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Some of the biggest donors to the recall effort also bankrolled Trump’s 2020 campaign. They include Beverly Hills real estate developer Geoff Palmer, who has shelled out $150,000 to the anti-Newsom campaign, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Douglas Leone who, with his wife Patricia Perkins-Leone, have given nearly $100,000. Retired construction equipment executive Howard Groff and his wife Susan Groff have doled out $75,000.

And while most of the givers so far are from within California, Trump fundraisers report seeing a surge of interest from major contributors near and far.

“Donors both in California and across the country are beginning to turn their focus to the California recall efforts,” said Caroline Wren, who was a top fundraiser on the Trump reelection campaign.

The fundraising totals pale in comparison to the massive sums raised by many candidates and party committees during the 2020 election. But the money has gotten the attention of Newsom and Democrats, and it’s increasingly clear that organizers are raising enough to give the recall effort a strong chance of gathering the petitions it needs to qualify for the ballot. That would force the first recall of a sitting California governor since 2003, when voters booted Democrat Gray Davis from office.

The cash influx underscores how energy continues to course through Republican donor circles following Trump’s defeat, with many looking for an outlet to keep fighting Democrats. Major givers are typically tapped out following a presidential contest, but some are diving right back into the recall, which could become the marquee election of 2021.

Bill White, a Georgia-based business development executive who raised nearly $5 million for Trump’s 2020 campaign, said he’d been encouraging California-based donors to get involved. White predicted that more contributors would engage if the recall qualified for the ballot, which would allow Republican candidates to run to replace Newsom later this year.

“There’s definitely money going there, and if it meets that next threshold, you’re going to see a lot of support for a potential candidate,” White said.

It isn’t just megadonors who are opening their wallets. Anne Dunsmore, a veteran GOP fundraiser who is helping to spearhead the drive, said in an email to donors Thursday that her organization, Recall California, had raised over $400,000 from more than 11,000 small contributors through direct mail. The average donation from those givers, she said, was $37.

Big-money national groups are also getting involved.

The Republican Governors Association has been monitoring the recall effort — but with an eye toward potentially investing in a recall election, as opposed to contributing to the signature-gathering. The group, which is closely tied to the party’s donor class, has been in touch with people close to the petition drive and has spoken with several potential candidates. The RGA recently commissioned a 1,200-person survey of a prospective race that was conducted by Bill McInturff, a pollster who was involved in the 2003 recall.

Organizers need to submit nearly 1.5 million valid signatures to the California Secretary of State’s office by March 17 to qualify for the ballot. Recall leaders say that by the end of this week they will have gathered 1.4 million signatures. They have set a target of submitting 1.8 million signatures in order to give themselves a cushion in case some are deemed invalid by election officials.

With contributors taking an increased interest, organizers are moving to capitalize. Dunsmore said in her email that a group of Silicon Valley donors are spearheading an effort to fund professional signature gatherers in order to meet the mid-March deadline. The group of contributors includes investor David Sacks, a former Newsom backer who has recently become an outspoken critic.

The single-biggest donor to the recall enterprise has been John Kruger, an under-the-radar Orange County investor who in December made a $500,000 contribution. Kruger has objected to Newsom’s decision to limit the size of religious gatherings as a means of curbing the coronavirus spread.

Also playing a major role has been San Francisco venture capitalist Dixon Doll, who has been active in Republican circles for years and spent tens of thousands of dollars to bolster former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign. Doll and his wife, Carol, have given nearly $100,000 combined to the anti-Newsom push.

Former California GOP Rep. Doug Ose, a wealthy real estate developer who also plans to contribute, said he’d been struck by the number of people who’d been reaching out to him about the drive to oust Newsom.

“My phone has blown up since yesterday,” said Ose. “I don’t know the magic sauce for making something viral, but it clearly is gaining increased interest up-and-down the state, that’s for sure.”

California political observers say a recall election would likely take place in late August or early September. The ballot would feature two questions: an up-or-down vote on whether Newsom should be removed from office, and then a decision on which candidate should replace him. Should a majority approve of a recall, the candidate with the highest vote share in the second question would become governor.

If the recall gets to the ballot, Republicans concede they’ll need to lean on big donors to unseat Newsom. Running TV ads in the massive state is a costly proposition, and California has become more Democratic-friendly since 2003. And despite his sinking poll numbers, Newsom already has more than $20 million in his campaign account and would be able to tap into a massive statewide donor network that’s fueled his political rise.

The roster of candidates to face him could swell to colossal size, if recent history is any guide. More than 100 candidates ran to succeed Davis in the 2003 recall, a list that included everyone from actor Gary Coleman to porn star Mary Carey. More than 55 percent of voters supported recalling Davis, handing victory to the highest vote-getter, professional bodybuilder and Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

With another recall increasingly looking like a real possibility, major Trump donors from across the country are beginning to weigh in with their favored candidate for a Newsom replacement. Many of them have been reaching out to Richard Grenell, a Southern California resident and the president’s acting director of national intelligence, to encourage him to get into the race.

