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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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The Justice Department’s Inspector General is expected, any day now, to release his much anticipated report on the department’s activities in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

The review is mostly focused on DOJ’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. It is separate from the Inspector General probe into surveillance warrants sought for an ex-Trump campaign advisor, nor will it likely cover the other GOP allegations of bias in DOJ’s Trump-Russia investigation. (The Inspector General, it’s worth noting, hasn’t formally announced any inquiries into the Trump investigation matters besides the one reviewing the surveillance warrants).

Rather, the Office of Inspector General — in its January 2017 announcement that it was opening its probe, at the behest of lawmakers of both parties — said the report would cover five major areas.

Here is what they are, what we know about them so far, and what questions remain:

Comey’s Clinton Press Conference, And His Two Letters To Congress

Among the episodes Inspector General Michael Horowitz is examining is a press conference FBI Director Jim Comey gave in July 2016 in which he stridently criticized Clinton for using an outside email server. Comey called Clinton’s actions “extremely careless,” but recommended that no charges be brought. The sort of announcement that Comey made then is typically left to the Justice Department. Comey has since defended the move by arguing that he was seeking to restore DOJ leadership’s credibility after Bill Clinton’s tarmac meeting with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, which angered Republicans.

The Inspector General also is looking at Comey’s decision to send Congress a letter in late October 2016 announcing that the investigation had been reopened to search files found on a computer used by Anthony Weiner, who was being investigated for sex crimes and whose wife, Huma Abedin was one of Clinton’s closest aides.

Days later, just before the election, Comey sent Congress another letter indicating that nothing the FBI found had changed the conclusions it had previously reached in the  Clinton email probe. But by then, the news cycle had been dominated by the news that the email probe had been reopened.

It is not typical for the Justice Department to announce the opening or reopening of an investigation. And there’s a DOJ policy ordering that it stay quiet about investigations that could influence an election in the weeks leading up to election day.

Comey has said that even though he feels “mildly nauseous” that his announcement may have impacted the election, he doesn’t regret sending the letters.

Whether McCabe Should Have Been Recused From The Clinton Probe

Prior to the report set to be unveiled in the days to come, the Inspector General released the findings in its review pertaining to ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent Trump target who was fired in February by Attorney General Jeff Sessions hours before he was eligible for full pension benefits. The Inspector General said then that McCabe misled its investigators who were reviewing his decision to permit details about internal feuds over Clinton investigations to be disclosed to the press.

This latest report also is examining the decision that McCabe not recuse himself from overseeing the Clinton probe. An October 2016 Wall Street Journal story revealing that McCabe’s wife, in an unsuccessful 2015 state Senate race, received campaign contributions by a group linked to Clinton supporter Terry McAuliffe, made McCabe a punching bag for Republicans, who called him biased.

McCabe sought ethics counseling when he became deputy director in February 2016, which is when he first had any oversight into the Clinton email probe and well after his wife’s campaign ended.

Ironically, the media leak that McCabe would later mislead IG investigators about was for a negative Clinton story depicting internal DOJ tensions over investigating her. The story confirmed a separate investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

“Among the purposes of the disclosure was to rebut a narrative that had been developing following a story in the WSJ on October 23, 2016, that questioned McCabe’s impartiality in overseeing FBI investigations involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and claimed that McCabe had ordered the termination of the [Clinton Foundation] Investigation due to Department of Justice pressure,” the Inspector General said in its McCabe report.

Did A DOJ Official Feed Inappropriate Info To The Clinton Campaign?

The Inspector General is probing communications between Peter Kadzik and John Podesta, who have been friends since both were at Georgetown Law.

Wikileaks posted an email Kadzik, then a DOJ official, sent to Podesta, the chair of Clinton’s campaign, in May 2015, flagging an upcoming hearing where a DOJ official would be testifying and was “likely to get questions on State Department emails.” Kadzik also flagged a detail in a court document being filed in an emails-related FOIA case.

