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 House Oversight Committee’s top Democrat, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) highlighted the number of guilty pleas special counsel Robert Mueller has secured in his Russian probe, in a demonstration that prompted a brief squabble over the signs Dem staffers were holding in the hearing showing who had entered guilty pleas in the investigation.

Cummings was making the point — in opening remarks for the highly anticipated hearing with FBI official Peter Strzok — that Republicans on the committee had previously said they would not seek to interfere with Mueller’s investigation. Cummings accused the Republicans of breaking that promise after Mueller started racking up guilty pleas, including from some people close to President Trump.

At first, Republicans appeared to protest the signs, but let Cummings move forward with the remarks when Democrats asked what rules the staffers were violating.

Watch the clip below:

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After grilling him for 11 hours privately last month, House lawmakers have the opportunity to grill Peter Strzok — a top FBI official under fire for sending anti-Donald Trump texts during the 2016 election — publicly Thursday in an open hearing in front of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees.

The hearing is expected to include heated remarks from the Republican lawmakers, who have sought to use text exchanges between Strzok and an FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair to smear the ongoing Russia investigation.

The Republicans on the committee have been aggressive in their questioning of other top Justice Department and FBI officials they’ve brought in for testimony.

Strzok sat in private testimony for House lawmakers last month. According to Democrats, the Republicans peppered him with questions about the FBI’s sources in the probe, about how Strzok voted in the past and even about his affair with the FBI attorney, Lisa Page.

Watch the public hearing live below, via Fox News:

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Peter Strzok, a former top FBI official who has come under fire for sending text messages critical of President Trump in 2016, denied in congressional testimony Thursday that he let his personal opinions impact actions that he took in the agency’s investigations, according to prepared testimony released by his lawyers. His opening remarks in front of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees also ripped Republican lawmakers for giving him a “wholly inadequate” opportunity to prepare for Thursday’s open hearing.

“I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity. But the honest truth is that Russian interference in our elections constitutes a grave attack on our democracy,” Strzok said in his prepared remarks. “Most disturbingly, it has been wildly successful — sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions. I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”

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Correction: The headline and the text of this story incorrectly said that Judge T.S. Ellis was the second judge to OK the use of evidence from Manafort’s home search at trial. At the time of Ellis’ decision, the judge in Manafort’s D.C. had not yet released her decision. She has since also denied Manafort’s request the surpress the evidence. We regret the error.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort failed in convincing a judge to throw out evidence from a July 2017 FBI raid on his home.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, who is overseeing Manafort’s case in Virginia, denied Manafort’s motion to keep the evidence gathered in the raid on Manafort’s Virginia residence from use at trial. Ellis in his opinion posted Wednesday said the warrant special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators obtained “satisfied the Fourth Amendment’s particularity and breadth requirements, and as such, suppression of the evidence recovered from the search of defendant’s residence is not warranted. ”

Manafort made a similar request in the case against him in D.C. The trial in Virginia is scheduled to begin later this month, while the D.C. trial is slated for September.

Manafort — who is facing charges for an assortment of alleged financial crimes, as well as failure to disclose foreign lobbying — has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

The early morning raid on Manafort’s residence drew attention to what some described as aggressive tactics by Mueller. (Mueller, in court filings, would rebut media reports that it was a no-knock raid).

Manafort, in his suppression request, argued that the warrant wasn’t specific enough in describing the evidence it sought to seize, and that its scope was broader than the probable cause on which it was based.

Read Ellis’ opinion rejecting those arguments below:

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As more details have been revealed about the cushy set-up Paul Manafort has in his current jail, a federal judge doubled down on his order that Manafort be moved to a new detention center — an order Manafort unsuccessfully asked the judge to reverse even though he had complained about the location of the rural Virginia jail currently holding him.

“It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution to that problem,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said in a footnote in the latest order. “The dissonance between defendant’s motion to continue and motion opposing transfer to Alexandria Detention Center cannot be easily explained or resolved.”

Ellis was first prompted to order Manafort’s transfer from Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia, to the detention center in Alexandria after Manafort complained about the location of Northern Neck in a court filing. Manafort last week asked the judge to delay the trial in the Virginia case — set to start in Alexandria later this month — claiming that his detention was impeding his trial prep. Manafort cited the rural jail’s distance from his attorneys’ offices, arguing it took them two-plus hours to drive there for in-person meetings.

