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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) is going on the offensive against critics of his office’s policy that blocked 53,000 Georgians—most of them black—from registering to vote.

Calls for him to resign over the policy are “ridiculous,” Kemp, who is locked in a close race for governor, said Friday.

Speaking to the Forsyth County News, the GOP nominee for governor called claims of mass voter suppression “fake news” and a “manufactured story from the Democrats.”

Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams argued last week that Kemp had to step down so that Georgians can “have confidence that their Secretary of State competently and impartially oversee this election.”

Abrams’ call was taken up by protesters and several state civil rights groups. The Georgia NAACP, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Groups, and other organizations filed a lawsuit against Kemp on Thursday, arguing that his office discriminated against minority residents.

Under the “exact match” policy, Georgia is allowed to delay or block voter registrations if information on the registration form does not align exactly with existing state records.

An Associated Press review of state records found that some 70 percent of the 53,000 people affected by the policy are black.

Kemp has insisted that affected voters can still cast ballots in person on Election Day, and attacked “outside agitators”—a term used by segregationists in the South—for stirring up controversy about his policy.

The Republican nominee is also trying to shift attention back across the aisle. On Friday, he claimed for the first time that the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor should withdraw from the race over allegations made in an April complaint against her family’s business.

Kemp said that the claims of racial discrimination at the Jack Cooper trucking firm are “unacceptable and disqualifying” for Sarah Riggs Amico, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“It’s obvious the Georgia GOP wants to distract voters from this week’s national news headlines,” the Amico campaign said in a statement calling the lawsuit’s claims “completely without merit.”

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With less than a month to go before the midterms, all has been pretty quiet on the Robert Mueller front. The special counsel appears to be taking pains to stick to the Justice Department policy of not taking any public investigative steps that could sway an election. But a few new details have simmered to the surface.

The biggest: after months of negotiations, President Trump’s lawyers are reportedly preparing answers to written questions provided by Mueller’s team. Those inquiries are focused on his campaign’s possible collusion with and ties to the Russian government — not obstruction of justice, according to CNN.

Mueller has also apparently developed an “expanding” and “intense interest” in the late GOP activist Peter W. Smith’s efforts to hunt down emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Federal prosecutors have interviewed several associates of Smith, who committed suicide last year. They’ve also learned that he raised over $100,000 for his email-hunting quest, according to a string of articles in the Wall Street Journal.

One of those reports revealed that Smith first met former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn back in 2015. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Smith claimed to have help from Flynn’s son and consulting firm in his efforts to find the missing emails.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is out of the GOP’s crosshairs for the moment. He shared a cozy Air Force 1 ride with Trump this week, and the President assured reporters that the pair had “a good relationship.”

More surprising is the retreat by House Republicans who were threatening Rosenstein’s impeachment just a few weeks ago over disparaging remarks he reportedly made about Trump. After calling on him to come testify before Congress ASAP, they’ve since postponed their meeting indefinitely.

Former Trump aide Rick Gates is reportedly continuing to cooperate with the Mueller probe. This week, The New York Times reported that Gates was contacted by an Israeli intelligence group during the campaign with an offer to use fake social media accounts to gather information and sway voters.

Gates was also sued by two of his former lawyers for allegedly stiffing them on some $360,000 in bills he accrued before switching representation.

Californian Richard Pinedo was sentenced to one-year imprisonment — six months in prison and six months in home confinement — on identify fraud charges brought by Mueller’s team. Pinedo, who cooperated with the investigation, sold bank account numbers connected to real people that he purchased on the black market; unbeknownst to Pinedo, some of those customers were the Russian trolls allegedly involved in 2016 election interference.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis wants to move forward with sentencing Paul Manafort for the counts he was convicted of in Virginia this summer, despite a plea agreement reached between Manafort and the special counsel postponed such moves based on Manafort’s cooperation.

In brighter news, Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen exchanged a friendly greeting at LaGuardia Airport. Cohen, Daniels said, looked “happy and healthy.”

