Tierney_j1gbg4

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.

Articles by

A question that has been lingering over the various probes into Russian election meddling is how the investigations — being conducted by both the legislative and executive branches — will handle any overlap. I’ve often heard lawmakers probing Russia asked how they’re navigating special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

On Wednesday, I heard the same issue brought up in another context. This time, it dealt with the Justice Department’s case against the alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina, which is being handled in-house at the Justice Department, rather than by Mueller.

The potential conflict between the DOJ’s Butina proceeding and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation came up in a hearing at D.C.’s federal courthouse, where lawyers for the government and Butina were debating how discovery would be handled going forward. Most of the hearing focused on disagreements about the government’s proposed limits on what Butina’s attorneys could do with information turned over to them in discovery.

However, towards the end, Butina attorney Robert Driscoll flagged for U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan another issue she might have to deal with in the future: the eight-hour testimony Butina gave the Senate Intel Committee in April as part of its Russia investigation.

Driscoll said that Butina’s lawyers have been able to review the testimony, but that the Senate Intel Committee has so far declined to give them a copy. He said that a committee staff member also indicated to him that lawmakers would, however, turn a copy over to the DOJ.

The issue being previewed for the judge was how to make sure Driscoll has access to any exculpatory evidence evidence during testimony — evidence that, under the so-called Brady doctrine, the government is required to turn over to defendants.

The DOJ’s attorney, Thomas Saunders, said that the issue may end up being a “complicated” constitutional question, given the interests that the legislative branch may assert, and not something they should try to resolve “on the fly” at the hearing. He also indicated that his team has not yet obtained a copy of the transcript, but wanted to. Driscoll said that he still believed the prosecutors would review it, and that hopefully he would be able to get a copy from Senate Intel.

Read More →

The Census Bureau struggled to find policy wonks willing to go on record in support of the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, with even the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute telling the bureau that it couldn’t find any experts in favor of the move, according to recently released emails.

The email exchange was among hundreds released publicly on Monday night after a court order in one of the lawsuits challenging the question, which civil rights advocates fear will diminish the political power of immigrant communities.

In February, as the Trump administration was going through the process of formally reviewing a request — ostensibly from the Justice Department — to add the question, acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin reached out to Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at AEI, looking to set up stakeholder meetings with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who would ultimately make the decision to add the question.

“Most stakeholders will speak against the proposal. We’re looking to find someone thoughtful who can speak to the pros of adding such a question or perhaps addressing the fundamental data need some other way (e.g., admin records),” Jarmin wrote, asking Strain if he knew of anyone at AEI or elsewhere who could participate in such a meeting.

“None of my colleagues at AEI would speak favorably about the proposal,” Strain responded. “Is it important that the person actually be in favor of the proposal?”

Jarmin thanked him, but added, “We are trying to find someone who can give a professional expression of support for the proposal in contrast to the many folks we can find to give professional statements against the proposal.”

“Interesting, but perhaps not so surprising, that no one at AEI is willing to do that,” Jarmin said.

Read the email exchange below:

Read More →

A lawyer for Maria Butina, the NRA-linked Russian national accused of acting as an agent for the country without properly registering, expressed serious doubt Wednesday about allegations made by prosecutors that she offered an individual sex in exchange for a job.

Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll told a federal judge in D.C. that they had “no idea” what the government was “talking about” in making the claim.

“We don’t believe it’s true,” Driscoll said.

The remark came during a hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, where the parties were debating the limits that could be put on discovery in the case. Driscoll pointed specifically to the claim — made in a government court filing seeking to put Butina in jail pending trial — and said her defense team would like to see the evidence underlying the allegation.

Butina was arrested earlier this month and faces charges of failure to register as a foreign agent and conspiracy against the U.S. She has pleaded not guilty.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the lawyer for the government Thomas Saunders accused Driscoll of mischaracterizing the case on television appearances. He said the government has some 1.5 million files its ready to turn over to Butina in the next few days for discovery, but that they are being held up by a fight over what’s known as a protective order, which lays out the rules on how the discovery material is handled.

Saunders said Butina’s lawyers were demanding “free rein” for what they can do with the discovery, and that Driscoll’s media appearance since Butina’s arrest had “magnified” prosecutors’ concerns that her lawyers would inappropriately share the discovery material with the press.

The prosecutors cited specifically ongoing investigations in other cases as a reason public dissemination of discovery materials should be limited.

Driscoll defended his efforts to “zealously represent” his client, and said that his TV appearances were an “eye dropper” in the bucket of negative press she has been subjected to.

