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By Daniel Barnes

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate William Barr for attorney general, and confirmed that former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert as his pick to replace Nikki Haley as U.N. ambassador.

“He was my first choice from day one,” Trump said of Barr, calling him a “highly respected lawyer” and “one of the most respected jurists in the country.”

If confirmed by the Senate, it would be Barr’s second stint as head of the Justice Department. He served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under the late former President George H.W. Bush.

“Hopefully that process will go very quickly,” Trump said of Senate confirmation. “I think he will serve with great distinction.”

Barr would succeed former attorney general Jeff Sessions, who resigned under pressure in November.

Trump’s choice of Nauert to replace Haley had been previously reported by NBC News.

“She’s very talented, very smart, very quick and I think she’s going to be respected by all,” Trump said of Nauert.

The president also teased a third personnel decision to be announced tomorrow as he attends the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.

“I can give you a little hint — it will have to do with the joint chiefs of staff and succession,” Trump said.

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Democratic Socialists of America scored wins in the midterms. What’s on their agenda?

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By Diamond Naga Siu

The Democratic Socialists of America scored headline-grabbing victories in this year’s midterm elections, sending its first two members to Congress while a number of members won in state and municipal races across the country.

But what are the DSA’s core beliefs, and what policies are these newly elected lawmakers likely to champion as priorities?

“It’s the issues that drive us, but really it’s the people that drive the issues,” Allie Cohn, a member of the DSA’s 16-person governing body, said in an interview.

“We’re working under the ideology of what’s best for the working class. What’s the most human. We organize for social democratic reform,” she continued. “We’re organizing for reform — we want to transform the status quo, because what we know of the status quo isn’t working.”

Members, who self-identify as everything from communists to liberals to Marxists to socialists, vote on a platform during the organization’s biennial national convention. At the most recent convention in Houston in 2016, members pushed for a focus on Medicare For All and strengthening unions — and also emphasized gaining more elected representation.

The DSA saw membership surge after Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., beat longtime incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in June, Cohn said. It was 44,000 members strong prior to her victory, and 4,000 more people joined within a week of her win. Now, the organization has 55,000 members, Cohn said.

Here are five issues and priorities backed by members of the DSA.

Abolish ICE, open borders

The DSA believes in abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, and advocates abolishing borders and any other “barrier imposed on the social, labor and political power of migrants,” according to a mission statement on the DSA’s website.

The two DSA members headed to Congress, Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ocasio-Cortez, have both publicly endorsed abolishing ICE.

“We can replace it with a humane agency that is directed toward safe passage instead of the direction of criminalization,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN in October, shortly after she won her primary race in an upset.

Medicare for All

DSA members support Medicare for All — meaning a single-payer, government-run health insurance system that would offer coverage to anyone living in the United States.

Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib campaigned on Medicare for All in the midterms — and so did others who aren’t members of the DSA, as well.

“I’ll fight for Medicare for All that guarantees health care as a right, not a privilege,” Tlaib wrote on her campaign website. “We’re the only major nation on Earth that does not guarantee health care for its residents, and because of it millions of people in this country still do not have access to the health services they need.”

After she was elected, Tlaib told The Washington Post that health care is a priority for many members and that she is “very much” committed to advocating for Medicare for All.

Ocasio-Cortez had continued to call for Medicare for All, as well.

Strong unions

Strengthening unions, in which workers self-organize to collectively bargain for fair wages, benefits and working conditions, was voted a nationwide priority during the DSA’s most recent convention, and DSA routinely offers support when workers strike across the country.

“I would say our biggest theme is that we’re obviously working toward a more democratic society that is for the workers,” Cohn said. “It all comes back to the same issue, that we need a society that is more democratically run, where the wealthy aren’t the only ones who have access to all these basic human rights that we should all have access to.”

Environmental justice

The DSA, according to its working group, takes an “ecosocialist position on climate action,” which views capitalism fundamentally at odds with saving the planet. Bertell Ollman, a politics professor at New York University who researches Marxism, said he believes environmental issues is one factor behind increased interest in socialism.

“It’s a chance of resolving some of our worsening problems in society like climate change, wars and growing inequality, which I think are the main problems that are pushing people, especially young people, more towards socialism,” Ollman said in an interview.

Though not yet sworn in, Ocasio-Cortez has prioritized the issue of climate change, announcing a “Green New Deal” alongside a diverse group of Democratic lawmakers during a news conference outside the Capitol in Washington at the end of November.

Anti-war

According to the DSA’s newly-created anti-war think tank, the organization opposes war “as a key part of the struggle for socialism.”

“I don’t support military operations,” Tlaib told the democratic socialist publication In These Times in August. “If you go to the Department of Defense website, every day, Monday through Friday, there is an area called ‘contracts.’ Go there. You want to pay for college? Medicare for All? Pay to take care of Americans dying from famine to basic human rights abuses? Look at those contracts. I’m floored at how much money [they’re spending].”

Most recently, the DSA supported a Senate resolution that would end all U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. That measure passed a key procedural hurdle in late November in a 63-to-37 vote.



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Man at the center of North Carolina election fraud allegations has complicated past

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By Ben Kamisar, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Rich Gardella

WASHINGTON — Leslie McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of election fraud allegations that have roiled North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, has a long and colorful history as a political operative in the district.

The candidates he works for often perform better than expected among absentee voters in one of the district’s counties, one reason he’s been hired by a variety of political campaigns over the years.

But public records paint a more complicated picture, linking him to past accusations of improper ballot collection and showing he spent time in prison on a felony fraud conviction unrelated to elections.

