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Attorneys General Question Barr’s Inquiry Memo: Election Update

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 11/14/2020 Ryan Teague Beckwith
a man wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: Joe Biden © Photographer: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images Joe Biden

(Bloomberg) -- Several Democratic state attorneys general have sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr expressing their “deep concerns.” Maine Senator Angus King welcomes President-elect Joe Biden’s consideration for the job of director of national intelligence, a spokesman said. Biden called for an immediate federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Other Developments:

Trump Suffers Key Setbacks in Bid to Overturn Biden VictoryMoney Floods Georgia Senate Runoffs With Ugly Ads Cranking UpTrump’s Michigan Poll Watchers Make Few Clear Fraud AccusationsTrump Hits Up Donors for Court-Fight Funds He Can Use Elsewhere

Attorneys General Question Barr’s Directive

Several Democratic state attorneys general expressed misgivings over Barr’s directive this week authorizing U.S. attorneys around the country to open inquiries into the presidential election.

In a letter to Barr released on Friday night, the 20 law enforcement officials said his act could have “potentially corrosive effects on the electoral processes at the heart of our democracy.”

“State and local officials conduct our elections,” they said. “If there has been fraud in the electoral process, the perpetrators should be brought to justice. We are committed to helping to do so. But, so far, no plausible allegations of widespread misconduct have arisen that would” affect the outcome.

Barr, in his memo, acknowledged that there was no conclusive evidence of irregularities in the election, as President Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly claimed.

Among the attorneys general signing the letter were Keith Ellison of Minnesota, William Tong of Connecticut, Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Xavier Becerra of California.

Barr is also facing pressure from within the Justice Department. Sixteen assistant U.S. attorneys who had been tasked with monitoring the election for fraud said they saw no evidence of fraud ad asked Barr in a letter to rescind his order, the Washington Post reported Friday.

Also undermining any claims of electoral irregularities, state and federal election officials, along with experts in the private sector, said Thursday they had “utmost confidence in the security and integrity” of the Nov. 3 vote, which they called the “most secure in American history.” -- John Harney

Angus King Welcomes Consideration for Intelligence Chief (7:57 p.m.)

King “welcomes being considered” by Biden for the post of director of national intelligence, according to a spokesman for the Maine senator.

“Senator King is a committed public servant with a lengthy track record of discrete, independent thinking within the intelligence community,” King spokesman Matthew Felling said in a statement. “More importantly, he possesses a deep and abiding appreciation for all who work tirelessly and confidentially in dangerous regions to defend Americans and American principles.”

Politico earlier reported Biden was considering King for the job.

King is an independent, though he caucuses with Democrats. He serves on the Intelligence Committee, and regularly polls as one of the most popular politicians in Maine.

Selecting him would not immediately affect the balance of power in the Senate, because his replacement would be selected by Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat. But it would set up a 2022 midterm election contest in a state, handily won by Biden, that just voted to send Republican Susan Collins back to the Senate for a fifth term after one of the most expensive races in the nation. -- Steven Dennis

Biden Calls on Trump to Mount Federal Response to Coronavirus (4:54)

Biden on Friday urged the Trump administration to undertake an immediate federal response as Covid-19 surges across the country and called on Americans to step up their vigilance in guarding against the virus.

“This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking,” the president-elect said in a written statement released after a meeting Friday with his transition Covid-19 Advisory Board. “Urgent action is needed today, now, by the current administration -- starting with an acknowledgment of how serious the current situation is.”

There have been nearly 243,000 U.S. deaths linked to the virus and new case totals are exceeding 100,000 each day after being below that number just a few weeks ago.

Biden also asked Americans to take precautions to protect themselves and others. “Today, I renew my call for every American, regardless of where they live or who they voted for, to step up and do their part on social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing to protect themselves and to protect others,” he said.

Biden’s statement came about a half-hour before Trump gave a news conference at the White House to laud recent progress in developing a vaccine, his first public remarks after eight days of silence. -- Jennifer Epstein

Biden Team Concerned About Trump’s Pentagon Shakeup (1:54 p.m.)

