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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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The Oath Keepers militia group on Monday issued an official “call to action” asking their members to serve as voluntary armed guards at U.S. schools, in order to intervene in the event of a mass shooting.

But the group doesn’t seem to think much of some of the students they say they want to protect.

During a meandering Monday night webinar held by the far-right, anti-government group, the gun writer David Codrea referred to Emma González and David Hogg, survivors of the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida as “the enemy.”

González and Hogg have been at the forefront of a student activist movement urging Congress to pass gun control legislation.

Codrea, a writer for the Oath Keepers and War on Guns blogs, also said that Gonzalez’s father is a “refugee from Castro’s Cuba,” and lamented that the National Rifle’s Association 595,000 Twitter followers paled in comparison to the one million that follow “this young Communist girl.”

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who hosted the webinar, suggested that law enforcement may have deliberately ignored multiple tips about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, in order to allow a massacre that could pave the way for gun control.

“It was a conspiracy to intentionally leave our children exposed to mass murder,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes and other speakers also talked about the group’s effort to station armed Oath Keepers volunteers, who are military and police veterans, at schools across the U.S., “whether they want us to or not,” as Rhodes put it at the start of the webinar.

Rhodes spoke to TPM about that idea Monday.

Another speaker on the webinar, Matt Bracken, said that sending armed guards to schools, “if handled right, could be very good PR” for the group. Bracken is the author of several books promoting gun rights, including “Enemies: Foreign and Domestic,” “Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista” and “Foreign Enemies and Traitors.”

So far, only Indiana member Marc Cowan appears to have taken up the call to arms, stationing himself since Friday on the perimeter of Fort Wayne’s North Side High School’s campus with an AR-15 and handgun.

The Fort Wayne school district said they don’t think the presence of armed volunteers like Cowan makes their students any safer.

The online session, which went on for almost two hours, was marred by technological glitches. Bracken’s video stream was the only one visible. Codrea chose to remain off camera because he’d been stricken by pneumonia, and as a result, he said, had been in a robe all day.

The conversation focused less on operational details for members, and more on denunciations of what Codrea called the “Leni Riefenstahls” in the media, bent on manipulating the national conversation on guns.

“When are citizens going to enforce our constitution?” one participant asked in a chat on the sidebar.

“We should be all the time, that is up to all of us!” replied the Oath Keepers’ moderator.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday issued a bipartisan request to White House Counsel Don McGahn and FBI Director Chris Wray for more information on how the Trump administration is handling the process for requesting security clearances.

The letter from Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) comes after reports that some 100 White House staffers, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were working on interim clearances as of November 2017.

“If true, this raises significant concerns that ineligible individuals, who hold positions of public trust, may have access to sensitive or classified information,” the letter reads.

The senators request information, by March 13, on the total number of those working on interim clearances, what sensitive or classified information they have access to, and the exact circumstances surrounding the clearance for fired White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, among other topics.

The Porter debacle prompted renewed scrutiny of the current White House’s processes. Porter was permitted to operate under an interim clearance while the FBI probed well-documented allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives. White House officials including McGahn and Chief of Staff John Kelly were reportedly both aware of the allegations against Porter, and that they were holding up his full clearance.

The situation raised concerns that Porter could have had access to classified information without a full security clearance, potentially endangering national security.

Kelly has since proposed denying or revoking top clearances for any aide whose background check has been pending since last June or earlier. President Trump said it was up to Kelly to decide if Kushner, who fits that description, would have his interim clearance waived or revoked.

The House Oversight Committee is separately conducting an investigation into how Porter managed to keep working under a clearance despite the abuse allegations.

Read the Judiciary Committee’s full letter below:

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The same day the Missouri House launched an investigation into indicted Gov. Eric Greitens (R), St. Louis prosecutors suggested that he may face additional charges.

