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Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward rejects calls for audit of party elections

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Kelli Ward on Friday rejected calls for an audit into her recent reelection as the chair of the Arizona Republican Party and other party races, arguing that the state GOP does not have the structure to review them.

“We don’t have the structure to be able to do an audit,” she said on KFYI’s radio show “The Conservative Circus with James T. Harris,” adding, “But we welcome their input to make elections bigger.”
She added that the structure for an audit “doesn’t exist in our process, our procedures, our bylaws, in statute.”
Ward, one of the most fervent proponents of former President Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him, claimed not only that an audit was not possible, but that calls for it were being pushed as a way to attack her.
She argued that the only people demanding an audit are Sergio Arellano — a Tucson small business owner who challenged Ward for the top state party job — and people who were part of his campaign.
Arellano did not respond to CNN’s request for a response to Ward on Friday.
Last week, Ward secured a second stint as chair of the state party, beating Arellano by 3 percentage points. Arellano on Thursday requested an audit of the votes cast in the race for Arizona GOP chair and other party elections.
“I anticipate the State GOP will do a solid job here and provide election officials around the state with an example of how to conduct a timely audit and how important ballot security and paper backups are,” Arellano said in a statement posted to Facebook.
He claimed that a “reversal of the stated results” in another party race prompted a “number of state committeemen” to raise concerns and reach out to him to ask that he request an audit. Sandra Dowling was announced the winner of a bid for Arizona’s 8th congressional district’s member-at-large committee, only to have the win pulled back because of an error.
During the radio interview, Ward went on to attack the media, saying stories about the possible audit were trying to “gin up something that just doesn’t exist” and that “everything was above board” with the election.
Ward’s tenure as chair of the party has been defined by her unwavering support for Trump, having repeatedly backed his maneuvers to overturn the presidential election results, including in Arizona, which Joe Biden won by more than 10,000 votes.
The former vice president became the second Democrat since Harry Truman in 1948 to win Arizona in 2020. In the wake of Biden’s win, Ward lashed out at some Republicans who backed the new President, including Cindy McCain, the late Sen. John McCain’s widow, and former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.

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Jussie Smollett’s Lawyer Says Actor Is ‘A Real Victim’ Of Attack

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huffpost— Jussie Smollett “is a real victim” of a “real crime,” his attorney said in opening statements at the ex-“Empire” actor’s trial Monday, rejecting prosecutors’ allegation that he staged a homophobic and racist attack in Chicago after the television studio where he worked didn’t take hate mail he had received seriously.

Defense attorney Nenye Uche said two brothers attacked Smollett in January 2019 because they didn’t like him, and that a $3,500 check the actor paid the men was for training so he could prepare for an upcoming music video, not as payment for staging a hate crime, as prosecutors allege. Uche also suggested a third attacker was involved and told jurors there is not a “shred “ of physical and forensic evidence linking Smollett to the crime prosecutors allege.

“Jussie Smollett is a real victim,” Uche said.

Special prosecutor Dan Webb said the actor recruited the brothers to help him carry out a fake attack, then reported it to Chicago police, who classified it as a hate crime and spent 3,000 staff hours on the investigation. Smollett said he was attacked by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, a report that ignited political and ideological divisions around the country.

“When he reported the fake hate crime that was a real crime,” said Webb, who was named as special prosecutor after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office dropped the original charges filed against Smollett. A new indictment was returned in 2020.

Smollett, who arrived at the courthouse in Chicago Monday with his mother and other family members, is charged with felony disorderly conduct. The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said it is likely that if Smollett is convicted he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.

Webb told jurors Smollett was unhappy about how the studio handled the letter he received. That letter included a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree and “MAGA,” a reference to Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign slogan, Webb said.

He said Smollett then concocted the fake attack and had a “dress rehearsal” with the two brothers — who worked on the “Empire” set with Smollett — including telling them to shout racial and homophobic slurs and “MAGA.” Smollett also told the brothers to buy ski masks, red hats and a rope, Webb told jurors.

“He told them to use a rope to make it look like a hate crime,” Webb said.

But Uche said Smollett had turned down extra security when the studio offered it. He also portrayed the brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, as unreliable, saying their story has changed while Smollett’s has not, and that when police searched their home they found heroin and guns.

