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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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As civil rights groups and voting advocates question the motives of an “elections integrity” commission expected to be created by President Trump Thursday, a group known for fear-mongering about the prevalence of voter fraud slammed those critics as “accessories after the fact to voter fraud.”‎

“Foes of the commission are trying to cover up crimes,” a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation said in a statement to TPM. “They are accessories after the fact to voter fraud.”

The Public Interest Legal Foundation is led by J. Christian Adams, a prominent advocate for restrictive voting laws on the right. Adams is a former Justice Department official who helped make the New Black Panther case a conservative cause célèbre. Adams resigned from the Justice Department in 2010 claiming that the Obama administration was neglectful in how it handled voter intimidation allegations against two black activists at a Philadelphia voting site in the 2008 election.

Trump on Thursday is expected to sign an executive order creating a commission that will look into voter fraud, after Trump himself, without evidence, claimed that millions of people voted illegally. The commission is being led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is a vocal advocate for restrictive voting laws.

Numerous studies have shown voter fraud to be extremely rare.

President Donald Trump has selected a GOP official with a history of proposing restrictive elections policies that have been batted down by the courts to join Vice President Mike Pence in leading a commission that will examine “improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting,” as one administration official put it to ABC News.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will be the vice chair, and Pence the chair, of the panel that’s being called “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.” Trump is expected to sign the executive order creating the commission on Thursday, according to the ABC News report.

The commission appears to be the result of Trump’s vows earlier this year to launch an investigation into voter fraud – which has found to be extremely rare in studies – after he claimed without any evidence that “millions” of people vote illegally in the presidential election.

A White House official said, via a pool report that the commission will go beyond “reviewing alleged voter fraud & suppression.”

“The Commission will review policies and practices that enhance or undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of Federal elections — including improper registrations, improper voting, fraudulent registrations, fraudulent voting, and voting suppression,” the commission said, according to the pool report.

The committee will be bipartisan, according the ABC News report, and a number of Democratic and Republican officials are being considered for it by Trump administration.

Kobach is the engineer  of a number of laws and proposals that were struck down by the courts, including a proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration in Kansas that has been tied up in a multi-year legal battle. Multiple courts have ruled against his efforts to implement the requirement, and at one point, he was threatened to be held in contempt-of-court for allegedly refusing to comply with a court order against it.

Arizona’s “show me your papers” law was crafted with Kobach’s assistance. While at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, he also was behind the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which essentially functioned as a registry for Muslim men entering the country. Kobach floated the idea after Trump was elected that the program may be revived.

Kobach was a major Trump booster and lobbied for tougher language on building a wall on the Mexican border to be added to the Republican platform. In November, Kobach was photographed with Trump holding a proposal sheet that included a line that said “Draft Amendments to National Voter….,” presumably a reference to the National Voter Registration Act. As part of the litigation over the proof-of-citizenship requirement, a judge ordered he turn over the paper, and Kobach’s appeal of the decision failed just this week.

Among the other candidates floated to serve on the committee in the ABC News report is Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson. She was involved in a sketchy raid of a voter registration group last fall, that some worried would have a chilling effect on voting while overblowing claims of widespread voter fraud.

Per the ABC News report, the White House is seeking to make the panel bipartisan.

“The commission will also examine the issue of voter suppression, officials said, which could encourage Democrats to sign on to the effort,” the report said.

Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price showed little concern on Wednesday for the decision by law enforcement to arrest a reporter who had tried to ask the former congressman a question Tuesday.

The authorities were “doing what they thought was appropriate,” Price said at a New Hampshire event, according to Stat News, though he added that the call to arrest the reporter was “not my decision to make.”

Noting that the reporter, Daniel Heyman, was approaching him while he was walking through a hallway, Price said, “That gentleman was not in a press conference.”

