October 26, 2021

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Independent Watchdog Launches Inquiry into Trump-Era Seizure of Lawmakers’ Data

Credit…Pool photo by Joshua Roberts

The Justice Department’s independent inspector general opened an inquiry on Friday into the Trump administration’s secret seizure of data from House Democrats and reporters as prosecutors sought to hunt down the sources of leaks of classified information.

In a statement, Michael E. Horowitz, the inspector general, announced he would review the department’s use of subpoenas and other legal maneuvers to secretly access communications records of Democratic lawmakers, aides, and at least one family member, which was first reported on Thursday by The New York Times.

Mr. Horowitz also said he will look at other recently disclosed actions to secretly seize data about reporters. The Biden Justice Department in recent weeks has disclosed that prosecutors during the Trump administration also sought and obtained phone records for journalists at The Washington Post, CNN, and The New York Times and then sought to stop the information from becoming public.

“The review will examine the department’s compliance with applicable D.O.J. policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations,” Mr. Horowitz said.

Hours earlier, top Senate Democrats had also announced that they would open their own investigation into the Trump Justice Department’s decision to go after records associated with Congress. They demanded public testimony from former Attorney General William P. Barr and other Justice Department officials.

“This issue should not be partisan; under the Constitution, Congress is a coequal branch of government and must be protected from an overreaching executive, and we expect that our Republican colleagues will join us in getting to the bottom of this serious matter,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

They called on Republicans to join them in demanding answers, but so far none have.

Mr. Horowitz’s announcement followed a referral by the deputy attorney general, Lisa O. Monaco, according to a senior Justice Department official; Attorney General Merrick B. Garland directed Ms. Monaco to take that step, the official said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called for an inspector general investigation.

The two investigations came as Democrats and privacy advocates decried the seizures and aggressive investigative tactics as a gross abuse of power to target another branch of government. They said the pursuit of information on some of President Donald J. Trump’s most visible political adversaries in Congress smacked of dangerous politicization.

The Times reported that as it hunted for the source of leaks about Trump associates and Russia, the Justice Department had used grand jury subpoenas to compel Apple and one other service provider to hand over data tied to at least a dozen people associated with the House Intelligence Committee beginning in 2017 and 2018. The department then secured a gag order to keep it secret.

Though leak investigations are routine, current and former officials at the Justice Department and in Congress said seizing data on lawmakers is nearly unheard-of outside of corruption investigations. The Times also reported that after an initial round of scrutiny did not turn up evidence tying the intelligence committee to the leaks, Mr. Barr objected to closing out the inquiry and helped revive it.

Investigators gained access to the records of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the committee and now its chairman; Representative Eric Swalwell of California; committee staff aides; and family members of lawmakers and aides, including one who was a minor.

“I hope every prosecutor who was involved in this is thrown out of the department,” Mr. Swalwell said in an interview on Friday. “It crosses the line of what we do in this country.”




‘Will Not Hesitate to Act’: Garland Vows to Protect Voting Rights

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced on Friday that the Justice Department would double its staff within the Civil Rights Division dedicated to protecting voting rights.

The framers of the 14th and 15th Amendments recognized that access to the ballot was a fundamental aspect of citizenship and self-government. To meet the challenge of the current moment, we must rededicate the resources of the Department of Justice to a critical part of its original mission: enforcing federal law to protect the franchise for all voters. Today, I am announcing that within the next 30 days, we will double the division’s enforcement staff for protecting the right to vote. We will use all existing provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to ensure that we protect every qualified American seeking to participate in our democracy. We are scrutinizing new laws that seek to curb voter access, and where we see violations we will not hesitate to act. We are also scrutinizing current laws and practices in order to determine whether they discriminate against Black voters and other voters of color. Particularly concerning in this regard are several studies showing that in some jurisdictions, non-white voters must wait in line substantially longer than white voters to cast their ballots. We will apply the same scrutiny to post-election audits to ensure they abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters.

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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced on Friday that the Justice Department would double its staff within the Civil Rights Division dedicated to protecting voting rights.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Stefani Reynolds

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland laid out a detailed plan on Friday for protecting voting rights, announcing that the Justice Department would double enforcement staff on the issue, scrutinize new laws that seek to curb voter access and act if it sees a violation of federal law.