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A number of states currently under full GOP control—including Wisconsin, South Dakota, Kansas, Michigan and Ohio—allow the governor veto power over district maps drawn by the state legislature. With less than four weeks to go before Election Day, Democrats are either in the lead or in close races to retake the governor’s mansion in those states.

Redistricting experts say that winning just this one office represents Democrats’ best opportunity to have a voice in the once-a-decade redistricting process that next rolls around in 2021—and block the GOP from locking in majorities for another 10 years.

“The Republican gerrymander at the state legislative level is even more solid than the gerrymander of the U.S. House,” David Daley of FairVote, an electoral reform group, told TPM. “So if Democrats want to have a seat at the table in 2020 redistricting, the best way in many otherwise competitive states that are friendly to Democrats requires winning the governor’s mansion.”

“Governors are key in this process, and can be a powerful check and balance on efforts to gerrymander,” the Brennan Center’s Michael Li concurred.

Good government and redistricting reform groups like former Attorney General Eric Holder’s outfit, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), are well aware of these stakes. In laying out their targets for 2018, the NDRC said its goal was to break trifecta control—GOP rule of both houses of state legislatures and the governorship—to make sure “Democrats have a seat at the table.”

“What we know about redistricting is that the most extreme maps always emerge when one party has total control of the process,” Daley said.

To illustrate just how important governors can be to these battles, Li brought up the examples of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The 2010 Republican wave election gave the GOP total control in the Badger State, while in Minnesota, Republicans won both houses of the legislature, losing the governorship, by a hair, to Democrat Mark Dayton. When the redistricting process came around in 2011, following the 2010 Census, the two states ended up with starkly different outcomes.

In Wisconsin, Li said, the GOP “went to town and drew one of the most aggressive gerrymanders that the country’s ever seen in the state assembly.” Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed off on the maps, which were subsequently challenged in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

In Minnesota, Dayton “was able to veto a very bad Republican gerrymander, which kicked the process to the courts. And the courts drew a map which has been much more responsive to electoral shifts.”

Control of Minnesota’s House has flipped from Democrats in 2012 to Republicans in 2014 and could flip back to Democrats in 2018.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, has been safely Republican for the past decade. In 2012, Democratic candidates for the state assembly earned over 174,000 more votes than their Republican counterparts, but Republicans took 60 of the 99 seats.

“2016 proved so uncompetitive that half—fully 49 percent of those seats—went uncontested by either major party,” Daley noted.

The Midwest has been an epicenter of Republican control post-2010, but Democrats are currently leading in the governor’s races in Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota, as Governing magazine recently reported. Walker is also in trouble in Wisconsin, while Democrats are making a strong showing in other states like Kansas, Iowa, Ohio, and South Dakota where the governor has either veto control over or a key role in the redistricting process.

Michigan’s case is distinct. Voters Not Politicians, a citizens group, succeeded in getting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that, if it passes, will take control of the map-drawing process away from state lawmakers.

The huge enthusiasm for that effort, which gained over 400,000 signatures, is a testament to how enduring the effects of Michigan’s 2010 gerrymander have been. Democrats won more total votes in state House races in 2012, 2014 and 2016, but failed to take back control.

As redistricting reform advocates are quick to point out, gerrymandering is not exclusively a Republican problem. In Maryland, where redistricting is actually run out of the governor’s office, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley worked with the Democratic legislature to secure a 7-1 Democratic congressional gerrymander in 2010.

At a Baltimore event in September, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous said he would push the balance to 8-0 if he’s elected.

Dan Vicuña, national redistricting director at Common Cause, said these sorts of winner-take-all-approaches represent a “very short-sighted” view of how the process should work. Where they have full control, Democrats and Republicans are prone to making the kind of power grab they couldn’t stomach if control changed hands.

“It’s in the best interest of both parties to really hedge their bets and come up with some sort of real reform effort,” Vicuña told TPM. “Be that independent commissions or something with a partisan balance that prevents one party from steamrolling the other.”

Assuming that those efforts don’t come to pass and the process remains fiercely political, a wave of Democratic governorships in red states could result in “deadlock” over maps, according to Vicuña. As in Minnesota, that could mean the process gets kicked to the courts, which Vicuña said have historically “hewed somewhat closely to the lines that the state legislatures have drawn.”