Ethics experts who are skeptical that Kadzik violated DOJ policies have pointed out that he wasn’t using his government email, and that he was highlighting only publicly available information.

Other DOJ/FBI Leaks During the Campaign

The announcement also said that the Inspector General is probing “[a]llegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information.”

Clinton supporters have accused the FBI of leaking information about the investigations into her, with one report dubbing the FBI “Trumpland” for its Clinton hostility. There’s been some reporting that the leaks were coming from current or former federal investigators in New York, whom, it’s been speculated, have remained close to Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani himself bragged on Fox News that he had an advance warning from the FBI about the Comey letter to Congress.

An Interestingly Timed Clinton Foundation Records Release

A batch of FBI records related to President Trump’s father sought under the Freedom of Information Act was released October 30, while some FBI Clinton Foundation-related records were published on November 1, 2016. Their release was also promoted on an FBI Twitter account. The FBI records concerning the Clinton Foundation pertained to its investigation into President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich — a probe closed in 2005. But the Clinton Foundation was also a political flashpoint for Hillary Clinton in her campaign.

The Twitter account that promoted their release had been dormant for more than a year before its reactivation the day before it tweeted the Clinton Foundation files. The Clinton campaign also said the timing was “odd” given there was no lawsuit deadline facing the FBI.

The FBI at the time said that the timing reflected “standard procedure for FOIA” in which records that requested three or more times are released publicly and processed on a “first in, first out” basis.

The day before the Clinton records tweet, the FBI Records Vault Twitter account also tweeted records related to Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father.

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The pressure President Trump put on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal from the Russia investigation extended beyond the March 2017 Mar-a-Lago conversation reported by the New York Times this week.

Unnamed sources detailed to Axios in a Thursday report additional discussions Trump had with Sessions over the phone and in person about his recusal. Two sources told Axios that Trump stopped short of ordering Sessions to undo his recusal, but rather told the attorney general he’d be a “hero” among conservatives if he did “the right thing” and reasserted oversight of the investigation. The probe is now being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

According to one of Axios’ sources, Trump also encouraged Sessions to open an investigation into Hillary Clinton, who continues to be the subject of “lock her up chants” at Trump rallies.

These conversations continued from March through the end of last year, Axios reported.

Sessions has said he was following Justice Department protocols in recusing himself from the Russia investigation. He also said in his confirmation hearing he would recuse himself from investigations into Clinton and any probes linked to the 2016 campaign.

Nevertheless, Trump has raged publicly and privately about Sessions’ recusal, and even Tweeted Wednesday that he regretted picking Sessions as an attorney general.

Both the White House and a Sessions spokeswoman declined to comment on the Axios report.

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On Thursday, President Trump announced the pardon of Dinesh D’Souza, a bombastic, conservative firebrand, known for making outright racist remarks. The case involved campaign contributions made by D’Souza’s mistress at his behest, as well as “nonsense” claims by D’Souza that he was targeted by the Justice Department for his attacks on President Obama.

D’Souza pleaded guilty in 2014 to campaign finance violations for a scheme in which he used his mistress and assistant as straw donors to contribute $10,000 to the Republican candidate running against U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

The Republican, Wendy Long, was kept in the dark about the source of the payments, according to the indictment, despite her repeated questions to D’Souza about where they came from.

In 2012, D’Souza and his wife made a $10,000 contribution — $5,000 each, the legal limit — to Long. He then urged his assistant, Tyler Vawser, and a woman described as his lover, Denise Odie Joseph, to make $10,000 contributions in their and their spouses’ names. D’Souza eventually admitted, when pleading guilty, that Vawser and Joseph made the contributions with the understanding that they’d be paid back by D’Souza. (Joseph actually made a $15,000 contribution, $5,000 of which was returned by the campaign.)

Among the evidence prosecutors had was a secret recording Joseph’s husband made of Joseph telling him months before D’Souza was arrested that, if caught, D’Souza might eventually plead guilty.

However, D’Souza would first plead not guilty, Joseph told her husband, to provide “a window of opportunity to get his story out there,” according to the prosecutors.