Twelve jurors plus three alternates were sworn in late Monday for a trial that Judge James Linn said he expects to take about one week. Cameras are not allowed inside the courtroom and the proceedings are not being livestreamed, unlike in other recent high-profile trials.

Whether Smollett, who is Black and gay, will testify remains an open question. But the siblings will take the witness stand.

Jurors also may see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police reviewed to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing supplies hours earlier.

Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from an area resident who says she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night. She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”

Her comments could back up Smollett’s contention that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Further, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett’s statements — widely ridiculed because the brothers, who come from Nigeria, are Black — that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers.

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The White House is tapping oil reserves to try to bring down high gas prices

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npr– The United States plans to draw 50 million barrels of oil from its emergency oil reserves in coming months, a widely anticipated step aimed at trying to take the edge off high gas prices that have been hurting consumers at the pump — and hurting President Biden in the polls.

Inflation has emerged as a top political concern with voters, who have seen prices for gasoline and other staples surge in recent months. U.S. gas prices are at their highest level since 2014.

Biden has been talking with other leaders about the problem, and other major consumers — China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom — will take similar steps to release oil from their stockpiles, the White House said on Tuesday.

In a Tuesday news conference announcing the decision, Biden said, “We’re taking action.”

“The big part of the reason Americans are facing high gas prices is because oil-producing countries and large companies have not ramped up the supply of oil quickly enough to meet the demand. And the smaller supply means higher prices globally — globally — for oil,” he said.

Biden warned that actions by the U.S. and other nations wouldn’t fix problems at the pump “overnight,” but said Americans could soon expect relief.

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Myanmar election body charges Suu Kyi with electoral fraud

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independent– Myanmar’s state election commission announced it is prosecuting the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and 15 other senior political figures for alleged fraud in last November’s general election.

The announcement was published Tuesday in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper and other official media.

Allegations of widespread electoral fraud were the main reason cited by the military for its Feb. 1 seizure of power that toppled Suu Kyi’s government. Her National League for Democracy party was about to begin a second five-year term in office after its landslide victory in the polls. The army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party suffered unexpectedly heavy losses.

Independent observers, such as the Asian Network for Free Elections, found no evidence of substantive irregularities in the polls, though they criticized some aspects.

The action by the Union Election Commission could potentially result in Suu Kyi’s party being dissolved and unable to participate in a new election the military has promised will take place within two years of its takeover. However, the commission’s notice, dated Monday, did not specify which laws would be used to prosecute the accused.

In May, the military-appointed new head of the election commission said his agency would consider dissolving Suu Kyi’s former governing party for alleged involvement in electoral fraud and have its leaders charged with treason. Commission Chairman Thein Soe said an investigation had determined that the party had worked illegally with the government to give itself an advantage at the polls.

After taking power, the military dismissed the members of the election commission that had certified the results of last year’s poll and appointed new ones. It also detained members of the old commission, and, according to reports in independent Myanmar media, pressured them to state there had been election fraud.

The new commission declared last year’s election’s results invalid.

The new notice from the commission said Suu Kyi, former President Win Myint, other leading figures in her party and the commission’s former chairman were “involved in electoral processes, election fraud and lawless actions” related to the polls.

It accused 16 people of carrying out illegal actions, including compelling local election officials to obstruct military polling booths, threatening such officials in connection with advance voting for voters over 60 years old, forcing local officials to approve voting lists that included ineligible voters and interfering in campaigning to favor Suu Kyi’s party.

Suu Kyi is already on trial or charged in about a dozen criminal cases in which a conviction would almost certainly bar her from running for office again. Several of her top political allies also have been tried or are facing charges. Suu Kyi’s supporters as well as independent rights organizations contend that the cases are spurious and meant to discredit Suu Kyi and her party while legitimizing military rule.

Dissolving Suu Kyi’s party would follow a regional trend of dissolving popular political parties seen as a threat to governments in power.

Cambodia’s high court in 2017 dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party the sole credible opposition force, ahead of a 2018 general election.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court in 2020 dissolved the newly formed Future Forward Party, which had won the third highest number of seats in the lower house in the 2019 general election.

In both the Cambodian and Thai cases, the courts cited specific violations of the law for their rulings, but their actions were widely seen as reflecting political pressures.

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