National: FBI, 5 other agencies investigating Kremlin aid in hacking, sources say | McClatchy

The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said. The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said. Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said. The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.

Editorials: Jeff Sessions and Martin Luther King | USA Today

As the nation marks the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, the future of civil rights in this country will soon rest in the hands of a new president and in large part his attorney general, who must champion the rights of all Americans. President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for that job, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is a troubling one on that score. While Sessions’ confirmation seems almost inevitable after a polished performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, the nominee’s encouraging promises cannot erase his often hostile record on civil rights, nor grave concerns about whether he will rise to the toughest challenges of the job. At times in the recent past, Sessions’ initial instincts have been the opposite of what one would seek in the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. Asked in October about Trump’s remarks that he could grab women by their genitals, Sessions said it would be “a stretch” to “characterize that as sexual assault.” In 2015, he decried the Supreme Court ruling granting same-sex couples the right to marry, while two years earlier he celebrated the Supreme Court ruling obliterating the central enforcement tool in the Voting Rights Act.

Alabama: Federal judges rule Alabama must redraw legislative districts |

A three-judge federal court panel has blocked Alabama from using in next year’s elections 12 legislative districts challenged as unconstitutional by black political groups. The districts are part of the district map drawn and approved by the Republican-led Alabama Legislature after the 2010 Census and were used in the 2014 election. The judges ruled for the plaintiffs on 12 of the 36 districts in dispute and enjoined the state from using those district lines again. The court ruled in favor of the state on the other 24 districts that were challenged. All 140 seats in the Alabama Legislature will be up for election next year. One of the three judges, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, issued a separate order dissenting, in part, from the other two judges, Circuit Judge Bill Pryor and Chief District Judge Keith Watkins.

Kansas: Kobach seeks authority for bifurcated elections; downplays issue of missing registrations | Lawrence Journal World

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach asked for a bill to be introduced Tuesday that would give him authority to hold “bifurcated” elections so that potentially tens of thousands of registered voters could not vote in state or local elections. It would apply to people who register to vote using a federal process that does not require people to show proof of citizenship, ensuring that they could only vote in federal elections, not state or local elections. “It’s sort of an interim bill during litigation to keep the integrity of the (proof of citizenship) law while it’s being litigated,” Kobach told the Senate Committee on Ethics, Elections and Local Government. The bill comes in response to a string of state and federal court rulings leading up to the 2016 elections that all but nullified the proof of citizenship law that he championed in 2011.

North Carolina: US Supreme Court makes no decision on redistricting case requiring 2017 elections | News & Observer

The U.S. Supreme Court justices offered no clue Thursday as to whether special elections ordered for North Carolina in 2017 will move ahead. The justices went behind closed doors together in the morning. Materials had been distributed to the eight Supreme Court members on the North Carolina redistricting case in which a federal three-judge panel found 28 state House and Senate districts to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The justices issued no order – leaving uncertainty about whether the high court would take up the case, and if so how quickly it would be heard and decided. The three-judge panel issued its ruling in August. In November, after voters went to the polls to elect candidates in the districts that had been declared unconstitutional, the judges ordered new maps to be drawn for the 28 flawed districts by March and elections held in any of the altered districts this year.

Texas: Court grants request to delay Texas voter ID hearing | San Antonio Express-News

Within hours of Donald Trump being sworn in as president Friday, a federal court in Corpus Christi postponed a scheduled hearing in the Texas voter ID case until next month at the request of the Justice Department. Lawyers for the department asked for a delay in the hearing scheduled for Tuesday, citing the change in presidential administrations.“Because of the change in administration, the Department of Justice also experienced a transition in leadership,” the department’s petition states. “The United States requires additional time to brief the new leadership of the department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the court.”In the past, the agency has asked that hearings in the case be expedited because of the issues involved.

The Gambia: Yahya Jammeh leaves the Gambia after 22 years of rule | The Guardian

Yahya Jammeh, the former Gambian president, has left the country after he finally agreed to step down following 22 years of rule. Jammeh and his family headed into political exile on Saturday night, ending a 22-year reign of fear and a post-election political standoff that threatened to provoke a regional military intervention when he clung to power. As he mounted the stairs to the plane, he turned to the crowd, kissed his Qur’an and waved one last time to supporters, including soldiers who cried at his departure. The flight came almost 24 hours after Jammeh announced on state television he was ceding power to the newly inaugurated Adama Barrow, in response to mounting international pressure calling for his departure. Though tens of thousands of Gambians had fled the country during his rule, Jammeh supporters flocked to the airport to see him walk the red carpet to his plane. Jammeh landed in Guinea an hour later and members of his family emerged from the plane, though the country might not be his final destination.

