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.

Articles by

ALEXANDRIA, VA — The federal judge overseeing the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort doesn’t want the word “oligarch” – which was invoked by both sides on Tuesday – to be used in front of the jury

In a back and forth between U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis and prosecutors at the start of Wednesday’s proceedings, the prosecutors argued that witnesses should be allowed to use the term in testimony.

Ellis ordered the government to file briefs to defend the use of the term, which he said was “pejorative.”

“We’re not going to have this case tried that he associated with despicable people,” Ellis said, referring to Manafort.

“That’s not the American way,” Ellis added.

Federal prosecutor Greg Andres argued that “oligarch” was the word Manafort’s associates used to refer to the moguls who were financing their consulting work in Ukraine.

Manafort is being tried on multiple counts of bank and tax fraud arising out of his consulting work for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine. He has pleaded not guilty. The case against Manafort is the first to come to trial in special counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Read More →

ALEXANDRIA, VA — If you had told anyone observing the Paul Manafort case in Virginia — except perhaps the judge himself — that we’d be done with jury selection, opening statements and a witness’ testimony by the first day, I don’t know if they would have believed you.

But U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis — with his streamlined voir dire process and cranky nudges to counsel that they move things along — accomplished just that on Tuesday, the first day of Manafort’s trial.

The pace was particularly surprising given the reputation that judge has earned over the course of the proceedings. As you may have picked up from our previous coverage, Ellis has a penchant for random asides, long-winded explanations of procedure and reminders at any time possible that he’s spent 30 years on the bench.

But today that extraneous commentary was expended mostly on speeding things up. He declined for now to rule one-by-one on a Manafort motion to exclude dozens of exhibits related to his Ukraine consulting work, instead offering prosecutors some conditions of what would be admissible and telling them to use that to cull down their list.

He conducted most of jury voir dire — the process of verbally questioning potential jurors — at the bench, where he previously told us he’d only ask additional questions offered by the parties if he thought the questions were reasonable.

During the part of the jury selection process when the parties could strike individual jurors, he scolded them if they were taking too long with each turn.

“The board will be available for you later if you want to look at it,” Ellis told the lagging prosecutors at one point, referencing the special clipboard used for them to submit their strikes.

As prosecutors questioned their first witness, he repeatedly chided them for entering in too many exhibits, and badgered them on how much longer they were going to take.

Ellis’ tactics appeared to have worked. Both prosecutor Greg Andres and Manafort attorney Richard Westling wrapped up their rounds of questioning well before the initial amount of time they said they intended to take.

One day down. Maybe fewer than we thought still to go.

Read More →

ALEXANDRIA, VA —Delivering his opening statement at the Virginia trial of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, his defense attorney targeted Manafort’s longtime business deputy Rick Gates for allegedly “abusing” Manafort’s trust and accused him of embezzling millions of dollars from his former employer.

“Rick Gates violated one of life’s most basic rules: when you’re in a hole, stop digging,” attorney Thomas Zehnle said.

His 30-minute opening statement painted Manafort as a successful but busy global consultant who trusted Gates and other outside professionals to handle the day-to-day operations of his business, including its finances.

“Unfortunately for Paul Manafort, his trust in Rick Gates was misplaced,” Zehnle told the jury.

Manafort is facing charges of bank fraud and tax fraud. He has pleaded not guilty. In his opening statement, prosecutor Uzo Asonye: “All of these charges boil down to one simple issue: Did Paul Manafort lie?”

Gates was originally a co-defendant in the case, until reaching a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller in February. He is expected to testify against Manafort in the trial.

Zehnle accused Gates of having an “evolving” story about his dealings with Manafort, and pointed out that as part of his plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the prosecutors during plea negotiations.

“The foundation of the special counsel’s case rests squarely on this witness,” Zehnle said.

In Zehnle’s retelling it was Gates who was the point person for Manafort’s book-keepers and tax preparers.

“Little did Paul know that Rick was lining his own pockets,” Zehnle said.

Gates misled the outside accountants, Zehnle said, because “he had his hands in the cookie jar,” and couldn’t let anyone know.

Among the government’s allegations is that Manafort failed to disclose to the government foreign bank accounts, through which flowed money Manafort made doing lucrative consulting in Ukraine work. Zehnle said Manafort was not responsible for how or why those foreign bank accounts were set up, but was required by the Ukrainian backers paying his consulting bills that he be paid this way.

