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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ALEXANDRIA, VA — Former Trump voter fraud commissioner J. Christian Adams was in a federal court in Virginia Friday to defend reports his group released in 2016 and 2017 alleging that thousands of non-citizens were illegally registered to vote and possibly voting in Virginia.

Adams and his group, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, are being sued for defamation and voter intimation by four voters, all citizens, who were named in PILF’s reports that listed alleged non-citizen illegal registrants.

Attorneys for Adams and PILF argued that the reports were not targeting the defendants but rather the government officials who Adams claims are not enforcing voter fraud laws.

The plaintiffs argued that the report amounted to character assassination of those falsely alleged to be non-citizens. If anyone’s character was being assassinated, Adams’ attorney Michael Lockerby argued, it was those of the government officials who hadn’t prosecuted allegations of voter fraud.

The four voters — as well as the Richmond chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens — allege Adams and PILF violated the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act, as well as Virginia defamation law. Friday’s hearing, in front U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, was to hear arguments on the defendants’ motion to throw out the lawsuit.

Grady kicked off his questioning by asking Lockerby what responsibility Adams and PILF had to vet the public records they’d obtained from election registrars indicating voters who had been removed from the rolls. According to the complaint, one of the challengers was put on the registrars’ list of removals because a paperwork error.

“At the end of the day, these are public records,” Lockerby argued, blaming the government officials, rather than the defendants, for mistakenly listing the names.

He argued that PILF corrected the record for two of the plaintiffs and removed their names in the 2017 report. That claim was challenged by plaintiffs later in the hearing, who pointed out PILF was warned on multiple occasions it was mischaracterizing the voters, and only revised the second report after it had already been published.

Lockerby also argued that the publication of the reported was protected by the First Amendment and that Adams was exercising his right to draw attention to an issue of public interest.

“I can be worried about crime,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Cameron Kistler, a lawyer at the group Protect Democracy, “but that doesn’t mean I can falsely accuse my neighbor of being an ax-murderer to draw attention to the issue.”

Adams’ report, titled “Aliens Invasion,” claimed it found “1046 aliens who registered to vote illegally” and that “Each of the aliens we have discovered to have registered or voted has likely committed a felony.”

The follow-up report “Aliens Invasion II,” said that the Justice Department “has done nothing about the felonies committed by 433 suspected aliens registered in Prince William County alone.” The reports included appendixes that listed the names, and in some cases addresses and phone numbers, of the people alleged to be non-citizens who illegally registered.

Both sides encouraged the judge to read the report itself in assessing the issue.

Kistler argued during the hearing that it was not just the release of the public records themselves, but the “gloss they put on the public records” that was at issue.

Much of the hearing focused on whether LULAC had standing to bring the case, given none of its members were named and there was no explicit language referencing Latinos in the language of Aliens Invasion and Aliens Invasion II.

The judge offered questions skeptical of LULAC’s involvement in the case, suggesting that the “aliens” in the report could just as easily refer to Irish immigrants or immigrants of other nationalities.

He closed the hour-plus hearing promising a decision on the motion to dismiss soon, and telling the parties that discovery would not begin before that.

The case raised “very interesting issues,” he said.

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Yesterday I reported on the set of instructions Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office sent county clerks laying out guidance for complying with a federal judge’s ruling striking down his proof-of-citizenship requirement.

Some of the secretary of state’s directives were pretty straight forward, and tracked closely with what U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ordered in her decisions: stop asking registering voters for proof-of-citizenship documents; make sure applicants whose registrations were suspended or cancelled for not showing the docs had their registrations fully restored; remove references to the requirement from local and state websites. (Kobach is having issues following that last directive on his own website.)

But other language in Kobach’s instructions stands out as being not directly related to the judge’s order. Kobach asks counties to keep track of who registers with the federal form — where enforcement of the proof-of-citizenship law was halted by Robinson in 2016 — in their internal system, however noting that it had “no bearing on the applicant’s voter registration status” and “will be used for tracking purposes only.”

Even though Kobach asked clerks not to request citizenship docs of registering voters, he lays out directions for how to keep track of applicants who provide those documents “voluntarily.”

His office’s directive notes that he’s planning to appeal Robinson’s decision. That gives a hint of why he’s asking that clerks continue to track voters who do provide proof-of-citizenship records, suggesting that those registrants who don’t may need their status “reviewed” if the Robinson’s decision is reversed.