Mr. Garland announced his plan as Republican-led state legislatures push to enact new restrictive voting laws, and amid dwindling chances for sweeping federal voter protection laws introduced by Democrats.

“To meet the challenge of the current moment, we must rededicate the resources of the Department of Justice to a critical part of its original mission: enforcing federal law to protect the franchise for all eligible voters,” Mr. Garland said in an address at the department.

The Justice Department will also scrutinize current laws and practices to determine whether they discriminate against nonwhite voters, he said. It was not clear how many people work on voting rights enforcement, nor what the total would be after the department adds to the staffing levels.

In more than a dozen states, at least 22 new laws have been passed that make it more difficult to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive public policy institute that is part of the New York University School of Law.

Mr. Garland also said that the department was monitoring the use of unorthodox postelection audits that could undermine faith in the nation’s ability to host free and fair elections, adding that some jurisdictions have used disinformation to justify such audits.

“Many of the justifications proffered in support of these postelection audits and restrictions on voting have relied on assertions of material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refuted by the law enforcement and intelligence agencies of both this administration and the previous one, as well as by every court — federal and state — that has considered them,” Mr. Garland said.

The department’s Civil Rights Division has sent a letter expressing concerns that one of those audits may have violated the Civil Rights Act, Mr. Garland said, in part because it could violate a provision in the act that bars voter intimidation. He did not specify which state, but in Arizona, a weekslong audit is widely seen as a partisan exercise to nurse grievances about Donald J. Trump’s election loss.

The Justice Department will publish guidance explaining the civil and criminal statutes that apply to postelection audits and guidance on early voting and voting by mail, and will work with other agencies to combat disinformation.

Democrats have sued over some new voting laws, but that litigation could take years to resolve and may have little power to stop those laws from affecting upcoming elections.

Two major federal election bills — the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — are also the subject of fierce debate in Congress.

Earlier this week, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said that he would oppose the For the People Act, dashing hopes among progressives that the far-reaching bill intended to fight voter suppression would become law.

Mr. Garland has said that protecting the right to vote is one of his top priorities as attorney general, and his top lieutenants include high-profile voting rights advocates such as Vanita Gupta, the department’s No. 3 official, and Kristen Clarke, the head of the Civil Rights Division.

Ms. Clarke’s long career advocating on behalf of voting rights protections — including at the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the New York attorney general’s office and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — will make her a key player in the Justice Department’s work to preserve voting access.

But that work is made more difficult by a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down pieces of the Voting Rights Act that forced states with legacies of racial discrimination to receive Justice Department approval before they could change their voting laws.

President Biden with President Emmanuel Macron of France, center, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, left, and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in Carbis Bay, England, on Friday.
Credit…Ludovic Marin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

PLYMOUTH, England — Call it the much-welcomed end of Zoom diplomacy.

Four months ago, President Biden held his first work-from-home meeting with a world leader, conferring with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada in the only viable way during a pandemic: a video call from the Roosevelt room in the White House.

More Zoom calls followed: a virtual meeting of a group known as “the Quad,” which includes the president, along with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan; and then a global climate summit “hosted” by Mr. Biden but conducted “Brady Bunch” style, with leaders stacked in video squares on big screens.

But this week, all that ended.

Mr. Biden jetted across the Atlantic for an eight-day in-person round of global backslapping and private confrontations. On Thursday, he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain. And on Friday he is attending the first day of a Group of 7 meeting with the leaders of the world’s richest nations, the first in-person gathering of its sort in more than 15 months. On Wednesday, he will face off with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

“I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of face-to-face diplomacy,” said Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state under President Bill Clinton.

“On the Zoom, you have no kind of sense of their movements and how they sit and various things that show what kind of person you are dealing with,” she said. “You can’t judge what’s going through their minds.”

For Mr. Biden, who built his career on the kind of personal interactions that are at the heart of international summits like the G7, the change is particularly sweet.

Even before he was president, Mr. Biden was a regular around the world as a senator or vice president, usually making stops at gatherings with world leaders or jetting to summits. He was a regular at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, an annual gathering of national security officials from numerous countries.