Trump’s shakeup of the Pentagon, including the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper this week, is “of concern” to Biden’s transition, the president-elect’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday.

“Of course it’s of concern to see the upheaval,” Psaki told reporters during a press briefing. “It should be of concern to anybody because there shouldn’t be a politicization of the military.”

Psaki was asked whether Biden’s team worries that Trump is making changes at the Defense Department in hopes of using the military to support his continued efforts to contest the election results.

She declined to directly address the question, instead saying the transition was following Biden’s lead “to encourage calm and to reassure the American people that not only was their not fraud” in the election but that part of Biden’s “objective is also rebuilding those institutions” that Trump has damaged.

The president fired Esper on Monday and set off a broader shakeup at the Pentagon that also elevated several Trump loyalists. -- Jennifer Epstein

Ad Campaign Targets GSA Head Over Transition (11:22 a.m.)

A liberal political action committee is running ads targeting the government official whose sign-off is needed to begin the official transition from Trump to Biden.

In ads running Friday online, Defend American Democracy PAC calls out General Services Administration head Emily Murphy, who has declined to sign a letter formally recognizing Biden as the winner of the November election.

“Emily Murphy: Do Your Job. Recognize President-Elect Biden,” the ads say.

The letter from Murphy is needed for Biden’s transition team to begin receiving high-level briefings, secure email and phone systems and access to money set aside for the transition. In recent days, some Republicans have said Biden should at least begin receiving national security briefings.

The ads lead to a website which gives the phone number of the public affairs department at the GSA and urges supporters to call.

Defend American Democracy is a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors. It previously ran ads featuring veterans urging Republicans to support the impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Georgia Begins Recount That Will Last Into Next Week (10:06 a.m.)

Georgia began recounting ballots Friday in a procedure expected to last until Wednesday, and another recount could still come after that.

That’s because the state is using an alternate procedure to a recount that is supposed to be used to spot-check ballot-counting equipment. The end result could be three varying tallies for the Georgia election, which Trump has said was riddled by fraud, without providing evidence.

After an election, many states will do an audit, in which small batches of randomly selected ballots are hand-counted and the results compared to those found by machines. Larger batches of ballots are counted until officials are satisfied that the machines worked properly.

But Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ordered Georgia counties to use the audit process to re-tally all 5 million ballots cast in the presidential election and post the new results by Wednesday.

That may lead to slightly different results than a typical recount, which uses the same machines to re-tally results, especially since hand-counting ballots is generally less accurate. And since it’s not technically a recount, the Trump campaign could still request yet another re-tally after the results are certified next Friday.

Biden currently leads in Georgia by more than 14,000 votes, far greater than what usually shifts in a recount.

Three More Networks Call Arizona for Biden (12:58 a.m.)

Three major television networks, CNN, ABC and NBC, projected late Thursday night that Biden had won Arizona, the first Democrat to do so since President Bill Clinton in 1996.

The Associated Press and Fox News called the state for Biden on election night, but other news organizations had held off. The Fox projection infuriated Trump and he has been lashing out at the network on Twitter and elsewhere ever since.

Trump trails Biden in Arizona by about 11,500 votes.

After the three networks released their projections, Meghan McCain tweeted a photograph of her late father, John McCain, a Republican who represented the state in the U.S. Senate for more than 30 years, with the words: “I like people who don’t lose Arizona.”

That was a reference to a remark Trump made during the 2016 campaign about John McCain, a frequent critic and one of the country’s most revered veterans. “He was a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

In order to reverse the results of last week’s vote and get the 270 electoral votes required to win, Trump, who has made baseless claims of election fraud, would have to move at least three battleground states into his column.

Overall, Biden now leads Trump by more than 5 million votes. -- John Harney

Coming Up:

Trump supporters are planning marches in Washington and other cities on Saturday.

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