Ellis has scheduled a hearing on the delay request, and on another Manafort request that the trial be moved to Roanoke, for next week. But earlier this week, Ellis also issued an order moving Manafort to the Alexandria detention center. Manafort then asked the judge to let him stay at Northern Neck because “issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about his safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement and the changing circumstances of detention two weeks before trial.”

Ellis denied Manafort’s request to reverse the order in a court document posted Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Mueller, in a court filing opposing the request to delay the trial, alleged that the rural jail had gone out of its way to facilitate Manafort’s trial prep, and said that Manafort himself said on a phone call that he was treated as a “VIP” in Northern Neck. Manafort has had his own living unit with a private bathroom and a personal phone, according to Mueller, and was also not required to wear the jail uniform.

Read the judge’s order that Manafort be moved to the new jail below:

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This story has been updated to include a court filing from Paul Manafort responding to special counsel Robert Mueller.

A court document filed by special counsel Robert Mueller Wednesday provides new details about the relatively cushy conditions Paul Manafort is facing in jail, and includes alleged comments Manafort made on monitored phone calls that undermine his lawyers’ request that his trial in Virginia be delayed. The filing was in response to a Manafort request to delay his trial scheduled this month.

Manafort had discussions on monitored phone calls about the “VIP” treatment he was receiving in jail, about the workaround he figured out to circumvent the jail’s ban on inmates sending emails, and about what’s driving his strategy to try to move the trial, contrary to the arguments put forward by his lawyers, according to Mueller.

The judge on Wednesday also scheduled a hearing for July 17 on Manafort’s request that the trial in Virginia case against be pushed back until after a D.C. trial scheduled in September is finished, as well as his request to move the Virginia trial from Alexandria to Roanoke.

Manafort had argued in filings last week that the move by the judge in the D.C. case to put in him jail while he awaits trial — after allegations he engaged in witness tampering — had severely impeded his preparation for the trial in Virginia, which is slated to begin later this month. His filings included the claim that he was being held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day — prompting his supporters and conservative journalists to suggest he was being treated unfairly.

Mueller, on Tuesday, alleged that last week’s delay request was the first time Manafort raised any concerns but how his detention was affecting his ongoing trial prep. The special counsel pointed to a number of details about his current detention — many of those details mentioned by Manafort himself on monitored phone calls — that suggested that the jail was going out of its away to facilitate his trial prep.

A footnote describes his “private, self-contained living unit,” with Manafort himself describing his treatment as “VIP,” according to prosecutors.

The living unit has a personal telephone that Manafort can “use over twelve hours a day to speak with his attorneys,” according to Mueller, and while each phone call is limited to 15 minutes, he can immediately reconnect with his attorneys once each 15 minute session is over.

“Manafort has had successive phone call sessions with his attorneys that have lasted
over forty minutes,” Mueller said, and over the last three weeks, Manafort has had “100 phone calls with his attorneys, and another 200 calls with other persons.”

While detailing the extensive access to phone calls with his attorneys — which are not monitored — Manafort has had, the special counsel also highlighted that Manafort allegedly explained on a monitored call that he had found a way around the jail’s ban on inmates using email.

The jail also provided Manafort with an extension cord so he can use his laptop in his cell, and not just in the workspace, according to Mueller.

Additionally, on a monitored called, Manafort suggested to the unnamed caller a strategy for moving the trial that was not among the reasons his attorneys floated in their request for the delay, according Mueller.

Mueller also pounced on Manafort’s request Tuesday that the judge reverse an order issued previously that day to move Manafort from his current jail in rural Virginia to one much closer to the Alexandria courthouse. The judge, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis ordered the move after Manafort had complained in his delay request about the distance of the rural jail from his attorneys’ offices.  Manafort in his request to stay in the rural jail said that “after further reflection, issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about his safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement and the changing circumstances of detention two weeks before trial.”

Manafort, in a response filed later Wednesday, accused Mueller of being “self-serving and inaccurate.”

“While the opposition does not generally misrepresent the confinement conditions, its cavalier dismissal of the challenges of preparing for back-to-back complex white collar criminal trials while the defendant is in custody shows a lack of concern with fairness or due process,” Manafort said.

He took issue with Mueller’s description of Manafort’s email use, arguing the communications were being sent by his lawyers “in a manner that is consistent with the rules of the detention facility.”

