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Misinformation Efforts Over Kentucky Vote Could Be Playbook for 2020

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Misinformation Efforts Over Kentucky Vote Could Be Playbook for 2020

KENTUCKY (ProPublica) — A right-wing radio personality took to Twitter not long after the polls had closed and it seemed the Democtratic candidate had prevailed in the excruciatingly close race for governor of Kentucky.

“Today #ELECTIONFRAUD and what is going on in #kentucky is REAL,” the host of “Tore Says,” streamed on the Red State Talk Radio website, tweeted on Nov. 8. “How do I know? I am actually have EVIDENCE because me and my family are VICTIMS of it.”

The personality, whose real name is Terpsichore Lindeman, alleged that somehow she and her husband had wound up as registered Democrats in Kentucky, which she saw as a sure sign that Andy Beshear, the Democratic attorney general ultimately declared the winner of the race for governor, had been manipulating the voter rolls.

Lindeman said that she is not a Democrat, and that she had her name removed from the rolls when she and her husband left the state years ago. Indeed, she said her husband is not a U.S. citizen and should not have been on any voting roll.

The claims gained no small degree of exposure. Lindeman’s dozens of tweets on the matter were retweeted hundreds of times. InfoWars, the conspiracy theory website, repeated her claims in multiple articles over a series of days.

The website of the far-right activist Laura Loomer featured the story prominently. The Kentucky State Board of Elections received calls from alarmed voters, all while incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin — who’d lost the election — talked darkly, but without specifics, about “irregularities” on Election Day.

ProPublica decided to check out Lindeman’s claims, and none add up, falling apart in the face of routine checks of public records. Still, experts say the disinformation spread by Lindeman in Kentucky and the virality and confusion that ensued is a peek into what could befall voters in 2020, when similar techniques are expected to be part of the arsenal of both the right and the left.

Amy Cohen, the executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors, said that the spread of misinformation and disinformation are “serious concerns going into 2020 because they undermine confidence in the election process.”

Her organization, which represents elections directors from across the country, works closely with Twitter and other social media platforms to report similar issues.

Debunking Lindeman’s claims starts with her and her husband’s voter registration information, which are public records. Their Kentucky registration forms show that both checked the box for Democrat when they registered to vote in Fayette County in 2008.

Her husband, who Lindeman claims is not a citizen, also signed the form in 2008, which requires signers to attest they are a U.S. citizen. Lying on the form carries a penalty of fines or jail time of up to 12 months.

The couple, records show, have never removed themselves from the rolls or changed their registration status until Nov. 8 of this year, which is when she began tweeting.

Neither Lindeman nor her husband appears to have voted in the last five years. Records also show that Lindeman was a registered Democrat in Florida, where her registration status is currently inactive.

Lindeman did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Her husband also did not respond to an emailed request.

Of her husband, Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins said: “If he’s really a noncitizen, he should be concerned. It’s a crime to register if you are a noncitizen; it says so right there above his signature.”

The claims by Lindeman were only one aspect of efforts to raise questions about the integrity of the vote in Kentucky this month.

Online, someone who routinely retweeted posts from the Democratic Socialists of America claimed to have shredded hundreds of ballots filed by mail by Republicans. State officials say there is no evidence that this took place.

Twitter terminated the person’s account, but screenshots of the tweet went viral and became a talking point for conservative commentators.

In an emailed exchange with Jared Dearing, the executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections, and Cohen, Twitter declined to take down the screenshots. The company claimed they did not violate Twitter’s rules against misleading information.

Dearing said that Kentucky is ready to combat misinformation and disinformation. “We remain hopeful social media platforms will also take a responsible stance in taking these posts down as they are identified, and do so in a timely and meaningful manner,” he said.

Gideon Blocq, the co-founder and CEO of VineSight, a company that monitors the spread of misinformation online, said he watched as the tweet spread through thousands of bots.