As the case proceeded, there was some confusion about D’Souza’s relationship status with both women involved. D’Souza’s affair with Joseph had first been reported by the Christian magazine World in 2012, which caught D’Souza — then the president of a Christian college — checking into a hotel with Joseph. He said at the time that Joseph was his fiancée and that he “had no idea that it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced.” Prosecutors, however continued to describe Joseph as a “woman with whom D’Souza was romantically involved” and the other woman as his wife. D’Souza, after the charges were brought in 2014, declined to clarify whether he was married to either woman.

Dixie D’Souza would eventually write a letter to the court that said Dinesh D’Souza had a “flawed character and lack of truthfulness.”

In the pretrial proceedings, D’Souza’s lawyers claimed that he was the target of prosecutors “because of his consistently caustic and highly publicized criticism” of President Obama. D’Souza had become a cult hero among the far-right for his anti-Obama books and films. One of his biggest cheerleaders when the charges were brought was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), then a rising Tea Party star,  who also on Thursday celebrated Trump’s pardon announcement.

D’Souza himself, in a 2014 interview with Sean Hannity, floated the idea that the charges were “kind of payback” for the anti-Obama film D’Souza made, which he claimed “seem[ed] to have gotten under President Obama’s skin.”

The prosecutors, led by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, denied the allegations of political bias, and told the court that D’Souza was “exploiting” his criticisms of Obama in a “baseless attempt to avoid criminal prosecution.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman sided with the prosecutors in the pretrial dispute, with the judge later calling D’Souza’s claims “nonsense”.

D’Souza’s guilty plea came unexpectedly in March 2014, on the same day trial was set to start.

“I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids,” he said at his plea hearing.

He was sentenced to eight months in a community confinement center, five years probation and a $30,000 fine.

A statement released by his attorney after the plea deal claimed that D’Souza’s illegal contributions were “an act of misguided friendship” toward Long.

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While Paul Manafort has claimed, so far without much success, that special counsel Robert Mueller has overstepped his authority by focusing on Manafort’s Ukraine lobbying, Mueller has left hints in various filings that his ongoing investigation into the former Trump campaign chairman may also be looking into something else.

It’s not clear exactly what that something else is, when or even if it will yield additional charges against Manafort, or whether it will bring the Russian collusion case closer to President Donald Trump or his associates. But there has been a series of intimations floated publicly by Mueller that suggest more is going on beneath the surface.

The most obvious signal was an Aug. 2 internal Justice Department memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to Mueller, disclosed with heavy redactions by Mueller last month, in which Rosenstein confirmed the special counsel’s authority to investigate Manafort for both the Ukraine allegations, and accusations that the Trump campaign and Russian colluded to influence the 2016 election.

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A legal defense fund has been set up for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort by his “long time friends,” according to the fund’s website.

The Paul Manafort Defense Fund was established “to assist Paul and his family in meeting the tremendous legal costs resulting from the proceedings commenced against him by the Office of Special Counsel following the historic 2016 Presidential Election.”

NPR was first to report the fund’s existence on Wednesday.

Manafort is facing charges in Washington, D.C. and Virginia that include money laundering, failure to disclose foreign lobbying, tax fraud and bank fraud. He’s pleaded not guilty.

It is not clear who is behind the fund. A TPM inquiry sent to a generic email on the website about the fund’s backers and its plans for public disclosure of contributions went unanswered.

“The Trust will maintain strict confidentiality of the identity and information of those who choose to contribute,” the website said. Any leftovers from the contributions will go the ACLU and The Brain Trauma Fund, per the website.

Under its media page, the fund lists a number of news stories about the Manafort case, many of them hyperbolic and conspiratorial in tone, and also includes a Sean Hannity clip bashing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Manafort has remained under house arrest since turning himself in to the FBI last October when the indictment against him was unsealed. His lawyers have said in court proceedings that his home confinement has affected his ability to make money to pay for his legal defense. At a hearing last month, his attorney also revealed that Manafort had “millions” of dollars locked down due to forfeiture allegations.

