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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Special Counsel Robert Mueller in recent weeks issued subpoenas for the Trump Organization seeking certain documents, including those related to Russia, the New York Times reported Thursday, citing two unnamed sources.

The subpoenas come as there are other signs that Mueller’s investigation is examining the business dealings of Trump and his family.

Trump last year said that a Mueller investigation into his businesses, unrelated to Russia, would be a “violation.”

Trump has denied conducting business in Russia, beyond the Miss Universe pageant he held in Moscow in 2013, and what he has described as a house he sold “to a very wealthy Russian many years ago.”

However, Trump associates explored building a Trump Tower in Moscow — a project that was being considered even after Trump entered the presidential campaign in 2015.

In 2015, Trump signed a non-binding “letter of intent,” and discussed the potential deal with his attorney Michael Cohen. Felix Sater, a Trump business associate, told TPM that he and Cohen were still working on the project towards the end of 2015. Cohen sent an email in January 2016 to Vladimir Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov seeking assistance on a project with “a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower – Moscow project in Moscow City.”

Some members of Trump’s White House legal team for the Russia investigation have stressed that they expect it to wrap up shortly. The move to subpoena the Trump Organization suggested that Mueller isn’t done quite yet. Neither the White House nor Trump Org. attorney Alan S. Futerfas returned the New York Times’ request for comment about the subpoena.

Mueller has already racked up plea deals from members of Trump’s 2016 campaign, as well as his ex-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is facing multiple indictments in Mueller’s probe, which also issued indictments against 13 Russians said to have engaged in a social media crusade to influence American voters.

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It looks like a case over whether the government must turn over the so-called Comey memos is heading to an appeals court.

Last month, a federal judge sided with the government in a consolidated lawsuit brought by a handful of news organizations, including CNN, USA Today and the Daily Caller, as well as the conservative advocacy groups Freedom Watch and Judicial Watch. The plaintiffs hoped to get their hands on memos ex-FBI Director James Comey wrote detailing his interactions with President Trump, and their earlier Freedom of Information Act requests for the memos were denied. The Department of Justice argued that turning over the memos would impede Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Judicial Watch and Daily Caller on Thursday filed a notice in the case signaling that they are appealing the judge’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

We’ll be watching this case to see where it goes.

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I’m back from Kansas City, Kansas, after covering six days of the trial for Kris Kobach’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement.

While covering the trial I was staying at a hotel right next to the courthouse — the only hotel, really, that was near the courthouse. That meant that basically everyone involved in the case were there too, including Kobach’s legal team (who, presumably, are normally based in Topeka), the ACLU lawyers challenging them, and other attorneys representing the challengers. Reporters working for other non-local outlets were also there.

This definitely made things convenient, but at times a little awkward. The ACLU attorneys were pretty friendly with reporters; Kobach’s team and witnesses didn’t say to much to us beyond small talk greetings. And in the evenings after the days when things got tense in the court, having everyone in the same hotel could be a little claustrophobic.

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The chair of the Republican Party in Chicago last year passed on allegations of voter fraud to a member of President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, using a top Justice Department official as intermediary, newly released emails reveal.

The emails, which were obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center via a Freedom of Information Act request, suggest that Republican officials sought to use the commission as a clearing-house for allegations of voter fraud from around the country, no matter how unsubstantiated.

In one email, Christy McCormick, who was a member of the voter fraud panel, told Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Gore that she was seeking to have the voter fraud panel investigate the allegations.

“Hopefully between DOJ and the Commission we can clean up the voter rolls,” McCormick said in one email.  McCormick, a Republican, is also a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal agency that helps states administer elections.

As the voter fraud commission became a flashpoint for controversy, Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups sought information about the level of communication it had with the Justice Department.

Testifying in front of a Senate committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied coordination, but alluded to some level of contact.

“I don’t know that coordinating is correct,” he responded. “We’ve been asked for assistance on several issues.”

Litigation over the commission produced a record of commission communications that referenced a number of emails between McCormick and a DOJ official, including some about Chicago. The newly-released emails provide a fuller picture of exactly what those communications detailed. The Brennan Center, another group that sued the commission, obtained a similar set of emails last month.

Over the course of four months, Chris Cleveland, the chair of Chicago’s Republican Party, reached out to Gore repeatedly about what he described as “discrepancies” between the number of voters on Chicago’s voter rolls and the votes cast in the November 2016 election. Cleveland’s first email to Gore in the FOIA batch was in May, soon after the commission was launched.

Before he was brought on to the Justice Department, Gore was a top Republican elections attorney. Gore was also the DOJ official behind a request that the Census include a citizenship question on its 2020 census — a move civil rights advocates fear will depress minority participation in the survey, which in turn will shift political power to rural and white communities.

The Justice Department declined to comment for this story.

Gore forwarded Cleveland’s emails to McCormick, who said in response that she intended to bring the issue up at the voter fraud commission’s first meeting in July. In another email to Gore in September, before the commission’s second meeting, McCormick said she had sent “the info on the Chicago issue (deleting your email address and messages from it) to the staff of the presidential commission a couple of months ago so we can co super [sic] it and hopefully investigate it.”

