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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Dozens of reporters’ hearts skipped a beat during an otherwise low-key proceeding Thursday morning when Judge T.S. Ellis, who is overseeing Paul Manafort’s financial crimes trial, indicated that a “Mr. Trump” was in the courtroom.

“Mr. Trump, you’re here for what?” Ellis asked.

He had just wrapped up a brief proceeding with the members of the Manafort jury as they kick off their deliberations. Everyone turned around dramatically to find who Ellis was talking to. Then laughter began.

“Mr. Trump,” it turns out, is Jim Trump, a prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia who had a case in front of Ellis this morning.

To give you a sense of what the next hours and/or days will look like for us: The jury has gone into deliberations, which means either Caitlin or myself will be in the courthouse at all times to be ready for a verdict. Whichever one of us is not in the courtroom will be hanging out in the hotel across the street, keeping an eye on the defense team, which is usually milling about the lobby, for any sign of movement towards the courthouse.

Another fun twist is that the New York Jets football team is staying at the same hotel. I wonder what they’ll think of the mad rush into the courthouse that will likely ensue when a verdict comes in, and how it will compare to their pile-ups on the field.

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Two weeks after Federal Savings Bank extended a $9.5 million loan to Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman emailed Jared Kushner recommending that the bank’s CEO serve as Army secretary in the Trump administration.

The November 30, 2016 message was one of several emails related to the loan released by special counsel Robert Mueller on Monday night, as part of his trial against the former campaign chairman, who prosecutors allege defrauded Federal Savings Bank and other banks. Those emails, and other evidence prosecutors have introduced, suggest that Federal Saving Bank CEO Steve Calk had expressed a desire to serve in the Trump administration as he was deeply involved in negotiating Manafort’s loans.

Calk emailed Manafort on November 15, 2016 — the day before the $9.5 million loan closed — a memo “prepared” at Manafort’s “request” pitching his qualifications to serve as Trump’s Army Secretary.

“My goal is to ensure you or my designated prosper has all the information they need to have me successfully chosen by the President-Elect,” Calk said.

The email also included a ranking of the other “Perspective Rolls” in the administration.

Prosecutors accuse Manafort and Calk of engaging in a quid pro quo with the loan and the promise of a Cabinet post. Calk was also named to a Trump campaign advisory committee days after he approved an initial loan proposal for Manafort over the summer, according to a bank employee’s testimony.

Other evidence introduced by the prosecutors indicate that Manafort gave false information to the banks in the process of applying for the loans, which totaled $16 million. In one email, Manafort cops to misstating an existing mortgage one of his homes by $1 million — a mistake he blamed on a “blackout” in a October 7 email to Calk.

“I look to your cleverness on how to manage the underwriting. I recognize it was my mistake at our lunch, but the situation is as described,” Manafort wrote. Calk replied with some ideas for adjusting the terms of the loan.

The next day Manafort emailed Calk seeking to set up a time to get in touch.

“I also want to again thank you for fixing my issue. It means a lot to me. You are becoming a very good friend and I look forward to building our relationship into both a deeper business and personal one,” Manafort said.

Later that month, Manafort would walk away from the terms of that loan proposal, but would negotiate another version of the loan ultimately extending him the $9.5 million in November. In January 2017, he closed a second loan, for $6.5 million, from the bank.

Read the emails below:

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Irony is certainly not dead in the state of Kansas, where the GOP gubernatorial primary is wrought with accusations that one of the candidates — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, perhaps the most notorious purveyor of voter fraud alarmism — is mismanaging the vote count of his own race.

Kobach announced Thursday that he was recusing himself from overseeing the vote tallying in his race against the current governor Gov. Jeff Colyer. The race is too close to call and may go to recount. After the correction of a Kobach-office clerical error revealed that Kobach’s lead had shrunk below 100 votes, Colyer had written Kobach a letter requesting his recusal and accusing Kobach of “making public statements on national television which are inconsistent with Kansas law and may serve to suppress the vote in the ongoing Kansas primary election process.”

In a brilliant move of trolling, the Colyer campaign also set up a “voting integrity” telephone hotline.

Even after Kobach’s recusal, concerns were raised about the fact that the deputy who is now overseeing the count, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker, donated to Kobach’s campaign.

Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill last week making the state the 14th in the country to adopt automatic voter registration. The opt-out system will go into effect in 2020, according to elections officials in the state.

