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Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller in mid-October subpoenaed President Trump’s campaign for documents containing Russia-related key words, the Wall Street Journal reported and other outlets since have confirmed.

A source told CNN they were a matter of  “bookkeeping” and “largely perfunctory,” while other outlets also reported them as being described by sources as routine.

Yet, the subpoenas came in a stretch of the Mueller investigation when we now know the special counsel was interviewing top campaign officials and preparing a major release of court filings that would send ripples throughout Washington.

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Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced Thursday how he will approach blue slips — a procedure that in the theory encourages the White House to collaborate with the Senate on choosing judicial nominees.

In a prepared version of remarks Grassley will make on the floor Thursday, he laid out how his approach fits in with how past leaders of the committee viewed blue slips, even as it was a shift from the approach of his predecessor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Nonetheless, Democrats are being deprived a tool that Republicans used with abandon to block judicial nominees under President Obama, often for the same reasons that Grassley said he will not tolerate for President Trump’s nominees.

The blue slip is a slip of paper the two senators from the home state of a judicial nominee each turn in ahead of his or her confirmation hearing. Under Leahy and under Grassley during the Obama administration, the nominees would not move forward to a hearing until their home state senators’ blue slips were returned. Eighteen Obama nominees were stalled because Republicans withheld their blue slips, in some cases for nominees that that the home state Republicans had previously recommended.

Many of the vacancies Trump can now fill is due to this pattern of obstruction.

The issue is now coming to a head because Sen. Al Franken (D-MI) has withheld a blue slip for Judge David Stras, nominee to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Grassley said Thursday he will not “allow senators to prevent a Committee hearing for political or ideological reasons.”

He added that if a White House did not “adequately” consult with a senator about a nominee that would be a “be a legitimate reason for withholding a blue slip.”

In Franken’s case, Grassley said that he reviewed the “the records of consultation” and found that the White House had “reached out to” Franken “several times” between January and May about the nomination, and ultimately considered the two alternatives to Stras whom Franken put forward in May.

“I am satisfied that the White House adequately tried to consult with both home-state senators. Therefore, I will not deny Justice Stras a hearing,” Grassley said.

Grassley also announced Thursday he would be moving forward with a hearing for Fifth Circuit nominee Kyle Duncan, for whom Republican Sen. John Kennedy (LA) did not return a positive blue slip but also did not oppose granting a hearing to.

“This is the correct distinction a senator should make when deciding whether to return a blue slip,” he said. “The blue slip is not meant to signify the senator’s ultimate support or opposition to the nominee. It only expresses the senator’s view about whether the nominee should get a hearing.”

He added that he was still more likely to respect withheld blue slips for district court nominees, as opposed to nominees for an appeals court.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the decision “couldn’t be more troubling.”

“There’s only one reason to eliminate the blue slip, and that’s to allow President Trump to completely cut Democrats out of the process of selecting judicial nominees and continue the pattern of selecting nominees far outside the mainstream,” she said.

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The internal legal battle roiling President Trump’s voter fraud commission escalated Thursday, with the Justice Department rebuffing a Democratic commissioner’s request for certain internal communications. The commissioner in turn asked a federal court to order the commission to turn the documents over.

According to court documents filed by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D), his attorney was informed by DOJ lawyers representing the commission that internal communications documented in a separate lawsuit were not “part of the substantive or collective work of the Commission,” and thus not subject to disclosure under federal transparency laws. (A copy of the letter the DOJ sent Dunlap is included in the filings).

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The Senate Judiciary Committee sent a bipartisan letter to Jared Kushner’s attorney Thursday alleging that the production of documents the committee has requested Kushner turn over as part of its Russia probe was “incomplete.”

According to committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kushner did not turn over a Wikileaks-related email forwarded to him; a document Kushner forwarded about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite”; and communications with Russian-American Chamber of Commerce President Sergei Millian on which Kushner was copied.

These are among “several documents that are known to exist but were not included in your production,” the senators said.

“We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,” the letter said. “In addition, you asked for clarification on the scope of the request. Therefore, we write today to clarify the scope and reiterate our requests for documents.”

The senators added that Kushner has not turned over his phone records that the senators “presume exist and would relate to Mr. Kushner’s communications regarding several requests.”

They are also seeking transcripts from Kushner’s interviews with the other congressional committees investigating Russia’s election interference, as well as documents related to his security clearance applications (which Kushner had to amend several times due to omissions of certain foreign contacts).

A whole section of the letter is devoted to documents requested related to Kushner’s communications with former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Separately, the senators addressed a concern Kushner apparently raised that turning over some of the documents they’d requested would “implicate the President’s Executive Privilege.”

“We ask that you work with White House counsel to resolve any questions of privilege so that you can produce the documents that have been requested or provide a privilege log that describes the documents over which the President is asserting executive privilege,” they said.

Read the full letter below:

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Update: This story has been updated to include Rick Gates’ rebuttal to some of the prosecutors’ claims as well as the decision by the judge overseeing the case to not allow Gates to leave home confinement.

Two weeks after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team began its negotiations with Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates for a bail package, the government alleged in court filings Wednesday that it still had not obtained enough financial information from Gates to propose an agreement.

