The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Barrett disclosure did not include work for troubled hospital group
WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett did not include on her Senate Judiciary disclosure forms a notable case in which she was one of two lead attorneys: defending a Pittsburgh steel magnate accused of helping drive a major Pennsylvania Hospital System into bankruptcy.
Coney Barrett, whose experience as a practicing attorney is limited to about two years beginning in 2000, worked on the case for at least six months beginning in June of 2000, according to court documents in Pacer, a database of electronic court records.
Barrett was required, per the questionnaire given to court nominees, to list the “10 most significant litigated matters which you personally handled, whether or not you were the attorney of record” and to “describe in detail the nature of your participation.” Barrett lists just three cases.
A source familiar with Barrett’s work history said her client had “filed only two even arguably substantive filings after she appeared as counsel,” so the work “is not a significant level of involvement.” Still, in two of the three cases Barrett lists, she cites her contribution as having been supporting roles such as assisting with research and briefing materials.
The case was ultimately settled as part of a separate civil suit in which she was not listed. Yet it involves one of the largest nonprofit bankruptcies in U.S. history, at $1.5 billion, which prompted numerous investigations including a criminal probe.
During her 2017 circuit court appointment hearing before the committee, the brevity of Barrett’s listed work experience drew questions from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., about her resume.
Barrett at the time said she no longer had records of “the matters upon which I worked” and that she recalled “only three significant litigated matters that I personally handled.” She also said she’d searched her records, asked former associates and searched legal databases. In her 2020 disclosure, she similarly said she’d provided everything “based upon my recollection and searches of publicly available records conducted by others on my behalf.”
Given her limited experience as a practicing attorney, it wouldn’t be usual to have such a short list, said Prof. Stephen Gillers of New York University, an expert in ethical rules and judges. Yet, there’s also no reason to omit the case given the significant length of time she appears to have worked on it relative to her overall work experience as a practicing attorney. “The fact that a client is for some reason disreputable would not impede her confirmation. Prominent firms represent disreputable people,” said Gillers.
The omission is fueling criticism from Democrats about whether the candidate’s full record is transparent amid a hastened confirmation process for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.
“Donald Trump is trying to hide the real Amy Coney Barrett from the American people — her extreme positions on Roe v. Wade, her record of attacking the Affordable Care Act and now her significant involvement in the largest nonprofit bankruptcy in American history,” said Kyle Morse, a spokesman for American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic research group that informed NBC about the case.
Read more about the hospital system's collapse here.
The Judiciary Committee is due to conduct hearings, virtually for at least for some members, with the nominee beginning Monday. Democrats have already expressed concern about incomplete disclosure forms.
This week, Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Justice Department asking for “any missing materials from” her questionnaire, citing her 2006 signature on a 2006 newspaper ad calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned that was not included. “The ad may or may not require recusal in a future case challenging Roe and that will come up,” said Gillers.
“We should get all the information about any nominee,” Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala, said Wednesday. “In this rush,” he said, “we’re not going to get that,” he said. “This is a pattern from Sen. McConnell to rush through a nominee without regard to getting a full fair review,” he said.
Senate Democrats seek investigation into Trump's tax audit
WASHINGTON — Top Senate Democrats on Thursday sent a letter to the Inspector Generals of the Tax Administration and Treasury Departments, calling for an investigation into the IRS audits of President Donald Trump’s taxes — less than four weeks before the Presidential election.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, are asking the IGs to “immediately conduct an investigation into any undue influence on Mr. Trump’s IRS audits.”
The letter comes after the New York Times reported decades-long income tax avoidance by Trump, whose taxes have been under audit by the IRS for more than four years. Trump dismissed the Times’ reporting as “fake news,” saying he paid “millions of dollars” in taxes — not the $750 per year in 2016 and 2017 as reported. Though he hasn’t agreed to release his returns to refute the articles.
“Not only has Mr. Trump broken decades of precedent by rejecting transparency for the American people and refusing to publicly release his federal income tax returns, but he has also made numerous public statements against IRS audits, both as a presidential candidate and after he was elected,” the Senators wrote.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, whose GOP-led committee has jurisdiction over taxes, told reporters he would not seek to obtain Trump’s tax records so soon before an election over concern it would appear political.
“All I've got is the president saying he's paid millions of dollars in taxes, and you've got the New York Times printing what they think, and we don't have the facts to make a judgment," Grassley said, adding that he is “concerned” the audit is taking as long as it is.
The letter is asking for an "immediate" investigation into "any undue influence on Mr. Trump’s IRS audits, either as part of the mandatory audit program or otherwise, including whether any executive branch employee outside of IRS has contacted any IRS employee regarding the audit of the President’s tax returns."