Referencing the comments Manafort made on phone calls about his conditions in jail, the court filing said that Mueller “not pause to consider the reasons a detained defendant might have to make his situation sound better when speaking with concerned friends and family.”

Read the full Mueller filing and Manafort’s response below:

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After previously complaining that the rural jail where he is awaiting trial was inconvenient for his trial prep, Paul Manafort asked a federal judge on Tuesday to reverse a previous order moving him to a detention center closer to the courthouse where his case will go to trial later this month.

“In light of Mr. Manafort’s continuing detention and after further reflection, issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about his safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement and the changing circumstances of detention two weeks before trial,” Manafort said in the court filing. “With these considerations in mind, Mr. Manafort respectfully asks the Court to permit him to remain in his current place of detention.”

The order U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis had issued earlier Tuesday moving Manafort came after a Manafort request that the trial in Virginia be delayed until after the trial for separate case Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought against Manafort in D.C. was finished. In the request for the delay, Manafort complained that it took two hours for his lawyers to travel to the rural Virginia jail, and his detention there made meetings with his attorneys “far more infrequent and enormously time-consuming compared to when he remained on house arrest and subject to GPS monitoring in Alexandria, Virginia.”

Manafort was sent to jail while he awaited trial by the judge in the D.C. case due to allegations he engaged in witness tampering.

Ellis ordered that he be moved to a detention center in Alexandria, from the jail 100 miles away in Warsaw, Virginia, “to ensure the defendant has access to his counsel and can adequately prepare his defense.”

Manafort, in his request that he stay in Warsaw after all, said that the issues he raised about the location of the jail were “aimed more at the difficulty of preparing for trial given Mr. Manafort’s detention versus his prior status on pretrial release.”

Read the full request below:

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A federal judge in Alexandria this week denied a request by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to throw out evidence obtained in a May 2017 search of his storage unit for the Virginia trial.

In a 23-page opinion issued on Monday and posted publicly on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said there “are no grounds for suppression of the evidence recovered from the May 27, 2017 search of the storage unit, and defendant’s motion to suppress must be denied.”

Manafort made a similar request in the case brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller in D.C., and the judge there also rejected his arguments.

Manafort had objected to the search, executed just days after Mueller took over the Justice Department’s Russia probe, because he took issue with an FBI agent entering the unit on May 26 without a warrant. The agent was let in by Manafort employee Alex Trusko who had a key and who told the agent he moved boxes for Manafort to the unit. Though Trusko’s name was on unit’s the lease, Manafort argued that Trusko did not have the authority to open the storage unit for the agent, Jeff Pfeiffer.

Manafort also argued that, even if the employee did have the authority, the warrant the FBI then sought after Pfeiffer entered and took photos in the unit was too broad.

Ellis on Tuesday rejected that argument as well.

“Trusko, defendant’s employee, leased the storage unit, regularly accessed the unit to unpack defendant’s business records, and retained a key to the unit. Thus, Trusko had common authority over the storage unit and validly consented to Special Agent Pfeiffer’s May 26, 2017 search of the storage unit,” Ellis wrote. “The May 27, 2017 warrant was also sufficiently particular given the nature of the alleged crimes to satisfy Fourth Amendment requirements. And even assuming Special Agent Pfeiffer’s warrant was overbroad, the executing agents reasonably relied on the magistrate judge’s issuance of the warrant to conduct the search and executed the search in a manner consistent with the terms of the warrant.”

While Ellis has been tough in his questioning of the special counsel’s team, this is the second time he’s ruled against Manafort, having also denied his request that the entire case be dismissed.

Manafort is facing charges that include bank fraud and tax fraud in Virginia. He has pleaded not guilty in that case, as well as in the case Mueller brought against him in D.C. The trial in Virginia is slated to begin at the end of July.

Read the full opinion on the search warrant below:

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The Senate Republicans and Democrats who are being watched most closely in the fight to confirm President Trump’s newly-minted Supreme Court pick were not eager to show their cards the day after the selection of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy was announced.

“I am going to be able to give you more of a reaction after I have an opportunity for more thorough review,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), whose support for Kavanaugh is crucial given her role in sinking the Senate GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts and her position in favor of abortion rights, which could be at risk if Kavanaugh is confirmed.

