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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It appears that a night out on the town and some alcohol-fueled friendly conversation had George Papadopoulos saying more than he should again.

Papadopoulos allegedly claimed, while cavorting with a stranger at a Chicago nightclub, that Jeff Sessions had more interest than the attorney general has let on in the dirt on Hillary Clinton peddled to Papadopoulos during the 2016 campaign, according to Think Progress. Papadopoulos’ wife has since insisted the former Trump campaign aide wouldn’t have revealed the new information about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, with which Papadopoulos is cooperating.

The back-and-forth stems from a random encounter Thursday night with a nightclub-goer, Jason Wilson, who spotted Papadopoulos and his wife Simona Mangiante at Chicago’s Hydrate. The three became friendly and started chatting about the Russia investigation — a conversation in which Papadopoulos alleged that then-Sen. Sessions had encouraged him to seek more information about the existence of hacked Clinton emails that had been floated to Papadopoulos, Wilson told Think Progress.

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Perhaps the most consequential news of last week was the Trump administration’s announcement that it would add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census. The move, experts fear, could result in an undercount of immigrant communities and shift political power — in terms of political representation, but also in terms of federal funding — from urban areas and areas with a high proportion of minorities to rural and heavily white areas. This move also appears to be designed to revive a GOP push to draw districts based on the number of citizens rather than the total population, which would also increase the power of rural and heavily white areas.

Expect lots of litigation around the move.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Benisek v. Lamone last week, a case about a Maryland congressional district that was gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The court had already heard a gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin this term; that case, Gill v. Whitford, looked at an entire state’s map instead of a single district, and proposed a different kind of argument against the gerrymander. But both cases sought an opinion from the court on partisan gerrymandering. While racial gerrymandering has been extensively litigated, the court has been reluctant to set a standard for when partisan gerrymandering is illegal. After Wednesday’s arguments, observers reported that the justices were troubled by the extreme partisan gerrymandering, but their questions indicated that they remained unsure of how and whether to remedy the problem.

Voting rights advocates did get a win last week, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) — facing multiple court orders — finally called special elections for two vacant state legislative seats. Walker was suspected of holding up the elections out of fear that the previously Republican-held seats will go to Democrats.

A federal judge in Florida on Tuesday ordered the state to rework its system of restoring the franchise to ex-felons. The current system — in which former prisoners are required to wait five years before requesting that their right to vote be restored, and in which Gov. Rick Scott (R) can singlehandedly say whose request is granted — relied on “whims, passing emotions, or perceptions,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said.

A rare voter fraud conviction in Texas is attracting national attention for being surprisingly harsh. Crystal Mason, a woman from Rendon, near Fort Worth, was sentenced to five years in prison for voting while she was on supervised release stemming from a 2011 tax-related conviction. Mason said she was unaware that, under Texas law, she was not allowed to vote until her sentence was completed. Her attorney says that he’s appealing the verdict.

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A member of President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission suffered a major defeat Friday, when a federal judge in Florida ruled against a lawsuit aimed at purging voters from the rolls.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), a group led by the conservative voting activist J. Christian Adams, had sued a Broward County elections official in 2016. It was one of several lawsuits the group has brought suggesting mass voter fraud. This case was the first PILF lawsuit to go to full trial.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said in her 60-page opinion opinion Friday that one of the main pieces of evidence that PILF presented in the case — that there were more voters on Broward County’s registration rolls than estimated eligible voters — was “misleading.”

Making that comparison is a common tactic PILF has used to bully local election officials into conducting more aggressive voter roll purges, even as elections experts have said that comparing the two sets of numbers is apples-to-oranges.

Bloom went into significant detail in outlining why she agreed with those experts.

“These data sets do not allow for an accurate comparison,” the judge said.

PILF and a related group, the American Civil Rights Union, had sued Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes alleging she had violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires that elections officials make a “reasonable effort” to remove ineligible voters from the rolls because they had died or moved.

Bloom found the challengers’ claims that Snipes did not not maintain an adequate list-maintenance program to be “unsupported by the weight of the evidence.”

She also questioned how the challengers were interpreting the NVRA.

“The Court finds that ACRU’s proposed definition of ‘reasonable efforts’ is too subjective and would lead to an arbitrary, non-uniform, unworkable, and unpredictable application,” she said.