He said he had no issue with the proposed rules placed on materials from the government, but he claimed that, according to the government, most of the evidence was from Butina’s computer.

“We’re not talking about state secrets here,” he said.

Driscoll said that his client’s objections to the government’s proposed protective order were based on the limits imposed on materials previously in her possession, including her diary and her immigration papers.

Chutkan seemed skeptical of that argument.

“Simply because it was in her possession doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be subject to protective order,” she said.

She ordered that the government file its proposal and for Butina’s lawyers to respond with their objections.  She also scheduled another hearing for the afternoon of Sept. 10.

 

Read More →

In May 2017, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, only two months into his tenure, emailed his top aide to complain that he was “mystified” that “nothing” had been done in response to his “months old” request to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The aide, Earl Comstock, responded to the frustration by reassuring him that the Commerce Department would not submit the final census questions to Congress until March 2018.

“We need to work with Justice to get them to request that citizenship be added back as a census question, and we have court cases to illustrate that DoJ has a legitimate need for the question to be included,” Comstock emailed Ross.

Many months later, the Justice Department would formally request the question. Until recently, it was the Trump administration’s official line that Ross, in seeking to add it, was responding to the Justice Department’s rationale that the census citizenship data would help with Voting Rights Act enforcement — a rationale that many former DOJ officials have rejected.

That May 2017 exchange and other emails released Monday night as part of lawsuits challenging the question seem to bolster the arguments of the question’s critics that the Justice Department rationale was an after-the-fact rationale.

Opponents of the citizenship question — which include civil rights activists,  minority groups and census policy wonks — fear asking the question will discourage immigrant families from participating in the survey. An undercount of those populations would shift political power and resources away from them. Furthermore, some GOP lawmakers have expressed a desire to use the citizenship data for redistricting and even congressional apportionment — a massive change that would shrink the political influence of urban and diverse communities.

In a statement Tuesday, a Commerce spokesman said that “nothing in the court-ordered supplemental production changes the sound rationale” Ross “articulated” in his March 2018 memo announcing the addition of the question.

“The documents reinforce that executive branch officials worked together to ensure that Secretary Ross received all of the information necessary to make an informed decision after taking a hard look at the question and considering all facts relevant as shown in the documents provided to the court and the public,” the spokesman said. “These documents also demonstrate that the citizenship question was one of many important census issues that the Secretary began considering shortly after his arrival.”

However, back in March 2018, Ross testified in front of Congress that the Justice Department “initiated the request” to add the question.

He has since had to acknowledge, in a memo filed in the litigation last month, that he began considering the question soon after his appointment and that he inquired whether the DOJ would make a request as part of the “deliberative process” of discussing the question with other federal officials.

Even before the May 2017 exchange, the emails suggest Ross and other political appointees at Commerce were interested in adding questions to the census.

A February 2, 2017 email exchange between two longtime Commerce officials said that “Earl is very interested” in the agency’s move that Spring to notify Congress of the 2020 census subjects. He “thinks the Secretary will be as well,” the email said.

Comstock in April 2017 emailed Mark Neuman, co-chair of the monitoring board of the U.S. Census Commission, asking when the Census Bureau must submit to Congress the questions for the decennial survey. After the May 2, 2017 “mystified” email from Ross about adding the question, another one of his aides suggested another meeting with “Marc Neumann.”

On May 3, 2017, Commerce’s White House liaison reached out to the White House seeking a contact at the Justice Department “Regarding” a “Census and Legislative issue.” The liaison then forwarded the DOJ contact to Comstock.

Later that month, a Commerce official, after sitting in a meeting with Ross, emailed Census Bureau officials that the “Secretary seemed interested on subjects and puzzled why citizenship is not included in 2020,” according to the partially redacted email chain.

Throughout the summer, there are more references in the emails alluding to citizenship or adding a question, including a June 28 appointment for Comstock to meet with a Commerce lawyer about “Census and Citizenship,” a Commerce official’s July 25 inquiry with Census about the process of approving a question, and an Aug. 28 request for a briefing with Ross on “key legal questions” surrounding the census.

More than three months later, the Justice Department would make its formal request to add the question. A Commerce attorney would flag the Dec. 12 request for acting Census Bureau director Ron Jarmin three days later. By Jan. 3, Census had put together a draft of an initial technical review of the request that said adding the question would be “very costly and does harm the quality of the census count by increasing erroneous enumerations.”

In an email chain about the draft, a Census official noted that 9.9 percent of households had at least one non-citizen, while another said that it’s “important to stress again that the impacts on cost and quality could be higher than we calculate.”

