September 24, 2020

FBI Director Christopher Wray has affirmed there's no proof of a national attempt to defraud the 2020 election.

On Wednesday, President Trump refused to say whether he would peacefully give up power if Democratic nominee Joe Biden is elected this fall, once again repeating baseless allegations that Democrats are running a "scam." But in sworn testimony before Congress on Thursday, Wray said he's seen no evidence of this happening.

While Wray takes "voter fraud and voter suppression ... seriously" and is committed to investigating those situations, "We have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise," Wray said when questioned by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). He has seen instances of local voter fraud, but "to change a federal election outcome by mounting that kind of fraud at scale would be a major challenge," Wray added.

Wray was Trump's pick to replace James Comey as FBI director, but Trump has reportedly been considering ousting Wray for months. Trump also publicly disparaged Wray on Twitter after the director made it clear Russia was trying to interfere in the 2020 election. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:23 p.m.

Nigerians have spent weeks protesting the country's Special Anti-Robbery Squad, also known as SARS, for years of alleged abuse, torture, and killings — and American celebrities are taking notice.

In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Beyoncé announced she was partnering with youth organizations behind the protests and working to provide emergency relief for protesters.

Rihanna, Burna Boy, Chance the Rapper and others also called for the end of SARS with tweets of their own.

Nigeria's president announced he would disband SARS earlier this month, but protesters are still demanding justice for SARS' abuses and opposing the redistribution of officers to other police forces. At least 15 protesters have died in recent weeks as they faced government pushback, Amnesty International estimates. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:45 p.m.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee plan to make one final stand against Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday.

The committee will vote then to advance her nomination to the full Senate, but Democrats plan to boycott that vote, a Democratic aide tells HuffPost. They reportedly plan to fill their chairs with photos of constituents who would be hurt if the Affordable Care Act was overturned — the same photos they brought to the first day of Barrett's hearings. Democrats fear Barrett could cast a deciding vote to repeal the ACA as challenges to it likely reach the court in the coming months.

Democrats have seemed frustrated with Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) after she failed to put up much of a fight against Barrett's hearings and even publicly thanked Republicans once it was over. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had a "long and serious talk" with Feinstein, but otherwise didn't criticize or defend her. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:16 p.m.

The secret's out: President Trump's personal attorney and top campaign surrogate Rudy Giuliani was duped by a potentially career-ending prank as part of Sacha Baron Cohen's sequel to 2006's Borat. Having watched it, I can confirm that even knowing what's coming won't prepare you for the shock and revulsion of the scene.

Discourse Blog's Jack Crosbie concurred, writing that the moment is "far more graphic than any of the reviews make it sound." The scene involves Borat's supposedly 15-year-old daughter, Tutar — played by 24-year-old actress Maria Bakalova — who is posing as a journalist with the intent of seducing Giuliani, 76, in a hotel room.

During the interview, Giuliani spouts off lies about China supposedly having "manufactured" the coronavirus and "deliberately spread it all around the world." Tutar, all the while, plays the part of a charming but inexperienced journalist. Several times during the interview she flirtatiously touches Giuliani's knee, and at the end she invites him to "have a drink in the bedroom."

Once in the suite, Giuliani helps Tutar remove her microphone (though the room is of course bugged with Borat 2's hidden cameras and mics) and tells her "you can give me your phone number and your address." He then proceeds to lean back on the bed and "pushes both hands into the front of his pants, possibly re-tucking his shirt," writes Crosbie, "but they stay there as he rummages around a bit, sighing."

Before anything else happens, Borat (wearing what Giuliani would later describe as "a pink transgender outfit") bursts into the room, causing Giuliani to sit up and yank his hands quickly out of his pants with an "oop!"

"She's 15, she too old for you! … She's my daughter, please, take me instead!" Borat tells Giuliani, at which point the police were promptly called. (Giuliani, for what it's worth, also bafflingly clarifies to Cohen, "I don't want you.")

The whole movie will be available to watch on Amazon starting on Friday. You can read the full transcript of the scene's aftermath — although trust me, there can't be "spoilers" for a moment quite like this — at Discourse Blog. Jeva Lange

4:01 p.m.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) won't say how he voted, but can confirm it wasn't for the president.

Romney, like many Americans, voted early for the presidency this year. CNN asked what he put down on his ballot, but Romney would only say "I did not vote for President Trump."