Neither McCormick, nor a spokesperson for the Election Assistance Commission, responded to TPM’s questions, including whether there was further investigation of Cleveland’s claims. The issue does not appear have come up at either of the public meetings held by the presidential voter fraud commission before it was disbanded, according to minutes from those meetings.

The Chicago Board of Elections did not respond to TPM’s inquiry, but its spokesperson has previously said that the Republicans’ claims were based on incomplete records of voters.

“Not all voters were entered electronically into the system at first,” board spokesman Jim Allen told the Chicago City Wire last August. “They have since been added.”

Gore eventually put Cleveland directly in touch with McCormick, who told Cleveland in September that she would follow up with commission staff to “find out what they are doing to investigate it.”

“Is Cook County also involved in this particular issue? It does not surprise me at all that they are working on behalf of Democrats,” McCormick said. She asked Cleveland to write up his experiences and suggested he could be brought in front of the voter fraud commission as a witness.

(Chicago is in Cook County, but has its own elections board.)

Cleveland had even harsher words for Chicago’s elections officials:

Cleveland did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

During the exchanges, McCormick also referenced, in a July email, a letter the Justice Department sent to states concerning their list maintenance efforts under the National Voter Registration Act. That letter that went out the same day as the controversial request from Kris Kobach, the voter fraud commission’s vice chair, for state voter roll data.

“I’ve been reading the stories/conspiracy theories about your NVRA letter and the Commission’s letter going out to the States on the same day and am amused at all the speculation and conclusions in them,” McCormick said. “Hopefully between DOJ and the Commission we can clean up the voter rolls. For the life of me, I don’t know why people should be against cleaning them up. Of course, that’s a rhetorical statement, because I do know why some people are against it. In any case, here’s to continuing to do what’s right for our country and the voters!”

Corrected: This story has been corrected to clarify that the allegations referred to the Chicago Board of Elections, not Cook County Clerk’s Office.

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KANSAS CITY, KANSAS — To defend his proof-of-citizenship law, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Monday summoned a witness who used the state’s hearing process to prove her citizenship. Kobach’s goal was to show that the rarely used process was not burdensome, and was a feasible way for people without their birth certificate or other citizenship documents to register to vote.

The woman, Jo French, did confirm that she didn’t find the process to be a burden, and said she thought other states should adopt proof-of-citizenship laws.

Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on voting rights »

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It’s not every day you see trial lawyers try to do something that a judge has three times already told them they aren’t allowed to do.

But on Friday morning — on the fourth trial day in the case against Kansas’ proof of citizenship voter registration requirement — lawyers representing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach tried again to introduce evidence that the judge had on two separate previous occasions blocked them from admitting.

“It’s out of order now to want to introduce new evidence as to those numbers,” Judge Julie Robinson snapped at the Kansas legal team.

The Kansas attorney, Garrett Roe, would try again, less than an hour later, once more without success.

Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on voting rights »

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A prominent voter fraud alarmist who had prepared a report defending Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship law admitted in testimony Friday that he did not investigate the circumstances surrounding the registrations of a handful of non-citizens that were central to his allegations.

The witness, Hans von Spakovsky, relied on a spreadsheet provided to him by the state. The spreadsheet showed that in Kansas’ second most populous county, there were only 38 alleged cases of non-citizens registering or attempting to register to vote in the last two decades. That spreadsheet, which also showed that only five of those non-citizens cast votes, had already come under extreme scrutiny earlier in the trial.

Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on voting rights »

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KANSAS CITY, KANSAS — A proposal Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach took to a meeting with then-President-elect Donald Trump in November 2016 included a proposal to amend the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) to “promote proof-of citizenship requirements.”

The phrase referred to an idea Kobach was seeking to propose to incentivize states to enact their own proof of citizenship requirement, Kobach said in a deposition video played at the trial for a challenge to Kansas’ version of the requirement.

The original NVRA encouraged states to adopt same-day registration by waiving for those states some of the NVRA’s provisions. Kobach’s idea was that a hypothetical newly amended NVRA would have provisions that would be waived for states if they adopt a proof of citizenship voter registration requirement.

Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on voting rights »

Kobach said in his deposition that in his meeting with Trump — which included top members of Trump’s incoming administration — they did not get to discuss that proposal. A copy of the proposal was handed to all of the meeting participants.

Kobach said in the deposition that the topic of non-citizens registering to vote was discussed in general terms.

Over the course of the trial, Kobach’s legal team fiercely fought the playing of the video in the courtroom. Right before it was played, they successfully sought for it not to be included as a public exhibit. (The transcript of the deposition will be in the transcript of the trial instead.)

A portion of the transcript of the deposition had been previously unsealed, but the video that was played also went into portions of the deposition that until this point have been made public.

Kobach was photographed with Trump at a November 20, 2016 meeting at Trump’s golf resort in New Jersey holding an outline for his “DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY KOBACH STRATEGIC PLAN FOR FIRST 365 DAYS.”

