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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A Russian company accused of funding the effort to influence the 2016 election via social media pleaded not guilty in a D.C. federal courthouse Wednesday. Two attorneys representing Concord Management and Consulting LLC, which was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, entered the not guilty plea. No other representatives of the company were present at the courtroom.

Concord Management was named in the grand jury indictment returned in February that also charged 13 Russians, and other entities allegedly linked to the effort. Those other defendants have not appeared in court, and Mueller’s team has said that they have had trouble delivering the summons.

Court documents filed over the weekend revealed a dispute between Mueller’s prosecutors and Concord Management, represented by Reed Smith attorneys Eric Dubelier and Katherine Seikaly, over whether Concord Management had properly been served.

Those court filings also revealed that in April, the day Dubelier and Seikaly formally entered their representation of Concord Management on the case’s dockets, they sent Mueller an extensive discovery request. Mueller’s team balked at going forward with the discovery without formal confirmation that Concord Management had accepted its summons, citing in a Friday filing the national security concerns involved in the discovery production. The discovery issue was not discussed at Wednesday’s hearing.

On Wednesday, Dubelier said Concord Management was submitting to the court’s jurisdiction and confirmed that the company had read a publicly-available version of the indictment.

Concord Management is partially owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked restaurant mogul who was also named in the February indictment. It was one of the entities sanction by the U.S. in March for it involvement in Russian cyberattacks.

Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey asked Dubelier whether he was also authorized to represent Concord Catering, another company named in the February indictment. Invoking the old saying about prosecutors’ ability to indict a ham sandwich, Dubelier said that Concord Catering did not legally exist at the time in question, and that for Wednesday’s purposes, he was not authorized to speak on its behalf.

The lawyer representing Mueller’s team, Jeannie Rhee, brought up the question of Dubelier’s representation of Concord Catering again, pointing to filings with the Treasury’s Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the implementation of sanctions.

Dubelier shot back that it was “disturbing” that the prosecutors had access to the “confidential” filings.

Another hearing in the case has been scheduled for May 16.

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When Special Counsel Robert Mueller unveiled an indictment in February charging 13 Russians, who allegedly meddled in the U.S. election via social media, it would have been reasonable to believe that the case would never have a day in court. It was unlikely Russian President Vladimir Putin would extradite any of the people named.

But here we are, in part due to some surprising tactics apparently employed by Concord Management, accused in the indictment of funding the work of the Russian troll farm. The company has lawyered up, and a magistrate judge will hold an arraignment hearing at 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday. Concord Management is partially owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian business mogul and restauranteur so beloved by the Kremlin he’s known as “Putin’s caterer” and “Putin’s chef.”

The hearing at a DC federal courthouse comes as attorneys claiming to represent Concord Management have refused to accept Mueller’s summons of the company, but have already sought to proceed with an extensive discovery process.

In April, two DC-based attorneys at the respectable law firm Reed Smith filed court documents signaling that they would be representing Concord Management in the case.

On the same day, according to court documents posted last week, one of the attorneys, Eric Dubelier, sent Mueller’s team a letter requesting a broad swath of information about the special counsel’s investigation into Concord Management. He also requested, “[f]rom 1945 to present, each and every instance” where the U.S. government “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes in any foreign country.”

Mueller — who, according to his Friday court filing, was having trouble delivering summons to the Russian defendants — responded to the letter on April 20 with a copy of the Concord Management summons. Mueller’s team requested that the Reed Smith attorneys confirm that they’d receive it, and provide more information about their representation of Concord Management. Concord’s lawyer, Dubelier, rebuffed it sharply, arguing Mueller’s team had not followed the appropriate court procedures in seeking to serve the summons.

When Mueller then turned to a federal judge on Friday seeking a delay on the previously scheduled May 9 arraignment hearing so that his office could settle the matter, Concord Management also opposed the move, again claiming the special counsel was violating the appropriate procedures.

The judge sided with Concord Management in an order Saturday but did not give any additional reasoning for declining to delay the arraignment.

The technicalities of whether Mueller had followed proper court procedures notwithstanding, former prosecutors told TPM that Concord Management is attempting to have its cake and eat it too, by seeking discovery without formally accepting the summons.

Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law Professor and former federal prosecutor, wrote in an email to TPM:

It appears that Concord Management may be trying to have it both ways, on the one hand leaving the issue of service cloudy so that it can later claim that it was never properly served and was therefore never within the jurisdiction of the court, and on the other hand trying to assert the rights of a party to extensive discovery. It seems likely that the judge at the arraignment on Wednesday will press the lawyers who claim to represent Concord to answer on the record whether Concord has been served and to establish that they do in fact represent Concord. Discovery should proceed only if those conditions have been met, and I assume that the judge will not permit the Concord lawyers, if that’s what they are, to play games on Wednesday. If discovery proceeds, Concord will likely not get all that they have requested as several of the requests appear to be either over broad or premature.

Randall Samborn, a former spokesman for the special counsel investigation into the Valerie Plame leak, cautioned against over-reading the judge’s decision against Mueller’s request for a delay.

“I don’t think that the order to appear resolves the government’s well reasoned position that the arrangement and discovery proceed absent counsel’s assurance that they’re accepting service of the summons,” Samborn told TPM.

Samborn added that it was in general “not unreasonable for any defendant to want to use proper means to obtain access for whatever information is being used against him,” but in Concord Management’s situation, the company was “trying to take advantage of two diametrically opposed positions.”

Eric Dubelier and Katherine Seikaly, the other Reed Smith attorney representing Concord Management, did not respond to TPM’s inquiry. A spokesman for Mueller’s investigation declined to comment.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday evening released an unclassified summary of one of the multiple reports it intends to release as part of its election meddling investigation. The summary focuses on the committee’s findings with regards to the cyber-intrusion campaign Russian-linked entities launched targeting state and local election infrastructure. It also includes updates to recommendations the committee previously offered for election official to protect their systems for the 2018 elections.

“Russian actors scanned databases for vulnerabilities, attempted intrusions, and in a small number of cases successfully penetrated a voter registration database,” the summary said.

The summary says that 18 states had their election systems targeted, and that the intelligence community had varying confidence another three may have been targeted.  Department of Homeland Security previously informed 21 states their infrastructures had been targeted, many via so-called “scans.” That notification last year did not clear up many questions surrounding the hacking attempts.

In at least six states, those attempted cyber intrusions went beyond scanning for vulnerabilities, the Senate Intel Committee said, and Russian-linked actors “conducted malicious access attempts on voting-related websites.” The majority of those access attempts were so-called “Structure Query Language (SQL)” injections, “a well-known technique for cyberattacks on public-facing websites,” the committee said.

In a “small number of states,” the committee said, those attacks targeted systems that were restricted from the public, and, “in a small number,” the cyber-intruders “were in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data.”

“[H]owever, they did not appear to be in a position to manipulate individual votes or aggregate vote totals,” the summary added.

It was previously known that Illinois’ voter registration system was targeted by an SQL injection attack. Additionally, Wisconsin’s election website was apparently targeted by Russians via a malicious banner or pop up ad, though state officials told TPM that the attempted hack was blocked by their cybersecurity system.

The Senate Intel summary cautions that its findings on intrusion attempts on state election infrastructures did not include any attempt on third party election vendors.

Read the summary below:

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The Trump-selected Justice Department official who pushed for the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census was a no-show at the start of a congressional hearing on the state of Census prep, prompting House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) to suggest he would subpoena the official.

Justice Department Civil Rights Division acting head John Gore was scheduled to be one of the House Oversight hearing’s witnesses, but he was not present when Gowdy introduced the panelists.

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President Trump’s preparations for a potential interview with Special Counsel have not exactly been going smoothly, according to a Monday Wall Street report, which detailed the difficulty the President had making it through a mock interview:

In an informal, four-hour practice session, Mr. Trump’s lawyers were only able to walk him through two questions, given the frequent interruptions on national-security matters along with Mr. Trump’s loquaciousness, one person familiar with the matter said.

Trump’s lawyers have set a May 17 deadline — the one-year anniversary of Mueller’s appointment — to decide whether the President should sit down for questioning by the special counsel, the Journal reported. If Trump decides not to grant Mueller a voluntary interview, it could prompt the special counsel to subpoena him, escalating a legal battle.

Trump last week shook up his legal team by adding on Emmet Flood to replace Ty Cobb, the White House counsel responsible for responding to the Russia probe. Trump also recently brought on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to represent him personally. Giuliani has taken a more aggressive tone to dealing with Mueller in various interviews with the press.

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As the House Oversight Committee prepares to hold a hearing on 2020 Census prep Tuesday, one of the lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question, which could lead to an undercount of immigrant populations, is gaining traction. Oakland, Fremont and four other municipalities in California have joined the lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. It’s one of several lawsuits seeking to block the Census Department from asking the question.