Hossein Khorram, a Washington State-based real estate developer who gave more than $100,000 to pro-Trump causes during the 2020 election, said in a text message that California had turned into a “welfare state” under Newsom and that “raising money for Governor Grenell would be an exhilarating experience I would not miss for any reason.”

White, who hosted a Trump fundraiser featuring Grenell during the election, predicted that the former Trump administration official would receive widespread financial support from the former president’s backers should he eventually decide to enter the race.

“If Ric was the candidate we’d be 100 percent behind him, 100 percent we’d do everything we can to help him and to help save California,” said White.

But while Trump donors are pining for Grenell, some California Republicans worry that anyone closely associated with Trump will drag down their prospects in a state where the former president barely scraped a third of the vote.


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Queen sits alone at funeral for Prince Philip to set example

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Other royals who are in family bubbles are sitting together.

The service began with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby entering the chapel ahead of the coffin, followed by Philip’s children and three of his eight grandchildren, as a four-member choir sang “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Inside the Gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service was to be simple and somber. There will be no sermon, at Philip’s request, and no family eulogies or readings, in keeping with royal tradition. But Dean of Windsor David Conner will say the country has been enriched by Philip’s “unwavering loyalty to our queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith.”

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Philip spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific during World War II. Several elements of his funeral have a maritime theme, including the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which is associated with seafarers and asks God: “O hear us when we cry to thee/For those in peril on the sea.”

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests include other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.


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FBI says it interviewed FedEx mass shooter last year

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The shooter was identified as Brandon Scott Hole, 19, of Indianapolis, Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt told a news conference. Investigators searched a home in Indianapolis associated with Hole and seized evidence, including desktop computers and other electronic media, McCartt said.

Hole began firing randomly at people in the parking lot of the FedEx facility late Thursday, killing four, before entering the building, fatally shooting four more people and then turning the gun on himself, McCartt said. He said he did not know if Hole owned the gun legally.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” he said. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

McCartt said the slayings took place in a matter of minutes, and that there were at least 100 people in the facility at the time. Many were changing shifts or were on their dinner break, he said. Several people were wounded, including five who were taken to the hospital.

“You deserved so much better than this,” a man who identified himself as the grandson of Johal tweeted Friday evening. Johal had planned to work a double shift Thursday so she could take Friday off, according to the grandson, who would not give his full name but identifies himself as “Komal” on his Twitter page. Johal later decided to grab her check and go home, and still had the check in her hand when police found her, Komal said.

“(What) a harsh and cruel world we live in,” he added.

Smith, the youngest of the victims, was last in contact with her family shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, family members said in social media posts late Friday. Dominique Troutman, Smith’s sister, waited hours at the Holiday Inn for an update on her sister. “Words can’t even explain how I feel. … I’m so hurt,” Troutman said in a Facebook post Friday night.

Weisert had been working as a bag handler at FedEx for four years, his wife, Carol, told WISH-TV. The couple was married nearly 50 years.

President Joe Biden said he had been briefed on the shooting and called gun violence “an epidemic” in the U.S.

“Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation,” he said in a statement. Later, he tweeted, “We can, and must, do more to reduce gun violence and save lives.”

A FedEx employee said he was working inside the building Thursday night when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, said Friday that agents questioned Hole last year after his mother called police to say that her son might commit “suicide by cop.” He said the FBI was called after items were found in Hole’s bedroom but he did not elaborate on what they were. He said agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology. A police report obtained by The Associated Press shows that officers seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole’s home after responding to the mother’s call. Keenan said the gun was never returned.

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McCartt said Hole was a former employee of FedEx and last worked for the company in 2020. The deputy police chief said he did not know why Hole left the job or if he had ties to the workers in the facility. He said police have not yet uncovered a motive for the shooting.

Police Chief Randal Taylor noted that a “significant” number of employees at the FedEx facility are members of the Sikh community, and the Sikh Coalition later issued a statement saying it was “sad to confirm” that at least four of those killed were community members.

The coalition, which identifies itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the U.S., said in the statement that it expected authorities to “conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor.”

Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, a national advocacy group for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said in a statement that the shootings marked “yet another senseless massacre that has become a daily occurrence in this country.”

Nikore remarked that gun violence in the U.S. “is reflective of all of the spineless politicians who are beholden to the gun lobby.”

FedEx Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith called the shooting a “senseless act of violence.”

“This is a devastating day, and words are hard to describe the emotions we all feel,” he wrote in an email to employees.