“I’ve been at the Munich Security Conference when he’s been there,” Ms. Albright recalled in an interview on Friday. “You can just tell he’s listening to them and they’re listening to him. It’s a perfect setting for him.”


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In-person gatherings are back and that was no exception at the Group of 7 summit, where leaders met each other face-to-face for the first time in more than a year. Their greetings included elbow bumps and handshakes.

That can’t be said of all presidents — or perhaps most of them. President Barack Obama disliked the endless pomp of the formal summits that he attended during his eight years in the White House, especially the substance-free moments like the “family photo,” where the world leaders stand stiffly next to one another while photographers snap their shots.

And just holding a summit in person does not guarantee good relations among the leaders, as President Donald J. Trump proved during his time in office.

His presence at global meetings, including several G7s, caused consternation and confrontation as he clashed with America’s allies. At the G7 in Quebec City in 2018, Mr. Trump refused to sign the leaders statement, called Mr. Trudeau “very dishonest and weak” and was grumpy throughout — as captured by a picture that showed him, hands crossed across his chest, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany leaning over a table with the other European leaders standing by.

But for Mr. Biden, it is different.

Ms. Merkel, Mr. Trudeau and the other world leaders get along with Mr. Biden, even if their nations sometimes clash over issues. (Mr. Biden and Ms. Merkel disagree about the need for a Russian natural gas pipeline; Mr. Trudeau and others are not happy about the president’s stand on trade and tariffs.)

Mr. Biden appeared relaxed and happy to be in the presence of his colleagues on the world stage. As they gathered for this year’s family photo along a beachfront in the resort town of Carbis Bay, the mood was light.

“Everybody in the water,” he said — presumably joking.

Fog envelops the hills around Thomas Bay in Tongass National Forest in Petersburg, Alaska.
Credit…Stuart Isett for The New York Times

The Biden administration plans to restore environmental protections to Alaska’s Tongass National Forest that had been stripped away at the end of the Trump administration.

According to a White House agenda of forthcoming regulatory actions published on Friday, the administration intends to “repeal or replace” a Trump-era rule which opened about nine million acres of Tongass, one of the world’s largest intact temperate rain forests, to logging and road construction.

President Donald J. Trump exempted the Tongass from a Clinton-era policy known as the roadless rule, which banned logging and road construction in much of the national forest system.

Alaskan lawmakers have long said that lifting the roadless rule protections in their state would provide a sorely needed economic boost. Among those is Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican and a player in efforts to negotiate a bipartisan agreement on a sweeping infrastructure bill.

Environmentalists say that allowing road construction — a first step toward logging — could devastate the vast wilderness of snowy peaks, rushing rivers and virgin old-growth forest that is widely viewed as one of America’s treasures.

Climate scientists also point out that the Tongass offers an important service to the billions of people across the planet who are unlikely to ever set foot there: It is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, storing the equivalent of about 8 percent of the carbon stored in all the forests of the lower 48 states combined.

It is not clear if the Biden administration would return protections to the entire 9 million acres of the forest, or to only part of it. The White House agenda document says that the federal government will formally issue a notice of proposed rule-making by August, with environmental analyses and a final decision to follow in the coming years.

In a 2019 draft environmental study of possible changes to protections of the Tongass, the United States Forest Service said it would consider six possible changes to the rule. One option would have maintained restrictions in 80 percent of the area currently protected by the rule; another would have opened up about 2.3 million acres to logging and construction.

Shoaib Walizada, who interpreted for the U.S. Army for four years until 2013, had his preliminary approval for a visa revoked.
Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans who have served as interpreters for American forces are racing to secure visas before the U.S. withdrawal this fall, warning they could face death at the hands of the Taliban if snags in their paperwork stop them from getting out of the country in time.

More than 18,000 Afghans are awaiting decisions on their application for a Special Immigrant Visa, or S.I.V., according to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Many say they are seized by dread, fearing they will be denied, or approved only after they have been hunted down and killed.

The visa program, first approved by Congress in 2006 for interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq, has long been slowed by chronic delays and logjams. Most recently, a 2020 report by the State Department Inspector General identified six serious shortcomings in the Afghan S.I.V. process, including staff shortages and lack of a centralized database.