And, they say that the IGs need to "provide reassurance to congressional leadership and the House of Representatives and Senate Committees of jurisdiction in closed executive session that no such interference or influence has been found.”
And in another setback to President Trump’s efforts to keep his finances from the Manhattan District Attorney, a three-judge panel on Wednesday unanimously rejected Trump’s arguments that the subpoena should be blocked.
The President’s lawyers are expected to try and appeal that decision in the Supreme Court, where a fight is brewing over the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Progressive women's groups launch effort to combat disinformation about Harris
SALT LAKE CITY — Progressive women’s groups are putting millions towards a campaign to disrupt disinformation and sexist, racist attacks against Senator Kamala Harris — an escalation of their attempts to combat gendered and racially biased narratives around the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
Ultraviolet — in concert with other prominent groups like Emily’s List, Black PAC, and Color of Change — formed the Women’s Disinformation Defense Project, an amalgamation of groups collectively set to throw more than $20 million into ads, research, and offensive strategies that will counter biased narratives on social media and online in real time, especially for voters in battleground states.
“I can’t say ‘this person is seeing this,’” Shaunna Thomas of Ultraviolet told NBC News about those types of narratives and disinformation. “But you can say ‘here’s a group of voters who fit the profile of people who we know are being targeted’ and ensure that they are seeing a different message.”
Even before Harris was even named as Biden’s running mate, prominent female Democrats and women’s groups promised to call out any sexism or racism and take steps to disrupt bias taking hold in political coverage and voter outreach.
Ahead of the first, and only vice presidential, debate, Thomas is prepared for bias to seep in — in online forums or on the stage.
Harris allies, including former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, have been vocal warning about the thin line that women candidates often walk on the debate stage because of double standards applied to them. Clinton recently advised Harris to be “firm and effective” when rebutting Pence, but to “do it in a way that doesn’t scare or alienate voters.”
For Mike Pence’s part, his preparations for the debate stage against Harris have included practicing ways to best Harris without opening himself up to criticism that he is acting in a disrespectful or sexist way. Pence is being advised "not to attack a woman,” one ally told NBC News.
Army Reserves open probe into N.C. Democratic Senate candidate as new texts surface
Just days after North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham apologized for sending sexually explicit text messages to a woman who is not his wife, more texts have surfaced suggesting that Cunningham engaged in a physical relationship with the woman.
And an investigation into the matter has been opened by the U.S. Army National Reserves, of which Cunningham is a member. Adultery can be a crime in the military.
“The Army Reserve is investigating the matters involving Lt. Col. James Cunningham. As such, we are unable to provide further details at this time,” Simon B. Flake, chief of media relations, confirmed to NBC News in a statement. The investigation was first reported by WRAL, a Raleigh TV station.
Cunningham has been leading incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis in polling in a race that is expected to be a critical battleground in who wins the presidency and control of the Senate.
In the text messages, Cunningham and Arlen Guzman Todd, who is also married, exchanged explicit sexual messages to each other. And in other messages, Guzman Todd was complaining to a friend about Cunningham’s lack of response to her.
The NationalFile.com, a conservative outlet, first reported the text messages. WRAL first reported the second batch of messages.
The text messages indicate that the two had also met twice, including once at his home in July.
Cunningham’s campaign confirmed the investigation by the Army Reserves but said he he will stay in the race.
"Cal will participate in this process, but it does not change the stakes of this election or the need for new leaders who will fight for the issues North Carolinians care about instead of caving to the corporate special interests — which is exactly what Senator Tillis has done in his years in Washington,” spokeswoman Rachel Petri said in a statement.
The last time the media and the public heard from Cunningham was on Friday when the first batch of text messages were released when he said:
"I have hurt my family, disappointed my friends, and am deeply sorry. The first step in repairing those relationships is taking complete responsibility, which I do. I ask that my family’s privacy be respected in this personal matter. I remain grateful and humbled by the ongoing support that North Carolinians have extended in this campaign, and in the remaining weeks before this election I will continue to work to earn the opportunity to fight for the people of our state."
As polls creep closer, Trump campaign hasn't run TV ads in IA, OH for weeks
WASHINGTON — The polls show the presidential race in Iowa and Ohio tightening, but only Vice President Joe Biden is on the television airwaves there.
By comparison, President Donald Trump's campaign hasn't run TV or radio ads in Iowa since the end of July, according to Advertising Analytics. And he's been dark on the Ohio airwaves since then too, except for one week in September where his campaign spent about $240,000.
Since the beginning of August, Biden's campaign has outspent Trump $2.5 million to $240,000 in Ohio and $1.4 million to $0 in Iowa.