The killings marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings across the country and the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in the city in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March. In other states last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses in the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the community must guard against resignation and “the assumption that this is simply how it must be and we might as well get used to it.”


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Gaetz ex-girlfriend feared alleged sex-trafficking victim taped call for feds

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Gaetz’s former girlfriend has played a bit role in the unfolding public drama — she is the woman who sent the lawmaker a nude video of her performing a hula hoop dance that he showed to other members of Congress.

But two of her friends, who declined to be identified publicly because of the sensational nature of the case, say she now suspects she was being set up when the alleged victim and another woman involved in the case called her to discuss the lawmaker in what she fears might have been a recorded conference call. The call took place sometime after Greenberg was indicted for the sex crime in August.

The friends did not provide details about exactly what was discussed, but one recounted that Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend said she was opposed to talking to authorities and is now worried that prosecutors might try to charge her with obstructing justice in order to get to Gaetz.

Tim Jansen, an attorney for Gaetz’s former girlfriend, declined to comment about his client. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, also declined to talk. Gaetz has strongly denied allegations he engaged in any sex crimes.

The three women on the call were all present on a September 2018 trip to the Bahamas that authorities think may shed light on the allegations against Gaetz. Also present on that trip: Gaetz and two other Florida Republican political players, former Orlando-area aviation authority member and Gov. Ron DeSantis fundraiser Jason Pirozzolo and former state Rep. Halsey Beshears.

POLITICO is withholding the names of the women who went to the Bahamas, including his ex-girlfriend, because of the sensitive nature of the case and the allegations that while there, some of the women engaged in prostitution.

As the investigation intensified this winter, Beshears abruptly resigned in January as Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary — a post that made him the state’s top business regulator — noting he had contracted Covid-19. About that time, federal authorities seized the iPhones of Gaetz and his former girlfriend.

Federal authorities are examining the Bahamas trip to see if it violated the Mann Act, which forbids transporting people across state lines to engage in prostitution. One woman on the trip told POLITICO that no one engaged in prostitution.

The alleged victim in the sex-trafficking case had turned 18 almost nine months before the Bahamas trip. But Gaetz has acknowledged he’s the subject of a federal investigation into whether he had improper involvement with her as a 17-year-old.

A source familiar with the investigation wouldn’t say whether the alleged victim was cooperating with authorities. But when asked if she has been talking for months with the federal government, the source said “100 percent.”

While the alleged sex-trafficking victim is key to the case against Greenberg and the allegations against Gaetz, the lawmaker’s ex-girlfriend could play a pivotal role in the investigation of the trip, as well as other related controversies.

Gaetz was criticized for allegedly showing the hula hoop video to congressional colleagues, and he was also accused of engaging in revenge porn against his former girlfriend. But two of her friends say the woman, in her early 20s, did not object to him showing it to friends — provided he didn’t send it to others or post it on social media — because she was proud of her appearance and performance.

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“This is the best I will ever look in my life,” a friend who saw the video recalled her saying. “That’s how she is. It’s not revenge porn.”

The former girlfriend first met Gaetz while she attended college in the Orlando area in 2017. Greenberg, who established contact with her on the SeekingArrangement website — a dating website that connects women with so-called sugar daddies — made the connection. Soon after, she began dating Gaetz, although the relationship was not exclusive, friends said.

Gaetz later got her a job interning in the office of another Republican member of Congress, but that member let her go when it was discovered she was a Democrat, according to Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who promptly hired her when Gaetz told him of the matter.

Soto, who is not involved in the investigation, would not name the Republican lawmaker or comment about the case. But he said the woman was a hard worker in his office and that he had no complaints about her, other than some inquiries about whether Gaetz’s relationship with the intern was inappropriate.

“We wanted to protect her privacy from the media. She was just an intern,” Soto said. “I’ll also say she was fired by a Republican for being a Democrat. I found it offensive that she was fired for her political beliefs.”

Gaetz and the ex-girlfriend continued to date until well after the Bahamas trip in 2018. Friends said the two remained on good terms, although she was a source of friction between the lawmaker and Beshears. Beshears had apparently been taking her out on dates in Tallahassee, including a trip to the Florida State University president’s skybox at Doak Campbell Stadium, mutual friends said.

At the time, Beshears had recently been left by another girlfriend after she learned about the Bahamas trip. Beshears, then a state legislator, had flown several of the women on his private plane, which was briefly detained by U.S. Customs upon its return to Florida for questioning about the ages of several of the young women on the trip.

“Here was Halsey with three young women who could have been his daughters, and a Customs agent was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?‘” said a source who was familiar with the incident.

Speaking to the partying group and the drama surrounding them, a different mutual friend said: “Tallahassee is like high school. But no one ever graduates.”


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