Adams served on a presidential commission created by President Trump after Trump claimed millions of people voted illegally in 2016. The commission was dissolved in January under a barrage of lawsuits.

Christopher Coates, another lawyer involved in the Broward County case, was Adams’ former boss in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, which came under fire for politicization of the department’s prosecutorial work, particularly on voting rights.

Read the full opinion below:

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A Census Bureau advisory body criticized the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the upcoming decennial survey.

We have concerns about the lack of adequate testing, about the implications for nonresponse (unit and item), implications for the cost, and implications for the attitudes about the Census Bureau and concerns about confidentiality,” the Census Scientific Advisory Committee said, in a statement that was drafted during a meeting held at Census headquarters Thursday and Friday.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he was for now declining congressional Republicans’ requests for a second special counsel to investigate alleged FBI misconduct in the Trump-Russia probe. But Sessions said he had instead named a top DOJ prosecutor to lead the internal effort to look into the GOP claims.

The announcement, made in a letter to top lawmakers, follows the news Wednesday that the Justice Department’s Inspector General will investigate how the FBI handled the surveillance warrant it sought for former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.

Sessions said in the letter that hat John Huber, a U.S. attorney in Utah, was working in coordination with the Inspector General’s office on the matters the Republicans raised in their request for a second special counsel earlier this month. Huber has also previously led the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“I am confident that Mr. Huber’s review will include a full, complete, and objective evaluation of these matters in a manner that is consistent with the law and the facts,” Sessions said.

Sessions’ letter was addressed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

Earlier this month, Grassley joined three other Senate Judiciary Republicans in calling for a second special counsel to investigate the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia probe. Goodlatte and Gowdy sent Sessions their own letter calling for a second special counsel in early March, alleging “evidence of bias, trending toward animus, among those charged with investigating serious cases.”

Their requests come as President Trump and his allies have engaged in an anti-FBI campaign in apparent effort to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign’s Russia ties.  Trump’s own lawyers called for a second special counsel late last year. One of those lawyers, John Dowd, who has since left Trump’s legal team, called for Mueller’s firing earlier this month.

Sessions’ letter Thursday appeared to rebut the congressional Republicans’ claims that the Inspector General did not have the tools necessary to investigate their concerns.

Sessions also stressed the extraordinary circumstances in which a special counsel is appointed. His letter left open the possibility that, depending on what Huber’s and the IG’s reviews turned up, a second special counsel could be appointed.

Read the full letter below:

[H/T HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly]

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Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director who was controversially fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has set up a legal defense fund, the law firm representing McCabe announced Thursday.

“Media reports indicate that at a minimum, there are a number of congressional inquiries that he will be required to respond to, as well as the broader Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation that is ongoing, and any potential lawsuits he might consider,” the GoFundMe page for the fundraising effort says.

McCabe was fired earlier this month just hours before he’d be eligible for his full FBI retirement package. The Justice Department statement announcing his termination accused McCabe of “unauthorized disclosure to the news media” and of a lack of candor, related to the the OIG’s probe into how the bureau handled the Clinton email scandal.

McCabe has denied the allegations. A cloud hanging over his firing is the repeated public attacks President Trump launched against McCabe, particularly once Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation began heating up. Privately, Trump reportedly mocked McCabe’s wife’s defeat in a 2015 Virginia state senate race.

The attacks on McCabe were part of a larger effort by the president and his supporters to push the notion that anti-Trump bias is rampant at the FBI.

“The support for Mr. McCabe has been overwhelming, humbling, and deeply appreciated.  He and his family continue to deal with the very public and extended humiliation that the Administration, and the President personally, have inflicted on them over the past year,” McCabe’s GoFundMe page says.

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The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday released a request that the Trump campaign provide emails from campaign aides John Mashburn and Rick Dearborn.

Dearborn, a former chief of staff of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, went on to lead the Trump transition team and served for about a year in the White House. Mashburn was the Trump campaign’s policy director, and is currently the White House’s Deputy Cabinet Secretary.