Romney is the first — and possibly the only — Republican senator to publicly split with his party when voting for the presidency. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) had also said she wouldn't attack Biden during the 2020 race, but also wouldn't say if she would privately vote for him or the incumbent.

Romney's vote isn't surprising given that he's been one of the few GOP senators who commonly opposes the president, and was the only Republican to agree with one of the impeachment counts against Trump. He recently released a statement calling out Trump, as well as Democrats, for "rabid attacks" on their political opponents. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:18 p.m.

The ill-fated streaming service Quibi may already be shutting down.

Quibi Holdings LLC "is considering shutting itself down," The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. The company has reportedly hired a restructuring firm, which presented the board with "a list of options that included shutting the company down," the Journal says.

Meanwhile, The Information is also reporting that Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg has "told people in the industry that he may have to shut down the company." That report adds that Quibi employees "have said important strategy meetings have been cancelled," and they've even "informally been scheduling goodbye drinks." And The Wrap reports that the "expectation is that the company will shut down and return what remains of its investors' money."

Quibi, which means "quick bites," launched in April with original shows presented in short chunks available to watch exclusively on mobile devices. But it hasn't exactly been a smooth launch year. Users complained about not being able to see Quibi's shows on their TVs — a feature that was later added — and while the service was geared toward those looking for content to watch on the go, there was less of a need for that weeks after potential subscribers stopped commuting to work due to the pandemic.

Previously, the Journal reported that Quibi was set to to "sign up fewer than two million paying subscribers" by the end of its first year, coming in "well under its original target of 7.4 million." News of the service's possible shutdown comes after Politico reported that should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win the 2020 election, among those whose names are "being floated" for his Cabinet include Quibi CEO Meg Whitman.

Update: After this article was published, the Journal reported that Katzenberg has informed investors Quibi will be shutting down. Brendan Morrow

2:40 p.m.

This year's election is looking familiar.

Polls have long given Democratic nominee Joe Biden a big advantage in this year's presidential race. And with more forecasting Democratic gains in the Senate as well, pollsters and analysts have started to compare 2020 to 1980. That's when former President Ronald Reagan swept the U.S. in a landslide, and Republicans ousted 12 Democrats in the Senate.

One of those pollsters estimating a blue wave is Charlie Cook, who runs The Cook Political Report. Cook noted in a Wednesday tweet that a big presidential win doesn't necessarily mean a complete wave — it didn't in 1972 and 1984. But he thinks this year's likely big win for Biden will be different, recalling how the losses trickled in for Democrats in 1980 and saying this year's Senate losses for Republicans "won't hit 12 but could get to be a pretty big number."

The idea's most ardent defender is Joe Trippi, who has been working on Democratic campaigns since 1980. He has repeated over and over that this year's election looks much more like 1980 than 2016, crediting the fatigue voters already feel after just four years of Trump.

Cook's insistence that just one Democratic-held Senate seat is in play this year versus nine Republican seats has only added to Trippi's evidence. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:06 p.m.

It looks like Sacha Baron Cohen's attempt to prank Rudy Giuliani for his new Borat film was a great success.

The comedian's sequel, in which Borat travels to America in hopes of gifting his daughter to someone close to the Trump administration, drops on Amazon this Friday. But spoiler-filled details emerged on Wednesday about a shocking scene in which Baron Cohen dupes President Trump's personal lawyer.

In the movie, The Guardian reveals, Giuliani speaks with the actress who portrays Borat's daughter for what he thinks is a conservative news show, after which "the pair retreat at her suggestion for a drink to the bedroom of a hotel suite, which is rigged with concealed cameras." From there, Giuliani "can be seen lying back on the bed, fiddling with his untucked shirt" and then "reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals," The Guardian writes.

At that point, Borat reportedly interrupts the two, bursting in to say, "She's 15. She's too old for you."

In reviews for the film published on Wednesday, critics were naturally gobsmacked by the Giuliani moment, with the Los Angeles Times speaking of a "what-the-hell-am-I-seeing" sequence that will likely lead to "indignant lawsuits," while Deadline said that the "big Giuliani finale is a stunner" and Vanity Fair wrote that "you cannot help wondering exactly what Giuliani may have done next" had he not been interrupted.

Giuliani actually revealed earlier this year that he called the police on Baron Cohen over a prank interview, at the time telling Page Six, in a statement that didn't exactly age well, "I felt good about myself because he didn't get me." Perhaps he meant to conclude that sentence with a Borat-style "not!" Brendan Morrow

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