A Jewelry Box, A Bag Of Thumb Drives: How Lawyers Got An Explosive Set Of Gerrymandering Documents

A cache of some 75,000 files belonging to a Republican gerrymandering master might never have been discovered if not for a jewelry box that once meant a lot to a young girl.

The files, which belonged to the late Thomas Hofeller, have been the basis for multiple explosive allegations in the past week. They include evidence that Hofeller helped get a citizenship question on the 2020 Census ultimately meant to help Republicans and white people maintain power, lawyers challenging the question say.

Those same lawyers ― who are separately representing Common Cause, a group that works on voting rights and campaign finance issues, in a North Carolina gerrymandering lawsuit ― also allege the files include proof that North Carolina Republicans lied to a federal court about how they went about fixing racially gerrymandered districts.

It’s not yet clear exactly what is in Hofeller’s files, but he was a longtime Republican redistricting consultant who had a hand in drawing maps in North Carolina, Alabama, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia this decade. The files could contain a treasure trove of internal documents laying bare how Republicans went about gerrymandering in North Carolina and elsewhere. They could provide key evidence in efforts to get maps redrawn, and illuminate the motivations for getting a citizenship question on the Census. It may be for this reason that lawyers representing North Carolina lawmakers sent a letter last week demanding that lawyers for Common Cause, who have access to the files, stop reviewing them.

But the files almost weren’t found at all.

The girl, now grown up, is Stephanie Hofeller, Thomas Hofeller’s daughter. Hofeller was considered a master of drawing district lines in North Carolina and elsewhere that perpetuated Republican control of seats. Stephanie hadn’t spoken to her father, who died in August, since 2014. She only learned he’d died when she searched his name in September and found a New York Times obituary. In October, she traveled from her home in Kentucky to Raleigh to visit her mother and go through some of her dad’s old belongings.

Lawyers challenging gerrymandered maps recently obtained thousands of files belonging to Thomas Hofeller, a redistricting exp

Lawyers challenging gerrymandered maps recently obtained thousands of files belonging to Thomas Hofeller, a redistricting expert who died in August at age 75.

There wasn’t much left, but when Hofeller walked into her father’s room, she immediately saw a jewelry box she would later describe as a “keepsake” from her childhood. The box was right below the flag that draped her father’s coffin when he was buried. Hofeller didn’t think the positioning was just by chance. As she said in a deposition last month, she took it as a sign that there might be some sort of special message left for her to find. (Hofeller did not respond to an interview request for this story.)

Hofeller began to look around her father’s room. On a shelf, she found a plastic bag filled with her father’s USB drives. She thought there might be some old pictures of her and her children on them, and so, after getting her mother’s approval, she took them. In all, there were four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives.

That night in her hotel room in Raleigh, Hofeller plugged the hard drives into her laptop. She found what she’d hoped for ― files she had backed up during previous visits to her parents, and old photographs of her children. But she also found something else: files related to her father’s work. She thought the files were old and irrelevant. Plus, her mother told her that Dale Oldham, her father’s business partner and another redistricting guru for Republicans, had already come by after her father died and taken her father’s laptop. Oldham, she told lawyers last month, “got all the good stuff.”

Around the same time, Hofeller was looking for a lawyer who could represent her mother in a legal proceeding. She didn’t know any lawyers in Raleigh, and she wanted someone who wouldn’t be biased against her family because of her father’s reputation. So she contacted the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause to ask if they could refer a lawyer. She knew Common Cause had repeatedly sued to strike down the very maps her father drew, and believed they would offer her an independent recommendation.

She called Bob Phillips, the executive director of the group’s state chapter, who was surprised to get the call. He later told HuffPost it “certainly was something that was completely unexpected.” 

“My first instinct is to think she’s gonna scream at me because we’re part of litigation against her father’s work,” Phillips said. “It was more of a woman whose mother was in Raleigh, she was looking for someone she could rely on and provide some help. And there was no one in this town she trusted. She felt like everybody in the legal community was somehow against her.”

My first instinct is to think she’s gonna scream at me because we’re part of litigation against her father’s work.
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina

Hofeller told Phillips she was estranged from her father and that she disagreed with his work. She mentioned in passing that she was interested in resolving matters related to her family estate, and that she might have some things Common Cause would be interested in.

“I honestly didn’t think it would go anywhere,” Phillips said.