Germany: How to influence voters and tamper with the German election | Deutsche Welle

With eight months until Germans go to the polls, it seems not only politicians will be vying for voters’ attention. The country’s intelligence agencies believe foreign actors – namely Russia – may use similar tactics to those allegedly deployed during the US presidential election to divide public opinion and boost the fortunes of non-mainstream parties. In a report late last year, the Atlantic Council think-tank warned that Moscow viewed what it said were “the West’s best virtues – pluralism and openness – as vulnerabilities to be exploited.” It detailed a Kremlin “toolkit of influence,” which sought to undermine healthy democracies in Europe and elsewhere, by using information warfare to undermine the public’s trust in the political system. DW spoke to Dr. Stefan Meister, a Russian foreign policy analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations, and learned of six main tactics that the Kremlin appears to have already put in place.

National: Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates | The New York Times

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said. The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts. It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself. It is also unclear whether the inquiry has anything to do with an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and other attempts to disrupt the elections in November. The American government has concluded that the Russian government was responsible for a broad computer hacking campaign, including the operation against the D.N.C. The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.

National: U.S. counterintelligence officials are examining possible ties between Russia and Trump associates | The Washington Post

U.S. counterintelligence officials are sifting through intercepted communications and financial data as part of a wider look at possible ties between the Russian government and associates of President-elect Donald Trump, officials said. But while it has been clear for months that a broad investigation is underway, what remains murky — even to lawmakers receiving closed briefings — is its scope and target. It is unclear if the intercepts being examined have any connection to the Trump campaign. But the investigation adds to the uncertainty surrounding Trump’s relationship with Russia even as he is sworn in as president. U.S. intelligence agencies have already concluded that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win. FBI Director James B. Comey has been chastised by Democratic lawmakers for refusing to even acknowledge that it was investigating alleged links between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has been under FBI scrutiny for some time, including for allegations of illegal financial dealings in Ukraine, current and former U.S. officials said. Manafort has done business in Russia and Ukraine.

National: International observers recommend changes to U.S. electoral system | McClatchy

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a group of international election experts who observed the Nov. 8 election have suggested overhauling the United States’ “particularly unique” Electoral College system, which gave Trump the presidency. The changes, the group from the Organization of American States said, should be made to keep candidates from focusing just on battleground states. The group also raised concerns about the rise in polarizing and divisive rhetoric in U.S. campaigning and criticized Trump for making threats to restrict journalists’ access and for threatening legal action against them for expressing their views. The group’s report noted the claims of Russian interference in the election, but made no assessment of their accuracy or impact on the outcome. The report was similar in tone to those that U.S. observers make on elections in foreign nations and was noteworthy primarily because it was the first time OAS experts had monitored a U.S. election – something that resonated deeply in Latin America, where the United States has long advocated OAS monitoring for other nations.

California: Los Angeles County Voting System Redesign Enters Solicitation Phase | Government Technology

Work to redesign the process of how residents vote in Los Angeles County, the largest local election jurisdiction in the U.S., is entering a critical but transformational stage after eight years of research and conceptualization. The county’s Voting Systems Assessment Project (VSAP), which began in 2009 at Caltech essentially as a research project, has been in design for the past three years. But in October, officials signed an agreement with technology researcher and adviser Gartner Inc. to do a sourcing strategy and readiness assessment over a five-month period. Gartner finished its preliminary work at the end of 2016 and should begin reaching out to members of the IT community during the next few weeks to get feedback, likely finishing its assessment by the end of February.

Iowa: Democrats irked by Pate presentation without details of voter ID bill | The Gazette

With Secretary of State Paul Pate’s Election Integrity Act still in draft stage, Democrats on the House State Government Committee on Thursday complained it was hard to ask questions about his proposal to require all voters to present ID cards before casting their ballots. “We were hoping today to have the bill before us … so we could ask about what it does and about problems and pitfalls,” Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said about the bill still being drafted by the Legislative Services Agency. “Part of the concern and angst we have about opening this up today is there are so many questions we have.”

Ohio: Lawmakers try again to eliminate unnecessary elections | Journal News

Two Statehouse bills in the last legislative session that would have prevented a recurrence of a one-candidate special congressional primary — which cost taxpayers more than $340,800 — didn’t have the time for the Ohio House to take action. Now similar bills will be introduced by next month in the new legislative session. “That’s a lot of money for an uncontested race,” said Ohio Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, who will jointly sponsor a new bill with Ohio Rep. Dorothy Pelanda. Retherford attempted to introduce a similar bill last year, but Pelanda’s was introduced first. Pelanda, R-Marysville, called that “a very unique circumstance” and introduced a bill just days after Ohio Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson introduced a similar bill.