Of Manafort’s Ukraine endeavors, where he advised the pro-Russian Party of Regions and ex-President Victor Yanukovych, Zehnle said the “focus” of Manafort and his associates efforts “was to bring the country closer to western democracy.”

As for Mueller’s bank fraud allegations, Zehnle said that Manafort was “open” with the outside professionals who helped to facilitate loans, about why he was seeking the money and what he planned to spend it on. He said that Manafort was in the process of paying back the loans, before Mueller brought charges against him and his assets were seized.

Read More →

He’s been called Paul Manafort’s “right-hand-man,” his “protegé,” and even Manafort’s “rabbi.” Now Rick Gates — who, at one time, was also Manafort’s co-defendant — is expected to be the key witness against his old business partner and mentor in his trial on bank and tax fraud charges.

After a rocky road to cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Gates is expected to provide critical testimony against Manafort, whose own attorney has called Gates the “heart” of the government’s case.

Read More →

Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock filed a lawsuit last week challenging the Trump administration’s recent move to roll back requirements that certain nonprofits identify for the IRS any contributors giving more than $5,000. Bullock told the New York Times that the goal of his lawsuit, which alleges the Trump administration strayed from government procedure in dismantling the regs, was to “make sure that dark money and foreign money isn’t flowing into our elections unchecked.”

National Democratic lawmakers have proposed legislation that would make it illegal to knowingly and intentionally disseminate false information about elections. The legislation would also criminalize knowingly claiming an endorsement from someone within 60 days of a federal election.

A Florida ban on early voting sites on college campuses was struck down last week by a federal judge, who said in his opinion, “Throwing up roadblocks in front of younger voters does not remotely serve the public interest.” The ban had been put in place by Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner (R).

A judge in Iowa temporarily blocked a number of voting restrictions recently implemented in the state, including a requirement that absentee voters put state ID numbers on their absentee-ballot applications, as well as a provision that let election officials throw out ballots if they believe the voter’s signature doesn’t match the signature on record. The order also restored 11 days of early voting that GOP lawmakers had sought to roll back.

North Carolina Republicans, in their scramble to give the the state’s Supreme Court a Republican majority, passed a bill last week to remove the party ID of one of the candidates running as a Republican for a seat, whom they feared would split the vote from the GOP incumbent. Even if Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoes the bill, Republicans have the votes to overturn the veto.

There were two big batches of internal documents related to the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census that were released last week as part of a lawsuit challenging the decision. I reported on both troves, including emails showing Commerce Secretary Ross’ eagerness to add the question well before any formal request for it from the DOJ, as well as the panic among Census officials about the potential fallout of including the question.

An email release, meanwhile, in litigation surrounding Michigan’s gerrymandering scheme revealed the drafters of the GOP-drawn map boasted about the partisan advantage they were ensuring in the redistricting process.

A new study analyzes the impacts of a Supreme Court decision okaying an Ohio voter purge protocol, if Ohio’s system — which allows a voter’s removal from the rolls if he sits out six years of federal elections and doesn’t return a mailer confirming his address — is adopted more broadly. Among the study’s findings is that as many as 88,752 voters in Florida and North Carolina who showed up at the polls in 2016 would have found their names not on the rolls if the two states were implementing Ohio’s standards and the voters had not returned the mailer cards.

Read More →

Prosecutors believe former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort made $60 million doing consulting work in Ukraine — a “significant percentage” of which he allegedly did not report on his tax returns — according a Monday court filing by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The filing was opposing the move by Manafort’s attorneys to exclude from trial a wide swath of evidence related to his Ukraine work, which began around 2005 and started to die down in 2014. The Virginia trial starts on Tuesday.

Manafort has been charged with bank fraud and tax fraud. Prosecutors argue that the ouster of his top Ukrainian client, ex-President Victor Yanukovch, from the country in 2014 led to a significant drop in Manafort’s income, and that “is relevant to the bank frauds that he later committed.”

The prosecutors argued in Monday’s filing that Manafort’s attorney had not followed U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis’ directions in seeking to exclude the evidence. The prosecutors said the evidence was need to prove the extent of the work Manafort performed to earn the allegedly unreported income, and to show in particular the oligarchs who allegedly paid Manafort through foreign accounts. Among the charges Manafort is facing is failure to register foreign bank accounts with the government.

Prosecutors pointed to documents that Manafort is seeking to throw out that show his relationship with the oligarchs, includung Sergei Lyovochkin, Andriy Klyuyev, Borys Kolesnikov and Rinat Akhmetov, according to the Mueller filing.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty.

