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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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The White House attorney responsible for handling its response to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe was spotted heading into two Justice Department briefings Thursday for lawmakers on a reported “informant” the FBI used in its investigation of the Trump campaign.

Emmet Flood was spotted at the Justice Department, where Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and other DOJ officials were scheduled to brief House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intel Committee, also attended the noon briefing, after initial reports that only Republican lawmakers were invited. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly also reportedly attended at least part of the briefing.

 

FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also joined Rosenstein at the briefings. After the noon meeting, they headed to the Capitol to brief the so-called “Gang of 8”: The House and Senate Intel Committees’ chairs and vice chairs, the House Speaker and Minority Leader, and the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders. (Ryan attended the noon briefing due to a prior commitment.) Gowdy was also slated to attend that meeting.

Flood, too, was spotted heading into the briefing, being held in the basement of the Capitol, as was Kelly.

Kelly did not explain Flood’s presence at the briefings when asked by CNN reporters at the Capitol.

The White House Press Secretary had previously said that White House officials would not be attending the briefings.

The White House in a statement said that Flood and Kelly only made brief remarks at the top of the meetings to “relay the President’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law,” as well as to convey “the President’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government.”

“After making their brief comments they departed before the meetings officially started,” the statement said.

Update: This story has been updated with a statement from the White House.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller stressed that his investigation into Russian election meddling was ongoing and consisted of “multiple lines of non-public inquiry,” in a court filing Wednesday evening in a lawsuit brought by media companies seeking the release of certain records related to the probe.

“Many aspects of the investigation are factually and legally interconnected: they involve overlapping courses of conduct, relationships, and events, and they rely on similar sources, methods, and techniques,” the special counsel said. “The investigation is not complete and its details remain non-public.”

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team suggested Wednesday that there were other yet-to-be-revealed public relations firms involved in Paul Manafort’s Ukraine lobbying scheme beyond those already referenced specifically in the indictment.

The hint came in a hearing in front of a federal judge in Washington D.C. concerning Manafort’s request for what’s known as a bill of particulars. Manafort is asking the judge to require the prosecutors to give him more details about the charges being brought against him.

Manafort’s attorneys pointed specifically to a line in the indictment referring to alleged unregistered foreign lobbying work done by Company A, Company B, Company C “and others.”

Company A and Company B are Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group respectively, it’s been reported. Company C refers to a PR firm allegedly hired by Manafort to promote a report assembled by the law firm Skadden Arps justifying the imprisonment of the political rival of Manafort’s Ukrainian client.

The prosecutors have confirmed for Manafort’s attorneys those companies’ identities.

Greg Andres, of Mueller’s team, initially told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that the “others” referred to the principals at Company A and B, who he said were working on the Ukraine lobbying campaigns. But towards the end of the hearing, Andres got up to clarify that the “and others” also refers to other PR firms. He said the Manafort’s attorneys had been put on notice that there were other PR firms.

Earlier in the hearing, Andres argued that the prosecutors weren’t legally required to disclose the information that Manafort was seeking at this point in the proceedings. He also said that doing so would prematurely give Manafort a list of the witnesses the government planned to call at trial, though Andres admitted that that was less of a concern for him.

The particular portion of the indictment in question related to the charge that Manafort violated that Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires that any lobbying done in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign agent be registered with the Justice Department. He also faces charges of money laundering and false statements related to his Ukraine lobbying work, which predated the several months he served as chairman of President Trump’s 2016 campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, as well as to those brought by Mueller in a separate case in Virginia.

In the lead-up to a grand jury handing down the indictment against Manafort and his business deputy Rick Gates last October, it was reported that the Podesta Group and Mercury has been subpoenaed by Mueller. The Podesta Group has since been shuttered, though it’s unclear whether Mueller plans to bring any charges against the firm, which was led by Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Both groups were hired to lobby on Capitol Hill on behalf of an organization called European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which Mueller alleges was a front for Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions.

Corrected: A previous version of this story misattributed a comment made by Mueller prosecutor Greg Andres to Scott Meisler, another member of Mueller’s team. Andres made the remark that “and others” referred to principals at Company A and Company B.

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Ohio’s GOP-drawn U.S. congressional map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, the ACLU alleged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The suit, the latest to target the practice of drawing district lines for partisan gain, points to the map itself, as well as what it calls the “tightly controlled process” Republicans used in 2011 to draw it. The map has routinely elected 12 Republicans to four Democrats, even as the two parties have split Ohio’s statewide congressional vote roughly evenly.