A number of other legal defense funds have sprouted up for those involved in the various investigations into Russian election meddling, which is also being probed by Congress. A fund for White House aides caught up in the investigation was launched earlier this year, while a fund for Trump associate Michael Caputo is also now offering to cover the legal fees of other Trump associates.

Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, before pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about Russian contacts during the presidential transition, set up a legal defense fund, as did Manafort’s longtime business partner Rick Gates, who also reached a plea deal with Mueller.

The fund set up for Gates caused a legal headache for his attorneys when he was accused of violating a gag order imposed in the case against him and Manafort by appearing in a pre-filmed video that aired at a fundraiser for the legal defense fund.

 

 

 

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Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied a request Tuesday by Paul Manafort that special counsel Robert Mueller turn over unredacted versions of warrant affidavits that were part of his investigation into the former Trump campaign chairman.

The affidavits in question were for warrants targeting one of Manafort’s email accounts and five phone numbers. The latter warrant was only obtained this year.

Jackson, citing her own review of the unredacted affidavits behind closed doors, said in her order that “the Court finds that the limited redactions are appropriate and justified on the grounds set forth by the prosecution, and that the Office of Special Counsel need not reveal the redacted information to the defendant at this time.”

“There is nothing in the redactions that relates to any of the charges now pending against Manafort or that would be relevant to a challenge to any of the warrants issued based on the affidavits, particularly given the prosecution’s stated willingness to set aside that information and not rely upon it to establish that there was probable cause to support the issuance of any warrant,” the judge, who is overseeing the case brought against Manafort in D.C. said.

It is the latest in a series of legal setbacks for Manafort the judge has handed down recently. She last week declined to throw out one of the counts Mueller brought that Manafort alleged was duplicative. She also ruled against two seperate legal actions Manafort brought challenging Mueller’s authority.

Manafort has been charged with money laundering, failure to register foreign lobbying, and false statements in Washington, D.C. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, and to the charges Mueller brought against him in Virginia.

Read the order below:

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The White House and the National Security Council are refusing to respond to inquiries from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which is reviewing a number of White House-related matters, GAO General Counsel Thomas Armstrong alleged in a May 9 letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn.

“In response to our requests, White House Counsel and NSC staff have either refused to have any discussion with GAO staff or not responded at all,” Armstrong wrote, calling the lack of cooperation a “clear departure from past practice.”

The letter was released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, who are requesting that Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) hold a hearing “on the dramatic decision by the White House to obstruct investigations by our independent investigators at the Government Accountability Office.”

Armstrong, in his letter, asked McGahn to respond to his concerns by May 25. According to the Democrats, the White House has not replied.

The White House press shop did not respond to TPM’s inquiry about the GAO’s claims.

Armstrong’s letter referenced its reviews of the NSC’s role in U.S. efforts abroad, of vacancies at the Inspector General and of the costs of President Trump’s travel.

He told McGahn that “GAO has a history of working with attorneys from your office and the NSC to obtain information needed for our reports.”

The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works on behalf of Congress to investigate government operations.

Read the GAO letter below:

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Many states are moving forward with lawsuits challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, alleging that it will discourage immigrant populations from participating in the survey. But Alabama is suing to see that some immigrants — at least not those in the U.S. legally — aren’t even counted. The state, in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, is seeking to cut undocumented immigrants out of the count that the Census Bureau uses to apportion U.S. congressional districts. The state alleges that it is about lose a congressional seat and an electoral vote to a state with a “larger illegal alien population.”

Texas did not wait long to appeal an order Monday from a federal judge requiring the state to fix its online DMV system so that voter registration would be offered to those who updated their driver’s license info on the web. On the same day that U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia gave Texas 45 days to address the issue, which he said was a violation of the National Voter Registration Act, Texas filed its notice of appeal of the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Friday, Texas asked the 5th Circuit for an emergency stay on the federal judge’s NVRA decision.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach suffered a legal setback on Tuesday when an appeals court dismissed his request that it overturn a federal judge’s contempt finding against him. Kobach had filed the request too early in the legal process, the appeals court said.