Many interpreters complain that they wait for months, and in some cases years, for a decision. Nearly 21,000 visas were issued to Afghans from 2009 to March 2021, according to State Department figures. Just under 11,000 visas are still available.

The visa program has rejected some applicants for seemingly minor infractions and others for no stated reason. In the last three months of 2020 alone, State Department statistics show, 1,646 Afghans were denied one of the special visas, which are issued to applicants satisfying demanding requirements and rigorous background checks even though interpreters would already have passed security screenings.

Among reasons cited for denial were the failure to prove the required length of service, insufficient documentation, failure to establish “faithful and valuable service” and “derogatory information.”

One of them is Shoaib Walizada, who is finding that an offhand comment, blurted out in frustration, may have destroyed his chances of earning the right to migrate to the United States.

Mr. Walizada, 31, who interpreted for the U.S. Army for four years until 2013, said that he had complained one day, using profanity, that his assigned combat vest was too small. When the episode came to light later that year, Mr. Walizada’s preliminary approval for a visa was revoked for “unprofessional conduct.”

“I get phone calls from the Taliban saying, ‘We will kill you’ — they know who I am and that I worked for the Americans,” Mr. Walizada said.

No One Left Behind, a nonprofit that advocates for the relocation of Afghan interpreters to the United States, says that more than 300 translators or their relatives have been killed since 2014. Thousands of S.I.V. applicants have submitted “threat letters” they received from the Taliban.

Leonid Volkov, chief of staff for the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, is calling on Google to resist pressure from Moscow to cut off dissenters’ access to YouTube.
Credit…Petras Malukas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Google must resist pressure from the Russian government to cut off dissenters’ access to YouTube, a top aide to the imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny said this week.

In a meeting with reporters Thursday evening, Leonid Volkov, Mr. Navalny’s chief of staff, said he was in Washington to meet with State Department officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill ahead of the summit meeting next week between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

While some social media, like Twitter, is restricted in Russia, Google and YouTube are widely used by the population to access entertainment, news and sports information. Shutting down access to YouTube would cut off the opposition’s most important platform but it would also annoy Mr. Putin’s base, who want to stream sporting clips, cartoons and music.

But YouTube’s importance to the opposition is growing now that Russian government has designated Mr. Navalny’s group as an extremist organization, forcing it to break up its network of local and regional offices.

“Putin isn’t ready to switch YouTube off in the country,” Mr. Volkov said. “But he is trying to make Google take down videos voluntarily, using fines, using legal pressure, using blackmail. He is only going to increase because of the upcoming elections.”

New laws prohibit posting campaign advertisements online, worrying opposition leaders.

“So this is a big question if Google will actually cave,” Mr. Volkov said.

Mr. Volkov said it was “extremely important” that the opposition continues to have access to YouTube and has asked American government to “reinforce our message” to Google and other Silicon Valley firms.

A spokeswoman for Google’s YouTube did not return a request for comment. A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington said the government allows “materials which are not illegal” to be published on YouTube. A State Department spokesman said only that officials there were aware Mr. Volkov was in the United States, and added that they routinely meet with civil society members.

Google has demonstrated a willingness to stand up to government demands, and not just in authoritarian countries. The company successfully fought a Justice Department subpoena seeking access to the email records of The New York Times reporters.

Other communication and tech companies either chose not to fight the Trump administrations’ request for records or failed to block the move. Phone companies handed over records of Times and Washington Post reporters. Apple gave the Trump administration records of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee as well as aides and family members in response to a subpoena.

The Russia opposition group is hoping that Mr. Biden not only raises the issue of Mr. Navalny’s imprisonment during his meeting with Mr. Putin, but also directs his administration to take practical steps to increase pressure on Moscow. Mr. Volkov said the opposition movement is skeptical of broad sanctions targeting swathes of the Russian economy. Instead its members want the U.S., Britain and Europe to target Russian oligarchs who hold Mr. Putin’s money for him.

Mr. Volkov works in exile in Lithuania, along with other leaders of the opposition group. But they stay in indirect contact with Mr. Navalny. Mr. Navalny was moved on June 4, his birthday, from a prison medical facility to a penal colony.

“Since that, his condition was stable,” Mr. Volkov said. “We didn’t hear any bad news, which is good news.”

