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The Justice Department sent a letter to a Pennsylvania county on Thursday, ordering it to change its practices after multiple military ballots were found discarded.

The issue surfaced earlier in the day when the DOJ announced that it had recovered a small number of discarded ballots. While the Justice Department would not say where they had found the ballots, they did say there were nine recovered — seven of which were cast for President Trump, while the other two were sealed by Luzerne County before the FBI recovered them,

In his letter to Luzerne County officials, U.S. attorney David Freed indicated that additional ballot materials were found in a dumpster. Freed said their investigation yielded “troubling” findings, including that the county allegedly improperly opened ballots.

“Even though your staff has made some attempts to reconstitute certain of the improperly opened ballots, there is no guarantee that any of these votes will be counted in the general election. In addition, our investigation has revealed that all or nearly all envelopes received in the elections office were opened as a matter of course,” Freed’s letter read.

“It was explained to investigators the envelopes used for official overseas, military, absentee and mail-in ballot requests are so similar, that the staff believed that adhering to the protocol of preserving envelopes unopened would cause them to miss such ballot requests. Our interviews further revealed that this issue was a problem in the primary election–therefore a known issue–and that the problem has not been corrected,” he added.

“While the assigned investigators are continuing their work including reviewing additional discarded materials, it is imperative that the issues identified be corrected.”

On Monday, Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis requested the investigation, which involves cooperation with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Her office claims it opened an investigation after hearing about issues surrounding the ballots last week, on Sept. 17.

Freed said that in additon to the military ballots, “investigators recovered four (4) apparently official, bar-coded, absentee ballot envelopes that were empty. Two (2) of those envelopes had the completed attestations and signatures on the reverse side. One (1) envelope with a handwritten return address was blank on the reverse side. The fourth empty envelope contains basic location information and the words “affirmation enclosed” on the reverse side.”

The majority of the recovered materials, he said, were found in an outside dumpster.

In a statement provided to Fox News, Chief County Solicitor Romilda P. Crocamo said: “Luzerne County thanks the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, the United States Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Pennsylvania State Police for quickly accepting our request and for their professional work in this matter. The County will continue to work in cooperation with the authorities throughout their review. Due to the fact that this is an ongoing investigation, it is not appropriate for the County to provide further comment at this time.”

The incident touched on widespread concerns about election integrity amid social distancing restrictions that arose during the coronavirus. “It is the vital duty of government to ensure that every properly cast vote is counted,” DOJ’s release read.

Republicans have generally resisted calls for mail-in ballots due to concerns surrounding potential fraud and error. Democrats have pushed the mail-in alternative as a way to ensure voters can cast their ballots safely — although Axios reported on Thursday that party leaders are increasingly pushing in-person voting.

That could be especially problematic for swing states like Pennsylvania, which Trump won by less than a percentage point.

Luzerne has been held up as an example of Trump’s appeal to swing voters. He won the mid-state county after former President Obama won it during 2008 and 2012.

State election officials recently sounded the alarm that thousands of votes could be tossed out in November after a state Supreme Court ruling last week that “naked ballots” cannot be counted.

The Court ruled that officials in the battleground state can reject mail-in ballots sent without a secrecy envelope, which prevents the poll workers from seeing how someone voted. The ruling rescinded previous guidance allowing counties to count “naked ballots,” or those ballots not placed in the proper security envelope.

More than 100,000 ballots could be thrown out as a result of the decision, according to Lisa Deeley, the chair of the Philadelphia city commissioners. President Trump won Pennsylvania by just more than 44,000 votes during the 2016 election.

Author: Sam Dorman

Source: Fox News: DOJ orders Pennsylvania county to change ballot practices after ‘troubling’ findings

White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci told “The Daily Briefing” Wednesday that he does not believe President Trump distorted facts about the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier Wednesday, The Washington Post published audio from an interview of President Trump conducted by veteran journalist Bob Woodward in March, during which Trump admitted he “wanted to always play it [the pandemic] down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

On “The Daily Briefing,” host John Roberts asked Fauci if he thought Trump had played down the threat of the virus.