Texas: Voting rights case unsettles Pasadena as elections loom | Houston Chronicle

On the surface, at least, Pasadena’s City Hall was a happy place Tuesday evening as elected officials, city employees and residents filed in for a City Council meeting. Handshakes, hugs and small talk created a glow of bonhomie as everyone waited for the show to start. Yet a shadow hung over this sunny facade. These are troubled days for Harris County’s second-largest city as it absorbs the effects of ongoing voting rights litigation and prepares for a municipal election in May amid continued uncertainty about what the electoral map will look like. A blistering opinion by a federal judge, after a trial that drew national attention, depicted Pasadena as a place where public officials used taxpayer-funded time and resources in a relentless campaign to weaken Latino political influence; where Anglos enjoy superior public services; where residents referred to a Latino candidate seeking their votes as a “wetback;” and where another candidate felt obliged to conceal his Hispanic ethnicity to get elected.

West Virginia: Warner alleges Tennant sabotaged secretary of state office changeover | Charleston Gazette-Mail

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner alleged Thursday that his predecessor, Natalie Tennant, directed employees to “sabotage” the office’s transition to Warner’s administration. Tennant called Warner’s allegations “ridiculous.” “The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner, and that’s what you have here,” Tennant said. On Thursday afternoon, Warner’s chief deputy issued a news release, claiming Tennant instructed staffers to disrupt the changeover. An hour later, Warner’s deputy, Mike Queen, put out a second news release, asking media outlets to disregard the previous release. The second release included many of the same allegations, but provided more details.

Bulgaria: Russia-friendly Radev sworn in as Bulgaria’s president, set to dissolve parliament | Reuters

Former air force commander Rumen Radev was sworn in as Bulgaria’s new president on Thursday and said he would dissolve the parliament in a week’s time following the collapse of the centre-right government. Radev, a political newcomer who ran as an independent with the backing of the opposition Socialists, takes up his largely ceremonial post on Sunday after pledging to maintain Bulgaria’s position as a member of the European Union and NATO while also improving historically important ties with Russia. Radev’s decisive victory in November’s presidential race prompted the government of Boiko Borisov to resign, raising the prospect of prolonged political uncertainty in the Balkan nation and making an early parliamentary election virtually inevitable.

The Gambia: Troops Enter Gambia, as New President Is Sworn In | The New York Times

The political standoff in Gambia intensified on Thursday as foreign troops crossed the border with orders to dislodge a repressive leader who has refused to step down after losing a presidential election last month. Gambia’s erratic leader, Yahya Jammeh, seized power in a coup 22 years ago and once said he could rule for a billion years. But on Thursday the Senegalese military headed toward the capital of Gambia, Banjul, where Mr. Jammeh has been holed up in the state house, insisting that his rule is still valid. Mr. Jammeh has warned that he will fight back against any foreign military intervention. At least 26,000 Gambians, worried about violence, have fled the country, the United Nations says, and several senior officials in Mr. Jammeh’s government have resigned in protest or have left the nation as well.

India: 20 days shy of elections, voter ID cards still a dream for residents | Times of India

With just about 20 days left for assembly elections in UP state, Indirapuram residents are yet to receive their voter ID cards. Many residents, who have been submitting applications repeatedly for as long as eight years, complain of not receiving any satisfactory response from Block Level Officers (BLO) and are still waiting for their voter id cards. Speaking to Times of India, residents of Indirapuram said that many of them are recent settlers in the NCR region from Delhi and are facing unique problems. “I used to live in Chandni Chowk in Delhi till 2007, and moved to Indirapuram, Ghaziabad soon after that. Because I was not relevant as a voter in Delhi anymore due to the change in my permanent address, I had gotten my previous voter identification cancelled and in the last 10-12 years, have submitted four applications for getting my new NCR voter ID card made, but nothing has happened so far. I am still waiting and basically do not belong anywhere now,” said Girish Mehra, resident of Charms Solitaire, a residential society in Ahinsa Khand 2, Indirapuram.

Turkey: Parliament nears approval of presidential system | Reuters

Turkey edged closer to adopting a constitutional bill extending President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers overnight, with parliament approving four more articles of a reform which opponents see as a step towards an authoritarian state. Erdogan, who could rule the European Union candidate country until 2029 if the legislation is passed, says it will provide stability at a time of turmoil and prevent a return to the fragile coalitions of the past. During the evening debate an independent lawmaker, Aylin Nazliaka, handcuffed herself to the podium in protest against the stronger presidency, triggering a scuffle between MPs of the ruling AK Party and opposition parties. The reform would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament – powers that the two main opposition parties say strip away balances to Erdogan’s power.