A worker transported merchandise at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran on Wednesday as the country continues to be in economic crisis brought on by sanctions and made worse by the pandemic.
Credit…Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Biden administration on Thursday lifted sanctions on three former Iranian government officials and two Iranian companies involved in the country’s oil industry, a conciliatory gesture days before a potentially decisive round of nuclear talks in Vienna.

The administration cautioned against reading too much into the move. Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said there was “absolutely no connection” between the sanctions and discussions among several world powers and Tehran.

Those talks are intended to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 deal that sought to limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for an end to many of the international sanctions that have squeezed the country’s economy.

In the same statements announcing that the United States had lifted some sanctions, the State and Treasury Departments also said they were imposing new ones on a dozen Iranian individuals, entities and vessels for providing financial support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are backed by Iran.

A sixth round of nuclear talks begins in Vienna this weekend. Robert Einhorn, an arms control expert at the Brookings Institution, said that the timing of the U.S. announcements suggested a connection to the nuclear issue, and that it might be a signal of American flexibility.

“What they’re saying to Iran,” Mr. Einhorn said, “is, look, we’re prepared to be reasonable here: When sanctions are no longer warranted, we’re prepared to lift them; but when they are warranted, we’re prepared to impose them.”

That message could also provide ammunition to Republicans in Congress who contend that President Biden, in his determination to renew the nuclear deal, will trade away the leverage over Iran that sanctions provide.

At a daily briefing with reporters, Mr. Price insisted that there “is no linkage, there is no connection” to the nuclear talks. But he added that the action was a reminder that U.S. sanctions could always be reversed.

“Every time we impose sanctions, it is our hope that through a verified change in behavior, a verified change in status, we’ll one day be able to remove those sanctions,” Mr. Price said. “Because that means that one way or another, our policy objectives have been met.”

The United States has been negotiating with Iran since April, though only indirectly, through intermediaries in Vienna, because of Tehran’s refusal to speak directly with American officials.

Biden administration officials have said for weeks that they are prepared to lift sanctions on Iran as part of a mutual return to compliance with the 2015 deal, and that the main obstacle to an agreement is whether Iran’s hard-line leadership is prepared to respond by scaling back its nuclear activities.

The 2015 deal, negotiated by the Obama administration and several other world powers, traded Western sanctions relief in return for Iran’s agreement to accept limits on — and international monitoring of — its nuclear program to ensure that it did not try to build a weapon. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes only.

The debt relief for minority farmers has triggered backlash from banks, who say it is depriving them of expected profits.
Credit…Matt Odom for The New York Times

A federal judge in Wisconsin has halted the Biden administration’s debt relief program for minority farmers, issuing a restraining order that will freeze the $4 billion initiative while a lawsuit filed by a group of white farmers claiming discrimination proceeds.

The restraining order, issued on Thursday, is the latest obstacle for a program that was part of the $1.9 trillion economic relief package that Congress passed in March. It was intended to offer financial assistance to thousands of minority farmers who have faced discrimination over the years and did not benefit from the farm aid that the Trump administration deployed in recent years, which overwhelmingly went to white farmers.

The debt relief for minority farmers has set off backlash from banks, who say it is depriving them of expected profits, and from white farmers, who have accused the Biden administration of discrimination.

The Department of Agriculture had started the process of forgiving the loans this month. But the judge, William C. Griesbach, said in the order that he was freezing the program because the farmers who filed the lawsuit were likely to succeed in making the case that the government’s “use of race-based criteria in the administration of the program violates their right to equal protection under the law.”

Judge Griesbach, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, is considering whether to issue a preliminary injunction, which would extend the freeze on the program while the case proceeds.

The Department of Agriculture said on Friday that it would “forcefully defend” its right to carry out the debt relief and that it disagreed with the judge’s decision. A spokesman for the agency said that it was not clear how long the restraining order would be in place but that it was encouraging minority farmers eligible to receive loan forgiveness to complete their paperwork so that they can get the debt relief as quickly as possible when the order is lifted.

Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which is representing about a dozen white farmers who filed the lawsuit, said the program was problematic because it was so broad. He described it as an act of “governmental discrimination.”