Outside groups have stepped in to try to fill the gap in Iowa — since August, the GOP super PAC Preserve America PAC has spent $6.7 million in Iowa.
But Trump hasn't been getting any air cover in Ohio, as the only GOP group to spend significant money on ads in the presidential race there over that span is Americans for Limited Government, which is actually running ads criticizing the president on health care.
Gov. Whitmer signs bill to help speed vote counting in battleground Michigan
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bipartisan bill Tuesday allowing local clerks in the battleground state’s larger municipalities to begin processing ballots the day before Election Day.
In addition to the extra 10 hours for clerks in cities and townships with a population of at least 25,000 residents, the legislation also allows election inspectors on absentee vote counting boards to work in shifts and requires clerks to contact voters within 48 hours if there are problems with their absentee ballots, such as missing or mismatched signatures.
Though the bill’s provisions aim to prevent delays in reporting election results, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson noted the state still does not expect complete results until the Friday after the election, since ballot counting cannot begin until 7 a.m. on November 3.
“Now it may be sooner, but we want to manage those expectations and we want all of our voters watching our elections to be patient as our clerks work methodically, carefully, and securely to tabulate every ballot and ensure that the results of our elections once announced are an accurate reflection of the will of the people,” the Democratic governor said.
Benson also said that Michigan has received a record 2.7 million absentee ballot requests and 400,000 Michiganders have so far already returned their ballots, putting the state on track to break its turnout record this fall.
Whitmer criticized the GOP-led legislature for not sending her SB 117, which allows servicemembers and spouses to return ballots electronically, criticizing Republicans for playing “partisan games.”
Michelle Obama releases 'closing argument' for Joe Biden
WASHINGTON — Former First Lady Michelle Obama released her "closing argument" for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday, urging voters to vote for Biden and to "make a plan to vote."
"Right now our country is in chaos because of a president who isn't up to the job," Obama says of President Donald Trump in the video.
In an almost 25 minute video that mirror her Democratic convention remarks, Obama reminds voters of how Trump has responded to numerous crises from healthcare during a pandemic to race riots — calling the president “racist” in his response — and the Supreme Court vacancy while acknowledging that it can be a confusing time given the president spreads “these lies and conspiracies” repeatedly.
“With everything going on in their lives, they don’t have time to fact-check falsehoods being spread throughout the internet. And even reasonable people might get scared. And the one thing this president is really, really good at is using fear and confusion and spreading lies to win,” she said.
“Search your hearts, and your conscience, and then vote for Joe Biden like your lives depend on it,” she said.
Obama adds, "We have the chance to elect a president who can meet this moment. A leader who has the character and the experience to put an end to this chaos, start solving these problems and help lighten the load for families all across the country. And that leader is Joe Biden."
Mississippi Dem Senate hopeful Mike Espy raises $4 million in Q3
WASHINGTON — If Mike Espy loses his longshot bid to become Mississippi’s first Democrat elected to the Senate since 1982, it won’t be for a lack of cash. The campaign exclusively tells NBC News it raised $4 million dollars in the third quarter of 2020, six times what he raised the previous quarter.
The former Congressman and Agriculture Secretary now goes into the final month of the campaign against Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith with some $3 million cash on hand, according to the campaign. In addition to the money raised between July 1 and Sept. 30, the campaign also says they raised an additional $1 million in just the first two days of October.
Hyde-Smith has so far not released her third-quarter fundraising report, which is common as candidates have until Oct. 15 to file those reports with the Federal Election Commission. A Hyde-Smith campaign official tells NBC news her numbers are still be calculated and will be made public “soon.”
The incumbent senator trailed Espy in campaign fundraising last quarter, raising $210,000 to Espy’s $610,000. At the end of the second quarter, Hyde-Smith led the overall fundraising race by about $700,000.
Espy is still climbing a steep hill in the hopes of an underdog victory. But national Democrats have recently joined him in that climb. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is now providing organizational help in the state, including phone banking, and gave his campaign $49,000, the maximum donation the organization can give to him. Espy was also endorsed by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden last week.
This 2020 race is a rematch of a 2018 special election, when Espy ran against Hyde-Smith to fill the seat left vacant by the late Sen. Thad Cochran (who died after his resignation).
Hyde-Smith won that race by 8 points, which was still the closest a Democrat has come to winning a modern-era Senate seat in Mississippi.
Biden campaign hits new weekly spending highs across battleground states
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign has long had the TV and radio spending advantage over President Trump. But while Trump has increased his spending in a handful of key states, Biden's campaign is hitting new, weekly spending highs across the map.
The Biden campaign spent more in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin during the week spanning Sept. 22-28 than it had in those states in any previous week, according to Advertising Analytics data analyzed by NBC News.