There’s a new twist in the fight between North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the state’s GOP legislature that’s seeking to take over much of his authority. In the lawsuit Cooper brought against North Carolina’s election board to stop two ballot initiatives that would curb his ability to appoint judges, as well as name commissions on various state boards, attorneys of the elections board are siding with Cooper in the case. At a hearing on Tuesday, a document written by the elections board attorneys said that the legislature had “adopted false and misleading ballot language” in the initiatives, mimicking the governor’s position in the case

Iowa’s state Supreme Court on Friday mostly upheld a lower court’s decision to block new absentee ballot voter restrictions from going to effect. Friday’s decision halted the requirement that absentee voters provide an ID verification number on their ballot, as well as a provision letting election officials throw out absentee ballots if they believed the ballots’ signatures didn’t match the signatures the state has on file for the voters. The decision did allow for the absentee voting period to be shortened from 40 days to 29.

In Indiana, the state’s attorney general is fighting the implementation of a settlement that a bipartisan county election board reached to expand early voting in Marion County, the most populous county in Indiana, after a federal judge ordered the county to open more early voting polling places. Attorney General Curtis Hill said Tuesday in a court filing seeking to block the agreement that the settlement was “contrary to public interest.”

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Just because a bank CEO was aware that Paul Manafort was committing bank fraud doesn’t make Manafort’s conduct any less fraudulent, special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors argued in a court filing Monday morning.

The filing appeared to be prompted by a bench discussion the attorneys had with the defense and Judge T.S. Ellis on Friday, pertaining to Steve Calk, the CEO of The Federal Savings Bank (TFSB) who served as a Trump campaign advisor.

Federal Savings Bank was one of a number of lenders that prosecutors say were misled by false representations made by Manafort in applying for millions of dollars in loans in late 2015 and 2016. Manafort was approved for a Federal Savings Bank loan the day after Calk expressed to the Trump campaign chair interest in working for Trump, a bank employee testified last week. The prosecution presented other evidence that Calk was promised campaign and administration positions while negotiating Manafort’s loans.

During Friday’s bench conversation about whether statements by Calk could be admitted, Ellis “expressed concern about the notion that TFSB could be defrauded when Calk, who ultimately approved these loans for TFSB, was going to approve the loans for personal reasons,” according to Monday’s filing.

“The Court questioned whether Manafort’s fraudulent representations could be material if the bank’s chairman and CEO, and a significant shareholder of the bank’s holding company, intended to grant Manafort the loans regardless,” the filing said. “Picking up on the Court’s comments, the defense suggested that Manafort could not have defrauded the bank if Calk knew Manafort’s representations were false. …The Court agreed that it did not ‘see the materiality.'”

In the filing, prosecutors went on to argue that the fact that “Calk apparently intended to approve the loans for personal reasons has no bearing on the materiality of Manafort’s misrepresentations.”

The prosecutors are asking that Ellis “recognize the lack of merit in any defense argument that Stephen Calk’s complicity in or awareness of Manafort’s fraud on TFSB renders immaterial as a matter of law Manafort’s false and fraudulent representations to TFSB for purposes of obtaining loans.”

Read the full filing below:

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Yet another federal judge on Monday issued an opinion upholding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s authority — this one, for the first time, coming from a judge appointed by President Donald Trump, who has dubbed Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt.”

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich denied the request by a Russian firm, accused of funding the Russian social media troll effort, to throw out Mueller’s case against it.

Her opinion said that the Supreme Court and D.C. Appeals Court had made clear that that the acting attorney general had the authority to appoint a special counsel.

“The appointment does not violate core separation-of-powers principles. Nor has the Special Counsel exceeded his authority under the appointment order by investigating and prosecuting Concord,” she said, referring to the Russian company that sought for the charges to be dismissed on the basis that Mueller lacked the authority.

Concord Management is one of three companies, alongside 13 Russian individuals, named in an indictment handed down by a grand jury in February that said they were involved in the effort to influence the election with trolls on social media.

Concord Management is the firm of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a restauranteur so close to the Kremlin he’s been nicknamed “Putin’s chef.” It was somewhat of a surprise when the firm hired American lawyers and began fighting the charges.

Friedrich’s opinion referenced the orders upholding Mueller’s authority by U.S. District Judges Amy Berman Jackson and T.S. Ellis — the judges overseeing Mueller’s cases against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in D.C. and Virginia, respectively. She also mentioned the recent decision by Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge on Friedrich’s federal court in D.C., favoring Mueller in a request by Andrew Miller, a former aide to Trump ally Roger Stone, to throw out Mueller’s grand jury subpoena of him.

