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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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FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress Thursday that the FBI has a “foreign influence” task force to deal with election interference by outside actors.

“I take any effort to interfere with out election system by Russia or any other nation state or non-nation state seriously, because it strikes right at the heart of who we are as a country,” Wray said, in a response to a question about the FBI’s response to Russia’s election meddling by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY). Wray was appearing at a hearing in front of the House Homeland Security Committee.

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The Democratic National Committee will get the chance to depose Sean Spicer about whether he violated a longstanding legal order barring the Republican National Committee from engaging in poll watching activities, Politico reported.

The order is set to expire at the end of the week, as long as Democrats don’t provide evidence that the RNC had violated the order. The federal judge overseeing the consent order, Michael Vazquez, seemed generally skeptical that they would be able to do so, according to the Politico report on a Wednesday conference call with the case’s parties.

But Vazquez was willing to grant Dems the Spicer deposition due to reports about his presence on a floor of Trump Tower that was the hub of the Trump campaign’s poll monitoring operation on election night. At the time, Spicer was the RNC’s communications director and chief strategist.

For more than three decades, the RNC has been prohibited from engaging in so-called “ballot integrity” activities — including poll watching and making claims to election officials that certain voters are ineligible  — due to the consent order. The order stems from a 1981 election in New Jersey, during which GOP operatives created a “National Ballot Security Task Force” of off-duty cops and other volunteers that Democrats say harassed and intimidated voters, particularly in minority neighborhoods.

The Democrats brought a lawsuit that resulted in the 1982 order, and it has been extended in the past after allegations that the RNC was violating it. However, Democrats’ attempts to extend the consent order during the 2016 election, after President Trump and his allies revved up poll watching talk, failed. The RNC went out of its way to discourage its officials from engaging in any such activities, yet still faced multiple lawsuits leading up to the election.

The consent order applies only to the RNC and the New Jersey Republican Party. Other local GOP and activist groups can engage in their own poll watching. However, voting rights experts  — and even a former RNC chair — have worried that once the order was lifted, that the RNC would engage in the kind of election monitoring activity that would appear to intimidate and suppress minority voters.

According to Politico, the judge on Wednesday indicated it was unlikely that he would grant Democrats any other depositions beyond Spicer’s, but stopped short of saying whether he planned to allow the order to expire on Friday.

“It would seem as though there’s a lot unanswered by the article and a deposition of Mr. Spicer would be able to address those clearly,” he said.

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President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr. is expected to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee next week, CNN reported.

Trump Jr. has become a sought-after figure in the various investigations into Russian election meddling. He was present at a June 2016 meeting with Kremlin-linked figures at Trump Tower — a meeting before which he was told by an intermediary that they would be presenting incriminating information on Hillary Clinton. (Trump Jr. published the email exchange on Twitter, ahead of a story the New York Times was about to drop on it, with a statement that claimed that Russians ultimately did not have any anti-Clinton information to provide at the meeting.).

He also was in contact with the Wikileaks Twitter account via private messages in the fall of 2016, The Atlantic reported.

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Rick Gates’ side-job producing a handful of D-list films has come back to haunt him in the case brought against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Whether Gates’ Hollywood dealings would attract the attention of Mueller has long been a question and it appears now that they have, as a separate fraud case brought in New York against some of Gates’ film producing associates is now causing Gates problems in his own criminal case.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller in mid-October subpoenaed President Trump’s campaign for documents containing Russia-related key words, the Wall Street Journal reported and other outlets since have confirmed.

A source told CNN they were a matter of  “bookkeeping” and “largely perfunctory,” while other outlets also reported them as being described by sources as routine.

Yet, the subpoenas came in a stretch of the Mueller investigation when we now know the special counsel was interviewing top campaign officials and preparing a major release of court filings that would send ripples throughout Washington.

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Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced Thursday how he will approach blue slips — a procedure that in the theory encourages the White House to collaborate with the Senate on choosing judicial nominees.