The language asking clerks to track certain registrants caught the eye of Mark Johnson, an attorney who brought one of the lawsuits that Robinson ruled on Monday. His case included the claim that the law was a constitutional violation, and the judge’s ruling in favor of that argument Monday meant that Kobach had to stop requiring proof-of-citizenship on the state voter registration form, as well as the federal form.

“I think Robinson would be surprised to see that provision,” Johnson told Slate.

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Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s request for the suppression of evidence obtained in a search of his storage unit in Virginia last year was denied by a federal judge in Washington, D.C. Thursday.

Manafort had tried to challenge the search on the grounds that the employee that allowed an FBI investigator into the storage unit in May 2017 was no longer working for Manafort’s international consulting firm that did the Ukraine lobbying work that is central to the case. The agent entered the unit, having been let in by the employee, on May 26, and observed the types of containers in the unit and their labels. The government then successfully sought a search warrant the next day, and seized various materials in the unit.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller — in a court filing Thursday that both highlighted and disputed some of the media coverage his case against former Trump campign chairman Paul Manafort has attracted — requested that jurors in the trial scheduled next month in Virginia fill out written jury questionnaires to ensure “that this case is tried before an impartial jury.”

“The nature and scope of the publicity surrounding this matter raises a substantial danger that potential jurors may already have formed opinions about the defendant’s guilt or innocence, may have developed views about the Special Counsel’s investigation, or may otherwise be affected in their ability to consider the case impartially,” Mueller told the court.

His filing cited media reports that were critical of Mueller as well as those critical of Manafort.

A footnote disputed reports that the FBI’s July 2017 raid on Manafort’s home in Virginia was a no-knock search.

The footnote also highlighted a remark made by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson at Manafort’s pretrial detention hearing in a separate case in Washington last week, in which she scolded journalists for reporting that an unredacted court document published mistakenly to the court docket by a court employee was a purposeful leak by Mueller.

“The reporting, at times inaccurately, comments on the nature of the evidence collected in the case or activities of the parties,” Mueller said in Thursday’s filing.

Mueller’s proposed questionnaire asks many standard questions about a potential juror’s background, as well as questions tailored to the allegations in the case, including questions about a potential juror’s ties to Ukraine.

Manafort has been charged in Virginia with bank fraud, tax fraud and failure to report foreign bank accounts. He’s also facing charges in D.C. pertaining to alleged money laundering and failure to disclose lobbying work he did on behalf Ukraine. He’s pleaded not guilty in both cases.

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Clicking a register-to-vote link on Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s website leads users to a page of instructions that include a voter restriction struck down by a federal judge Monday, potentially putting Kobach in violation of the judge’s order.

In striking down the 2011 law requiring proof-of-citizenship for voter registration, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ordered Kobach to “ensure that all elections-
related public education materials (including but not limited to voter-aimed notices and websites, in all languages in which those documents are available, including English and Spanish) make clear that voter registration applicants need not provide DPOC in order to become registered to vote, and need not provide any additional information in order to complete their voter registration applications.”

After a day and a half of confusion, when county clerks were continuing to enforce the requirement in some circumstances while awaiting instructions from Kobach, his office sent them guidance Wednesday afternoon telling them to review their websites for any “any reference to a voter registration applicant being required to provide documentary proof of citizenship” and to remove those references “until you can post updated instructions and information to the public.”

As of Thursday morning, it appears the Kansas Secretary of State was not following his own directions.

Other references to the law remain live on the website as well.

His office did not return TPM’s inquiry, but had said previously that it plans to appeal Robinson’s decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Robinson, a George W. Bush-appointee, temporarily blocked enforcement of the proof-of-citizenship requirement on the federal form, used at DMVs and available online, in March of 2016 while the case was awaiting trial, on the grounds that allegations that it was a violation of the National Voter Registration Act were likely to succeed.

Her decision Monday, handed down after a seven-day trial this spring, said that the requirement was also a violation of the U.S. Constitution, meaning Kobach could not enforce it on the state voter registration form as well. The link on his website Thursday morning was to the state registration form.

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After two days of confusion — with some but not all county election officials enforcing a Kansas voting restriction struck down by a federal judge Monday — the Kansas Secretary of State’s office instructed local officials Wednesday that proof-of-citizenship was not required to register to vote.

The instructions marked the end — or at least a pause — in a years-long saga of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach fighting tooth and nail to keep his signature voter restriction alive, despite multiple court rulings against it.