“Look at my statement,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is facing a costly re-election battle, said repeatedly when asked about his thoughts  on the judge.

Republicans leaders said they were hopeful that they’d be able to secure bipartisan support for Kavanaugh, an extremely conservative judge on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. With the margin tight — a single Republican defection could tank the nominee if Democrats unanimously oppose him — there is already pressure from Kavanaugh’s supporters on red state Democrats to back Kavanaugh. Three Democrats voted in favor of confirming Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“We are accumulating all of his decisions right now…the writings that he’s made,” said Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), who is up for re-election in November and voted for Gorsuch. “We look forward to having a meeting with him. I presume he’ll come over. And then I’ll start to make the decision.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), another yes vote for Gorsuch who’s up for re-election in 2018, declined to give her thoughts on the nominee, as her aide instructed reporters to refer to her statement from Monday evening,

“I haven’t met with him, so I don’t know,” Heitkamp said.

Even Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who announced his opposition to Gorsuch immediately after his selection was announced, said he was withholding his decision on Kavanaugh until he had the opportunity to meet him.

Brown said he never felt pressure to do things that are “wrong” and that he was “troubled” generally with the direction of the court in decisions siding with corporations over workers. He also alluded to a lawsuit challenging Obamacare’s protections for consumers with pre-existing conditions that’s expected to make it to the Supreme Court.

“I want to look him in the eye and talk to him about pre-existing conditions because there are literally millions of Ohioans who would potentially lose their insurance if these five men on the court would take away their consumer protections,” Brown said.

A key question is whether Democrats who may ultimately support Kavanaugh will wait to announce their vote until after Kavanaugh has secured the support of all 50 GOP senators (not counting Republican Sen. John McCain who is undergoing cancer treatments in Arizona, assuming he is unable to return for a confirmation vote).

Republican leaders indicated they would like to move briskly on the confirmation process, aiming to confirm Kavanaugh in the roughly two-month time frame that Justices Gorsuch and Elena Kagan won confirmation votes after their nominations were announced.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), like Murkowski, has expressed concerned about a Supreme Court reversal on abortion rights — cemented in the landmark decision Roe v. Wade — and has defied GOP leadership in the past, including on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“I believe the judge has impressive credentials, he clearly has extensive experience having spent more than a decade as a judge on the D.C. circuit,” Collins said. “Never the less, I obviously want the opportunity to sit down with him one on one and to get a better sense of his judicial philosophy.”

She said that Kavananugh should not have to answer direct questions about Roe v. Wade, but that “there are other ways to get at the issue.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is another Republican vote to watch, given his libertarian views on privacy, which are at odds with some of Kavanaugh’s decisions.

Paul at first declined to answer questions about Kavanaugh Tuesday. But when asked specifically about a Kavanaugh opinion upholding the government’s collection of phone metadata without a warrant, Paul said that he was “keeping an open mind” and would “follow the process.”

Murkowski pointed to the “Republicans and Democrats alike” who have already have announced their vote on Kavanaugh.

“In my view, they’re not doing what it is that we need to do, which is to take this role of advice and consent seriously and do our homework,” Murkowksi said. “There’s a lot to look at with Judge Kavanaugh.”

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As the courtroom proceedings surrounding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation have inched along, it’s become commonplace to see some protestors, or at least curious observers, show up to watch the high-profile defendants enter and exit the courthouse.

A hearing Tuesday in the case of former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn was no exception — particularly after far-right activists sought to organize a “flash mob” among his supporters.

Some of those demonstrators who showed up carried signs saying that they “support” Flynn. “Clear Flynn Now!” declared one sign. “You are a great American, Gen. Flynn,” said another.

But there were also Flynn critics outside the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

“Lock him up,” one of their signs said — a reference to the “lock her up” chants Flynn once led at Trump campaign events to rile up the crowd against Hillary Clinton. “Lock him up” chants also competed with his supporters’ cheers of “we support you” and “we’re with you, General Flynn!” when he entered and exited the courthouse.

At the brief hearing, which lasted barely 15 minutes, the parties reiterated that they were not ready to set a sentencing date yet — a sign that Flynn’s cooperation in the probe will continue — but that once they do, they would like to expedite the process. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said he would look into scheduling Flynn’s sentencing hearing 60 days after the legal teams indicate he was ready for sentencing, rather than the typical 90 days.

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