Heyman, who works for the Public News Service, was yelling questions at Price and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway Tuesday while they were at the West Virginia Capitol, according to the police complaint, which charged him with willful disruption of governmental processes. Heyman was asking about whether the GOP health care bill would allow being a victim of domestic violence to be considered a pre-existing condition, the Associated Press reported

The complaint alleged that he was “aggressively breaching” Secret Service agents on hand as protection for the Trump administration officials, and that they were “forced to remove him a couple of times from the area,” according to the Washington Post.

Heyman, at a press conference Tuesday, defended his actions and said that “they decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job and so they arrested me,” according to the AP.

He was released on $5,000 bond, according to Stat News.

President Trump’s surprise decision to fire FBI Director James Comey sent Capitol Hill scrambling, with Democrats suggesting a potential cover-up, at least a few Republicans questioning the move and many Republicans parroting the White House’s spin justifying the termination.

In a floor speech, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Tuesday defended the decision. But Democrats, as they headed into a conference meeting Wednesday morning, were not backing down from from their calls for a special prosecutor in the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential investigation, which Comey was overseeing and had included an examination of Trump campaign affiliates ties to Russia.

“I continue to believe that we need a special prosecutor and I am going to press for one,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told reporters. Blumenthal is working on legislation to bring on an independent counsel to investigate Trump ties to Russia

“It’s got to be just shocking to the American people that a person who’s involved in an investigation—that’s not to say there’s any target of an investigation, but involved in an investigation— would fire the person whose responsible for that investigation,” said Ben Cardin (D-MD). “That’s outrageous. That doesn’t happen in American politics without consequences.”

The White House has claimed that Trump fired Comey due to his politicization of the FBI while handling the probe into Clinton’s private email server, which Trump previously said should have resulted in Clinton in jail. A letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein dated Tuesday, which the White House pointed to as justification for the removal, criticized Comey for the public press conference announcement that no charges would be brought against the 2016 Democratic nominee.

“We’re going to get to the facts,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the Senate GOP No. 2, told reporters at the Capitol.

“I agree Director Comey is a good man. He made a bad mistake,” he said, referring to the handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which the White House has touted as the reasoning for Comey’s firing.

Some GOP senators on Capitol Hill were more than happy to regurgitate the administration’s spin that Democrats should be satisfied with Comey’s firing, given their past criticisms of his performance.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) pointed to negative comments made previously about Comey by Democrats such as Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and said, “This not partisan.”

“The only reason it’s become partisan today is all the Democrats who wanted him to go now have flipped and now they say somehow it has to do with something else,” Paul said.

Democrats vehemently shot down this logic.

“If this were about the Clinton campaign, he should have fired him on January 20. It’s only about this investigation,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (R-OH) told TPM.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Dem on the Judiciary Committee, said that she believed, based on the Justice Department letters recommending Comey’s firing put out by the White House, that Rosenstein was “put in a position and carried on as sort of the executioner of Comey, which I’ve got to say surprised me.”

Feinstein went on to ask at a Judiciary Committee hearing later Wednesday morning, “If the reason for firing Comey was because of his handling of the Clinton investigation, why now?” She pointed to reports suggesting the Russian investigation was the real reason.

Beyond the timing of Comey’s firing, Democrats also raised concerns about Attorney General Jeff Sessions involvement in the decision, given that Sessions had previously recused himself from investigations involving the Trump campaign.

“What he did was a blatant disregard for the statement that he made with, respect to his recusal. … There are serious questions in my view about his fitness for office,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who sits on the Senate Intel Committee, said.

Even Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who described himself as a friend of Sessions, a former senator, said Sessions’ role “does complicate things.”

“The White House, after multiple conversations with many people over the last 12-14 hours, understands that they’ve created a really difficult situation from themselves,” Corker told reporters.

At least a few GOP senators expressed the desire for a little more clarity around the decision to fire Comey.

“In terms of the timing of it, those are questions that the administration will have to answer,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of Senate GOP leadership. Thune said that, nonetheless, he understood the rationale behind it.

“I want to get a full debriefing of what’s occurring at this point,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said, adding he found the decision to be “a little poor in timing.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who initially sent out a statement mostly supportive of Trump’s decision, said she was “reviewing” the Justice Department regulations on appointing a special counsel. (She also noted that the old independent counsel law had been allowed to expire). Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who said Tuesday night that he was “disappointed” by the decision, stressed that his desire was for a select committee.