Read Friedrich’s full 41-page opinion below:

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — After being chastised repeatedly by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in front of the jury during Paul Manafort’s ongoing trial in Virginia, the prosecutors arguing the case appear to have had enough. On Thursday, they filed a court filing taking issue with Ellis’s outburst over a government witness who had watched the full trial before being called to the stand.

Ellis told the jury Thursday morning to “put aside any criticism” of the prosecutors. “I sometimes make mistakes,” Ellis said.

The prosecutors had asked Ellis on July 31 to permit the presence of the expert witness, IRS tax expert Michael Welch, in the courtroom for the proceedings. Thursday’s filing includes an excerpt of the transcript with Ellis explicitly granting the request and even asking the name of the expert.

On Wednesday when the government called Welch and asked him if he had heard previous witnesses testimony, Ellis blew up at prosecutor Uzo Asonye.

Thursday’s filing asked for the judge to address the issue in front of the jury at the start of the day’s proceedings and correct “the court’s erroneous admonishment” of the prosecutors.

This is not the first time prosecutors pushed back on Ellis for his admonishments. At a bench conference last week prosecutor Greg Andres brought up the judge continuing to suggest that the government is making mistakes. We don’t have “to be chastised in front of the jury for every mistake,” Andres said.

Ellis pushed back. He told the prosecutors to “get it right” and said that they “haven’t been chastised for every mistake.”

Asonye brought up the court filing to Ellis at the beginning of Thursday’s proceedings. “You’re to put that aside,” Ellis told the jury about the issue. “I may well have been wrong.”

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — Paul Manafort’s businesses between 2010 and 2014 collected more than $16 million in income that it failed to report to the IRS, according to the testimony of an IRS official Wednesday at Maanfort’s trial in Virginia for tax fraud and bank fraud.

Michael Welch, a revenue agent for the IRS, said that he came to that estimation by using Manafort’s own approach of only reporting income once it hit the U.S. He offered other versions of the analysis that estimated Manafort’s unreported income on the basis of when it landed in foreign entities prosecutors have linked to the former Trump campaign chairman. The estimates yielded by that approach were also “conservative,” Welch said, because he considered certain wires from foreign accounts — including those for a Florida dentist, a New Jersey horseback riding account and “International Yacht Collection” — to be business expenses that can be deducted from Manafort’s income.

He was following the testimony of Morgan Magionos, an FBI forensic accountant for who explained a chart she created showing that more than $15 million was wired from Manafort-controlled foreign accounts to pay for goods, services and real estate that Manafort and his family purchased between 2010 and 2014.

Their emotionless testimony was an atmospheric comedown to the day and half Manafort’s former co-defendant and longtime business deputy Rick Gates spent on the stand. His explosive testimony, which started Monday afternoon and stretched through Wednesday morning, included damning revelations about Manafort’s involvement in the alleged crimes as well as to his admissions to other crimes and embarrassing conduct not related to the current charges.

Manafort is accused of tax and bank fraud, much of it related to his work as a political operative in Ukraine before joining the Trump campaign. Prosecutors allege that the money was income that Manafort hid from his accountants and bookkeepers by wiring it directly to vendors, many of whom testified for the government earlier in the ongoing Virginia trial. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Magianos walked prosecutors on Wednesday afternoon through how she created the charts tracking the flow of money from Manafort’s foreign accounts to his real-estate purchases and to vendors who sold him goods and services.

Among the evidence prosecutors presented during Magionos’ testimony were documents used to open the foreign bank accounts, which included Manafort’s name and even copies of the front page of his passport. Magionos testified that emails from Manafort instructed a Cypriot law firm to complete certain wire transfers that aligned with invoices from the vendors. In the emails, which prosecutors displayed for the court, Manafort described the foreign accounts as “my” accounts.

Magionos also explained a chart she created showing the money that flowed into the foreign accounts that prosecutors have linked to Manafort. She said that much of the money flowed in from entities linked to Ukrainians who were funding Manafort’s political work.

In his cross-examination Manafort attorney Richard Westling asked Magionos about the signatures on some of the bank records that were referenced in her charts. Westling asked her about the differences between different signatures, suggesting that not all of the documents with Manafort’s signature were actually signed by Manafort.

Magionos conceded that there were differences but also pointed out that funds from the bank account in question largely benefitted Manafort.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — Paul Manafort attorney Kevin Downing asked Rick Gates during questioning Wednesday whether he told the special counsel about four extramarital affairs that Gates had.