“No, I didn’t,” Fauci responded. “I didn’t get any sense that he was distorting anything. I mean in my discussions with him, they were always straightforward about the concerns that we had. We related that to him. And when he would go out, I’d hear him discussing the same sort of things. He would often say, ‘We just got through with a briefing with the group from the task force,’ and would talk about it. So it may have happened, but I have not seen that kind of distortion.”

Shortly after audio of the Trump/Woodward interview was published, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Trump, arguing that he acted like “good leaders” do by staying “calm” in the midst of a crisis. She added that the president “has never lied to the American public on COVID.”

Roberts also asked Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whether Trump broke with his advisers in trying to downplay the virus.

“You were there through that whole thing,” Roberts said. “Was that the playbook or was that the president just going his own direction?”

“I don’t think so, John,” Fauci responded. “I don’t recall anything different than in our discussions that we had with the president that he said things quite similar publicly.”

The March interview, along with 18 other on-the-record conversations between Woodward and Trump, form the basis of Woodward’s book “Rage,” due out later this month.

“I didn’t really go over any of the text since it just came out,” Fauci told Roberts. “But you know, in my discussions and the discussions of other task force members with the president, we’re talking about the reality of what was going on.

“And then when we would get up in front of the press conferences, which were very, very common after our discussions with the president, he really didn’t say anything different than we discussed when we were with him,” he went on. “I may not be tuned in to the right thing that they’re talking about. But, I didn’t see any discrepancies between what he told us and what we told him, and what he came out publicly and said.”

According to the Post, Woodward reports in his book that Fauci has described Trump as being “on a separate channel” and offering “rudderless” leadership. Woodward also has Fauci saying Trump’s “attention span is like a minus number” and “his sole purpose is to get reelected.”

Fauci told Roberts Wednesday that he didn’t recall saying those things.

“If you notice, it was [reported that] others have said [I said] that. So, you know, you should ask others. I don’t recall that at all,” he said. “So I mean … according to what I saw in the newspapers, it says ‘and others have said that.’ So you know, I don’t really want to get involved in the kind of stuff that is very distracting to the kind of things that I’m trying to do and that we’re all trying to do with this outbreak.”

Author: Sam Dorman

Source: Fox News: Fauci tells Fox he ‘didn’t get any sense’ that Trump ‘was distorting anything’ about coronavirus

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., previously referred to his community of Baltimore as a “drug-infested” area, using a term that President Trump included in a tweet widely panned as a racist attack on the city.

The video, tweeted by the president on Wednesday, showed Cummings lamenting the city’s scourge of drugs while speaking during what appeared to be a congressional hearing.

“This morning, I left my community of Baltimore — a drug-infested area where a lot of the drugs we are talking about today have already taken the lives of so many children,” he said. “The same children that I watched 14 or 15 years ago as they grew up, now walking around like zombies.”

Trump originally called Baltimore a “rat and rodent infested mess,” apparently conjuring allusions to racism for some media outlets. CNN’s Erin Burnett, for example, accused Trump of feeding his base’s “basest tendencies” by using those words to describe a majority-African American city.

“Infest has become sort of a trope for Trump,” she added before pointing to statements about immigrants and inner cities. “Infest is a loaded word throughout history.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., similarly called Trump’s tweets “racist,” although it’s unclear what exactly she was referring to in the tweets.

The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., responded to the old footage by asking whether Cummings himself was racist.

“Obviously racist… Right? Those are the rules!” he tweeted alongside the video.

Trump has defended himself by claiming that he was “stating plainly what most people already know.” “Elijah Cummings has done a terrible job for the people of his district, and of Baltimore itself. Dems always play the race card when they are unable to win with facts. Shame!” he said over the weekend.

Fox News’ Charles Creitz contributed to this report.

Sam Dorman is a reporter with Fox News. You can follow him on Facebook here.