“The 12-4 map was drawn in secret in a hotel room, nicknamed ‘the bunker’ by the map drawers, to which only Republicans had access,” the lawsuit claims. “Versions of the map had to be approved by national Republicans, despite no official role in Ohio’s redistricting statutes for the national Republican Party.”

The complaint describes one district as a “detached shoulder blade with a robotic arm that reaches out from a shoulder of Cleveland into Akron.” Another district it dubs the “Snake on the Lake,” because it “eats its way across the southern border of Lake Erie, ingesting portions of five counties (none in its entirety).”

“The contorted shapes of some of these districts also make clear the length the map drawers had to go to in order to achieve their political goals,” the lawsuit says.

The challengers are asking the court to declare the congressional map an unconstitutional gerrymander and to block its implementation in future elections.

The ACLU is bringing the complaint on behalf of 16 voters as well as the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute. It names Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State John Husted, Ohio House Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring and Ohio State Senate President Larry Obhof as defendants.

Earlier this month, Ohio voters passed a ballot initiative that creates a bipartisan process for drawing congressional district lines. But the lawsuit notes that, under the measure, if that process fails, Ohio’s legislature will be able to fall back on producing maps with a simple majority.

 

The complaint also quotes a friend-of-the-court brief Kasich signed in a Supreme Court redistricting case from Wisconsin, that said “partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional, are harming our republican government, and readily can be identified and addressed by courts.”

Husted, one of the defendants, responded to the suit in a statement:

If the way the congressional lines were drawn was such an issue for the ACLU, A. Philip Randolph Institute and League of Women Voters, why did they wait six years to file a lawsuit challenging the maps? These groups should respect the will of Ohio’s voters who overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment earlier this month that established a new, bipartisan process for drawing congressional districts starting in 2021.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue rulings in the Wisconsin case and in a separate partisan gerrymandering case out of Maryland before its current term ends. One or both of those rulings could clarify when, if ever, partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional.

In addition to Ohio and Wisconsin, Republicans in Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, among other states, used the redistricting process at the start of the decade to draw lines that benefited their party. Those maps have given the GOP a major advantage in the state legislative and congressional elections that have followed.

Ohio has faced a number of lawsuits for its election practices in recent years. A challenge to its system of purging the voter rolls was heard by the Supreme Court this year, with a ruling also expected this term. The Supreme Court in 2016 allowed the state’s cutbacks to early voting to go into effect for the presidential election, after an appeals court reversed a lower court’s decision to block the cuts.

This story has been updated with a response from Secretary of State Husted

 

Read the lawsuit below:

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A handful of new court filings in recent days gave us fresh hints that we’re in for a big legal battle over the charges Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought against a company linked to a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s chef.”

When Mueller’s grand jury in February handed down an indictment against the company Concord Management and Consulting LLC, as well as 13 Russians and other entities allegedly involved in Russia’s 2016 social media meddling, few thought the case would ever see a courtroom.

Within the last week, both Mueller and Concord Management have each asked the court for extensions on deadlines for expected briefs. In both requests, they were not opposed by the other side.

On Tuesday, Mueller and Concord Management additionally filed a joint brief, asking the court to extend the timeline by which they’ll be proceeding towards a trial.

The court document noted that the case is “both unusual and complex due to the number of charged defendants, volume of discovery and existence of novel questions of fact and law.” It reiterated comments made by Concord Management’s attorney in court indicating he planned to file “multiple” motions “challenging the indictment and other proceedings.”

It also revealed more detail about the discovery process so far:

The two sides are essentially asking the judge to pause the clock for three months, setting aside the typical countdown calculation that is used to set a trial date under the Speedy Trial Act.

Concord Management has been charged with conspiracy to defraud to United States, with Mueller accusing the entity of funding the Russian troll farm that created fake social media accounts to influence the 2016 campaign. Concord Management is partially owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is also named in the indictment. Prigozhin is a Russian restauranteur whose closeness to the Kremlin has inspired the nickname “Putin’s Chef.”

Since Concord Management lawyered up last month, its attorneys, the DC-based Eric Dubelier and Kate Seikelay, have moved forward with much bluster. They’ve taken issue with how Mueller’s prosecutors attempted to serve their client with a summons; they’ve been combative in court hearings; Dubelier was overheard telling Mueller lawyer Jeannie Rhee that her comments in court last week were “bullshit.”