Some of those increases were dramatic — Biden went from spending $3.3 million in Arizona the week of Sept. 15 to $5.5 million the week of Sept. 22, from $651 to $600,000 in Iowa, and from $5.8 million to $7.8 million in Pennsylvania.
The Trump campaign hit new, weekly spending highs in four states during the week of Sept. 22 — Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. But even so, Team Trump still spent millions less than Biden in all but Georgia.
It's another data point that shows the broad breadth of Biden's TV/radio spending advantage over Trump — the Democrat spent more than double Trump's total in Arizona last week; more than triple Trump in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; almost eight-times as much as Trump in Nevada; and at least $2 million more in Florida, Michigan and North Carolina.
The only key state where Trump outspent Biden over that week was Georgia, where Trump spent $1.4 million to Biden's $223,000
Senate debate round up: Big Monday night in key races
WASHINGTON — With most of the political world focused on Tuesday' night's first presidential debate, some of the nation's top Senate candidates — in Iowa, Montana and Maine— squared off in key debates Monday night.
Here are some key moments:
The Supreme Court
President Trump's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court loomed large on Monday night.
Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock criticized Republican Sen. Steve Daines for supporting Coney Barrett, saying he "flip-flopped" from his position four years ago that the Senate should "not confirm a new Supreme Court justice until the American people elect a new President and have their voices heard." Daines said that it's up to the Senate whether to confirm or reject the president's nominee — and they rejected it in 2016.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who has opposed Trump filling the seat before the election, criticized her Democratic opponent, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, for not completely swearing off packing the court and that the court needs to be less political.
Gideon countered by pointing to Collins' votes for Trump's past judicial nominees, and said that she wants to see a judiciary that is "independent." She didn't specifically rule out adding justices to the court but made a broad denouncement of "the proposals coming forward" because those changes wouldn't help make the court more independent.
Masks and fighting COVID-19
In one of the stranger moments in recent memory, Maine independent Senate hopeful Max Linn cut up surgical masks in opposition to government mask mandates.
But the rest of the candidates across the three debates took the question seriously.
All three Republican candidates, Collins, Daines and Ernst spoke out against mask mandates— Ernst and Collins agreed that masks help slow the spread of Covid-19 while Daines said that it should be a personal choice and focused his answer primarily on parents' frustration with not being able to watch their kids play sports outside because of restrictions.
Greenfield supports a statewide mask mandate, while Gideon focused her answer on how masks are effective in fighting the pandemic and Bullock pointed to the effectiveness of masks while saying he doesn't want to see people fined for not wearing masks.
Collins also touted her work on the Paycheck Protection Program while Gideon criticized the Senate for not making a deal once pandemic aid lapsed this summer.
Ernst focused a question on how to solve systemic racism specifically in an attack on Greenfield’s comments about law enforcement: “Theresa Greenfield has stated that our law enforcement system is systemically racist, meaning that our law enforcement officers are racist. I don't believe that. And I believe that our communities can work together.”
Greenfield pushed back, saying systemic racism is more than just bias in policing, detailing: “we need to work together like we did in this state to pass the plan for the more perfect union, where we attack this kind of racism, requiring racial bias training, requiring de-escalation training, a ban on chokeholds.”
DNC hits the streets around debate site
The Democratic National Committee is hitting the ground with mobile billboards aimed at countering President Donald Trump during Tuesday night's presidential debate.
The Biden campaign's rapid response team and over 30 staffers from the DNC War Room will be remotely fact-checking the president and posting their responses on three driving billboards circling the perimeter of the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion debate hall in Cleveland.
The joint effort was launched after both rapid response teams wanted to try and alert as many battleground voters missing the debate while driving or walking around the debate hall about Trump’s record.
"On the debate stage, Trump will continue to lie to the American people about his failed response to the coronavirus, so we're going to hold him accountable in real time,” DNC War Room senior spokeswoman and advisor Lilly Adams said in a statement to NBC News. “The truth is that Trump lied to the country about the severity of the coronavirus and failed to ever come up with a strategy to confront the pandemic.”
During the day ahead of the evening debate, the billboards will flash statistics showing statistics about the 200,000-plus coronavirus deaths in the U.S. and more than 7 million cases so far as passerby’s hear Trump saying he “wanted to always play [the coronavirus] down” and how he “still like playing it down,” remarks he made to famed journalist Bob Woodward at the onset of the pandemic.
The driving billboards will also play up the importance of the Supreme Court vacancy, noting that if a majority of justices find the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in a hearing set for a week after the election, as many as 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions are at risk of losing protections and 21 million would become uninsured.
Following the debate, the DNC will organize a light display outside the debate hall that will read “Trump lied, 200,000+ died.”