“We are writing today because we believe information obtained in a recent Committee interview warrants expanding those searches to two additional custodians who were not included in the original effort, John Mashburn and Rick Dearborn,” Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote in a letter dated Tuesday. “Doing so will help ensure the Campaign’s production fully responds to the categories of documents sought in the Committee’s initial letter.”

The letter follows an earlier request for information sent by the senators to the Trump campaign last July, seeking emails from an assortment of other campaign officials.

“The Campaign has since provided over 28,000 pages of responsive documents, as well as letters detailing the 21 campaign custodians whose emails were searched and the more than 300 search terms used,” the senators noted in their Tuesday letter.

Dearborn’s name has appeared in reports about connections between the National Rifle Association, Russia and Trump associates. Dearborn was sent an email by an NRA activist in May 2016 with the subject line “Kremlin Connection,” seeking his and Sessions’ advice for setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both Dearborn and Mashburn were also looped in on an effort to soften the GOP’s platform towards Russia with a Ukraine amendment, another campaign aide involved in the push told Business Insider. 

Read the letter below:

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The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General announced Wednesday that it had opened a probe into the FBI’s handling of a surveillance warrant for “a certain U.S. person.”

The announcement comes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as GOP lawmakers, called for more investigation into what they say was FBI misconduct in how it sought a court’s blessing to surveil Carter Page, who served as a foreign policy advisor on President Trump’s campaign.

The OIG announcement doesn’t name Page. But it also includes what appears to be a reference to Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy whose dossier of Trump-Russia ties was used by the FBI as part of its investigation into Page.

“As part of this examination, the OIG also will review information that was known to the DOJ and the FBI at the time the applications were filed from or about an alleged FBI confidential source,” the Office of Inspector General said in its statement.  “Additionally, the OIG will review the DOJ’s and FBI’s relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to the FISC applications.”

The DOJ Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, is already investigating how the Department handled its inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. The findings from that probe are expected in the weeks to come.

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling has gained public momentum, Republicans have ramped up their criticism of the FBI, where the investigation started.

House Intel Republicans wrote a classified memo alleging the FBI misled the surveillance court in seeking the warrant for Page by not describing Steele’s ties to Democrats who were funding his research. That memo was declassified by the President in February over the objections of the Justice Department. It was quickly reported that many of the claims in the GOP memo were, at best, wildly misleading.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, spearheaded their own memo suggesting Steele misled the FBI about his contacts with the press. The Republicans, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), sent a referral to the Justice Department recommending it pursue a criminal investigation of Steele.

Sessions in February said that the Inspector General would investigate allegations of FBI misconduct related to the Page warrant, which it first sought after Page left the campaign in the fall of 2016 and successfully renewed three more times.

Read the full OIG announcement below:

Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz announced today that, in response to requests from the Attorney General and Members of Congress, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will initiate a review that will examine the Justice Department’s and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) compliance with legal requirements, and with applicable DOJ and FBI policies and procedures, in applications filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) relating to a certain U.S. person. As part of this examination, the OIG also will review information that was known to the DOJ and the FBI at the time the applications were filed from or about an alleged FBI confidential source. Additionally, the OIG will review the DOJ’s and FBI’s relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to the FISC applications.

If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.

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This morning, we published some of my reporting on the legal landscape for the lawsuits that Democrats and advocacy groups have filed challenging the Census’ move, under the Trump administration, to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

One thing to keep in mind as the cases wind their way through the courts is the timing. The Census Bureau will be sending its surveys to the printers for the 2020 Census in May 2019, making that, according to experts, the drop-dead deadline to remove or reinstate the citizenship question.

Depending how the initial court decisions come down on the lawsuits, I wouldn’t be surprised if either side timed their appeals in a way that attempted to game out this timeline.

We saw some similar strategizing play out recently when the Trump administration was appealing to the Supreme Court an order halting its move to end the DACA program. The administration filed it’s appeal in a less-than-urgent fashion that prompted speculation about whether the White House had one strategic eye on Congress, which might deliver a legislative fix.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in a tweet Wednesday linked the Trump administration’s controversial push to add a citizenship question to the Census to an approach to drawing districts that would boost Republican power.

Rubio is not the first conservative to suggest that data gathered by asking about citizenship on the decennial Census could be used to draw districts based on number of citizens or eligible voters, rather than total population. Currently, states use total population.

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