“This says something about what’s to come in the near future,” he said, saying that while Bevin did not specifically repeat the information in this tweet in any of his announcements or press conferences, the “similarity of the two storylines made this a more effective campaign.”

In the days after the election, Citizens for Election Integrity, a right-wing organization, held a news conference alleging mischief on the part of Democrats. Bevin publicly encouraged people and news organizations to attend.

At the news conference, Erika Calihan and Kristen Stuebs — both Bevin supporters — alleged, among other things, that a Louisville-area man had someone forge his signature and vote in his name at his precinct.

The man was away at college at the time of the election, and his mother saw the signature and had filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. The pair played a video of the man complaining about the situation.

“We’re just two moms,” the pair told the local media, saying they had no expertise and were only concerned citizens offering “breadcrumbs” for reporters to follow up on.

The local media did follow up, but the crumbs led nowhere. The alleged forger was actually a legally registered voter with an identical name registered in the same district.

A person who works closely with the Republican Party said Bevin had been “on his own” when he alleged unspecified misconduct in the vote. The party, however, did nothing publicly to dispel the claims. A party spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

University of Kentucky election law professor Joshua Douglas wasn’t satisfied with that response, saying he’d called for the Republican Party to disavow Bevin’s statements.

“The way in which we handle these sorts of allegations from a losing candidate in 2019 will tell us if our democratic norms can sustain the same thing in 2020,” he said. “Not enough people were speaking out about this rhetoric.”

Update: After publication of this story, Terpsichore Lindeman tweeted a denial that she and her husband had registered as Democrats in Kentucky, accusing the clerks of checking the boxes on the registration forms. “WE NEVER TICKED ANY BOXES EVER,” she tweeted.

Don Blevins, the clerk in Fayette County, where the pair registered in 2008, said that clerks would not have ticked boxes related to party registration, as they are not required to complete the form.

In a direct message on Twitter, Lindeman also said her husband had filled out the form in order to update his driver’s license address. In Fayette County, Blevins said, these are two separate forms. The form filled out by her husband states “FOR U.S. CITIZENS ONLY” along the top.

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Celebrity News

Amber Heard Uses American Sign Language at Women’s March

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LOS ANGELES (TMZ) — Amber Heard is about as talented and passionate as they come, which was on full display this weekend during the Women’s March … where she showed off her ASL.

The actress was one of many celebs who showed up in L.A. Saturday for the fourth annual event — which got started back in 2016 when President Trump was elected. Amber got on stage at one point and gave a heartfelt speech about her role in the fight.

Check it out … while she never outright says his name, it sounds like some of what she’s talking about here might be touching on her marriage to Johnny Depp … which ended in a long, nasty legal battle where allegations of lies and abuse were made.

After talking to the crowd, Amber shared a sweet moment with a fan on the ground … who spoke to her in sign language. Turns out, she’s fluent in ASL — and it definitely shows.

BTW, we also got Amber arriving in an SUV and asked about her injured foot — which has been straddled with a brace for a few weeks now after a trip to Hawaii. She joked sharks had gotten a hold of her, and when we asked if she was serious … she shot a knowing look.

It also appears she’s moved on to a new significant other in the new year … cinematographer Bianca Butti, who had Amber by the hand as they made their way into the festivities.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)


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Human Rights

Border Patrol Officials Dodged Congress’ Questions About Migrant Children’s Deaths

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Border Patrol Officials Dodged Congress’ Questions About Migrant Children’s Deaths

by Robert Moore for ProPublica

WASHINGTON D.C. — The Trump administration sought to “conceal information” about the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy in Border Patrol custody, a House subcommittee chairwoman said at a hearing Tuesday.

Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said the Department of Homeland Security has “consistently failed to maintain transparency by stymieing congressional inquiries. This raises concerns that they are hiding serious issues with management, in addition to the leadership vacancies at the top of the department. One example of this is the department’s decision to conceal information on the death of Carlos Hernandez Vasquez.”