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Missouri’s Republican secretary of state used a Senate Rules Committee hearing on preventing future election interference to claim that “voter fraud is an exponentially greater threat than hacking of our election equipment,” comments that earned a stiff rebuke from a Senate Democrat on the committee.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s opening statement stressed that there was no evidence hackers altered any votes or voter registration information during the 2016 election, and that state officials were the ones who alerted the federal government of possible cyber-intrusions.

“This is not to say that our elections were perfect, that there was no fraud, that there were no unlawful corruption of votes or vote totals. The evidence indicates that voter fraud is an exponentially greater threat than hacking of our election equipment,” he said.

He then brought up 2010 Missouri state House race that was decided by one vote, where it was later found that two voters — relatives of the winner — had committed voter fraud.

(Ashcroft did not mention the type of fraud committed: the two voters pleaded guilty to claiming Kansas City addresses so they could vote in it. It’s unlikely that a voter ID law, which was in place in the state at the time, and proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirements would have stopped such an act.)

“Moving forward, any meaningful enhancement to election security must take a comprehensive approach to ensure that every legally registered voter is allowed to vote and their vote is not diluted by any sort of voter fraud, malfeasance or ineptitude,” Ashcroft said.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who was the first Democrat to question Ashcroft and the other witnesses, immediately zeroed in on Ashcroft’s remarks. Durbin asked that Ashcroft and the other election officials on the panel report the number of convictions of voter fraud that have occurred out of the total number of votes cast over the last decade to the committee after the hearing.

“The statement, Secretary Aschcroft, that you made has to be addressed for the record,” Durbin said, referring to the claim that voter fraud was an “exponentially” greater threat than hacking.

Durbin brought up that his state’s voter registration system had been infiltrated by hackers, and that they had the capability of to muck with voters’ registration information. It they had, it would have created a “chaotic situation” at polling places, resulting in “hundreds of thousands” of provisional ballots cast, Durbin said.

“I don’t know how that would have ended. They didn’t do it. Thank goodness they didn’t. But the threat was there,” Durbin said. “I can count on both hands the cases of voter fraud in the state of Illinois in the last several elections cycles, and the convictions even fewer.”

“When it comes to this hacking, it is exponentially greater threat to our voting system than voter fraud,” Durbin added.

Corrected: This post has been corrected to reflect that Sen. Dick Durbin represents Illinois.

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The FBI agent who has become a target of President Trump and his allies for the anti-Trump texts he sent while working on the Russia probe was escorted from the bureau’s “building as part of the ongoing internal proceedings,” his attorney said in a statement to reporters Tuesday.

CNN was first to report that Peter Strzok, who also worked on the Hillary Clinton email investigate, was escorted out of the building on Friday. He remains an FBI employee, his lawyer said in the statement.

“Pete has complied with every FBI procedure,” his attorney Aitan Goelman said, calling it, nonetheless, a “highly questionable process.”

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The former Senate Intelligence committee official charged with lying to FBI agents probing media leaks is seeking a gag order prohibiting President Trump, the Justice Department and other parties involved in the case from publicly opining on the allegations.

A court document filed by attorneys for James Wolfe — who, until recently, served as Senate Intel’s director of security — pointed to comments made by Trump after the Justice Department announced the charges it was bringing against the one-time staffer.

Wolfe has not been charged with leaking classified information — only with making false statements to the FBI, some of which concerning whether he disclosed nonpublic information to reporters.

Wolfe’s attorneys took issue with Trump remarks in which he said that the Justice Department “caught a leaker” and that, “You cannot leak classified information.”

Wolfe’s attorneys also pointed to statement from John Demers, a top national security official at the Justice Department, when the charges were announced that said that Wolfe’s alleged false statements “concern the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and confidential information.”

“Mr. Wolfe’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury and the presumption of innocence have been jeopardized by presidential comments about the merits of the case (“caught a leaker”) and highly prejudicial insinuations – straying far from the language and substance of the Indictment and echoed by the Justice Department – that Mr. Wolfe leaked classified information,” the  court filing said.

Wolfe’s attorneys said the “narrow” gag order was necessary, because, “Absent relief from this Court, there is no reason to expect that President Trump will cease making public statements about Mr. Wolfe and this case.”

The proposed order Wolfe’s attorneys offer U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson refers explicitly to the President:

After Wolfe’s attorneys filed the proposal,  Jackson issued an order requesting that Wolfe’s attorneys and the Justice Department present to her by Monday a briefing schedule for the proposed gag order,

Read Wolfe’s attorneys motion below:

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In a 100-plus-page decision knocking down Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship voter registration law, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson spent some two-dozen pages dismantling the testimonies offered by the so-called experts called by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to defend the law.