And then there was how the scandal and the likely contentious confirmation proceedings for Comey’s replacement stands to affect the GOP’s congressional agenda.

“Well, it doesn’t help,” Thune said.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Sen. Tim Scott represents South Carolina.

The Republican overseeing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election dismissed calls for a special prosecutor after President Trump’s abrupt removal of FBI Director James Comey.

But Intel Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) still expressed concern about the circumstances of Comey’s firing. “The timing of this and the reasoning for it doesn’t make sense to me,” Burr told reporters at the Capitol, echoing a statement he put out Tuesday night after the news broke.

“I think this made our task a little bit more difficult, but it didn’t make it impossible, so we’ll continue,” Burr said, of the committee’s investigation.

He elaborated that Comey’s firing complicates the Intel probe from “a deconfliction standpoint.”

“We would like to make sure that everything that we do does not disrupt any potential investigation,” Burr said.

He confirmed that Comey would no longer be appearing at the Intel committee’s annual hearing on “Worldwide Threats” slated for Thursday. He also said the he spoke to the President Tuesday night, but would not elaborate on the content of the conversation beyond confirming that the Intel committee’s probe was not discussed.

While some congressional Republicans signaled they supported President Trump’s Tuesday decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, at least a few have expressed discomfort with the decision, which took Capitol Hill off guard.

The Republican overseeing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian meddling in the presidential election — an issue the FBI, under Comey, was also investigating — said in a statement he was “troubled by the timing and the reasoning” of Trump’s removal of the FBI Director.

“His dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee,” Intel Committee Chair Richard Burr said (R-NC).

The FBI investigation into Russia’s influence in the presidential election is said to include an examination of Trump campaign contacts with Russia. Comey, in public comments, has stopped short of saying whether the Trump was also being investigated.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he was “disappointed” by the Trump’s removal of Comey, whom McCain called a “man of honor and integrity”

“I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election,” McCain said in a statement. “The president’s decision to remove the FBI Director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said in a statement of his own that the timing of Trump’s decision “will raise questions.”

In a letter announcing Comey’s termination, Trump said he “greatly appreciate[d]” Comey informing him “on three separate occasions” that he was “not under investigation.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who is known for his independent streak, pointed to the  “bizarre” sentence specifically, while hinting he could push a bill setting up an independent commission.

Congressional Democrats reacted fiercely to President Trump’s firing Tuesday of FBI Director James Comey, who is by no means popular in Democratic quarters after his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.

Outraged Democrats accused Trump of a coverup and said the timing of Comey’s termination re-enforced the need for a special prosecutor in the investigation into potential Russian ties to the Trump campaign. More than a few compared the abrupt announcement by the White House, made late Tuesday afternoon, to the tactics President Nixon used to undermine the Watergate investigation.

“For the President to fire the head of a law enforcement agency investigating his own campaign’s ties to a foreign adversary – one proven to have sought to sway the election in his favor – is deeply troubling and raises serious questions,” House Minority Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a statement.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said there should emergency hearings that included the testimonies of Comey as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who the White House said both advised Trump to fire Comey.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speculated that the firing could  be “part of a cover up,” particularly if the Justice Department does not appoint a special prosector to oversee the investigation into Trump’s campaign affiliates.

“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?” Schumer asked, at a last minute press conference organized Tuesday evening.

It appears that the Democrats were largely caught of guard by the decision. In a terse statement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Trump had called her at about 5:30, only a few minutes before the news became public, to inform her of his decision to remove Comey.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a former Senate Judiciary Committee chair, called Comey’s surprise removal “nothing less than Nixonian.”

Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), the ranking Member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, labeled it the “Tuesday Night Massacre” — a reference to the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre” during which Nixon fired the special prosecutor probing the Watergate scandal.

“Today’s action by President Trump completely obliterates any semblance of an independent investigation into Russian efforts to influence our election, and places our nation on the verge of a constitutional crisis,” Conyers said in a statement.