“This is a program that simply says if you’re a farmer and you belong to one of these racial groups, you get your loan forgiven,” Mr. Esenberg said. “You don’t have to even show that you were discriminated against.”

Several similar lawsuits have been filed around the country in an effort to block the program. Black farmer groups have been frustrated by the backlash and slow roll out of the relief.

A proposal by Senator Cory Booker, Democrat from New Jersey, on police reform seems to be hindering efforts toward a bi-partisan compromise.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Efforts to strike a bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul are teetering on the edge of a collapse in Congress, as yearlong negotiations threaten to break down under the weight of fraught ideological differences and a rapidly closing window for action.

After a Minneapolis jury in April found the white police officer who killed George Floyd guilty of murder, lawmakers in both parties were cautiously optimistic that the verdict would provide fresh momentum to break the impasse that had bedeviled negotiators since Mr. Floyd’s death. President Biden gave his support, too, calling on Congress to act by the first anniversary of the murder, in late May.

But that deadline has come and gone, and weeks after the verdict, negotiators are still at odds over the same roster of divisive issues, most notably whether to change criminal and civil penalties to make it easier to punish police officers for misconduct. Now, lawmakers working to break the stalemate and police lobbying groups involved in the talks are squabbling over a new proposal, and there remains no clear path to bridging their divides before a self-imposed deadline at the end of June.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do still,” said Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, Republicans’ lead emissary on the issue who had been taking a more upbeat tone as recently as last week. “The devil’s in the details, and we’re now meeting the devil.”

Mr. Scott and his Democratic counterparts — Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Representative Karen Bass of California — had hoped to be stitching up the final details of a rare bipartisan agreement right about now. The two sides repeatedly expressed optimism that they could merge competing proposals introduced last summer into a single bill to improve officer training, create a national database to track police misconduct, and make it easier for victims of misconduct to sue officers or their departments in court.

Instead, on Thursday, Democrats and Republicans found themselves trading veiled barbs over a written proposal circulated this week by Mr. Booker that appears to have only driven the two parties further apart and pitted powerful law enforcement groups against one another.

Democrats told their Republican counterparts that at least one such group, the Fraternal Order of Police, had lent its support to key provisions of the document, according to congressional aides familiar with the talks. The New York Times obtained a copy of the text.

The proposed measure would lower the threshold for the federal government to prosecute officers who commit egregious misconduct and violate an individual’s constitutional rights. It would also alter the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity to make it easier for victims or their families to sue police departments and municipalities, but not individual officers.

But rather than yielding a major breakthrough, Mr. Booker’s idea appeared to backfire. Republicans charged him with acting alone in an attempt to sway key policing interests in favor of an overly liberal bill. The more conservative National Sheriffs’ Association blasted its contents and began lobbying hard against it on Capitol Hill, and the Fraternal Order of Police quickly fired back.

“There ain’t no way in hell that’s going anywhere,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “The conversations we had about police reform were completely different than the document that was produced.”

Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, right, is under investigation for professional misconduct over his legal challenge to President Biden’s 2020 victory.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

The State Bar of Texas is investigating whether Attorney General Ken Paxton committed professional misconduct by challenging President Biden’s victory in the courts, which a complaint called a “frivolous lawsuit” that wasted taxpayer money.

The investigation, which could result in discipline ranging from a reprimand to disbarment, is the latest obstacle for Mr. Paxton, who has been at the center of bribery and corruption accusations and who was indicted in 2015 on allegations of securities fraud in a case that has not been resolved.

Mr. Paxton, a Republican, is also being challenged by a member of the Bush family in next year’s primary for attorney general, a position that has served as a political springboard. Both candidates are vying for an endorsement from former President Donald J. Trump, who still wields great influence over Texas Republicans.

After it became clear that Mr. Biden won the election, Mr. Paxton filed a lawsuit in early December that was ridiculed by many legal experts and ultimately rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. He had asked the court to extend a deadline for the certification of presidential electors, arguing that election irregularities in four other states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — warranted further investigation.

That month, Kevin Moran, a retired Houston Chronicle reporter and president of the Galveston Island Democrats, filed a grievance to the Texas State Bar. In his filing, Mr. Moran contended that Mr. Paxton knew the lawsuit lacked legal merit and that any unelected lawyer would face disciplinary action for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

“Knowing that the national election had NOT been rigged or stolen, he acted in a way to stoke those baseless conspiracy theories nationwide,” Mr. Moran wrote.