Downing’s question came after prosecutor Greg Andres had stressed in his questioning of  Gates Wednesday morning that his plea deal would be ripped up if he lied from the stand.

When Downing got up for another round of questions, he asked Gates about his description of the relationship as “a” mistake.

After Downing asked whether Gates told the special counsel about four extramarital affairs, the prosecutors quickly objected on the basis of relevance.

Downing hinted that he wanted to get at the prosecution’s questioning of Gates about what would happen to his plea deal if he lied from the witness stand.

The judge asked the lawyers to come to the bench to discuss the matter.

Manafort is on trial here facing bank and tax fraud charges. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Gates served as Manafort’s deputy during the pair’s lobbying work in Ukraine. He was expected to be the prosecution’s star witness in the case after reaching a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

The bench conference took ten minutes. The court was not told what Judge T.S. Ellis ruled, but when Downing came back he asked Gates if his “secret life” spanned the period in defense exhibit 17, which spanned several years.

Gates first responded, “I made many mistakes over several years.”

Gates then responded “yes” to Downing’s question.
The tensions over Downing’s focus on Gates’ marital infidelity came after rounds of questioning where the temperature was somewhat cooler than what it had been on Tuesday afternoon, when Downing drubbed Manafort’s ex-business deputy about his admission that he embezzled from his former boss, and other alleged criminal activity.

Downing’s initial round of questions Wednesday morning focused on 2014 interviews Gates and Manafort gave separately to the FBI about their Ukraine work, which Gates understood to part of an investigation into how their former client, Ukraine ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, handled the country’s money.

Gates testified that Manafort had instructed him to be “open” with the FBI in that interview about how they were paid.

However, when Andres returned to the podium for another chance to question Gates, Gates said that Manafort did reach out to a Ukrainian businessman before his FBI interview to get more information about the entity that the businessman used to pay him and to make sure that it was “clean,” meaning it was only used to pay Manafort.

Andres also used his questioning to clean up some of the other messes made during Downing’s initial round of cross-examination Tuesday afternoon. Andres notably used the word “embezzlement,” a word prosecutors previously avoided in describing Gates’ scheme to take money from Manafort by inflating expense reports, and Gates testified that the Ukrainian businessmen funding their consulting work ultimately paid for the reported expenses.

Andres asked if Gates, who had previously testified to meeting with the special counsel’s office 20 times for trial prep, had been instructed by the special counsel’s team how to answer certain questions.

“The only answer I was told was to tell the truth,” Gates said.

Downing finished questioning Gates around 11 a.m. Wednesday. FBI agent Morgan Magionos is expected to take the stand next.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — During Rick Gates’ testimony in Paul Manafort’s financial crimes trial Tuesday, prosecutors questioned Gates about an email Manafort sent on Nov. 24, 2016 regarding Steve Calk, the executive of a bank where Manafort was seeking loans.

“Rick, we need to discuss Steve Calk for sec. of army. I hear the list is being considered this weekend,” the email said.

Gates had stayed on the Trump campaign after Manafort left in August, and, at the time of the email, was working for the inauguration committee. Another email sent by Manafort to Gates on Dec. 23, 2016 was an invitation list for the inauguration. Steve Calk and Steve Calk Jr. were on the list.

Gates testified that Manafort was asking for tickets to the inauguration for Steve Calk.

Calk was a Trump campaign economic advisor and an executive at the Chicago-based Federal Savings Bank. The bank lent Manafort $16 million through loans in December 2016 and January 2017. A search warrant that was partially unsealed earlier this summer alleged that Manafort made “several materially inconsistent representations during the process of negotiating.”

Mueller’s team alleges that Calk knew the loan was fraudulent. During a pretreial hearing, Judge T.S. Ellis asked prosecutor Greg Andres whether Calk knew the information on Manafort’s loan application was inaccurate. “He did,” Andres replied at the time.

Calk was named to Trump’s economic advisory team in August 2016, while Manafort was still chairman of the Trump campaign. He did not ultimately receive a job in the administration.

This line of questioning was the only time so far that Manafort and Gates’ work for the Trump campaign was referenced explicitly. Another email discussed Steve Calk being nominated for the campaign’s economic committee.

Manafort is on trial here facing bank and tax fraud charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Gates was Manafort’s right-hand man during the pair’s lobbying work in Ukraine, and his deputy on the Trump campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller originally charged Gates alongside Manafort, but Gates reached a plea deal with Mueller in exchange for cooperating in the investigation.

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