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September 13, 2017
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After falsely claiming that 3-5 million people voted illegally for his opponent in the 2016 election, President Trump announced his intention in late January to set up a commission to investigate voter fraud, a decision he formalized with an executive order in May. On Feb. 22, a Heritage Foundation employee wrote an email to Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he'd heard the "disturbing" news that the commission's chairman, Vice President Mike Pence, planned to make the panel bipartisan and urged that only like-minded conservatives be appointed, according to a copy of the email obtained by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) through a freedom-of-information request.

The Justice Department redacted the name of the Heritage Foundation's self-proclaimed vote-fraud expert, but the conservative think tank effectively confirmed to Gizmodo that the author was Hans von Spakovsky, who was later appointed to the commission and is identified by the CLC as "widely considered the architect of the voter fraud myth." At the commission's second public meeting on Tuesday, before Heritage confirmed that Spakovsky wrote the email, Pro Publica's Jessica Huseman asked him "point blank" if he'd "authored this document, he said no." She posted audio of the exchange.

In the email, the Heritage Foundation employee presumed to be Spakovsky argued to Sessions that "there isn't a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud" and claim that the commission "is engaged in voter suppression," and that "mainstream Republican officials and/or academics" would also make the commission "an abject failure." The author also complained that none of the "real experts on the conservative side" had been appointed "other than Kris Kobach," the committee's vice chairman, Kansas secretary of state, and Breitbart News columnist.

Pence and Kobach eventually appointed seven Republicans and five Democrats to the commission, though one Democrat resigned. But the CLC said that the email adds "to the mounting evidence that the commission has no interest in true bipartisanship or an open discussion of how to solve the real problems in our elections." CLC president Trevor Potter, a former GOP chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said that Kobach's "farcical meetings" continue "to validate the worst suspicions about the commission: that it is designed to shrink the electorate for partisan advantage." He suggested they focus on "a true issue of election integrity" like Russians buying political ads on Facebook.

UPDATE: Spakovsky said in a statement that the email was sent to "private individuals who were not in the administration" and "was unaware that it had been forwarded" to Sessions. He added that he now believes the commission is "committed to uncovering the truth about election integrity and the other issues present in our election system." Peter Weber

February 24, 2018
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Syrian government strikes have killed some 500 civilians, including about 120 children, over the course of a week in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The activist group says Russian planes are assisting with the attacks, but Russia denies direct engagement.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces reportedly used barrel bombs and artillery shells to target the area where some 400,000 people have no option of escape. Civilians are "being forced into bunkers and many of them can't even find the time to bury their dead," reports NPR's Lama Al-Arian. The Assad regime says its goal is to liberate civilians from a nearby rebel enclave.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pushing for a U.N. resolution implementing a 30-day ceasefire so humanitarian aid can be delivered to East Ghouta. "I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population," he said, describing the situation as "hell on Earth." If the resolution passes — Moscow is demanding edits in exchange for its support — its prospects for enforcement are dubious.

Update 4:32 p.m.: The U.N. Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution. Bonnie Kristian

February 24, 2018

Delta and United Airlines on Saturday announced they are cutting ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The airlines join the Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National car rental brands as well as First National Bank of Omaha, Best Western hotels, MetLife insurance, and more than a dozen other companies in ending deals with the NRA. Delta previously offered discounted airfare for NRA members, and United offered discounts on flights to and from the organization's annual conference.

Companies are distancing themselves from the NRA in response to outrage following last week's mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Customer responses to the tweeted announcements were predictably mixed. Bonnie Kristian

February 24, 2018

A daring squirrel narrowly cheated death Saturday while attempting to sprint across the course of the women's parallel giant slalom competition at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Austrian snowboarder Daniela Ulbing just barely maneuvered around the animal, which appeared to reconsider its choices after she passed. Watch the squirrel's moment of destiny below. Bonnie Kristian

February 24, 2018
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Billionaire Warren Buffett published his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway on Saturday. Berkshire's net worth grew by $65.3 billion in 2017, Buffett said, but $29 billion of that gain came from savings effected by the Republican tax plan passed in December. The new tax law lowered the nominal corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent.

For individual investors, Buffett cautioned against going into debt to purchase stock because the market may drop. "There is simply no telling how far stocks can fall in a short period," he wrote. "Even if your borrowings are small and your positions aren't immediately threatened by the plunging market, your mind may well become rattled by scary headlines and breathless commentary. And an unsettled mind will not make good decisions."

Read the full letter here. Bonnie Kristian

February 24, 2018
Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday began soliciting public input on restoring work requirements for food stamp recipients in high-unemployment areas where rules were waived in recent years.

"Long-term dependency has never been part of the American dream," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. "USDA's goal is to move individuals and families [using food stamps] back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty."

Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) are eligible for only three months of food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) unless they spend at least 80 hours per month working or at a qualified training. In five states — Alaska, California, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico — and economically struggling localities in 28 other states, that rule is currently suspended.

No changes have been formally proposed at this time, but the USDA estimates about 2.9 million ABAWDs are currently unemployed and would therefore be affected if the waiver were rescinded. They make up about 7 percent of the 43.6 million people who used food stamps in 2017. Bonnie Kristian

February 24, 2018

Heavy rains over the weekend are expected to exacerbate deadly flooding in the Midwest and southern Plains regions. Hundreds of people have evacuated their homes in affected areas from eastern Texas through southern Indiana, and at least three people, including one child, have been killed in connection to the floods.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has declared a 30-day state of emergency, and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has issued a disaster proclamation for three counties. The National Weather Service advises caution of flash floods and tornadoes throughout the weekend. Bonnie Kristian

February 24, 2018

The United States men's curling team took its first-ever gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Saturday. After nearly being eliminated from the competition, the team made a comeback win, besting both the Canadian team — prior to this victory, no American team in men's or women's curling has ever beaten Canada at the Olympics — and the Swedish team, which was ranked first in the world.

"During the entire end we could kind of feel it building," said team leader John Shuster of the gold-medal victory over Sweden. "Their margin for error got really small."

Also Saturday, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic became the first woman to take gold in two separate events at the Winter Games. Last Saturday, she was the surprise victor in Alpine skiing, and this week, Ledecka triumphed in her primary event, women's parallel giant slalom snowboarding. Bonnie Kristian

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