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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For my feature this morning, I spoke with former prosecutors, ex-White House attorneys and legal scholars about the options facing Trump’s lawyers as they seek to escalate their battle with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

One of the experts I talked to, Paul Rosenzweig, worked on the Whitewater investigation, and laid out an interesting calculus that Mueller might face if he cannot come to an agreement with Trump’s team for a sit-down interview and has to consider serving Trump a subpoena.

“Mueller has only two choices: to issue a subpoena or not. Whether he chooses to or not is really dependent on the state of his evidence, what he thinks is his end game. If he thinks that he is not going to be able to indict the President, because of Justice Department policy, then his end game is very different than if his end game is to bring a charge. If he thinks he’s got a criminal case that he’s going to be allowed to prosecute then he has all sorts of incentives not to mess it up with a big fight. If he thinks his job is to write a report that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is then going to send to Congress, in terms of possible impeachment, then he might think this fight is worth having to present a full case for Congress to make a determination.”

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When Rudy Giuliani wasn’t blowing up the White House’s account of payments made to a porn star who claimed to have slept with President Trump, or exchanging an old set of legal liabilities for Trump with some new ones, his one-two punch of Fox News interviews Wednesday night and Thursday morning allowed him to workshop some of  the arguments Trump’s legal team could be making if its showdown with Special Counsel Robert Mueller escalates.

“You can’t possibly not feel, as a citizen of the world, that his negotiations with North Korea are much more significant than this totally garbage investigation,” Giuliani said on Sean Hannity’s show Wednesday.

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While my colleague Caitlin and I were pulling together our rundown on the new White House attorney Emmet Flood and the big legal battles he’s worked on previously, I was struck by the names of the lawyers that popped up. Several are now representing major figures in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. It’s not totally surprising that these attorneys have crossed paths before — when you get to this high level of legal work, the number of players is quite small. But the big guns we’re talking about here are notable nonetheless for the major-stakes issues they’ve deal with the in the past. Here are some of the attorneys I am talking about:

Bill Burck: As other outlets have noted, Flood is close with Bill Burck, who is serving as a personal attorney to Trump White House Counsel Don McGahn and former Chief of Staff Reince Preibus. He also represented senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon during his congressional interview. Burck previously worked for President George W. Bush’s White House as deputy assistant to the president and special counsel, during the same time that Flood was also a special counsel to Bush.

Robert Kelner: Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s attorney Robert Kelner saw his path intersect with Flood’s during a major flashpoint in the Bush administration. When Congress was investigating the U.S. attorneys firing scandal, Flood wrote a letter to Kelner, then a lawyer for the Republican National Committee, requesting that he not turn over RNC emails to the House Judiciary Committee until the White House had a chance to review them.

Abbe Lowell: Abbe Lowell, who is on Jared Kushner’s legal team, joined Flood in representing ex-oil and gas company exec Aubrey K. McClendon, who was indicted for antitrust conspiracy. (The case was dropped when McClendon died in a car crash after the indictment.) Lowell and Flood continue to have a good relationship, according to Washington Post.

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Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer overseeing its response to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, is resigning, Cobb told the New York Times Wednesday. He is being replaced by Emmet Flood, the White House and Flood’s law firm William & Connolly confirmed.

Cobb said he informed President Trump weeks ago that he was seeking to retire.

“It has been an honor to serve the country in this capacity at the White House,” Cobb told the Times. “I wish everybody well moving forward.”

Cobb said he would serve through the month to help his replacement transition into the role.

“Emmet Flood will be joining the White House Staff to represent the President and the administration against the Russia witch hunt,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “Ty Cobb, a friend of the President, who has done a terrific job, will be retiring at the end of the month.”

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is serving as a personal lawyer for Trump, told the Washington Post that Flood was hired out of a desire “for someone was more aggressive.”

“That’s not a criticism of Ty, but it’s just about how we’re going to do this,” Giuliani said.

Cobb also told CBS News that the “bulk of the work was done,” so it was “easier for me to leave now.”

During his tenure in the Trump White House, Cobb became known for his optimistic timeline for when thought the Mueller probe would wrap up, predicting last year that it would be done before Thanksgiving, and then shortly after Thanksgiving, and then by the new year.

Cobb had a reputation for advocating a cooperative approach to dealing with Mueller’s probe. Just Wednesday, he had given an interview with ABC News indicating that Trump’s legal team — which include the President’s personal lawyers Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani — was still working with Mueller on finding an agreement about a Trump interview with the Special Counsel. Earlier this week the New York Times published a list of topics Mueller’s investigators signaled to Trump’s attorneys at a March meeting that they’d like to ask the President about, and the Washington Post reported that Mueller had also floated the possibility that he’d subpoena Trump if they did not come to an agreement.

President Trump has tweeted repeatedly this week to bash Mueller’s “witch hunt.” It is believed that Flood will bring a more aggressive perspective on dealing with the special counsel investigation.

Flood had been in talks about joining Trump’s legal team last summer, according to the Times, but was resistant to working with Trump lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz, who has since stepped down from representing the President.