The seven-person House panel formally convened on Monday is composed of five Republicans and two Democrats and will look only at the allegations in the indictment filed by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Greitens was charged with felony invasion of privacy Thursday for taking a photograph of a partly nude woman he was sleeping with and threatening to leak it if she went public about their extramarital relationship. The alleged incident occurred before he was elected governor.

“Our focus is going to be on the underlying facts of the indictment and the circumstances surrounding them,” Rep. Jay Barnes (R), chair of the committee, said in a press conference, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

But in an undocketed court hearing the same afternoon, lawyers for the city and for the governor got into a contentious exchange over the hearing date and the possibility that Greitens may face additional charges unrelated to the alleged March 2015 blackmail incident.

As the Post Dispatch reported, Gardner and her first assistant, Robert Steele, said that their investigation was ongoing and could touch on matters unrelated to the invasion of privacy charge. They did not specify what those could be, but said prosecutors were forced to indict Greitens last week because the three-year statute of limitations was due to run out.

Greitens’ attorneys countered that prosecutors were trying to drag out the embarrassing public investigation and that they want a quick jury trial to begin by the end of April at the latest, per the newspaper.

Greitens’ team previously filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying the statute applied to peeping toms rather than adults engaging in a consensual sexual encounter. In an audio recording secretly made by her then-husband, the woman said she did not consent to being photographed nude by Greitens.

The governor seems intent on ignoring the political storm as the House and city probes continue. Greitens released a statement last week calling the indictment a “misguided political decision” initiated by a “reckless liberal prosecutor.” On Monday, he visited with families whose houses were destroyed in a tornado over the weekend.

At the Missouri Capitol, over a dozen Republicans have called for Greitens to step down in the wake of his indictment, saying the investigations were a huge distraction from their legislative work. Others say they want to reserve judgment until the probes are complete.

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Imagine if every school campus in the United States had its own volunteer security officer: a former police officer or military veteran equipped with an assault rifle.

That’s the dream of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes.

In the wake of the February 14 massacre at a Parkland, Florida high school, Rhodes is calling on members of his far-right anti-government militia group to serve as unpaid and unaccountable armed school guards — whether teachers and students like the idea or not.

One Indiana Oath Keeper has already deployed to a local school, even though the school district says there’s no need for him to be there.

Rhodes wants the military and police veterans who make up Oath Keepers’ membership to volunteer for unpaid, rotating shifts at schools of all levels, and colleges, throughout the country. He and two other representatives of the fringe militia community will hold a webinar Monday night where they plan to encourage Oath Keepers to station themselves at schools “to protect the children against mass murder, and to help train the teachers and staff.”

“I think it’s essential,” Rhodes told TPM in a Monday phone call. “It’s part of our responsibility to do what we can.”

“And what we can do is be outside of schools so that we’re closer if an attack happens, or when one happens,” Rhodes continued. “We’ll be there to be a fast response.”

Oath Keepers came to prominence as part of the surge of right-wing extremism that marked the early years of the Obama administration. At the group’s core are efforts to stoke fear around outlandish conspiracy theories — that the federal government will disarm all citizens, impose martial law, and round Americans up into detention camps, among other scenarios.

Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, has referred to Hillary Clinton as “Herr Hitlery,” and “the dominatrix-in-chief,” and has said John McCain should be tried for treason and then “hung by the neck until dead.”

The group’s push for vigilante school security officers comes in the midst of a fraught national debate over how to curb school shootings like the one in Parkland that left 14 students and 3 staffers dead. President Donald Trump, the NRA and some GOP lawmakers all have suggested arming teachers who have firearms training, as a way to deter would-be school shooters — an idea Rhodes said he supports. But since training teachers will take time, he argues, it makes sense to use Oath Keepers volunteers in the interim.