Read More →

In an August 2017 email exchange with a top aide about adding a citizenship citizenship question to the census form, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he would call Attorney General Jeff Sessions if the Justice Department had not “come to a conclusion” in its “analysis.”

The email, among the thousands of pages of documents released late last week as part of the litigation over the addition of the citizenship question to decennial form, was just one of a number showing Ross’ eagerness to see the question included on the 2020 survey — even before the Trump administration finished formulating the ostensible reason for why it was needed.

Read More →

Well before he was ordered to pre-trial detention, Paul Manafort may have been practicing his “Jailhouse Rock.”

The former Trump campaign chairman spent more than $18,000 on karaoke equipment for his home in the Hamptons, according to invoices and other court documents filed Thursday in his Virginia case, which goes to trial next week.

The court filing was one of more than a dozen stipulations filed by special counsel Robert Mueller and Manafort’s attorneys. Stipulations are facts and documents that are entered into the record as undisputed by either party.

According to the filings, Manafort’s wife Kathleen was invoiced $8,147 in April 2010 for a deposit on a karaoke machine, which was paid with a $8,500 wire transfer from a Cyprus bank account. A few months later she was invoiced $10,395 for a Karaoke machine and audio/video design and installation. A wire of $17,650 from another bank in Cyprus was transferred to pay for that bill, as well as for another $7,574 that Manafort was charged for other audio/visual equipment and its installation.

A close read of the invoices shows that a karaoke machine by itself will set you back $500. But the Manafort family also spent $950 on the song package, $50 on two mic stands, $600 on a touchscreen remote, among the other karaoke accessories they were billed for in 2010. They were also billed nearly $6,000 for the installation.

The vendor was Water Mill, New York’s Sensoryphile, Inc, where Manafort has been a client since 1994, according to the document.

The other stipulations filed by Manafort and Mueller’s lawyers Thursday included various financial documents, property records, a lease for a Land Rover, and a loan document and invoice at an antiques rug store.

Manafort is facing charges of bank fraud and tax fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.

Read the karaoke equipment filing below:

Read More →

A federal judge in New York on Thursday allowed a lawsuit challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the Census to move forward. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman’s decision rejected the Trump administration’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, which was brought by numerous states and localities.

The judge said that the court has jurisdiction to review Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add the question, rejecting the administration’s arguments that Ross could be insulated from judicial review.

Furman said that while Ross indeed had the authority under the Constitution to add the question, the judge concluded that the exercise of that authority in this particular case may have violated the challengers’ constitutional rights.

At this stage of the proceedings, Furman is required to assume the challengers’ allegations are true, and he must draw any inference from those allegations in the challengers’ favor. In doing so on Thursday, Furman said that the challengers “plausibly allege that Secretary Ross’s decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census was motivated by discriminatory animus and that its application will result in a discriminatory effect. ”

“As discussed below, that conclusion is supported by indications that Defendants deviated from their standard procedures in hastily adding the citizenship question; by evidence suggesting that Secretary Ross’s stated rationale for adding the question is pretextual; and by contemporary statements of decisionmakers, including statements by the President, whose reelection campaign credited him with ‘officially’ mandating Secretary Ross’s decision to add the question right after it was announced,” Furman said, referencing a campaign email sent in March, after Ross announced his decision to add the question.

Furman did dismiss one set of complaints made by the challengers: that the addition of the question was a violation of Enumeration Clause of the Constitution, which requires an “actual Enumeration” of persons living in the United States every ten years.

The challengers’ claims that Ross’ move violated their rights to equal protection of the law under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, as well as under the Administrative Procedure Act, will be allowed to move forward, Furman said.

Read the opinion below:

Read More →

The White House, in a statement from National Security Advisor John Bolton, walked back President Trump’s invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin for a meeting this fall in a statement that said that the “President believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over.”

“[S]o we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year,” Bolton’s statement said.

In the wake of the fallout of his summit this month with Putin in Helsinki — which included a bizarre press conference where Trump appeared to side with Putin’s denial of Russian election meddling over the assessment of Trump’s own intel agencies — Trump tweeted that he was looking “forward to our second meeting.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders followed up hours later in a tweet that said Trump had instructed Bolton to “invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway.”

The announcement caused confusion and criticism, including from members of Trump’s own party. A Kremlin official on Tuesday gave Trump’s invitation a chilly reception, but kept the door open for another meeting in the future.

Read More →