Author: Sam Dorman

Source: Fox News: Resurfaced video shows Elijah Cummings calling Baltimore ‘drug infested,’ likening residents to ‘zombies’

Oprah at Abrams rally: I’m not testing presidential waters

Oprah Winfrey fires up supporters at a Georgia campaign rally for Democrat gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and denies that her appearance is linked to a future presidential run.

HBO host Bill Maher argued on Friday that there was a good chance former Vice President Joe Biden would ruin a 2020 bid and that talk show empress Oprah Winfrey was the only sure bet for beating the president.

“The only person who is a sure thing is Oprah Winfrey,” Maher said before emphasizing the importance of celebrity in American politics. Later in his monologue he said, “I am telling you that at this particular moment in history, in this particular election year, she is the only candidate who is a sure thing winner for the Democrats.”

He argued that Oprah “checks all the boxes” needed to beat Trump: she would energize the African American base, galvanize women, and wouldn’t “scare” white men.

“If Oprah’s running, don’t get in the way of women on election day or you’ll be seeing the color purple,” Maher said in a play off of one of Winfrey’s movies.

He went on to argue that like President Trump, Winfrey had the advantage of being in people’s living rooms for decades. “This is now a ‘as seen on TV kind of country,'” Maher asserted.

At the beginning of that segment, Maher ran through a list of leading Democratic candidates and ticked off reasons why they faced questionable prospects in a general election against Trump.

“I like Joe,” Maher said, referring to the frontrunner, “but if we give him the keys, there’s at least a 50 percent chance he gets in the car and mows down a farmer’s market.”

Speculation has swirled around Winfrey for a potential 2020 run, although she has made it clear that she wasn’t interested in the fight. “I know my path and my path isn’t that,” she said in April.

Author: Sam Dorman

Source: Fox News: Bill Maher claims Oprah would be only ‘sure’ bet for beating Trump in 2020

What is the true cost of Medicare for All?

Juniper Research Group founder and CEO Chris Jacobs breaks down the cost.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., specified Tuesday how he would pay for his “Medicare for All” program, which critics have lambasted for its cost and impact on the federal budget.

While campaigning in New Hampshire, he responded to an audience member’s question about payment by saying he would likely raise payroll taxes on employers as well as income taxes on high-income earners.

“It would cost you and ordinary Americans a lot less than you are currently spending on average,” he said before explaining his payment method.

“What it will probably end up looking like is a payroll tax on employers, an increase in income tax in a progressive way for ordinary people — with a significant deductible for low-income people who pay nothing for it,” he said.

He also said his campaign purposefully didn’t put out a detailed account of his payment plan because it would “engender enormous debate.”

Sanders was just one of many progressive, 2020 candidates to advance “Medicare for All” and other policies, prompting more vigorous debate about socialism in the United States.

The proposal has received varying cost estimates from different organizations. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, one Medicare for All proposal from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. would cost about $28 trillion – $32 trillion over a decade.

The American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, estimated the Green New Deal’s provision for universal health care would cost $36 trillion, with $260,000 in cost per household.

Another study from the Mercatus Institute, typically perceived as leaning right on fiscal issues, similarly predicted in 2018 that the cost would reach $32 trillion in 10 years but forsaw a scenario in which the nation could actually save more than $2 trillion on health expenditures.

An alternative scenario, accounting for less effective cost controls, would result in more than $3 trillion in additional costs. Mercatus also claimed that its study’s author thought the assumptions showing cost-savings may be unreasonable.

When Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma commented on the issue in April, she described the program as “the biggest threat to the American health care system.”

“What we’re talking about is stripping people of their private health insurance, forcing them into a government-run program,” she said. Her concerns echoed those of others who worried about the impact on existing health plans.

Sanders and others have championed universal health care as a human rights issue — citing the U.S.’s high health care costs and lack of coverage compared to other industrialized nations.

Sam Dorman is a reporter with Fox News. You can follow him on Facebook here.

Author: Sam Dorman

Source: Fox News: Bernie says he’ll probably raise payroll, income taxes to pay for ‘Medicare for All’

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