The National Association of School Resource Officers and many school shooting survivors, including those from Parkland, strenuously oppose plans to arm teachers. Teachers may not feel safe wielding arms; students could get ahold of the weapons or get caught in crossfire; law enforcement could mistake an armed teacher or other non-uniformed school staffer for an assailant. The prospect of something going wrong seems even higher with non-vetted, non-professional members of a conspiratorial militia group volunteering services that schools did not ask for.

Rhodes’ response? “Tough.”

“If they don’t like it, too bad,” Rhodes said. “We’re not there to make people feel warm and fuzzy; we’re there to stop murders.”

“What I tell our people is don’t ask for permission,” Rhodes continued. “Let ‘em know what you’re doing and be as friendly as you can. But this is the reality we’re in right now.”

“Most schools have this retarded no-guns policy,” Rhodes added, calling such measures, “‘Alice in Wonderland,’ upside-down thinking.”

To avoid confusion, members will be asked to wear a “long-range identifier” like a sash or orange vest, as well as a “close-range identifier” one that copycats cannot imitate, Rhodes said. Before showing up, they’ll be asked to provide police with copies of their drivers’ licenses, descriptions of their outfits and descriptions of their vehicles and license plates.

Mark Cowan, an Indiana-based member of the Oath Keepers and an Army veteran, has since Friday posted himself outside North Side High School in Fort Wayne, wearing an Oath Keepers baseball hat and carrying a handgun and an AR-15.

“If somebody comes to this school or another school where we’re at, that school shooter is going to know, we’re not going to play games,” Cowan told local station WPTA. “You come to kill our kids, you’re dead.”

In other interviews with local media, Cowan has said he is complying with state law by parking his car just off of school grounds, and that he plans to remain there until the school, which already has an armed resource officer, introduces additional safety measures.

Fort Wayne Community Schools spokeswoman Krista Stockman said local schools had no need for armed volunteers like Cowan.

“We understand he has a right to be out there, but we do not believe it adds to the safety of our students,” Stockman said in a statement. “At North Side, as at all of our schools, we have security procedures in place. In addition, at North Side, we have armed police officers in the building every day.”

According to local news reports, Cowan was arrested last year in connection with a fight that involved his use of a deadly weapon, and pleaded guilty plea to a count of misdemeanor battery. He told WPTA that the incident involved his effort to protect two of his grandchildren, who were attacked by another man. The guilty plea does not prevent him from carrying a firearm under Indiana law.

TPM was not immediately able to reach Cowan. But Bryan Humes, a spokesperson for the Oath Keepers’ Indiana chapter, told TPM in a Monday phone call that Cowan is serving as “another set of eyes and ears” for North Side, which has some 1,800 students, and that other members of the group are interested in taking up similar posts.

“We’re just a little concerned that one officer, with the size of the building and the number of people, may not quite be adequate as far as being able to keep an eye on everything,” Humes said.

“He had a couple of students Friday come out from school during class and thank him for being out there,” Humes added. “He’s also had a couple of the local police and sheriff’s officers stop by and thank him for being out there.”

Captain Steve Stone of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department told TPM that Cowan notified him he would be stationed outside of North Side, and that he personally spread the message to the rest of the department. Stone declined to offer the department’s stance on the Oath Keepers’ presence, noting that Cowan is “not breaking the law.”

“I can’t speak on behalf of the department on the department’s view of having civilians like the Oath Keepers doing that, unfortunately,” Stone said, saying Sheriff David Gladieux was unavailable. “I can’t give you my personal opinion on whether it’s good or not.”

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Former Trump campaign and transition adviser Rick Gates is officially Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s latest cooperating witness. On Friday, he announced he’d had a “change of heart” about the prospects of a drawn-out court battle and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the U.S. and another of making false statements to federal authorities.

Contrary to speculation, that move did not prompt former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to “alter his commitment” to defending his innocence, as Manafort said in a statement. Mueller filed a new set of charges against Manafort in Virginia this week and a superseding indictment against him in Washington, D.C. on Friday. Prosecutors allege that Manfort and Gates hid tens of millions of dollars made from lobbying work they did in Ukraine, failing to pay taxes and to disclose their work for a foreign government.