Phillips passed Hofeller on to Jane Pinsky, a Common Cause lawyer. They spoke on the phone a few times, and Hofeller remarked on how much progress the group had made in developing its assertions about the legality of her father’s maps. Around the same time, Hofeller read a news article about a memorial service for her father. David Daley, a reporter who wrote a book explaining GOP efforts to gerrymander, was quoted at the end of the story saying, “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if on a hard drive somewhere in Raleigh Tom Hofeller has another set of gifts for legislators.”

Hofeller mentioned the story to Pinsky, and casually mentioned that she did in fact have hard drives of her father’s work.

Hofeller didn’t think the hard drives would have much practical use to Common Cause because North Carolina’s electoral districts had already been redrawn since her father drew them in 2011. And even if they were relevant, she thought, the ongoing cases were on appeal, where new evidence couldn’t be admitted.

But Pinsky told her that a new case had been filed in November. Common Cause was challenging the state’s legislative districts as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders under the North Carolina Constitution. The case was still open to new evidence. Pinsky put Hofeller in touch with two lawyers working on the case, and she said she would be willing to give them what she’d discovered in her parents’ apartment. Eventually, they would send her a formal subpoena for the documents.

Hofeller told lawyers last month that she decided to turn over the documents not to get back at her father or for some kind of partisan advantage. Rather, she said, she wanted some way of preserving her father’s work.

“I felt that these files would if ― certainly be of historical value, that they would give insight into the process, not any value judgment on that process,” she said, according to the deposition. “My political viewpoint to me seemed irrelevant to the function of census data turning into voting districts, and I really thought of it in those terms.”

“I knew that if I presented them this way that they would be preserved,” she said. “Their integrity would be preserved and everything there, including my files, including other matters completely unrelated to this… that that would be a snapshot in time.”

2 High-Profile Democratic Abortion Rights Opponents Are Raising Money Together

Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who signed one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country last week, is holding a high-dollar fundraiser for another Democrat who opposes abortion rights, according to an invitation obtained by HuffPost.

The event, set for Friday night at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, will raise money for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who is running for his state’s governorship. Hood is defending his state’s own strict anti-abortion laws in the courts.

It’s unclear who will attend the fundraiser ― the invitation notes a host committee “is still in formation.” Hosts have to donate at least $5,000 to Hood’s campaign, according to the invite. The minimum donation to attend is $500.

An invitation to a fundraiser hosted by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. 

An invitation to a fundraiser hosted by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. 

The event shows a budding partnership between two of the highest-profile anti-abortion Democrats in the country. It also indicates Hood may be looking to Edwards’ 2015 victory in Louisiana as a model for his 2019 run in an adjacent and politically similar state. Edwards is seeking to win reelection, likely against GOP Congressman Ralph Abraham. Hood is likely to face Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the general election. Both men are in tough but winnable races.

Polling indicates a majority of registered voters in both states are opposed to abortion rights under most if not all circumstances, but some progressives have argued national Democratic organizations, such as the Democratic Governors Association, should withhold support from candidates who don’t support a woman’s right to choose.

A spokesman for Edwards’ campaign said the event was long-planned to coincide with a gathering of Mississippi lawyers in New Orleans, not in response to the recent uproar over Edwards’ decision to sign a “heartbeat” law that would effectively ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. (The law, like others recently passed in Georgia and Alabama, is facing a legal challenge and has not gone into effect.)

“Governor Edwards was invited to this event in New Orleans as a special guest a few months ago and will be attending,” said Eric Holl, a spokesman for Edwards’ campaign.

The Hood campaign didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.

Woman And Girlfriend Beaten On London Night Bus For Refusing To Kiss For Group Of Men

Police are investigating after a woman and her girlfriend were assaulted and robbed by a group of men on a London night bus.

Ryanair flight attendant Melania Geymonat, 28, from Uruguay, was on a date with a woman called Chris when the incident began to unfold aboard the N1 night bus in West Hampstead, after a night out on Thursday, May 30.

Writing in a Facebook post, accompanied by a picture of couple looking bloodied and distressed, Geymonat described how the group of four men targeted them after spotting them kiss.

She wrote: “They started behaving like hooligans, demanding that we kissed so they could enjoy watching, calling us ‘lesbians’ and describing sexual positions.

“I don’t remember the whole episode, but the word ‘scissors’ stuck in my mind. It was only them and us there. In an attempt to calm things down, I started making jokes. I thought this might make them go away.

“Chris even pretended she was sick, but they kept on harassing us, throwing coins and becoming more enthusiastic about it. The next thing I know is Chris is in the middle of the bus fighting with them.

