tried to assist with medical care. He also wounded one of her fellow medics, whom she knew personally. (He says he fired in self-defense.)

After that awful night in Kenosha, Walker filed a police statement about what she’d seen near the shooting, hoping that would be the end of it: The experience left her exhausted, with post-traumatic stress disorder, and she wanted to lie low for a while and recover at home. But with the news now that two strange men were trying to track her down, she dialed the local police and left another statement. An officer jotted down that the two men had “looked scummy,” and sent someone over to the building to walk around and lock the door. Walker stayed up the rest of the night with her boyfriend, worrying, and reached out to the FBI.

The next day, her phone kept buzzing. And she wasn’t alone: The men called multiple members of Walker’s family, including her parents. It turns out these guys weren’t random white supremacists: They still refused to give their names, but, according to Walker, they mentioned they worked for the legal firm representing Rittenhouse, who now faces homicide charges. They said they wanted to take her deposition, something she’s not required to do under Wisconsin law except under very specific circumstances. One of the men also asked Walker whether she planned to give a statement to the cops about what she’d seen in Kenosha, and she said she already had. She begged them to leave her alone and hung up, but one of them called again later. Terrified, Walker reached out to John Pierce, a lead attorney for Rittenhouse. She told him about the men and asked him to make them stop.

“He didn’t deny that he sent the men; he didn’t acknowledge it either,” Walker told me recently. “All he said was, ‘I understand.’” And she prayed that he did. But the next day she received yet another phone call, from Pierce’s number, she said. When she answered it, the line was silent for a minute. She hung up, shaken, wondering whether he’d accidentally pocket-dialed her or was trying to scare her, to keep her from testifying.

Walker pulled out her computer and started doing some research. What she found did nothing to assuage her concerns. Pierce, it turns out, is no fringe attorney: His Los Angeles–based law firm, Pierce Bainbridge, had previously represented high-profile clients and several Trump supporters, including Rudy Giuliani and former Trump campaign figures George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. Because he’s based in California and not licensed to practice in Wisconsin, Pierce needed an order from a judge to represent Rittenhouse. Prosecutors have asked for a hearing to oppose that order. (They are also asking the judge to require Pierce to follow Wisconsin rules about pretrial publicity or face sanctions; they accuse him of making statements, in interviews and on Twitter, that violate rules of professional conduct, such as by commenting on the character of Rittenhouse and victims in the case, sharing information that would be inadmissible at trial, and suggesting that the prosecution is politically motivated. His comments, they say, could prejudice jurors and encourage them to acquit Rittenhouse for reasons unrelated to the law.)

What’s more, Walker found that Pierce is no stranger to menacing tactics. Walker stumbled upon a Medium post by a former Pierce Bainbridge attorney who is now suing Pierce for alleged wrongful termination. In it, she learned that Pierce is also accused of harassing his ex-wife. Mother Jones reviewed court records from a child custody case, and found that, in the course of a single day in 2019, Pierce sent his ex-wife more than 60 texts laced with violent language after she told him she couldn’t drive their son to soccer because of a work conflict: “I will bury u if I have to,” he allegedly wrote in one of the texts, copies of which were submitted to the court. “I will find u at Armaggedon [sic] and fuck u up.”

“I am good,” he wrote in another message that day. “U are evil. God is on my side.” In the texts, he repeatedly called her a “slut,” “cunt,” and “bitch,” and threatened to “hunt” her down. In one message, he mentioned a television character known for torturing terrorists: “Watch Jack Bauer on 24 if ur curious what I’m capable of.”

The next day, according to court records, Pierce apologized to his ex-wife and said he hadn’t meant what he texted her, but she remained afraid. She received a temporary restraining order against him, telling the court that he’d expressed a desire to kill her before, something he later denied.

Walker kept learning more. She connected eight days ago with Jennifer Sulkess, a Los Angeles resident who alleged that she was also intimidated by another attorney at the Pierce Bainbridge firm in a separate case. The firm had been retained to represent a Russian billionaire named Sergey Grishin, whom Sulkess had accused of harassing her and her friend, Grishin’s ex-wife, allegations he denies. The two women had taken out temporary restraining orders against Grishin, as he simultaneously pursued lawsuits against them. (These legal cases are ongoing.)

In September 2018, Sulkess said, the Pierce Bainbridge attorney instructed someone to repeatedly photograph her and Grishin’s ex-wife without their consent in public. The next month, she said, a man went to the apartment building where she had recently lived and showed the office manager there her photo, saying Sulkess was wanted for allegedly fraudulently borrowing money—accusations from Grishin’s lawsuit that she denies.