We learned this week that, as part of this work, Manafort reportedly commissioned white-shoe law firm Skadden, Arps in 2012 to write a report justifying the conviction of a Ukrainian politician who was an opponent of Manafort’s client. In a surprise development, Alex van der Zwaan, a former lawyer for Skadden, pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller’s team about his conversations with Gates on Tuesday.

Another tidbit on the Mueller front: Gates admitted that his most recent lie to the FBI and Special Counsel came on Feb 1. According to his plea deal, he falsely said that he did not know that Ukraine was discussed in a March 2013 meeting between Manafort and two individuals that Foreign Agents Registration Act filings suggest were pro-Russia Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and former-congressman-turned-lobbyist Vin Weber.

President Trump spent the week lashing out at Barack Obama, who he claimed had failed to take sufficient action to safeguard against Russian meddling. He also took aim at the media, tweeting that MSNBC and CNN were “scammed” because they covered anti-Trump rallies that, Mueller revealed last week, were orchestrated by Russians working for the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA). Most of the Russians’ influence operation was focused on helping Trump, according to Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians affiliated with the IRA.

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Buried in the plea agreement documents released Friday for former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates was one remarkable detail. Just this month, Gates lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and to the FBI about what transpired during a spring 2013 meeting held by his longtime boss and fellow Trump campaign veteran Paul Manafort.

Per the court filing, Gates on Feb. 1 knowingly and falsely testified that “there were no discussions of Ukraine” at a March 19, 2013 meeting between Manafort, “a senior Company A lobbyist,” and “a Member of Congress.”

Though the document does not name the other two participants, their identities can be pieced together from contemporaneous news reports and recent filings with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The member of Congress appears have been Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), jokingly nicknamed “Putin’s favorite congressman” for his strong pro-Russia stance. Manafort’s June 2017 FARA filing– which acknowledges that his firm, DMP International, LLC, conducted millions of dollars in business with the pro-Russia Ukrainian Party of Regions –notes that he met with Rohrabacher on that day. Three days later, Manafort donated $1,000 to Rohrabacher’s congressional campaign.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., speaks during a rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, Dec. 9, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The lobbyist appears to have been Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman who now works for Mercury Public Affairs, a global PR giant. The meeting between the trio was disclosed on Mercury’s own retroactive FARA filing, submitted in April of last year.

Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota at his Washington office, April 16, 1992.(AP PHOTO)

Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota at his Washington office, April 16, 1992.(AP Photo)

Exactly what was discussed at the meeting was not clear from the court documents, but they say that Gates helped Manafort prepare “a report that memorialized for Ukraine leadership the pertinent Ukraine discussions that Manafort represented had taken place at the meeting.”

 

In this photo taken July 17, 2016 photo, Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

We also still don’t yet why Gates lied under oath about his knowledge of the meeting months after Mueller first indicted him and Manafort on a series of financial crimes charges. As TPM reported, the timing suggests that Gates lied in the course of plea discussions with Mueller’s team. Gates’ three attorneys moved to withdraw from the case the same day.

Gates pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement and one count of conspiracy against the United States on Friday afternoon.

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The Maine Ethics Commission on Thursday voted against investigating a pro-GOP “news” site that was secretly operated by state Republican Party executive director Jason Savage.

In their 3-2 decision, the commission said they were satisfied with Savage’s explanation that he ran the Maine Examiner in his own time and without relying on state GOP resources, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The two Republicans on the panel were joined by the one independent in voting not to investigate. The panel’s two Democrats dissented.

The Maine Democratic Party in January filed a complaint asking the commission to look into the site’s connections to the state GOP. The site had published a series of false stories disparaging a Democratic mayoral candidate who ended up losing his race by only 145 votes.