From the photograph could be seen a line from the proposal to “Draft Amendments To” what appeared to be the National Voter Registration Act, the law that the ACLU alleges Kobach’s proof-of-citizenship requirement violates.

Kobach was ordered by the court to turn over that and other documents related his proposal to amend the NVRA, and sit for a deposition about the documents, producing the video that was played Friday.

In the video, Kobach denied that a proposal he had written in the summer or fall of 2016 and shared with the members of his staff to amend the NVRA was written with the intent of superseding a preliminary injunction that had been placed on his requirement. He also denied that, for the proposal, he cribbed language from an ACLU brief laying out how the NVRA would need be amended for his requirement to be permissible  — even though his language and the ACLU’s was identical. He called the idea that he copied the ACLU’s language “inconceivable.”

He said it was “interesting” that the language was so “similar.”

“I don’t consult your legal writing” in anything I do, Kobach claimed to Dale Ho, the ACLU attorney deposing him.

He said that the proposal was only for the “contingency” that the ACLU was successful at the appeals court in their lawsuit. and the Supreme Court decided not to take up the case.  (Kobach indicated that he believed that if Supreme Court took up the case, it would likely side with him).

Kobach was also asked about an email he sent Gene Hamilton, who like Kobach was on the Trump transition, days after the election. After mentioning “legislation drafts” the transition team was putting together “for submission to Congress early in the administration,” he said “some already started” for the NVRA and proof-of-citizenship requirements “(based on my ongoing litigation with the ACLU over this)”.

Kobach was asked in the deposition if the NVRA proposal the email referred to was among legislation he was seeking to submit to Congress early in the administration.

He said no, and reiterated that he had no intention of pushing the proposal before the case was fully litigated. He said that “legislation drafts” for early in the administration was a reference to the other proposal mentioned in the email, concerning in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. He also said he didn’t know of anyone on the transition drafting legislation for his NVRA proposal to be submitted in Congress.

Throughout the video, Kobach looked frustrated, exasperated and annoyed. He was often looking down, and at times he rested his head on his fists.

Then the video turned to Ho’s questions about Kobach’s Nov. 20 meeting with Trump. Some of that back-and-forth was in the portion of the transcription already unsealed.

Kobach said he met with Trump to discuss his plan as well as the possibility of Kobach becoming Trump’s DHS Secretary. He was asked if the proposal about promoting proof of citizenship was a reference to the draft proposal he had shared with his staff.

He said that a “yet uncreated” amendment to “modernize” the NVRA might include such a provision — again, stressing that it would only be necessary if he lost the case at the appeals  court level and the Supreme Court didn’t take it up.

Asked about what he meant by “promote” proof of citizenship, Kobach referenced a provision in the original NVRA that allowed states with same-day registration to waive some of its requirements. He said that was a way for the NRVA to incentivize states to adopt same day registration.

The hypothetical amendment to the NVRA might work the same way, he suggested.

Ho asked what parts of the NVRA states would be allowed to waive. Kobach suggested that this hypothetical amendment to the NVRA would impose new mandates, but states with proof-of-citizenship requirements would perhaps be able to opt out of some  provisions. He said that even though it appeared on a proposal for the first 365 of the Trump administration, that hypothetical NVRA amendment wasn’t meant to fall within the first 365 days.

Kobach said they did not ultimately discuss this proposal at the meeting, which included Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner.

He said they did discuss the “problem” of non-citizens voting illegally and the potential that illegal votes could swing a close election. A week later, Trump would suggest illegal voters were what swing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims would help lead to the creation of a now-defunct voter fraud commission — a commission that Kobach led.

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KANSAS CITY, KANSAS — In order to impeach the testimony of Hans von Spakovsky, a witness called to defend Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship requirement, ACLU lawyer Dale Ho introduced as evidence an email von Spakovsky wrote about the now-defunct Trump voter fraud commission.

In the email, von Spakovsky said that putting Democrats or even “mainstream Republicans” on the commission would result in “abject failure.” The email was eventually passed on to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Ho also presented a transcript of an audio recording in which von Spakovsky denied to a reporter that he had sent the email. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is defending the law, objected, unsuccessfully, to the admission of the transcript.

Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on voting rights »

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KANSAS CITY, KANSAS — Before the ACLU had a chance to cross-examine Hans von Spakovsky, a witness for Kris Kobach in his voter proof-of-citizenship case, Judge Julie Robinson intervened to zero in on what appeared to be a contradiction in von Spakovsky’s definition of voter fraud.

In doing so, Judge Robinson appeared to undermine a central tenet of the claim, made by von Spakovsky and Kobach among others, that strict voting laws are needed to combat voter fraud.

Earlier, Kansas Secretary of State Kobach had asked von Spakovsky what his definition of voter fraud was. Lorraine Minnite, an expert witness for the ACLU, had in previous testimony defined voter fraud as the “intentional corruption” of the electoral process by voters.

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Trump Lawyer John Dowd Resigns

John Dowd, an attorney on President Donald Trump’s outside legal team handling the Russia…