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It’s been well over a month since President Trump’s attorneys jotted down the questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller would like to ask the President.

But the leaking of the questions to the press earlier this week prompted Trump Wednesday morning to rail against one of Mueller’s apparent areas of interests, in a barely intelligible tweet that quoted an attorney Trump briefly considered hiring to his team.

Joseph DiGenova, who ultimately did not join Trump’s legal team due to “conflicts,” is reportedly one of Trump’s favorites due to his aggressive, often conspiracy-theory-tinged television appearances. The quote Trump tweeted is from DiGenova’s appearance on Sirius XM’s POTUS Channel and was played on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program Tuesday night. (Trump is known to record cable news programs and watch them later.)

DiGenova’s comments were a reference to an area of questioning Mueller has signaled to Trump’s legal team that he’d like to explore, concerning Trump’s motivations for firing former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey.

“The questions are an intrusion into the president’s Article II powers under the Constitution to fire any executive branch employee,” DiGenova said. “To ask questions, as Mr. Mueller apparently proposes to do, about what the President was thinking when he fired Comey or Flynn or anybody else is an outrageous, sophomoric, juvenile intrusion into the president’s unfettered power to fire anyone in the executive branch.”

On Monday, the New York Times published nearly 50 questions Mueller told Trump’s legal team he’d like to ask the President. The questions were from notes Trump’s attorneys took at a March meeting with Mueller’s investigators where they discussed a potential interview with Trump. John Dowd, who was leading Trump’s legal team at the time, later resigned out of frustration that Trump was not inclined to heed his advice that he should not interview with Mueller. Trump since has reportedly become more hostile to the idea of sitting down with Mueller’s team, particularly after FBI agents, as part of a separate investigation, raided Trump’s longtime personal “fixer” Michael Cohen.

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Update: This story was updated to reflect that a Kansas House-passed provision that would have forced Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s to pay personally for a contempt of court order was stripped in later budget negotiations.

A tussle between Kansas’ GOP-led House of Representatives and its Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach a over whether state money should pay for a penalty related to a contempt finding handed down by a federal judge last month was resolved Tuesday. Kansas lawmakers dropped their effort during budget negotiations Tuesday,  the Wichita Eagle reported.

The Kansas House inserted a provision, offered by state Rep. Russ Jennings (R), in a budget bill that passed easily last week that would bar state funding for “any attorney fees, court costs or fines assessed against any statewide elected official who has been cited for contempt by a state or federal court.”

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A mysterious professor who made a major appearance in court filings related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s plea agreement with former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopolous was in Russia just a few weeks before the court documents were unsealed, Buzzfeed reported Tuesday.

Joseph Mifsud participated in a Oct. 5, 2017 seminar in Moscow — timed to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud visit to the country — about Yemen security issues, according to Buzzfeed’s report. The report cites a visa dated Oct. 4, 2017, as well as two sources at the Russian Council of International Affairs, the think tanks that organized the seminar. The sources told Buzzfeed that Mifsud was a member of the Saudi king’s delegation.

On Oct. 30, Mueller unsealed court documents related to Papadopoulos’ plea deal that referenced communications Papadopoulos had with a professor who, among other things, told Papadopoulos that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about those communications.

Mifsud, a Maltese citizen based in London, confirmed soon after the docs were unsealed that he was the professor in question. His whereabouts have been unknown since he was interviewed by an Italian news outlet in Rome on Oct. 31.

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Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort claimed in a court filing Monday evening that government leakers sought to boost Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and influence the grand juries that ultimately brought indictments against Manafort.

The court document, filed in the case against Manafort brought in Virginia, zeroed in on news stories detailing investigations into Manafort’s communications with Russian intel operatives. Manafort said the government has not turned over any evidence in its discovery process of such communications, leading Manafort to suggest that the leaks were an “elaborate hoax” to sway the grand jury.

He is asking that U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III hold a hearing on the issue later this month.

Manafort has been charged with bank fraud, tax fraud and other financial crimes, many of which stem from lobbying work in Ukraine that predated the 2016 campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, as well as to similar charges brought against him in Washington, D.C.

His court filing on Monday evening pointed to about a half dozen stories starting in October 2016 and through February 2018 that allegedly “contained information from government sources that was clearly subject to grand jury secrecy, was potentially classified information, or was simply false.”

Manafort acknowledged that some of the stories don’t specifically say they came from government sources. But he alleged that even in those instances it is “abundantly clear” that the sources were current or former government officials. To support that claim, he brought up a CNN story about Rick Gates working on a plea deal in which Gates’ attorney did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. By process of elimination, Manafort concluded that the “only reasonable inference” is that government officials leaked the negotiations.

Regardless, his filing urges that the alleged leakers be identified.

Read the full filing below:

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In a 14-7 vote Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved of legislation that would protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being improperly fired by President Donald Trump.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), the GOP sponsors of the legislation, voted for advancing it, as did Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). All Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the bill, which was also sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is not seeking re-election, also voted for the bill.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last week that he didn’t think such legislation was necessary and thus did not plan on bringing it up for full vote on the Senate floor.

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