The Maine GOP strenuously denied any ties to the Examiner, which described itself as a small local news website run by a “group of Mainers.” But Savage acknowledged he ran and wrote for the site after metadata directly linked him to it.

Savage’s attorneys said that the site was not subject to state campaign finance disclosure laws, as Democrats alleged, because it was a “personal project.”

His party often shared videos and stories produced by the site on its own social media platforms.

The state Democratic party said that they still scored a win by uncovering Savage’s role in promoting the site.

“As a result of this complaint, the Maine Democratic Party was able to drive Savage out of the shadows, hold him accountable to the public for his disturbing actions, and shine a bright light on the underhanded tactics that he and the Maine Republican Party are willing to engage in,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a statement.

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The Missouri House is launching an investigation into allegations that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens used a naked picture to threaten blackmail against a woman with whom he carried out a 2015 affair.

The announcement of the probe came hours after a St. Louis grand jury on Thursday indicted Greitens, a Republican, on felony invasion of privacy charges,

A growing number of lawmakers from both parties are calling for Greitens to step down or be impeached. But the governor says he committed no crimes, and is calling the criminal investigation politically motivated. His lawyers are seeking to have the indictment thrown out.

“We will carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward,” House Speaker Todd Richardson (R) said in a statement provided to the Kansas City Star.

A local reporter spotted Greitens being taken into custody at St. Louis’ Carnahan Courthouse Thursday afternoon before he was released on bond. News of his indictment was splashed across across the front pages of Missouri’s major newspapers the next morning, along with his mugshot.

“With today’s disappointing and misguided political decision, my confidence in our prosecutorial system is shaken, but not broken,” Greitens said in a statement shared on Facebook. “I know this will be righted soon. The people of Missouri deserve better than a reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points.”

Greitens said he made a mistake in having an affair with his former hairdresser, but “did not commit a crime.”

He was backed up by the Missouri GOP, who released a statement tying St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, to George Soros, and calling the investigation a “political hit job.”

Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Gardner, fired back at Greitens. “Despite the Governor’s personal attacks, the Circuit Attorney believes the courtroom is the appropriate place to argue the facts, not the media,” Ryan said in a statement.

At the center of the charges against the governor is a nude photo that Greitens took of the woman during a visit to his St. Louis home.

Greitens’ attorney, Edward Dowd, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming that the woman was aware that Greitens was taking the photo, and that it was part of a consensual relationship.

“No appellate case law exists approving criminal convictions where individuals involved were jointly participating in sexual activity,” Dowd wrote in the motion, which was obtained by the Associated Press. “Nor has case law ever affirmed a conviction where the ‘victim’ was in the home of the other person to engage in private sexual activity with that other person.”

But in a secret recording made by the woman’s husband shortly after the March 2015 incident occurred, she said Greitens blindfolded her, bound her to a piece of exercise equipment and undressed her before taking the photograph.

“I saw a flash through the blindfold and he said, ‘You’re never going to mention my name,'” she said.

Greitens has denied threatening the woman with blackmail but has not clearly denied taking the picture.

Top Democratic lawmakers and a handful of Republicans in the Missouri legislature called publicly for the governor to resign or be impeached.

Republican State Sen. Caleb Rowden said on Twitter that he was “disgusted to learn” that the grand jury found sufficient evidence to indict Greitens and that his immediate resignation was essential for the “sake of our state.”

Republican Rep. Nate Walker, who called for Greitens to step down after the allegations against him first surfaced in January, told the Star: “My understanding was he was led off in handcuffs and that’s not a good sign for our executive of the state of Missouri. He should resign.”

On Thursday, Greitens canceled a planned appearance at this weekend’s National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., and stepped down from the group’s executive committee.

Greitens is due in court March 16.

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Arizona has long been held up as a model of how to create fair, representative electoral maps largely free from partisan bias.

But a Republican proposal to overhaul the independent commission that draws the state’s maps threatens that reputation.

