September 16, 2020

Turning Point Action, the more overtly partisan affiliate of well-connected conservative youth organization Turning Point USA, has been paying teenagers to post prewritten and often false and inflammatory comments from their own personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, drawing comparisons to the bots and trolls used in coordinated disinformation and political influence campaigns, The Washington Post reported Tuesday evening.

Twitter suspended 20 such accounts Tuesday for violating rules against "platform manipulation and spam," and Facebook removed a number of accounts as part of what it calls an ongoing investigation. But experts say the "sprawling yet secretive campaign" out of an office near Phoenix, Arizona, "evades the guardrails put in place by social media companies to limit online disinformation of the sort used by Russia during the 2016 campaign," the Post reports.

"In 2016, there were Macedonian teenagers interfering in the election by running a troll farm and writing salacious articles for money," Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, tells the Post. "In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix," and "the scale and scope of domestic disinformation is far greater than anything a foreign adversary could do to us."

Turning Point, led by Charlie Kirk, 26, told the Post it's a "gross mischaracterization" to call the "sincere political activism conducted by real people" it coordinates a "troll farm." Some of the teenage contractors use their real names while others use pseudonyms, and they don't identify their connection to Turning Point, the Post reports.

Their spam-like posts, often left in the comments sections of news articles, attack Joe Biden and other Democrats, defame Black Lives Matter, spread misinformation about voting and mail-in ballots, and "play down the threat from COVID-19, which claimed the life of Turning Point's co-founder Bill Montgomery in July," the Post notes. Read more about the operation at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

12:03 p.m.

The Emmys this year won't look like ever before — but that doesn't mean there won't be the usual amount of shock upsets.

Pundits are generally in agreement about who will take the top prizes at Sunday's virtual Emmys. But what surprises could be in store? Here are some possibilities.

1. Ozark wins drama series - Critics largely see this top Emmy going to HBO's Succession, but some think Netflix could score an upset with Ozark, which debuted its third season in March. It could get a boost after, Deadline writes, many "housebound viewers finally discovered the series" in COVID-19 lockdown.

2. Insecure wins comedy series - The favorite here is easily Schitt's Creek, but what about Issa Rae's Insecure? Variety's Adam B. Vary is predicting a massive upset, writing that Insecure "feels like the right winner, both in quality and in capturing the current moment."

3. Issa Rae wins lead comedy actress - On that note, could Rae herself surprisingly defeat the heavy favorite, Schitt's Creek star Catherine O'Hara? Vanity Fair says Rae "may be the underdog victor."

4. Ramy Youssef wins lead comedy actor - Schitt's Creek star Eugene Levy is poised to win here. But Ramy's Ramy Youssef surprised at the Golden Globes in January by taking the best comedy actor trophy. He wasn't competing against Levy, but still, could he do so again?

5. Zendaya wins lead drama actress - Zendaya wasn't even originally expected to be nominated in this category, but as Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Colman, and Laura Linney duke it out, some see her swooping in for a shock victory.

6. Jason Bateman wins lead drama actor - This category seems like a battle between Succession stars Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox, but if they split the Succession vote, could Ozark's Bateman, who last year won a surprise directing Emmy, emerge victorious?

Expect the unexpected - more so this year than ever - when the Emmys kick off at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on ABC. Brendan Morrow

11:17 a.m.

ActBlue, the Democratic Party's donation-processing site, received a record $91.4 million in the 28 hours following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death on Friday, executive director Erin Hill said in a statement. That figure was the result of 1.5 million contributions, indicating the looming battle over confirming Ginsburg's replacement on the high court will be a priority for both parties as the November election nears.

Donors set the single-day donation mark by pouring in $70.6 million on Saturday, surging past the previous one-day high of $41.6 million. The 1.2 million contributions on Saturday also set a daily record since ActBlue launched 16 years ago.

The hourly record was set consecutively Friday evening after the news broke, first during the 9 p.m. ET hour and again during the 10 p.m. hour at $6.2 million and $6.3 million, respectively. The previous record was $4.3 million in one hour. As the pattern suggests, the number of contributions made during the latter hours was record-breaking, as well. Read more at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

8:38 a.m.

President Trump said Saturday that he has given his "blessing" to a deal that will keep the popular social media app TikTok operating in the United States, but the decision appears perplexing to some observers.

Despite Trump's approval, the deal itself is not done, but the current framework consists of U.S. tech company Oracle joining up with Walmart to form a new entity called TikTok Global, for which they'd pay TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, $12 billion. The two companies plan to own a combined 20 percent of TikTok Global, while ByteDance is expected to retain most of the remaining 80 percent. Per NPR, TikTok Global will still be presented as majority-American owned since 40 percent of ByteDance is owned by U.S. investors.