“On an impulse, I went over there only to find her face bleeding and three of them beating her up. The next thing I know is I’m being punched. I got dizzy at the sight of my blood and fell back. I don’t remember whether or not I lost consciousness. Suddenly the bus had stopped, the police were there and I was bleeding all over. Our stuff was stolen as well.”

Geymonat is still waiting to learn if her nose was broken in the attack and remains off work. 

Geymonat was treated in hospital for facial injuries 

Geymonat was treated in hospital for facial injuries 

She added: “What upsets me the most is that VIOLENCE HAS BECOME A COMMON THING, that sometimes it’s necessary to see a woman bleeding after having been punched to feel some kind of impact. I’m tired of being taken as a SEXUAL OBJECT, of finding out that these situations are usual, of gay friends who were beaten up JUST BECAUSE. We have to endure verbal harassment AND CHAUVINIST, MISOGYNISTIC AND HOMOPHOBIC VIOLENCE because when you stand up for yourself shit like this happens.

“By the way, I am thankful to all the women and men in my life that understand that HAVING BALLS MEANS SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. I just hope that in June, Pride Month, stuff like this can be spoken out loudly so they STOP HAPPENING!”

Both women were taken to hospital for treatment for facial injuries and a phone and bag were stolen during the assault. 

The Met Police have confirmed they are investigating the attack and have appealed for witnesses to contact police.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also appealed for witnesses, branding the attack “disgusting and misogynistic.”

According to Stonewall, one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/ or gender identity in the last 12 months, with four in five of those going unreported.

Donald Trump Brags About The Amazing Effect He Had On Queen Elizabeth

Donald Trump on Thursday denied fist-bumping Queen Elizabeth II during his state visit this week to the United Kingdom, after this snap of the pair went viral:

But the president did brag in an interview that aired on Laura Ingraham’s primetime Fox News show about having an instant connection with the 93-year-old British monarch.

And, according to Trump, the head of the royal family had the time of her life with him.

“The meeting with the Queen was incredible,” Trump said at the start of his sit-down chat with Ingraham that was pre-recorded at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France during commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

“I think I can say I really got to know her because I sat with her many times and we had automatic chemistry, you understand that feeling, it’s a good feeling,” he continued.

Trump later royally ramped up his hyperbole when he claimed toward the end of the interview that “there are those that say they have never seen the Queen have a better time, a more animated time” than when she was with him.

“We had a period where we were talking solid, straight, I didn’t even know who the other people at the table were, never spoke to them,” Trump claimed. “We just had a great time together.”

Trump met with the Queen multiple times during the three-day visit to the U.K. — including at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace and a commemorative D-Day event in Portsmouth.

Trump also used the interview with Ingraham to lash out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and defend his introduction of tariffs on goods imported from China and Mexico.

Check out the interview here:

House Panel Investigates Whether U.S. Funds Anti-Poaching Efforts Linked To Rights Abuses

The House Natural Resources Committee has launched a bipartisan investigation into whether federal conservation grants support organizations linked to alleged human rights abuses overseas. 

The probe follows a BuzzFeed News investigation in March that found the World Wide Fund for Nature, or WWF, one of the world´s largest conservation organizations, funded anti-poaching forces that have been accused of torturing, sexually assaulting and murdering indigenous people in Asia and Africa. 

In a letter sent to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Thursday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the committee’s chairman, and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), its highest-ranking Republican, requested a briefing on all international conservation grants the agency has awarded.

The committee is “examining allegations that partner organizations supported by the U.S. Government have played a role in funding and equipping forces abroad that have committed a range of human rights violations that include torture, sexual assault, and extrajudicial killings in the course of anti-poaching efforts,” the two-paragraph letter reads. “Despite the importance of protecting wildlife and endangered species from extinction, the United States must not be party to violations of basic human rights.” 

The request comes a month after committee leaders sent a letter urging the Government Accountability Office to look into the issue. The federal watchdog indicated it will take it up but has not started the review, said committee spokesman Adam Sarvana.

“We want to know which groups are credibly suspected of this kind of thing, and the list may well go beyond WWF,” Sarvana wrote in an email. “We also want to know more about federal grants to potentially problematic [organizations] or campaigns.”

WWF, known as the World Wildlife Fund in the U.S., notes on its website that it has partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development for decades on biodiversity conservation, sustainability and disease prevention. 

WWF said in March that it has launched an independent review in response to BuzzFeed’s reporting. 

“We have stringent policies designed to ensure both we and our partners are safeguarding the rights and well-being of indigenous people and local communities in the places we work,” the group said in a statement at the time. “Any breach of these policies is unacceptable to us and, should the review uncover any, we are committed to taking swift action.”