She said that “misleading evidence” and  “preconceived beliefs about this issue” were the basis of the testimony given by one member of President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, which Kobach once led. The author of a report Trump allies once touted as evidence of mass voter fraud offered estimates of Kansas non-citizen registration that were “individually flawed and wildly varied,” Robinson said. Additionally, the top researcher at an anti-immigration think tank who argued that the Kobach’s law did not affect voter turnout was not qualified to make such a conclusion, Robinson ruled, excluding large parts of his testimony.

Kobach — as part of a test an appeals court said the district judge should use to evaluate his voter law — needed to prove that voter fraud, and specifically non-citizen registration, was a “substantial” problem in Kansas. The experts he called appeared to be the best options he had to back that claim — and they fell well short of convincing the judge.

“The Court will not rely on extrapolated numbers from tiny sample sizes and otherwise flawed data,” she said.

Hans von Spakovsky

A Heritage Foundation scholar and an alum of George W. Bush’s Justice Department, Hans von Spakovsky was brought in to testify that the proof-of citizenship requirement was necessary in Kansas. Robinson said Monday that she gave his testimony little weight because it was “premised on several misleading and unsupported examples of non-citizen voter registration, mostly outside the State of Kansas.”

“His myriad misleading statements, coupled with his publicly stated preordained opinions about this subject matter, convinces the Court that Mr. von Spakovsky testified as an advocate and not as an objective expert witness,” she wrote.

She pointed out that von Spakovsky, during the proceedings, “could not identify any expert on the subject of non-citizen voter registration.”

He did nothing to verify a spreadsheet provided by a Kansas election official showing only 30 instances of non-citizen registration or attempted registration in a county in Kansas, Robinson said, that he used to back up his allegations.

“He later admitted during cross-examination that he had no personal knowledge as to whether or not any of these individuals had in fact falsely asserted U.S. citizenship when they became registered to vote and that he did not examine the facts of these individual cases,” the judge said.

She also picked apart other claims von Spakovsky made about voter fraud based on reports outside of Kansas, and knocked him for failing to correct or supplement his expert report when obvious flaws were pointed out to him during the proceedings.

“The record is replete with further evidence of Mr. von Spakovsky’s bias,” she said.

Jesse Richman

Old Dominion University associate professor Jesse Richman was offered by Kobach to provided a series of analyses alleging that tens of thousands of non-citizens were  registered to vote in Kansas. He previously authored a report alleging that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008, potentially swinging an entire state to President Obama, which spokespeople for President Trump later cited to back up his false claims of millions of illegal voters.

Robinson noted Richman’s methodology had previously been criticized by some 200 political scientists, while focusing on his claims about Kansas non-citizen voter registration. One estimation Richman provided, alleging 32,000 non-citizens registered to vote, was extrapolated from a survey of 14 reported non-citizens registrants.

“The first problem with Dr. Richman’s estimate is that the sample size is too small,” Robinson said, adding that Richman’s published findings about non-citizen voting can be accounted for entirely “by citizenship misreporting” and that his estimate also “suffers from registration overreporting.”

That and the other three estimates for non-citizen registration Richman provided, when “taken individually or as a whole,” were “flawed,” Robinson said.

“The Court finds Dr. Richman’s testimony and report about the methodology and basis for concluding that a statistically significant number of non-citizens have registered to vote in Kansas, are confusing, inconsistent, and methodologically flawed.”

Steven Camarota

Steven Camarota, the director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, had experience “limited to scholarship and reports that generally deal with immigration and citizenship issues,” Robinson wrote, “not election issues such as voter registration.”

Yet Kobach brought him in to testify on “voter registration statistics, and voter participation rates,” testimony Robinson ultimately excluded.

At the trial, he argued that the uptick in voter registration and turn out between the Kansas midterm elections in 2010 and 2014 showed that the law, which was implemented in 2013, did not make it harder to vote.

Robinson said Monday that Camarota was “not qualified to explain the reasons for the change in data between 2010 and 2014, or to insert assumptions into the record based on studies or academic literature regarding voter registration and turnout.”

“These are not his areas of expertise,” she said, ruling that his expertise was limited to his explanation of certain Census data.

“[H]e is not qualified as an expert in voter registration, voting trends, or election issues, so he is not qualified to opine on issues of causation.”

Read the judge’s opinion below:

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