Months later, at about 8 a.m. on a Sunday, a few weeks before a restraining order trial, Sulkess pulled into the parking garage of her new apartment and found that someone else had parked in her assigned spot. “As I go to back up, I see this guy in my rearview mirror, which is quite startling,” she told me. He stood near a pillar, taking photos of her, and then approached and served her with legal papers, even though she had her own attorney who could have accepted the documents during business hours. “It was so overdramatic,” she said. “The rest of the week, you’ve got this thought in your head—like, are people going to jump out of the pillars? It’s designed for psychological warfare.” She and Grishin’s ex-wife started checking the hallways of her apartment to see if there were wiretaps.

In May, Sulkess filed a complaint with the State Bar of California about the Pierce Bainbridge attorney, Amman Khan, who has since moved to another firm but still represents Grishin. She did not mention the parking garage incident but accused him of other misconduct, including sending people to photograph her. But in June, the state bar closed Sulkess’ complaint without formally investigating the allegations. “We have determined that your complaint does not present sufficient facts to support an investigation,” wrote Scott D. Karpf, a senior trial counsel for the state bar. Pierce, his firm, and Khan did not reply to questions from Mother Jones.

Before talking with Sulkess, Walker had already filed her own complaint with the State Bar of California about Pierce and his firm. “My connection to Pierce and Bainbridge is that I am one of the witnesses in the Kyle Rittenhouse case. I believe they are harassing witnesses including myself,” she wrote. But she was disappointed to hear that Sulkess’ complaint had been closed. Now she had little hope that the agency would help her, and as far as she knew, the police and FBI hadn’t done anything to track down the men who’d gone to her old apartment building. So she agreed to speak with me. She wanted to come forward in the media, she said, because some of her friends were also witnesses the night of the Kenosha protest, and they’ve been scared off from testifying after hearing about her experience. They “saw significantly more than I did,” she told me. “And they’re afraid to go to the police and file witness statements, because they’re concerned that the same thing will happen to them.”

She added, “They’re like: ‘We might go to the police. But only if John Pierce faces some sort of consequences.’” She said none of them wanted to speak with media.

Mother Jones reviewed Walker’s complaint to the State Bar of California and her police report, and spoke with the student who texted her from her old apartment building. We also verified her real name, age, location, and corroborating reports about what she witnessed at the Kenosha protest. But we are not publishing these identifying details because of her concerns for her safety and the high-profile nature of the Rittenhouse case. The teen has become a celebrity on the right, accumulating $2 million in donations to post bond ahead of his trial. Earlier this month, people in Washington at a pro-Trump demonstration that included members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has advocated violence, chanted together, “Break out Kyle!” And on November 21, a lawmaker in Florida, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, went so far as to tweet, “KYLE RITTENHOUSE FOR CONGRESS.”

Walker is taking her own precautions in the meantime. She hasn’t heard from Pierce lately, nor from the two men who went to her old apartment. But she wonders if she should arm herself anyway. “I’m not pro-gun,” she told me. “But after having a stalker in college and having this happen,” she added, referring to her experience with Rittenhouse’s case, “I was like, I want some way to defend myself.”

Trump raises more than $150 million appealing to false election claims

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-raises-more-than-150-million-appealing-to-false-election-claims/2020/11/30/82e922e6-3347-11eb-afe6-e4dbee9689f8_story.html

President Trump’s political operation has raised more than $150 million since Election Day, using a blizzard of misleading appeals about the election to shatter fundraising records set during the campaign, according to people with knowledge of the contributions.

The influx of political donations is one reason Trump and some allies are inclined to continue a legal onslaught and public affairs blitz focused on baseless claims of election fraud, even as their attempts have repeatedly failed in court and as key states continue to certify wins for President-elect Joe Biden.

Much of the money raised since the election is likely to go into an account for the president to use on political activities after he leaves office, while some of the contributions will go toward what’s left of the legal fight.

The people with knowledge of the fundraising amounts spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal numbers. The Trump campaign declined to comment.

The surge of donations is largely from small-dollar donors, campaign officials say, tapping into the president’s base of loyal and fervent donors who tend to contribute the most when they feel the president is under siege or facing unfair political attacks. The campaign has sent about 500 post-election fundraising pitches to donors, often with hyperbolic language about voter fraud and the like.

“I need you now more than ever,” says one recent email that claims to be from the president. “The Recount Results were BOGUS,” another email subject line reads.