From the latest round of filings, it appears that there is a bite behind that bark, and Concord Management’s attorneys are planning on fighting the case for many more months to come.

Read the joint filing below:

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Michael Avenatti’s law firm, Eagan Avenatti, was slapped with a $10 million judgment for failing to abide by the terms of a bankruptcy settlement, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

The law firm reportedly missed a $2 million payment last week it had agreed to make to a former employee, Jason Frank.

“At this point, that’s what’s appropriate,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Catherine Bauer said at a hearing Tuesday, according to the Times.

The U.S. government is planning to file a motion alleging Avenatti’s firm failed to pay back taxes as part of the bankruptcy settlement, a Justice Department lawyer revealed at the hearing, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Avenatti pushed back on the Los Angeles’ Times reporting on Twitter and in a statement in the story calling it “over blown.”

Avenatti did not respond to TPM’s inquiry, but told Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner that he did not personally default on any taxes and that the dispute was unrelated to his work representing Stormy Daniels, a porn star paid by President Trump’s personal attorney to keep quiet in 2016 about allegations she slept with Trump.

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An appeals court dismissed Tuesday a request by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to overturn a federal judge’s finding that he was in contempt of court. The three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its dismissal that Kobach had appealed the contempt finding prematurely.

“Although the district court stated that it was imposing sanctions, specific sanctions
have not yet been imposed,” the judges wrote. “Here, not only has the district court not issued findings of fact and conclusions of law or final judgment, the district court has not determined a discernable amount of sanctions.”

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson found Kobach in contempt of court last month for his failure to follow her order temporarily blocking the state’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement for the 2016 election. She knocked Kobach for failing to ensure that affected voters received the voter registration confirmation cards that typically go out to voters, and for not correcting an election workers manual posted online to reflect her order.

Her ruling on the merits of the proof-of-citizenship requirement, which was challenged by the ACLU and others, is expected in the weeks to come. She is also still being briefed on the attorneys fees she is requiring Kobach to pay related to the contempt motion.

At the trial in March, Kobach — who is representing himself rather than relying on Kansas’ attorney general — and his legal team ran into a number of issues following proper trial procedure.

Read the appeals court’s dismissal of his contempt-of-court appeal below:

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The top Trump campaign official who assembled members of the foreign policy team that became the subject of the FBI’s probe into Russian election meddling went on an Iowa radio show Monday to detail his recollections of meeting with an informant reportedly working for the feds.

Sam Clovis told the Simon Conway Show that he and the informant — an American academic based in Britain — met at a DoubleTree hotel in Virginia just outside of Washington on September 1, 2016. The two sat for coffee and had a “high level” academic discussion about China, Clovis said.

It was like two faculty members sitting down in the faculty lounge talking about research,” Clovis, who served as the campaign’s national co-chairman, said. “There was no indication or no inclination that this was anything more than just wanting to offer up his help to the campaign if I needed it.”

Clovis’ name popped up in a story last week about the informant in the Washington Post, which also identified the informant by name Monday evening.

President Trump met Monday with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’s overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, as well as FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats about turning over information about the informant to Congress.

Clovis, on the radio show, alleged that the informant meeting appeared to be “a deliberative and intentional effort on the part of the leadership of the FBI to create something that didn’t exist.”

The FBI, he claimed, was trying to “literally like plant evidence or to create an audit trail that would lead investigators on to something, then they would have justification to go back to their FISA warrants and all the other things.”

He said that the informant, in an email back and forth setting up the meeting, used his previous contact with Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page as “bonafides” to get in front of Clovis. Page had met the informant at a July 2016 conference, and was in touch with him on multiple occasions.

Clovis’ lawyer, Victoria Toensing, previously said, according to the Washington Post that the informant had not mentioned his other Trump contacts when reaching out to Clovis. Clovis said he wasn’t sure “where she got that information,” since she had access to the emails setting up the September 2016 meeting.

Toensing, in an phone interview Tuesday with TPM, backed up Clovis’ account. She told TPM that the informant had said in an email to Clovis that Page had recommended that they meet. She also claimed that the informant had told Page when they met at the conference that he was a big fan of Clovis’. Page confirmed Toensing’s account in an email to TPM.

Clovis suggested that the informant then used their meeting to get a meeting with George Papadopoulos.