The measure, which is sponsored by GOP leadership in both houses of the legislature, was approved on party lines by a Senate committee last week. If it passes the Republican-controlled legislature, it would go before voters as a ballot initiative in November.

A wide range of Arizona political observers tell TPM that the legislation would give lawmakers more influence over redistricting, making it easier for them to draw lines that boost their party.

“This is obviously a Republican play to increase their control over the redistricting process during the next go-around [of map drawing],” said Chris Herstam, a former Republican majority whip in the Arizona House of Representatives, who helped establish the state’s independent commission in 2001. “To me, it’s very partisan.”

The move in Arizona comes at a pivotal moment in the redistricting wars. Ahead of the 2020 census, which is followed by a once-a-decade redistricting process, Democrats have launched an unprecedented national push to create fairer maps across the country. But Republicans in many states are doing their utmost to maintain the partisan system that last time allowed them to carry out extreme gerrymanders in numerous large states, giving their party a crucial edge in elections throughout the decade.

They’ve fought doggedly to keep maps in Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin that courts have found to be gerrymanders. And in Pennsylvania, some prominent Republicans have even threatened to impeach several of the state’s Supreme Court justices for approving a congressional map intended to fix aggressive GOP gerrymandering.

“As other states are facing legal challenges to their maps or through ballot measures are trying to move to a more independent process, it would be a step backwards for us,” Joel Edman, the director of the Arizona Advocacy Network Executive Director, told TPM of the proposed ballot initiative. “Which would be a real shame, because we were one of the first states to create an independent process.”

National Democrats, too, are alarmed.

“The proposal introduced by Republicans in the state legislature would unnecessarily politicize the current system and undermine the will of the voters,” Kelly Ward, the executive director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said in a statement. “Their draft language would make it more difficult to ensure a fair map-drawing process and allow the legislature to sidestep the independent commission’s work on a whim.”

Ward added that if the measure makes it onto the ballot, her group plans to “invest resources to expose this partisan power grab.”

Back in 2001, a voter-approved amendment to Arizona’s constitution established an independent commission to oversee drawing state legislative and congressional districts. Four commissioners — two Democrats and two Republicans — are selected by party leaders from a pool of people that are vetted and chosen by the commission that oversees appellate court appointments. The fifth, who serves as the chair, is an independent selected by the partisan commissioners.

The integral role of the appellate court in selecting candidates serves as a “buffer,” Edman said, that allows the commission “to be removed from politics and removed from the politicians at the Capitol.”

The system appears to have been successful. In drawing districts, the commission prioritizes geographical cohesion, competitiveness, and the need to fairly represent minority voters. It makes little effort to preserve the districts of current incumbents — something that lawmakers themselves tend to focus on when they control the process.

In 2016, Republicans won five out of the state’s nine congressional seats, while Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 3.5 percentage points.

Mark Gersh, who has worked with Democrats on redistricting, called Arizona a “gold standard for redistricting” that fairly represents a state home to many independents and a large and growing Latino population.

“You’ve actually got everything you want,” Gersh said. “You have competitive races and you have ones that respect minority votes.”

Indeed, Arizona was one of 15 states to get a perfect score on a set of tests run by a Princeton University gerrymandering project, which aims to identify partisan gerrymanders.

Under the proposal being pushed by Senate President Steve Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, party leaders would handpick the commissioners without vetting by the appellate court commission. The proposal also would expand the number of commissioners to eight — three Democrats, three Republicans, and two independents.

“The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has now redrawn our congressional and legislative districts twice, and both times the process was anything but independent or apolitical,” Mesnard told TPM in an emailed statement. “Arizona voters deserve an opportunity to weigh in on improvements to the process, like increasing the number of independents on the commission to better reflect the state’s party registration, diversifying the geographic representation of the state, and requiring that the population of districts be more evenly divided. These changes would ensure equality, as well as independence.”