The negotiations to sell TikTok were spurred by Trump's threat to ban the app in the U.S. over national security concerns as tensions between Washington and Beijing remain high. It seems that the Trump administration is satisfied those concerns will be addressed in the Oracle deal, but Chris Kelly, the former chief privacy officer at Facebook, told NPR the Chinese government will likely still have "substantial" ability to pressure ByteDance under the future framework and the interactions "could stretch into personal data pretty easily," which has been Washington's primary worry.

On a similar note, Trump previously signed an executive order in August requiring ByteDance to completely divest from U.S. TikTok operations, which likely won't be the case under the proposed deal. "They're really moving the goalpoasts here," a former Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States told NPR on condition of anonymity. "ByteDance is still the biggest dog in this deal. The foreign control issue does not go away." Read more at Bloomberg and NPR. Tim O'Donnell

7:55 a.m.

Speaking at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Saturday night, President Trump told supporters that he has yet to select anyone to fill the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat, but said his nominee will be a woman.

Earlier Saturday, speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he will "most likely" choose a woman, but he appeared to make that a promise once he got on stage at the rally. Either way, Trump said an announcement could come within a week and reiterated his preference that the confirmation process happens swiftly, preferably before the November election. That will certainly continue to draw objections from his critics, who believe the choice should be made by whomever wins the election.

In a phone call with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has expressed his desire to fast-track a Senate vote, Trump reportedly mentioned two female appellate court judges — Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa — as possible selections. Barrett is seen as an early favorite since Trump interviewed her when he was selecting his last two nominees for the high court, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and she is well-regarded by conservatives. Allison Jones Rushing, also an appeals court judge, is another contender. Politico notes that, at 38, she would be one of the youngest justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court, which means there'd be a chance she could hold the seat for quite some time. Read more at The Washington Post and Politico. Tim O'Donnell

September 19, 2020

There's a lot of speculation about how Republican senators will respond to the Supreme Court vacancy following the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to forge ahead with a confirmation vote, and President Trump has urged GOP lawmakers to confirm his nominee "without delay." But observers have pinpointed a few Republicans that could potentially break with the party and try to push the vote until at least after the November election is decided. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), often considered one of the more moderate voices in the upper chamber, was one of them.

Collins, who is in a tough re-election battle, released a statement Saturday, clarifying that she believes a vote to confirm the nominee should wait until after the election. Collins said "we must act fairly and consistently — no matter which political party is in power," likely referring to the fact that the Republican-led Senate blocked then-President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016 due to the proximity to that year's election.

The senator said she would not object if Trump makes a nomination or if the Senate Judiciary Committee begins "the process of reviewing his nominee's credentials," but, ultimately, whoever wins the election on Nov. 3 should make "the decision on a lifetime appointment." Tim O'Donnell

September 19, 2020

The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday night at 87, was remembered fondly by her eight surviving colleagues on the bench, all of whom released statements on her passing.

Any ideological divide between Ginsburg and the other justices was absent from their recollections, most of which consisted of praise for her intellectual brilliance and positive memories of working alongside her, with multiple justices noting how Ginsburg welcomed them graciously when they took their place on the court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor called Ginsburg a personal "hero" and said she assisted her throughout her career, "long before I came to the Supreme Court."

Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired from the court in 2018, also shared his thoughts, having served alongside Ginsburg for 25 years. "By her learning she taught devotion to the law," he said. "By her dignity she taught respect for others and her love for America. By her reverence for the Constitution, she taught us to preserve it to secure our freedom." Tim O'Donnell

September 19, 2020

In response to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) plan to give President Trump's eventual nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a confirmation vote on the Senate floor, possibly before the November election, some Democrats are calling for former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, to threaten to pack, or expand, the high court.

As Jill Filipovich writes in The Washington Post, there is a belief that the GOP would be stealing a Supreme Court seat if enough lawmakers change their stance on whether a president should nominate a Supreme Court justice in an election year. McConnell and the Republican Senate, Filipovich writes, "have so repeatedly broken the rules, rigged the game, and stolen victories that it's become impossible to play on neutral turf," which is why she thinks Democrats should at least consider embracing the controversial tactic.

Filipovich notes the court hasn't always had nine members and suggests a Biden White House and Democratic-controlled Congress could sign and pass an act rather easily. But Biden has repeatedly said he's not in favor of the move because "we'll live to rue that day." Additionally, other analysts doubt court-packing will catch on with the majority of Democratic voters, and especially swing voters.

Indeed, there's even a sense that pushing for court expansion could backfire quickly. Tim O'Donnell

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