“Our democracy and freedom is at risk like never before, which is why I’m reaching out to you now with an URGENT request,” reads an email to donors from Vice President Pence. “President Trump and I need our STRONGEST supporters, like YOU, to join the Election Defense Task Force. This group will be responsible for DEFENDING the Election from voter fraud, and we really need you to step up to the front lines of this battle.”

The donations are purportedly being solicited for the Official Election Defense Fund, which is blazed in all red across the Trump campaign’s website, with an ominous picture of the president outside the White House.

There is no such account, however. The fundraising requests are being made by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee that raises money for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. As of Nov. 18, that committee also shares its funds with Save America, a new leadership PAC that Trump set up in early November and which he can use to fund his post-presidency activities.

The money raised since Nov. 3 is a massive haul for such a short period, especially after the election, when losing campaigns typically ramp down their fundraising operation. By comparison, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee raised $125 million in the second quarter of 2020, according to federal records. The campaign account’s best single month was September, when it raised $81 million, according to available data.

The contributions, from thousands of grass-roots donors across the country, are split into several accounts, including the leadership PAC that is loosely regulated and could be used to personally benefit the president after he leaves the White House.

According to the fine print in the latest fundraising appeals, 75 percent of each contribution to the joint fundraising committee would first go toward the Save America leadership PAC and the rest would be shared with the party committee, to help with the party’s operating expenses. This effectively means that the vast majority of low-dollar donations under the current agreement would go toward financing the president’s new leadership PAC, instead of efforts to support the party or to finance voting lawsuits.

“Small donors who give to Trump thinking they are financing an ‘official election defense fund’ are in fact helping pay down the Trump campaign’s debt or funding his post-presidential political operation,” said Brendan Fischer, who directs federal regulatory work at the Campaign Legal Center, which supports greater restrictions on the role of money in politics. “The average donor who gives in response to Trump’s appeal for funds to ‘stop the fraud’ likely doesn’t realize that their money is actually retiring Trump’s debt or funding his leadership PAC.”

Fischer said that “only bigger donors who’ve maxed-out to Trump’s campaign or the RNC will see any portion of their contribution go to dedicated recount or legal funds.”

“The RNC has spent tens of millions of dollars over the last two years funding legal efforts in multiple states, and we continue the fight for election integrity across the country,” RNC spokesperson Mike Reed said.

The leadership PAC could be spent, for example, to pay for events at his own properties, or to finance his travel or personal expenses. There are very few limitations on how money going to the group can be spent.

On Nov. 18, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee struck a formal agreement with Save America, the Trump campaign and the RNC to raise money together through the joint fundraising committee and share the funds, according to federal records. By Nov. 19, the contribution share to Save America PAC had changed to 75 percent from 60 percent as it had been for more than a week, according to a review of the fundraising appeals.

Leadership PACs do not face the same restrictions on “personal use” expenses as candidate committees do. They were established to allow members of Congress to raise money for their allies on Capitol Hill through fundraising vehicles separate from their campaign committees. The money is often used for what is called donor cultivation: feting wealthy supporters in the hopes that they will write big checks back to the leadership PAC and other committees.

Over the years, leadership PACs have become must-have accessories on Capitol Hill, as well as among former elected officials who want to retain their political influence by helping other candidates raise money or by raising money on their behalf.

One person with knowledge of the contributions said many were repeat donors, and that emails with dire language about the president potentially losing tended to ratchet up the contributions. The person said the campaign had a plan before Election Day to dial up requests for money if the result wasn’t immediately clear.

“Trump is making hay while the sun is shining. He’s taking advantage of all the free media coverage to pay off his campaign debt and fill his coffers for whatever comes next,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor. He added: “I would rather give to Romney 2012 than Trump 2020 at this point.”

In an interview earlier this month, Texas donor Doug Deason said “some people are writing big checks because they are fired up.”

On Monday, the final day of the monthly fundraising period, Trump was on track to reach 500 fundraising emails. In November, the Trump operation set a record for monthly fundraising requests from the campaign, according to a tally by @TrumpEmail, a Twitter account that has tracked the president’s fundraising requests since January 2018.

The campaign had struggled some with finances earlier this fall, officials said, with campaign manager Bill Stepien deciding to cut TV spending because he feared they could run out of money. Officials said that some money was wasted on unnecessary expenditures, such as a pricey Super Bowl commercial and blimps flying over the skylines of states. But some Trump advisers said the money that has come in after the election was a reason the campaign should have never made the cuts.