Dowless has come under increased scrutiny since the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement voted not to certify Republican Mark Harris’s apparent 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready in the 9th district congressional race. The board, a state agency charged with the administration and certification of elections, instead called for a public hearing by Dec. 21 to investigate “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail ballots.”

Under state law, the board has the power to order a new election in a given contest if it determines there were enough widespread “irregularities or improprieties” to “taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.”

On Friday, the board publicly named Dowless a person of interest in its investigation although it has been looking into activities surrounding Dowless since at least 2016.

McCrae Dowless.WECT

Much of the concern from this past election center on Harris’s commanding advantage in absentee ballot results in Bladen County, a rural area between Fayetteville and Wilmington in the southeastern part of the state.

The Republican won more than 61 percent of Bladen County’s mail-in ballots, a puzzling margin considering just 19 percent of accepted mail-in ballots belonged to registered Republican voters.

Other possible anomalies in the absentee ballot data, including in nearby Robeson County, have also raised questions among experts and investigators.

Dowless’s stated specialty is his “get-out-the-vote” efforts, specifically with absentee ballots in Bladen County.

And his candidates have been successful there — a Washington Post analysis found that at least five candidates who Dowless worked for since 2010 performed markedly better on mail-in absentee ballots from Bladen than they did outside of the county.

One of those races was the 2018 Republican primary, where Harris dethroned incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger, helped by winning 437 of the 456 Bladen County absentee ballots. Harris won the district by 829 votes overall.

Red Dome Group, an area political consulting firm, assisted the campaign during the primary and general elections on a variety of tasks, including with the press, strategy and specific outreach efforts for absentee voting in Bladen County. New federal election filings show that Red Dome specifically conducted “Bladen absentee” work. The campaign still owes Red Dome more than $34,000 for that work, the filing shows.

Red Dome hired Dowless as an “independent contractor,” the organization’s founder, Andy Yates, confirmed to the Charlotte Observer.

Documents released by the board of elections point to Dowless as the central figure in an absentee-ballot harvesting operation, where handful of people were requesting absentee ballots for voters and then paid associates subsequently signed those ballots certifications as witnesses.

According to an NBC News analysis of Bladen County Board of Election documents released by the state board, Dowless turned in 590 absentee ballot request forms from late August to late October 2018. A Jessica Dowless turned in another 185 applications. The entries on the document were handwritten, with signatures for both Dowlesses.

Links to McCrae Dowless are also seen on completed absentee ballot certifications, which witnesses must sign to ensure the ballot was filled out accurate to the voter’s wishes.

At least 86 returned ballots include witness signatures from those with ties to Dowless—either those who share a last name with him or have been linked to him in some capacity. By state law, two witnesses must sign a certification affixed to the outside of a mailed-in ballot.

Cherly Kinlaw and Ginger Eason, who signed multiple ballot certifications, told WSOC TV that they worked for Dowless.

Jessica Dowless and Sandra Dowless also signed a handful of absentee ballot certifications.

Dozens of certifications were also signed by Lisa Britt. Under her signature, Britt lists the same address as Sandra Dowless, her mother and McCrae Dowless’ ex-wife. But residents of their public housing complex say she only sometimes stays there.

It is not illegal to request absentee ballots for numerous voters, nor to sign as a witness to dozens of returned ballots — although there are some restrictions that bar candidates and campaign staff, or certain senior-care providers from serving as witnesses.

But it is illegal if witnesses sign certifications for ballots that were not completed by the voter. It’s also illegal at any point for a third party to take possession of a voter’s ballot.

So far, there have been multiple allegations of illegal activity.

In their interviews with WSOC TV, both Kinlaw and Eason said that Dowless paid them to pick up absentee ballots from voters. The two women said they were unaware that was against the law.

Two Bladen County voters told NBC News that Britt came to their homes to collect their absentee ballots as well, a charge that Britt denied to Buzzfeed News.

Britt also appears to have signed her name on Robeson County ballot certifications.

Dowless did not respond to multiple attempts by NBC News to reach him for comment, but he previously denied wrongdoing to the Charlotte Observer.

Red Dome did not responded to requests for comment, but has also previously denied knowledge of wrongdoing.

The state board of elections has subpoenaed the Harris campaign and Red Dome, along with the campaign of Bladen County Sheriff James McVicker, who has also worked with Dowless, in connection with its investigation.

There are links between Harris and Dowless outside of Red Dome too, but no evidence that the candidate knew about any improper ballot handling.

Pete Givens, a former Republican candidate for the Charlotte City Council, told NBC News that Harris took him to meet Dowless, where Dowless described his strategy to hand out absentee ballot request forms.

Givens said that everything Dowless described to him during that meeting was within the law and that he was unaware of Dowless’s criminal history. But while Givens briefly paid Dowless for help with the process, no Dowless associates every worked for Givens’ campaign and Givens stopped using those methods after a few months because it wasn’t working for the campaign.

Harris released a video statement on Twitter on Friday that said his campaign is cooperating fully, and that he was unaware of any wrongdoing.

“If this investigation finds proof of illegal activity on either side, to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to ensure all voters have confidence in the results,” he said.



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Trump picks Gen. Mark Milley as next top military adviser

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Saturday that he’s picked a battle-hardened commander who oversaw troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to be the nation’s next top military adviser.

If confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Mark Milley, who has been chief of the Army since August 2015, would succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dunford’s term doesn’t end until Oct. 1. Trump said the date of transition is yet to be determined.

Trump tweeted the announcement, saying “I am pleased to announce my nomination of four-star General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the United States Army – as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing General Joe Dunford, who will be retiring. I am thankful to both of these incredible men for their service to our Country!”

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