The House and Senate Intel Committees are both in the midst of probes into Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Intel Dem overseeing the Senate Russia investigation, called Comey’s removal “deeply shocking.”

“The administration insists there’s no ‘there there,’ yet President Trump has so far fired the acting Attorney General, nearly every U.S. attorney, and now the Director of the FBI,” Warner said. “In addition, this President’s choice for Attorney General has been forced to recuse himself, and the National Security Advisor has resigned, as a result of undisclosed contacts with Russian officials.”

The ranking member of the House committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Comey’s firing “raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter,” especially given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who vowed to recuse himself of investigations involving the Trump campaign, played a role in the decision.

“It is more imperative than ever that an independent prosecutor be appointed to restore a modicum of public confidence – now completely lacking – that the criminal investigation will continue without further interference by the White House,” Schiff said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who serves as the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, called for emergency hearings on President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey and said that it was “mindboggling” that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who vowed to recuse himself from investigations involving the Trump campaign, played a role in the decision to terminate Comey.

“There is now a crisis of confidence at the Justice Department, and President Trump is not being held accountable because House Republicans refuse to work with us to do our job,”Cummings said in a statement. “Congress must restore credibility, accountability, and transparency to this investigation and finally pass legislation to create a truly independent commission.”

Read the full Cummings statement below:

“Congress needs to have immediate emergency hearings to obtain testimony directly from Attorney General Sessions, the deputy attorney general, and FBI Director Comey. The White House was already covering up for Michael Flynn by refusing to provide a single document to Congress, and now the President fired the one independent person who was doing the most to investigate President Trump and his campaign over allegations of coordination with Russia. It is mindboggling that the Attorney General – who claimed to have recused himself – was directly involved in the decision to fire Director Comey according to the White House itself. There is now a crisis of confidence at the Justice Department, and President Trump is not being held accountable because House Republicans refuse to work with us to do our job.   Congress must restore credibility, accountability, and transparency to this investigation and finally pass legislation to create a truly independent commission.”

 

 

Sen, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a former chair and current member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey “Nothing less than Nixonian.”

“The President’s action, and the way it has been handled, is shocking,” Leahy said in a statement. “No one should accept President Trump’s absurd justification that he is now concerned that FBI Director Comey treated Secretary Clinton unfairly.  The President in fact celebrated the Director’s egregious mistakes in that investigation”

Leahy noted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who the White House said recommended that Trump fire Comey — had promised to recuse himself from any investigations related to the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the presidential election. Leahy called for the appointment of a special investigator.

Read the full statement below:

The President’s action, and the way it has been handled, is shocking. No one should accept President Trump’s absurd justification that he is now concerned that FBI Director Comey treated Secretary Clinton unfairly. The President in fact celebrated the Director’s egregious mistakes in that investigation. That fig leaf explanation seeks to cover the undeniable truth: The President has removed the sitting FBI Director in the midst of one of the most critical national security investigations in the history of our country — one that implicates senior officials in the Trump campaign and administration. This is nothing less than Nixonian.

Given that the Attorney General supposedly recused himself from the Russia investigation, he should not have played any role in removing the lead investigator from his duties. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein now has no choice but to appoint a Special Counsel. His integrity, and the integrity of the entire Justice Department, are at stake.

The President’s letter, in which he refers to Russian interference and possible collusion with the President’s associates, is bizarre and raises troubling questions about the President’s motivations.

There simply is no avoiding the compelling fact that this cascading situation demands the prompt appointment of an independent Special Counsel to pick up the pieces of these investigations.

A member of Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday that President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey made “need for a special prosecutor ” in the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign “crystal clear.

” President Trump has catastrophically compromised the FBI’s ongoing investigation of his own White House’s ties to Russia,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in a statement. “Not since Watergate have our legal systems been so threatened, and our faith in the independence and integrity of those systems so shaken. The only way to restore faith in a non-political, non-partisan FBI is to appoint an independent special prosecutor.”

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