But after a decade of gerrymandering games and drawn-out legal battles, the courts have started turning to special masters who’ve ignored the legislatures’ suggestions entirely.

“I think the courts will be far less likely to be deferential to the districts that legislators are proposing and more likely to start from scratch,” Vicuña said.

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Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum on Thursday demanded that Florida TV stations stop broadcasting a “maliciously false” attack ad put out by the state Republican Party, warning that further broadcast of the ad would be intentionally defamatory.

In a cease-and-desist letter, lawyers for the Gillum campaign claims the ad was approved by his GOP opponent Rep. Ron DeSantis and makes “demonstrably false” claims. The 30-second spot focuses on an ongoing FBI public corruption investigation into the city government in Tallahassee, where Gillum serves as mayor.

“Andrew Gillum is running for Governor and also from the FBI,” the ad, which is cut through with images of police tape, states. It ends with a line saying Gillum is “not just radical, but corrupt.”

Gillum’s attorney writes that the candidate is neither the subject of the probe nor received any anonymous payments from anyone, as suggested.

“The Advertisement constitutes libel and slander of the worst sort,” the letter reads. “This letter shall serve as notice that any further publication or rebroadcast of the Advertisement by you will be intentional and made with actual knowledge of the maliciously false and defamatory statements contained therein.”

The FBI probe focuses on whether developers were able to influence Tallahassee development projects. Investigators have requested information from Adam Corey, a lobbyist and Gillum friend, but Gillum has not been named in any subpoenas.

The Tallahassee mayor has posted related records online, and pledged to work with the FBI.

The probe has been a major talking point for Florida Republicans in the close gubernatorial race.

Read the full letter below.

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The chaotic Kansas gubernatorial primaries saw a GOP race that came down to just dozens of votes and a push to boot the independent nominee from the ballot. When the dust finally settled in late August, three major candidates had emerged for November’s five-person contest: Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, and Independent Greg Orman.

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President Trump’s alleged role in orchestrating hush money payments to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election has been well documented.

But a Wall Street Journal report out Tuesday sheds new light on how Trump personally managed damage control over the revelation of the payouts to the former adult film star—well into the second year of his presidency. Per the Journal, Trump used his own private real estate company and his own son to do so.

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Four men allegedly associated with a militant white supremacist organization have been arrested on federal rioting charges in connection with the the August 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Four individuals—Cole Evan White, Benjamin Drake Daley, Michel Paul Miselis and Thomas Walter Gillen—were hit with one count each of federal rioting and conspiracy to riot charges, according to federal court documents unsealed in Virginia on Tuesday.

The four alleged members of the violent southern California-based Rise Above Movement (RAM) traveled to Charlottesville with the intent to encourage, promote, incite, participate in, and commit violent acts in furtherance of a riot,” by according to a sworn affidavit by Dino Cappuzzo of the Virginia State Police. Cappuzzo was working with federal authorities on this case.

Each of the men face a maximum of ten years in prison, according to U.S. officials.

At the Aug. 11 march on the University of Virginia campus, white supremacists allegedly including White, Daley, Miselis and Gillen marched with tiki torches yelling, “Jews will not replace us.” The next day, they took up arms and fanned out through the city streets, brawling with counter-protesters and shouting hate speech.

On the afternoon of Aug. 12, a car allegedly driven by white supremacist James Fields Jr. slammed into a group of demonstrators, killing Heather Heyer. Federal charges were brought against Fields in June.

In an extensive investigation published in July, ProPublica reported on RAM’s involvement in the Charlottesville rally. Miselis, who worked as an aerospace engineer for defense contractor Northrop Grumman and had a U.S. government security clearance, lost his job the day after the report came out.

The charges against the four RAM members are based largely on “open-source research” conducted by the FBI, per the affidavit. That appears to consist primarily of posts the group shared on their public Twitter account, the ProPublica story, and YouTube videos where they can be seen attacking counter-protesters both in Charlottesville and at 2017 events in California.