Jarmin at the time was also seeking to set up a meeting with Justice Department to discuss their request, according to emails obtained previously by ProPublica.

It’s unclear from the emails released Monday if that meeting ever happened, but by early February the Census Bureau was getting the cold shoulder from the Justice Department.

“They believe the letter requesting citizenship be added to the 2020 Census fully describes their request. They do not want to meet,” Jarmin said in an email to another Census Bureau official.

[H/T Huffington Post’s Sam Levine]

Read More →

ALEXANDRIA, VA —The government’s witness list for the trial of Paul Manafort in Virginia will be filed publicly by the end of this week, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis ordered Tuesday.

The order came in a brief hearing where the judge distributed the juror questionnaires ahead of the trial, which will begin July 31.

Uzo Asonye, a lawyer for special counsel Robert Mueller, noted that typically prosecutors did not publicly reveal their witnesses ahead of time.

“This isn’t a typical case,” Ellis said.

Already, the names of five witnesses for whom Mueller granted immunity have been made public. At a hearing Monday, the prosecutors said they expected to call 30 witnesses, though Tuesday they said they were working with the defense to shrink that list, so to shorten the length of the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.

Also at Tuesday’s hearing, Mueller prosecutor Greg Andres revealed the government’s plans to call witnesses from the IRS, the FBI, and FinCEN, an oversight agency at the U.S. Treasury.

Manafort is facing charges of bank fraud and tax fraud in Virginia. He has pleaded not guilty in the case, as well as to the seperate set of charges Mueller has brought against him in D.C.

At Tuesday’s roughly 30-minute hearing, Ellis thanked the 70 or so potential jurors in the Alexandria courtroom and stressed that jury service was a “cardinal” civic duty.

A “tiny” piece of good news he had for the jurors who were selected was that they would be supplied free lunch every day.

“Don’t look for the Baked Alaska on the menu,” he said, while assuring them that the food would be “palatable.”

Read More →

A banker who lent Paul Manafort $16 million — after serving on Trump’s campaign and while seeking a job in the incoming Trump administration — knew that the loan was fraudulent, a prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team told a federal judge Monday.

The bank is called “Lender D” in the court documents that led up to the Monday afternoon hearing. But based on corroborating details, it is the Chicago-based Federal Savings Bank, whose founder and CEO Steve Calk.

Calk served on the Trump campaign’s economic advisory team, and, according to the Wall Street Journal, wanted to be Trump’s Army secretary. His bank issued Manafort and his family two loans, of $9.5 million and $6.5 million, in late 2016 and early 2017 respectively, after Manafort allegedly made “several materially inconsistent representations during the process of negotiating” the loan, according to a search warrant partially unsealed last month.

The accusation of the banker’s knowledge of the allegedly fraudulent loan came in questioning by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, who is presiding over the case against Manafort in Virginia, where trial will begin next week. Ellis was hearing a request from Manafort that evidence and arguments about Manafort’s affiliation with the Trump campaign be excluded from the trial.

Mueller’s team, represented by Greg Andres at the hearing, had indicated that the only mention of the Trump campaign would be in the context of those particular loans, which Andres said would take a small part of the trial. Andres alleged that the banker’s motivations in extending the loan included his seeking and obtaining a position on the campaign, as well as seeking (though eventually not getting) a job in the administration.

Ellis asked if the banker knew if the information on Manafort loan application was inaccurate.

“He did,” Andres said.

Manafort is facing charges of bank fraud and tax fraud, mostly stemming from his consulting work  for pro-Russian then-president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych. Manafort has pleaded not guilty. Earlier in the day, Ellis moved the start of Manafort’s trial from Wednesday to July 31.

Ellis on Monday heard other requests by both the prosecutors and Manafort that certain evidence be excluded. The requests are routine in the run-up to a criminal trial, but in a closely watched case each pre-trial decision by the judge can take on outsize importance.

Many of the requests heard Monday were denied from the bench as moot, after the other side indicated that they did not plan to introduce the evidence in question.

Among the requests was one filed by Manafort just on Friday, after Mueller released his exhibits list, seeking that certain evidence from Manafort’s consulting work in Ukraine — which gave rise to the bulk of the charges he’s facing — be excluded. His attorney Thomas Zehnle expressed concern on Monday about certain items referenced in the exhibit, including a photo ex-President Yanukovych.

The judge asked Manafort’s attorneys to follow up with his specific list of the items on the exhibit list that they objected, while ordering Mueller’s team to respond to that list as to why they should be included.