The State Bar of Texas said it was prohibited by statute from discussing any pending matters, and the attorney general’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

Mr. Paxton’s campaign spokesman, Ian Prior, denounced the complaint as a “low-level stunt” and “frivolous allegation.”




Oregon Lawmakers Expel Representative Over Capitol Breach

Lawmakers in Oregon voted, 59 to 1, to expel a colleague, Rep. Mike Nearman, from office on Thursday for his role in helping a crowd breach the State Capitol in December, the first time in history that an Oregon legislator was expelled.

“Now you’re considering expelling a member for the first time in history because he thinks that people should have access to their Capitol, especially during session. I think that the citizens of Oregon should be able to instruct their representatives. I think people from interest groups and industries should be able to apply to the Legislature for redress of grievances in person in the building. The party in power doesn’t have to be fair. Might makes right. So if that’s what you want to do, let’s do what the people have sent us here to do. Let’s decide. That’s what we do. We’re deciders. Let’s decide, and let’s do it in front of the people.” “Until the video came out, there was a part of me that just wanted to believe that Representative Nearman was just moved by the moment and did something very dangerous and rash out of a surge of anger and emotion. Now we know that not so much.” “House Resolution 3, having received the constitutional required majority, is declared adopted. I direct the chief clerk to notify the secretary of state that House District 23 is vacant.”

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Lawmakers in Oregon voted, 59 to 1, to expel a colleague, Rep. Mike Nearman, from office on Thursday for his role in helping a crowd breach the State Capitol in December, the first time in history that an Oregon legislator was expelled.CreditCredit…Andrew Selsky/Associated Press

Lawmakers in Oregon ejected one of their colleagues from office for the first time in state history late Thursday night, voting 59 to 1 to oust Representative Mike Nearman for his role in helping a far-right crowd breach the State Capitol in December.

Mr. Nearman, who was the only no vote, had faced rising pressure from his Republican colleagues to resign from office this week, days after newly surfaced video showed him apparently coaching people on how they might get inside the closed Capitol. Previous security footage had showed how Mr. Nearman exited the building where protesters had gathered, allowing them inside and setting off a confrontation with law enforcement officers.

Mr. Nearman, who faces misdemeanor charges for his actions, said on Thursday that legislative leaders should have never excluded the public from the Capitol — a decision that was a coronavirus precaution. But Democrats said Mr. Nearman had shown a complete disregard for the rule of law and the principles of democracy.

“His actions were blatant and deliberate, and he has shown no remorse for jeopardizing the safety of every person in the Capitol that day,” Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, said in a statement after the vote.

The case had striking similarities to the U.S. Capitol siege that unfolded a couple of weeks later. Although the crowd in Salem was smaller, it was filled with Trump supporters waving flags, far-right agitators wearing body armor, and people chanting for punishment: “Arrest Kate Brown,” they shouted, referring to Oregon’s Democratic governor.

But while Republicans in Congress have resisted major actions in the Capitol siege — recently rejecting a plan for an independent commission — G.O.P. lawmakers in Oregon coalesced in recent days around the idea that Mr. Nearman needed to go. Each of his colleagues joined in a letter this week calling for his resignation.

The House Republican leader, Christine Drazan, said Mr. Nearman had indiscriminately allowed violent protesters into the building. Representative Bill Post, a Republican who said he was one of Mr. Nearman’s closest colleagues, wrote a message explaining that Mr. Nearman had lied to him personally and to other Republican colleagues about whether there was evidence that opening the door had been planned.

“That plan put at risk lawmakers, staff and police officers inside of the building,” Mr. Post wrote.

In the video that surfaced last week, apparently streamed online in the days before the Dec. 21 breach, Mr. Nearman coyly repeats his own cellphone number, suggesting that anyone trying to enter the Capitol could text him.

“That is just random numbers that I spewed out. That’s not anybody’s actual cellphone,” Mr. Nearman said in the footage. “And if you say, ‘I’m at the West entrance’ during the session and text to that number there, that somebody might exit that door while you’re standing there. But I don’t know anything about that.”