The Arizona legislature on Friday failed to pass a measure that would put an overhaul of the state’s independent redistricting commission on the ballot. Critics of the proposal said that it would have politicized the commission.

Meanwhile, a Missouri measure that would bring in a “non-partisan state demographer” to draw competitive legislative maps that, in turn, would be approved by the redistricting commissions that already exist in the state, will be on the ballot for Missouri voters to approve in November after a group called Clean Missouri turned in 340,000 petition signatures on Thursday. The proposal also puts more restrictions on political lobbying in the state and limits campaign contributions for Missouri legislators.

Friday marked the 150th anniversary of Florida’s system for felon re-enfranchisement, which requires ex-felons to wait five years after their sentenced is completed. The state Clemency Board, which includes the governor, decides on whether their voting rights are restored. A lawsuit seeking to overhaul the system has been stalled in the courts. But voting rights advocates in the state are preparing for a ballot initiative this November with a similar goal — restore voting rights for ex-felons — and a poll released last week showed that Florida voters overwhelmingly support the ballot initiative.

Voting rights activists were successful in getting a state judge to block Arkansas’ voter ID law. However, their efforts to get the law tossed out hit a snag on Wednesday when the state’s Supreme Court said that Arkansas could still enforce the requirement in its primary, where early voting began last week.

A campaign finance case in Montana may be heading for the U.S. Supreme Court’s doorstep. A 1994 law limiting campaign contributions in the state was struck down by a federal court, but a three judge appeals court panel overruled that decision and the full U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review the panel’s decision. It’s not clear yet whether the challengers in the case, Lair v. Motl, will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach signaled in a court filing that he will be appealing the contempt finding handed down by the federal judge who oversaw the state’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement trial. The move came as Kansas legislators tried unsuccessfully to force Kobach to pay for any penalties arising from the contempt order out of his own pocket. We’re still waiting for U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson to hand down her final ruling on the merits of the case.

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President Trump kicked off his Monday morning with a multi-tweet tirade against the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in particular.

The tweets referenced two former FBI officials by name, suggesting that their recent departures may be “part of the Probers getting caught.” The tweets also reference dispatches from a federal court hearing on Friday in which the judge showed skepticism toward Mueller’s prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis grilled Mueller’s team on whether the charges the special counsel has brought against Manafort — which revolve around alleged financial crimes stemming from the operative’s lobbying work in Ukraine — are really related to the election interference investigation.

Last week, two FBI officials known to have worked closely with former FBI Director James Comey resigned from the bureau. One was Lisa Page, who sent anti-Trump texts sent to another FBI official, Peter Strzok, with whom she was having an affair. The other was former FBI general counsel James Baker, who is departing the bureau for the national security blog Lawfare. That they both resigned on Friday was a coincidence, according to CNN.  Page worked briefly on Mueller’s team, while Baker was involved in the Russia probe before it was handed over the Mueller.

Trump’s tweets come has his recently rebooted legal team has signaled a more aggressive posture towards Mueller’s investigation.

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For my feature this morning, I spoke with former prosecutors, ex-White House attorneys and legal scholars about the options facing Trump’s lawyers as they seek to escalate their battle with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

One of the experts I talked to, Paul Rosenzweig, worked on the Whitewater investigation, and laid out an interesting calculus that Mueller might face if he cannot come to an agreement with Trump’s team for a sit-down interview and has to consider serving Trump a subpoena.

“Mueller has only two choices: to issue a subpoena or not. Whether he chooses to or not is really dependent on the state of his evidence, what he thinks is his end game. If he thinks that he is not going to be able to indict the President, because of Justice Department policy, then his end game is very different than if his end game is to bring a charge. If he thinks he’s got a criminal case that he’s going to be allowed to prosecute then he has all sorts of incentives not to mess it up with a big fight. If he thinks his job is to write a report that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is then going to send to Congress, in terms of possible impeachment, then he might think this fight is worth having to present a full case for Congress to make a determination.”

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When Rudy Giuliani wasn’t blowing up the White House’s account of payments made to a porn star who claimed to have slept with President Trump, or exchanging an old set of legal liabilities for Trump with some new ones, his one-two punch of Fox News interviews Wednesday night and Thursday morning allowed him to workshop some of  the arguments Trump’s legal team could be making if its showdown with Special Counsel Robert Mueller escalates.

“You can’t possibly not feel, as a citizen of the world, that his negotiations with North Korea are much more significant than this totally garbage investigation,” Giuliani said on Sean Hannity’s show Wednesday.

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