Gates and Manafort were placed in home confinement on Oct. 30, after turning themselves in as part of Mueller’s Russia investigation, where they’re facing allegations of money laundering, tax evasion and failure to comply with foreign lobbying disclosure laws.

At a hearing on Nov. 2, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson indicated she considered Gates and Manafort a flight risk but signaled her openness to releasing them from home confinement if they put up enough financial assets as bail.

The latest round of filings come as Gates has requested to be permitted to travel outside of his home for various family commitments and work meetings.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that Gates has still not “completed any paperwork to post his house, or any other property, and has failed to answer a series of questions about his assets.”

“[T]he government continues to have concerns about the accuracy of the defendant’s account of his net assets,” Mueller’s team said.

Prosecutors are opposed to the request filed by Gates on Wednesday to be allowed to leave the house to assist with transporting his children, to meet with work clients so that he can “continue to earn a living to support his family,” and to attend family events over the holidays.

The government in its response said that Gates’ suggestion that he will ask for permission to leave home for family events during Christmas “undermines the notion that counsel is diligently working to secure a bail package.”

In addition to the issues faced in assessing Gates’ net worth, Mueller also raised concerns about one of the individuals Gates has offered as a surety.

“Counsel has noted that one proposed surety already serves as a surety for a relative who is currently charged in the United States District Court for the Southern District New York, a circumstance that, at least at first blush, raises certain concerns,” the government said.

Late update:

Gates’ attorneys filed a response to the Special Counsel Office’s claims about the information needed for a bail package. The filing accused Mueller’s team of being “dismayingly disingenuous”  and said that “any delay in Mr. Gates submitting a bail package is entirely caused by” the Special Counsel’s Office. It laid out a number of steps Gates attorneys say they have taken to reach a deal on a bail package,  including submitting a new appraisal of Gates’ house, and handing over to Mueller the contact information of representatives who could confirm the value of some of Gates’ other assets.

Gates’ attorneys said that they planned on submitting those relevant documents to the court as well — a step they hadn’t taken yet because they had been “led to believe that by the SCO that the SCO sought in good faith to agree to a joint proposal.”

Nonetheless, the judge, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued an order Thursday denying Gates’ request to be released from home confinement for the particular circumstances he had outlined.

“The Court is well aware that a house full of busy children comes with constant and competing transportation demands, and that the burden shouldered by many mothers is exacerbated by defendant’s current bond conditions,” she said. “But the Court has repeatedly made it clear what it would take to secure defendant’s release, and the record reflects that the family may be able to ameliorate the problem in other ways during the time it takes to reach an agreement with the prosecution or submit the necessary financial information and have the issued resolved by the Court.”

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A federal judge said Wednesday that the legal fight over whether the House Intelligence Committee can subpoena the bank records of the Trump dossier firm was too important for the filings in the case to remain under seal.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon told lawyers representing the firm Fusion GPS, its bank and the House of Representative that they needed rework court pleadings filed previously under seal so that they could be made available to the public.

“Let the public see the pleadings,” Leon said. “This is not a normal case.”

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that he has “no basis to dispute” the intelligence committee’s assessment that Russia sought to interfere with the 2016 election.

“I do think they have said that they don’t believe that votes were changed,” he added.

His comment comes after President Trump yet again cast his own doubt on the conclusion, in telling reporters Saturday that he “believes” Russian President Vladimir Putin “means it” when he says there was no Russian election meddling. Trump also called some of the previous leaders of the intelligence community, including former FBI director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “political hacks.”

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he was not aware of the largely-white extremist group “sovereign citizens” targeting law enforcement officials, but said that he believed black extremist groups had, even though he couldn’t name one such group off the top of his head during a House Judiciary hearing Tuesday.

Sessions was being grilled by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) about an internal report the Justice Department issued in August in which the FBI said “black identity extremists” had engaged in “in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement.” She asked him if he considered Black Lives Matter an extremist group.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw some cold water on the idea of appointing a special counsel to investigate various matters related to Hillary Clinton and Democrats, as some Republicans have called for.

At a House Judiciary hearing Tuesday, Sessions stressed the “factual basis” that must be met to warrant a special counsel, as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) grilled him on what Jordan said “looks like” the FBI working with Democrats to push the Trump-Russia dossier.

“‘Looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” Sessions said.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied that he had been influenced by President Trump’s pressure campaign to launch Justice Department investigations into Democrats.

“I have not been improperly influenced and would not be properly influenced,” Sessions said at Tuesday’s House Judiciary hearing, while acknowledging that Trump is “bold and direct about what he says.”

The denial came in a line of questioning by House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), after Conyers pointed to Trump’s tweets calling for Justice Department probes into Democrats and slamming Sessions.

“I would say that that the Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate against political opponents. That would be wrong,” Sessions said, when asked if it was appropriate for a country’s leader to use the criminal justice system to retaliate against political opponents.

Monday evening, the Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that senior Justice Department prosecutors would “evaluate” whether to open investigations into various Hillary Clinton-related matters, after Goodlatte requested a new special counsel investigation.

Conyers on Tuesday asked Sessions whether he would recuse himself from such a Clinton-related investigation, given his work for the Trump campaign.

I cannot answer that yes or no, because under the policies of Department of Justice, to announce recusal of any investigation would reveal the existence of that investigation,” Sessions said.

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