Rice chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation and Operations, which had a Tuesday hearing to examine DHS efforts to prevent child deaths in custody. Six migrant children died in government custody between September 2018 and May 2019, the first such deaths in a decade.

Much of the hearing focused on Carlos, who died on May 20 in a Border Patrol cell in Weslaco, Texas. A ProPublica investigation in December, which included video of Carlos’ last hours and death, raised questions about his treatment by Border Patrol agents and contracted medical workers as his condition deteriorated.

“Despite information requests by this committee, it was not until a ProPublica report was released seven months later that Congress and the public learned more about what happened to Carlos, that his death may have been caused by the failure to provide urgently needed medical care and the failure to follow the most basic procedures to simply check on a sick child,” Rice said in her opening statement.

Two high-ranking Homeland Security officials testified at the hearing, but neither responded to Rice’s criticism. The two officials — Border Patrol Chief of Law Enforcement Operations Brian Hastings and DHS Senior Medical Officer Dr. Alex Eastman — used their opening statements to stress the unprecedented nature of the surge of families and unaccompanied children at the border last year.

They said DHS quickly scaled up medical care for migrants at the border following the deaths of two children in December 2018, using medical professionals from the Coast Guard, Public Health Service and private contractors. Eastman said the surge of migrant families and children was “an unconventional problem that required an unconventional solution.”

Under questioning from Rice, Hastings said the video of Carlos’ death revealed by ProPublica was “troubling” but sidestepped questions about his death because of an ongoing investigation by the DHS Office of Inspector General.

Hastings described one change in “welfare checks” made in the wake of Carlos’ death. Records obtained by ProPublica showed that a Border Patrol agent logged three welfare checks on Carlos in the four hours he was lying on the floor of his cell, dying or dead. The medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Carlos told ProPublica that the agent looked through a window but didn’t enter the cell.

In July, then-Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders ordered that “any subject in our custody” receive welfare checks every 15 minutes and be documented in the system, Hastings said.

Hastings’ word choice drew a sharp rebuke from Rice.

“You mean person, not subject, in your custody. Because that’s what they are. They’re people, not subjects,” Rice said.

“Person, yes ma’am,” Hastings said.

Inside the Cell Where a Sick 16-Year-Old Boy Died in Border Patrol Care

Rice and other Democrats criticized reports released last month by the DHS inspector general into the deaths of two Guatemalan children in Border Patrol custody in December 2018. The reports found no wrongdoing by agents in the deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8.

“Publicly available summaries of these investigations are extraordinarily narrow in scope. They focus only on whether DHS personnel committed malfeasance and not whether the department’s policies and resources could properly protect the children in its care,” Rice said. She criticized the inspector general for declining an invitation to testify before the subcommittee.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., also criticized the inspector general for taking a year to complete investigations of the two deaths. Jakelin and Felipe were both held by Border Patrol agents in her district.

“Even more concerning, the OIG limited its investigation scope to only determine whether there was malfeasance by personnel and did not consider whether CBP’s policies and procedures are adequate to prevent migrant child deaths,” Torres Small said. “As I’ve said from the beginning, the reason for these investigations is not to punish people, it’s to keep this from happening again. It’s to make sure that we have the protocols in place in case we’re faced with this challenge again.”

The DHS Office of Inspector General did not immediately respond to requests from ProPublica a hearing about the scope of the investigation or the reason for not testifying at Tuesday’s hearing.


ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force. We dig deep into important issues, shining a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust. Follow on Twitter at @ProPublica 



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Politics

Michael Avenatti Taken Into Custody by IRS Agents

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Michael Avenatti taken into custody by IRS agents on allegations of violating terms of pre-trial release

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Michael Avenatti, the former attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, was taken into custody by IRS agents on allegations of violating the terms of his pre-trial release.

Avenatti has been facing criminal investigations in New York and California on a variety of issues , including alleged extortion of Nike in New York, wire fraud of a client and tax fraud in California.

The State Bar of California last year began the process to disbar him from […]

Continue reading at abc7.com

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