Another appeals court, meanwhile, upheld a 2015 Montana campaign finance law that a group called Montanans for Community Development had in a lawsuit alleged  was too broad and vague. The group wanted to distribute mailers during the 2016 election attacking candidates, but didn’t want to disclose its donors. This sort of activity was barred under the Montana Disclose Act.

Democrats in Florida, meanwhile, brought a lawsuit challenging a Florida law that gives candidates of the same party as the governor the top spot on the ballot. In practice, the law has given Republican candidates an electoral advantage for the last 20 years, during which the state has had a Republican governor, the lawsuit said.

Pennsylvania, which has been the site of a months-long redistricting battle, is considering a redistricting reform measure that would place the task of drawing a new electoral map in the hands of a citizen commission — instead of lawmakers — and would encourage a more bipartisan approach. The state Senate bill sat dormant in committee for months, but was moved to the full Senate for a vote on Tuesday. If it passes the Senate, it still faces major obstacles in the lower chamber of the state’s legislature.

A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers are making their own push for a redistricting overhaul with a measure that would let a panel of 12 voters approve maps drawn by legislative staff. The anti-gerrymandering measure passed the legislature earlier this month and will be on the ballot for voters’ approval in November.

Speaking of gerrymandering, we have, apparently, been pronouncing the word wrong — or so says the Wall Street Journal.

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The federal judge presiding over Paul Manafort’s case in Washington, D.C. dealt him another legal setback Friday by declining to throw out charges brought against him that Manafort alleged were “multiplicitous.”

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had previously dismissed two seperate legal challenges brought by Manafort alleging that special counsel Robert Mueller was acting outside of his authority.

Manafort has been charged with money laundering, false statements and failure to disclose foreign lobbying — stemming from work he did in Ukraine predating his time on Trump’s campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, as well as to the other charges Mueller brought against him in Virginia.

The issue Jackson decided on Friday was whether two of the counts in the D.C. indictment — both having to do with what Manafort told the government about his Ukraine lobbying — were duplicative, since they both dealt with the same set of statements Manafort made to the Department of Justice.

“But the test for multiplicity is not whether two counts are based on the same set of facts; rather, it is whether the statutory elements of the two offenses are the same,” Jackson wrote.

She denied Manafort’s request but noted that he can raise the issue again after the trial.

Read her opinion below:

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Shortly before the inauguration, Donald Trump’s self-described “fixer” Michael Cohen met at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-tied oligarch and discussed Russian-U.S. relations, the New York Times reported.

Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg could be seen on video entering Trump Tower on January 9, 2017, in what would be the first of three meetings, the New York Times reported Friday. 

Vekselberg, the chairman of Renova Group, has been sanctioned by the Trump administration and was questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators at a New York-area airport earlier this year, the New York Times previously reported.

Vekselberg’s American cousin Andrew Intrater attended the Trump Tower meeting and told the New York Times that Vekselberg’s appearance wasn’t initially planned. Intrater’s company Columbus Nova signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen later in January. About half of the contract was ultimately paid out to Cohen, the Washington Post reported, before it was terminated when Cohen had trouble finding investors for the company.

Columbus Nova has denied that it was used by Vekselberg — its biggest client — as a middleman to pay Cohen. It was caught scrubbing mentions of its ties to Renova Group from its website.

Federal investigators have shown interest in the Cohen contract, the New York Times reported.

“Obviously, if I’d known in January 2017 that I was about to hire this high-profile guy who’d wind up in this big mess, I wouldn’t have introduced him to my biggest client, and wouldn’t have hired him at all,” Intrater told the New York Times.

Intrater said the men agreed to meet again at Trump’s inauguration, an encounter that was previously reported by the Post. It’s not clear from the Times’ report when and where the third meeting occurred.

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