The informant would eventually meet with Papadopoulos in mid-September, according to the New York Times, where he would ask Papadopoulos what he knew about Russia’s efforts to influence the election. (Papadopoulos denied having any insight, according to the Times.)

Clovis said Monday that his meeting with the informant was focused solely on the informant’s China research. Clovis claimed he didn’t think anything of the meeting, as the campaign already a had a “host” of people with China expertise, and that he didn’t even bother to open the attachments that the informant later emailed him on Sept. 27 with more of his research.

I took a meeting like this probably once a day — I had somebody like this who would sit down with me,” Clovis said. “Literally dozens of people that had academic credentials that wanted to help and be involved, and I met with them all the time.”

Update: This story has been updated to include Carter Page’s confirmation that the informant told him he was a big fan of Sam Clovis’.

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As part of his request that a federal judge in Virginia hold a hearing on alleged leaks to the media from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, Paul Manafort is pointing to a meeting that Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann allegedly had with Associated Press reporters in April 2017, before the special counsel was appointed.

Weissmann, then the head of the DOJ Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, met with four AP reporters on April 11, according to the court filing by Manafort Monday evening. A day later, the AP published its bombshell report that $1.2 million in payments listed for Manafort in a notorious black ledger found in Ukraine had made it to his U.S. consulting firm.

“[I]t has been reported that a complaint was made to the Justice Department by the FBI with respect to the meeting with the AP reporters, which suggests that normal procedures were not followed in this case,” Manafort’s court filing said. “The thrust of this motion requests that the Court hold a hearing on these unauthorized government leaks, and if there has been an internal investigation (or investigations) regarding such leaks, or if emails, notes or memoranda exist regarding the same, the Court and the defendant—whose Constitutional rights are actually at issue—are entitled to review the same.”

Manafort’s claims are based on a report by Fox News contributor Sara Carter on her personal website, as well as a Washington Times report that House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) had inquired with the Justice Department about the alleged meeting.

A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment. A previous filing by Mueller’s team called Manafort’s allegations “speculative” and said that a pretrial hearing on the issue would be “unwarranted.”

Manafort has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Virginia with bank fraud, tax fraud, and failure to file a foreign bank report. He has pleaded not guilty in that case, as well as in the separate case brought against him in Washington, D.C., where the charges include money laundering and a failure to disclose foreign lobbying.

The charges mostly stem from lobbying work Manafort did in Ukraine, before he joined President Trump’s 2016 campaign, where he served for several months as campaign chair. Manafort, in his request for a hearing on the leaks, has argued that the alleged leaks improperly influenced the grand juries that handed down indictments against him.

“Not only is leaking classified information a felony, but it was also apparently intended to create the false public narrative that Mr. Manafort was colluding with Russian intelligence officials during the Trump presidential campaign. This smear campaign may have in fact irreparably prejudiced the jury pool in violation of the defendant’s Constitutional rights,” he said.

Read the filing below:

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President Trump, in a meeting with top Justice Department officials Monday, was seeking that the Department turn over information about a reported informant the FBI used while investigating his presidential campaign, for use for his own legal team, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani told Politico.

“He wants them to turn over the information that exists about the informant to the House and Senate committees — all the memos they have,” Giuliani said, adding that memos documenting the informants findings should also “be made available to us on a confidential basis.”

“We should be at least allowed to read them so we know this exculpatory evidence is being preserved,” he said.

Trump’s legal team, which Giuliani joined recently, is in the process of negotiating a possible sit-down interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Giuliani told USA Today that the memos could also play a role in whether Trump decides to be questioned by Mueller.

“I think they could help us, if they show there is no original basis for the investigation,” Giuliani said.

The New York Times, the Washington Post and others have reported that the FBI — in the early stages of its probe into contacts between Trump campaign and Russia — used an informant who interacted with members of the campaign. The Justice Department has resisted turning over information about the individual to congressional Republicans, citing fears about blowing the longtime source’s cover.

The White House initially sided with the Justice Department, but Trump in a tweet Sunday issued a “demand” that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI “the infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”

The Justice Department a few hours later said that it was referring the matter to DOJ Office of Inspector General, which is already investigating the surveillance warrant the DOJ successfully sought on former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. The Inspector General’s Office declined to comment on the Justice Department’s announcement.

On Monday, Trump met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’s overseeing Mueller’s investigation, as well as FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that after meeting with the President,  the “Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign.”

“It was also agreed that White House Chief of Staff Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with Congressional Leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested,” she said.

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