Herstam, the Republican who helped establish the original independent commission, said that the expansion is instead intended to give the GOP more sway over how districts are crafted.

“It’s a play by the Republicans to give them more of an opportunity to get people of their ideology on the commission, even if they have ‘independent’ by their name,” Hestram said.

Democratic redistricting experts point to the GOP’s long history of attempting to undermine the independent commission. Most recently, the legislature brought a case claiming that it’s unconstitutional to cut lawmakers out of the redistricting process. The Supreme Court rejected that challenge in 2015. The following year, it rejected a separate challenge brought by Republicans that claimed the state’s map was overly favorable to Democrats.

During a Wednesday night caucus discussion, Yarbrough proposed adding a ninth commissioner who could break potential four-four partisan gridlock and would be chosen by the appellate court. The move seemed to be a concession to critics of the plan.

State Sen. Juan Mendez, one of the Democrats who voted against the original proposal, told TPM that the tweak wasn’t enough.

“In his testimony to the committee, [Yarbrough] dismissed the idea that there could be an independent who is not actually a partisan person who is just pretending to be independent,” Mendez said.

“It looks to me like he’s just throwing darts at the dartboard to see what sticks,” Mendez continued. “He’s trying to shore up Republican support for it, but that’s definitely not how I’d like to see someone be tinkering with democracy.”

Yarbrough’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Mendez and Democratic redistricting experts expect the initiative to end up passing the legislature and appearing on the ballot in November. They hope that, with a competitive gubernatorial and Senate race, voters will turn out en masse to reject it. But they’re not taking it for granted.

“You never know what the rhetoric is going to be,” Gersh said. “There’s going to be some misinformation campaign that will say what’s wrong with” the current system.

“You never know how these things go,” Gersh added.

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Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) was indicted by a grand jury Thursday on a felony count of invasion of privacy in the first degree.

The governor is accused of taking a nude photograph of a woman without her consent in 2015, and threatening to release it if she publicized their affair.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied allegations of blackmail and vowed to remain in office.

A reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch witnessed the governor being led away in the custody of several St. Louis deputies at the courthouse on Thursday afternoon.

Neither the governor’s office nor Greitens’ private attorneys immediately responded to TPM’s requests for comment.

One of the attorneys, Edward Dowd, told the Post-Dispatch that the charges were “baseless and unfounded” and that he would be filing a motion to dismiss them.

Greitens is being released on a personal recognizance bond and will be permitted to travel, Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, confirmed to TPM. Greitens was slated to go to Washington, D.C. this weekend to attend the annual National Governors Association’s winter meeting.

In a statement, Gardner said that the jurors chose to charge Greitens with a felony rather than a misdemeanor because he transmitted the image “in a manner that allows access to that image via a computer.”

“As I have stated before, it is essential for residents of the City of St. Louis and our state to have confidence in their leaders,” Gardner said. “They must know that the Office of the Circuit Attorney will hold public officials accountable in the same manner as any other resident of our city.”

The allegations against the governor first surfaced in mid-January when the ex-husband of the woman he engaged in an affair with spoke to several local news sites. The ex-husband also made public tape recordings he had made in 2015 in which his then-wife provided detailed descriptions of her sexual encounters with the governor. In one, she recalled being blindfolded and tapd to a piece of exercise equipment in Greitens’ basement before he partly undressed her and took a photograph of her without asking permission.

“My client’s agenda has always been to protect the interests of his kids,” Al Watkins, a lawyer for the ex-husband, told TPM. “And to the extent he’s done so he’s now in a position to step off the dance floor. The music may still be playing but it’s not a song to which he has any business dancing.”

Greitens’ indictment was met with renewed calls for his resignation from opponents.

Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson said in a statement that Greitens should “step down immediately” over the “deeply disturbing” charges.

State Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican who is one of Greitens’ most vocal critics in the Missouri legislature, fired off a simple two-word message: “he’s done.”

Read the full indictment below:

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