In screenshots, Daley can be seen “assaulting counter-protesters by punching, kicking and head butting,” while White was captured grabbing “a non-violent counter-protester” and “head-butt[ing] a clergyman.” Screenshots of counter-protesters lying on the ground or bleeding profusely after these attacks are also included in the affidavit.

RAM claims to promote “‘clean living,’ physical fitness and mixed martial arts” techniques, encouraging young men to espouse an anti-addiction, hyper-masculine lifestyle. Their Twitter feed is full of pictures of their members working out shirtless in sun-drenched parks, faces covered by skull masks.

Cappuzzo alleged this physical training is simply preparation to “engage in fighting and violence at political rallies.” The social media accounts of RAM and the four arrested members are full of mentions of their white supremacist, anti-Semitic beliefs, and Daley “made various admissions about committing acts of violence” in Charlottesville after returning to southern California, per the affidavit.

Read the document below.

This post has been updated.

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For hundreds of thousands of Floridians with felony convictions, a proposal on the November ballot to automatically restore their voting rights is a cause to rally behind—a beacon of hope. I wrote an in-depth report on this proposal for TPM’s voting rights series last week.

For a much smaller population, Amendment 4 represents a slap in the face. Sunshine State residents with murder or sex offenses on their records are explicitly excluded in the ballot measure’s language.

This is a “divide and conquer tactic,” according to Paul Wright, head of the Human Rights Defense Center, a non-profit organization that advocates for rights for former felons.

Wright, who lives in Lake Worth, is one of those who will be left out if Amendment 4 passes. In 1987, Wright was convicted of murder for fatally shooting a drug dealer in a botched robbery in Washington state. He became a forceful advocate for prison reform while incarcerated, publishing stories in the outlet he founded, Prison Legal News, that have exposed major corporations’ use of prison labor and price gouging in the prison phone industry.

Speaking in a quiet, measured voice, Wright told TPM in a phone interview that the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and ACLU’s decision to bar certain categories of felons from the amendment was a matter of “political opportunism.”

“They told me when they did focus groups that the groups said it wouldn’t pass unless it excluded murderers and sex offenders,” Wright said.

Painful as it is for those excluded, it’s hard to argue with that logic in a purple, crime-obsessed state like Florida.

In a statement to TPM, FRRC executive director Desmond Meade said the amendment “was produced through years of conversations with the people of Florida, and Floridians from all walks of life and all backgrounds have consistently shown super majority support for restoring the eligibility to vote for people with past felony convictions who have completed all portions of their sentence, with the exception of those convicted of murder and felony sexual offenses.”

A number of surveys conducted this year show Amendment 4 polling well over the 60 percent required to pass, and a number of Democratic politicians are enthusiastically campaigning on their support for the issue.

That scenario would be hard to imagine if child molesters were among those who would get their rights back.

Indeed, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has highlighted the most serious categories of crimes in defending the clemency system he instituted. Scott’s policy requires former felons to complete all court-mandated aspects of their sentencing and then wait five years — seven in the case of those with murder or sex offense records — to apply for the opportunity to get their rights restored.

A Scott spokeswoman pointed to their concerns about the rehabilitation of those who have committed “murder, violence against children and domestic violence” when TPM asked about the fairness of restoring rights on a case-by-case basis.

Tampa attorney Richard Harrison, who has led the small opposition campaign to Amendment 4, is also concerned that the measure treats all felony charges the same. In Harrison’s view, those who committed violent crimes or repeat offenses should face a harder time getting their rights back.

But Wright argues that “isolating and singling people out based on offenses” is ultimately a damaging tactic for those who want to see fairer treatment of former felons. Realistically, no separate ballot measure will be pushed in the foreseeable future that applies only to those with murder or sex crime convictions, meaning that if Amendment 4 passes, those Floridians may never get their voting rights back.

Wright is concerned that the November results could further stigmatize some of the most politically vulnerable members of the state’s population.

“It’s a whole ends and means thing,” he said. “If 70 or 80,000 people need to be sacrificed, then so what? As long as its not me, my family or my social group that’s being affected, it’s really easy to make these decisions about other people. And they have.”

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