Watchdog: Political rights in US decline under Trump
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The U.S. saw a continued decline in its political rights over the past year, amid concerns over the Trump administration's ethical violations, according to a new watchdog report.

Freedom House in its annual report said the U.S.'s political rights rating had declined by one rank "due to growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, violations of basic ethical standards by the new administration, and a reduction in government transparency."

While the report, which was released Tuesday, acknowledges that there is no evidence that possible Russian interference in the 2016 election influenced its outcome, it says the evidence "did alter the campaign environment and the content of the political debate, and harmed public confidence in the integrity of the election process."

The report also cites gerrymandering — the process of redrawing the borders of House districts and state legislatures — and Trump's now-disbanded voter fraud panel as examples of how partisan politics have cast doubt on the integrity of the U.S. political system.

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Freedom House said in the report that Trump's negative statements and actions regarding the country's independent courts, Congress and news media could weaken U.S. democratic institutions in the long term.

Freedom House takes aim at money's role in U.S. politics as well in the report, citing the power of a select number of wealthy individuals in elections. 

"Fewer than 25,000 individuals reportedly supplied some 40 percent of all contributions in 2016, and a far smaller number of extremely wealthy and prolific donors are especially sought after by candidates, raising concerns about undue influence," the report said.

The organization also raised concerns over state laws that require voters to present forms of identification and roll back early voting, saying the measures "could disproportionately harm minority voters."

Fourteen states had new restrictive voting laws in place during the 2016 presidential election. 

The report came as Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday delivered a speech comparing Trump to former Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin. 

“2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth —more battered and abused than any other time in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government,” Flake said in his prepared remarks.

The report calls out Turkey and Hungary for moving toward authoritarian styles of government, as well as Russia and China for internal repression of citizens, as well as the rise of anti-immigrant political parties in western democracies such as Austria, France and Germany.  

Updated: 11:25 a.m.