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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A federal judge on Wednesday appeared skeptical of a civil lawsuit filed by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort alleging that the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller exceeded their authority in prosecuting him as part of the sprawling Russia probe.

The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, is also presiding over the criminal case brought by Mueller against Manafort in federal court in Washington, D.C. (There’s an additional criminal case against Manafort pending in Virginia). Manafort is facing charges of tax fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and failing to disclose foreign lobbying related to his work in Ukraine. He has pleaded not guilty. 

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At a hearing this morning where a federal judge sentenced Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan to 30 days in prison for lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, no one could really say what the immigration repercussions of his impending incarceration would be.

Van der Zwaan is currently based in London, where he has a wife who is six months pregnant and a mother who is also suffering from health issues. He has been in the United States since mid-November, when he returned to correct false statements he gave federal agents at the special counsel’s office during an interview earlier in November.

He pleaded guilty last month to lying to Mueller about conversations he had with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates and his sentencing proceedings were accelerated with his wife’s pregnancy in mind.

At Tuesday’s hearing, his lawyer William Schwartz argued that he should be given no jail time, in part because his wife’s pregnancy has been difficult and she could use him home immediately. But Schwartz also said that he and his client were concerned that if he was sentenced to prison — even with a sentence that could be completed before his wife was due to deliver — he may be subject to immigration proceedings once released that would further delay his return to the UK.

Allowing van der Zwaan to self-deport after paying a fine would avoid such a scenario, Schwartz argued.

We also learned during the hearing that, with the ICE issue in mind, prosecutors offered van der Zwaan a deal that they said would allow him leave the country 48-72 hours after he was released from a hypothetical jail sentence. Schwartz said that the prosecutors had pointed to another case to demonstrate that such a deal had worked as intended in the past, but Schwartz said that he wasn’t sure if it would work in van der Zwaan’s case, so van der Zwaan rejected the offer.

At one point, District Judge Amy Berman Jackson asked Mueller’s team, represented by Andrew Weissmann, what action ICE would take once van der Zwaan was released and he sought to retrieve his passport (which he had already turned in to the FBI). Weissmann said he wasn’t entirely sure, so he didn’t want to speculate.

The questions about what ICE would do weren’t enough to dissuade Judge Amy Berman Jackson from handing down a 30-day jail sentence. The sentence also included $20,000 fine and two months of supervised release. Jackson would allow him to return to the United Kingdom as soon as he paid his fine, but acknowledged that there was still the possibility that he’d have to face immigration proceedings that would delay his return.

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U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Alex van der Zwaan — a Dutch lawyer who admitted to lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller about conversations he had with Trump campaign aide Rick Gates in 2016 — to 30 days in jail and ordered him to pay a $20,000 fine.

Tuesday’s sentencing hearing was the first of the Mueller investigation since the special counsel was appointed 11 months ago.

Lawyers for the 33-year-old van der Zwaan — whose wife in the United Kingdom is pregnant — had asked the judge to impose no jail time and a fine. The lawyers for Mueller made no specific recommendation for van der Zwaan’s sentence, but stressed the need for people to not lie or withhold evidence in government investigations.

“I just can’t say, ‘Pay your fine at the door and go,'” Jackson said at the hearing, in explaining her sentence.

Van der zwaan —  a London-based attorney then-employed by the tony firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — worked with Gates and former Trump campaign chairman on a report released in 2012 about the prosecution of former Ukrainian prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko. Gates and Manafort were working for Tymoshenko’s political rival Victor Yanukovych at the time.

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Roger Stone in an email to TPM Monday said that an August 2016 email he sent a former Trump campaign aide claiming that he dined with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was the “continuation” of a joke he played on the ex-aide, Sam Nunberg.

“It was a throwaway line, a schtick, the way I talk. This dope believed it. I was playing him,” Stone told TPM. He later added, “I can say equivocally that I received no material including allegedly hacked emails from WikiLeaks for Julian Assange or anyone else and never passed any such materials onto Donald Trump or the Trump campaign.”

Stone’s email to Nunberg, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, was sent on Aug. 4, 2016, during an exchange about Trump’s polling.

“I dined with Julian Assange last night,” Stone’s email to Nunberg said.

Stone, in his email to TPM, referenced a Washington Post report from last month, in which Nunberg recalled Stone telling him he had met with Assange. Stone told the Post that he said that during a telephone conversation in an effort to get Nunberg off the phone.

“Sam, being a neurotic, would sometimes call you 30 and 40 times a day. Late one Friday night while I was trying to get him off the phone, he asked me if I had weekend plans,” Stone told TPM. “I responded ‘I think I’ll fly to London and have dinner with Julian Assange’ …. Sam, a little too intense and with his head not screwed on quite right, fell for it.”

Stone provided for the Journal a screenshot of a booking for “Roger” for a Delta flight from Los Angeles to Miami for the evening of August 3.  Delta confirmed to the Journal the existence of the flight on the booking screenshot, but would not say whether Stone was on it.

“Airline and hotel records prove I was in California on August 3 and 4,” Stone told TPM. He later clarified that he flew into Los Angeles on August 1 from New York, and then to Miami from Los Angeles on August 3.

The email has been raised in questioning in front of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury as he probes Russian meddling in the election, according to the Journal. Stone’s denial Monday is not the first time he has had to explain things he said during the 2016 campaign that suggested communications with the founder of Wikileaks, which published thousands of hacked emails from associates of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

He told a group of Florida Republicans on Aug. 8, 2016, “I actually have communicated with Assange.” He later explained that he was referring to communications through a “journalist” intermediary he at first refused to name. Unnamed sources went on to tell CNN that intermediary was New York radio host Randy Credico.

“I have never said or written that I had any direct communication with Julian Assange and have always clarified in numerous interviews and speeches that my communication with WikiLeaks was through the aforementioned journalist,” Stone said in his prepared remarks for the House Intelligence Committee last September.

The Atlantic earlier this year obtained Twitter direct messages between Stone and the Wikileaks Twitter account sent in October of 2016.

Nunberg was subpoenaed by the Mueller investigation last month — a subpoena he first said he was resisting an a series of erratic cable news hits. Nunberg ultimately cooperated with Mueller’s request.

Nunberg said on MNBC Thursday evening that Stone told him he had met with Assange in early August, and noted that was around the time that Trump was publicly calling for more Clinton emails to be released.

“I think he’s trying to ingratiate himself back with Trump,” Nunberg said. Nunberg did not immediately responded to TPM’s inquiry about Stone’s claims.

“Politics is a game of smoke and mirrors and my emails would certainly show that I was deeply enmeshed in the presidential political maneuvering in 2016,” Stone told TPM. “At the end of the day however it’s not what you said you did but what you actually did that matters.”

Update: This story has been updated to include a clarification from Stone on when he says he was in California.

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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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