Ellis said that if they are photos of them at a cocktail party with scantily-clad women, that such evidence would not be allowed, apparently speaking hypothetically.

“There will be no pictures of scantily-clothed woman,” Andres said.

Read More →

The Michigan state Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments over a ballot initiative to reform the state’s redistricting process with an amendment to the state’s constitution. Previous courts have ruled in favor of the letting voters approve or reject the measure in November, but an opposition group largely funded by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce successfully convinced the state Supreme Court, where five of the seven justices are GOP nominees, to review their claims.

Funding for the Election Assistance Commission prompted a shouting match on the House floor last week, when Republicans blocked a Democratic measure to increase funding for the federal commission on the heels of special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury indictment of 12 Russian hackers who, among other things, targeted state and local election infrastructure.

While lawmakers feud over funding election cyber-security, the Justice Department on Thursday unveiled a major cyber-security report that outlined how it is addressing election meddling.

The White House earlier this month announced President Trump’s nominee for a Republican vacancy on the Election Assistance Commission. Trump put forward Donald Palmer on the recommendation of Speaker Paul Ryan. Palmer is a Justice Department alum and former Virginia elections official who is now at the Bipartisan Policy Center. I had a brief tweet storm recapping Palmer’s record, which includes a massive and error-riddled voter purge he oversaw as secretary of Virginia’s Board of Elections.

Speaking of voter purges, the Brennan Center released a must-read report that found notable increases in purge rates after the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision among states and localities that, before the ruling, had to get federal approval for changes to their election policies due to their history of racially discriminatory policies.

And Slate’s Mark Stern had a great report on how North Carolina Republicans’ attempt to tilt a state Supreme Court election in their direction, by canceling the primary for it, may have backfired now that a second Republican has jumped into the race.

By a party line vote, the Senate confirmed a Trump judicial nominee whose record on voting rights has prompted concern among civil rights activists. Andrew Oldham — who before his current role as general counsel for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), was deputy solicitor general for the state — defended Texas’ voter ID law, which was so extreme that even the very conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against it in its original form.

A poll released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic illuminates the racial discrepancies among how Americans experience voting, and, more specifically, voting restrictions. African Americans and Latinos are both three times as likely as white voters to know someone who has been turned away from a polling place because he or she lacked a required ID. It’s not surprising then that 60 percent of Latinos and 62 percent of African-Americans worry about being denied the right to vote, compared to only 27 percent of white Americans who had the same concern.

Read More →

A statement by the Trump campaign, just before the 2016 election, that it was unaware of payments to a Playboy model claiming to have had an affair with Donald Trump was blown up Friday with the revelation of a tape recording of a conversation between Trump and his attorney discussing paying the woman.

When the Wall Street Journal reported on November 4, 2016 that National Enquirer had sought to quiet the model, Karen McDougal, by buying the rights to her story and never running it, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied both Trump’s affair and his knowledge about the payments.

Read More →

Among the changes in the voting rights landscape after a 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act was an uptick in voter purges in states and localities that, before the ruling, had to get federal approval for changes to their elections policies, a new report from the Brennan Center said.

The decision, Shelby County v. Holder, ushered in a slew of voting restrictions passed by the states that previously had to go through a so-called “preclearance” process, where a federal judge or the Justice Department had to OK their election policies, due to their history of racially discriminatory voting laws.

Read More →

A Microsoft executive, speaking Thursday on a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, revealed that at least three candidates running in 2018 have been targeted by the same Russian intel agency behind the cyberatttacks on Democratic emails and systems in 2016, Buzzfeed reported.

Microsoft vice president for customer security and trust Tom Burt did not identify the candidates or their parties, according to Buzzfeed, but said that they were “all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint, as well as an election disruption standpoint.”

According to Buzzfeed, he said that Microsoft analysts uncovered a spearphishing campaign targeting the three candidates that linked back to a group believed to be run by the intel agency, the GRU.

Last Friday, a federal grand jury handed down charges against 12 Russians accused of the infiltrating the emails and systems of Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Hillary Clinton campaign,  including Clinton chairman John Podesta. The emails were released on Wikileaks and through two other websites that, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment, were fronts for the GRU hacking effort.

President Trump — on the heels of a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin where he cast doubt on the intel community’s assessment that Russia was behind the 2016 hack —was asked by a reporter Wednesday if Russia was still targeting the United States. Trump appeared to answer “no,” but the White House has since argued that the “no” was not in response to the reporter’s question.

Read More →

LiveWire