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Kellyanne Conway, Leonard Leo, and the Quiet Supreme Court docket Jockeying Below Trump

It was a great deal for Kellyanne Conway. Not solely did the previous White Home counselor probably rake in thousands and thousands when she bought her polling agency in 2017 — she additionally obtained congressional investigators, who had raised battle of curiosity issues about her continued possession of the corporate, off her again. However it might have been a good higher deal for Leonard Leo, the conservative activist who seems to have secretly facilitated the transfer. 

In response to Politico, which first reported the transaction, Leo appears to have used one in all his darkish cash teams to finance the sale of the Polling Firm, which Conway based in 1995, to Artistic Response Ideas Inc., a conservative public relations agency he now co-owns — on the identical time she was selling his most well-liked Supreme Court docket picks to Donald Trump. The deal might represent a violation of ethics legal guidelines, consultants informed the outlet. It additionally shines a light-weight on how Leo, a former vice chairman of the Federalist Society and a present co-chair of its board of administrators, has wielded outsize affect over the judiciary’s rightward shift — presumably by shady means. “It actually reveals Kellyanne as a car for Leo, the main position Leo has performed, and the way Trump grew to become his instrument,” Bruce Freed, president of the nonpartisan Heart for Political Accountability, informed Politico of the transaction. 

The timing of the deal was handy for each Conway and Leo. Conway was going through stress to unload the corporate due to her authorities submit. However with out her involvement within the agency, it was unclear how a lot it was really price, at the same time as she valued it between one and 5 million {dollars}. In response to Accountable.US, a watchdog group that alerted Politico to the monetary information, Conway netted greater than $2.5 million within the deal in the long run.

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In the meantime, Conway was additionally a cheerleader for his record of Supreme Court docket candidates, together with Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, each of whom had been nominated to the court docket by Trump and confirmed by the Republican-led Senate. It’s not clear if the deal or her longtime affiliation with Leo factored into her selling the picks to Trump, neither is it clear her lobbying was even obligatory; as conservative authorized skilled Paul Whelan informed Politico, Trump had already made a “clear and high-profile dedication” to filling any Supreme Court docket vacancies with Federalist Society-approved judges. However the dealings between Leo and Conway do increase important moral and authorized issues — and supply a window into his efforts to swing the judiciary to the appropriate. 

Apart from Mitch McConnell, there’s maybe no yet one more accountable for that rightward shift than Leo. He helped get Clarence Thomas confirmed to the bench below George H.W. Bush. He helped Samuel Alito and John Roberts get confirmed throughout the George W. Bush presidency. And, after serving to McConnell block Merrick Garland’s proceedings below Barack Obama, he labored to put in Gorsuch, Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh throughout Trump’s presidency — serving to to lock in a Supreme Court docket supermajority for many years to come back, doubtlessly.

And he’s not stopping there. As ProPublica and the Lever reported final week, Leo is now utilizing a $1.6 billion windfall he introduced in final 12 months from conservative financier Barre Seid — in one of many largest ever single contributions to a political nonprofit — to fund challenges to election and anti-discrimination legal guidelines, together with within the high-profile Moore v. Harper case that would put the Supreme Court docket’s imprimatur on the perimeter principle Trump embraced in his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden

That case specifically has renewed consideration on the affect of darkish cash on the Supreme Court docket, as teams related to Leo, former Trump lawyer John Eastman, and others funnel tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars} into Moore. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse informed the Guardian final week that he has been “pushing the Supreme Court docket to replace their reporting necessities,” nevertheless it has “proven no curiosity.” “Not often has such a noxious assemblage of amici appeared earlier than this court docket,” Whitehouse wrote in an amicus transient with Consultant Hank Johnson. “And their secrecy about their funders and connections does this court docket a grave disservice.” 

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