In a prepared version of remarks Grassley will make on the floor Thursday, he laid out how his approach fits in with how past leaders of the committee viewed blue slips, even as it was a shift from the approach of his predecessor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Nonetheless, Democrats are being deprived a tool that Republicans used with abandon to block judicial nominees under President Obama, often for the same reasons that Grassley said he will not tolerate for President Trump’s nominees.

The blue slip is a slip of paper the two senators from the home state of a judicial nominee each turn in ahead of his or her confirmation hearing. Under Leahy and under Grassley during the Obama administration, the nominees would not move forward to a hearing until their home state senators’ blue slips were returned. Eighteen Obama nominees were stalled because Republicans withheld their blue slips, in some cases for nominees that that the home state Republicans had previously recommended.

Many of the vacancies Trump can now fill is due to this pattern of obstruction.

The issue is now coming to a head because Sen. Al Franken (D-MI) has withheld a blue slip for Judge David Stras, nominee to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Grassley said Thursday he will not “allow senators to prevent a Committee hearing for political or ideological reasons.”

He added that if a White House did not “adequately” consult with a senator about a nominee that would be a “be a legitimate reason for withholding a blue slip.”

In Franken’s case, Grassley said that he reviewed the “the records of consultation” and found that the White House had “reached out to” Franken “several times” between January and May about the nomination, and ultimately considered the two alternatives to Stras whom Franken put forward in May.

“I am satisfied that the White House adequately tried to consult with both home-state senators. Therefore, I will not deny Justice Stras a hearing,” Grassley said.

Grassley also announced Thursday he would be moving forward with a hearing for Fifth Circuit nominee Kyle Duncan, for whom Republican Sen. John Kennedy (LA) did not return a positive blue slip but also did not oppose granting a hearing to.

“This is the correct distinction a senator should make when deciding whether to return a blue slip,” he said. “The blue slip is not meant to signify the senator’s ultimate support or opposition to the nominee. It only expresses the senator’s view about whether the nominee should get a hearing.”

He added that he was still more likely to respect withheld blue slips for district court nominees, as opposed to nominees for an appeals court.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the decision “couldn’t be more troubling.”

“There’s only one reason to eliminate the blue slip, and that’s to allow President Trump to completely cut Democrats out of the process of selecting judicial nominees and continue the pattern of selecting nominees far outside the mainstream,” she said.

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The internal legal battle roiling President Trump’s voter fraud commission escalated Thursday, with the Justice Department rebuffing a Democratic commissioner’s request for certain internal communications. The commissioner in turn asked a federal court to order the commission to turn the documents over.

According to court documents filed by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D), his attorney was informed by DOJ lawyers representing the commission that internal communications documented in a separate lawsuit were not “part of the substantive or collective work of the Commission,” and thus not subject to disclosure under federal transparency laws. (A copy of the letter the DOJ sent Dunlap is included in the filings).

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The Senate Judiciary Committee sent a bipartisan letter to Jared Kushner’s attorney Thursday alleging that the production of documents the committee has requested Kushner turn over as part of its Russia probe was “incomplete.”

According to committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kushner did not turn over a Wikileaks-related email forwarded to him; a document Kushner forwarded about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite”; and communications with Russian-American Chamber of Commerce President Sergei Millian on which Kushner was copied.

These are among “several documents that are known to exist but were not included in your production,” the senators said.

“We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,” the letter said. “In addition, you asked for clarification on the scope of the request. Therefore, we write today to clarify the scope and reiterate our requests for documents.”

The senators added that Kushner has not turned over his phone records that the senators “presume exist and would relate to Mr. Kushner’s communications regarding several requests.”

They are also seeking transcripts from Kushner’s interviews with the other congressional committees investigating Russia’s election interference, as well as documents related to his security clearance applications (which Kushner had to amend several times due to omissions of certain foreign contacts).

A whole section of the letter is devoted to documents requested related to Kushner’s communications with former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Separately, the senators addressed a concern Kushner apparently raised that turning over some of the documents they’d requested would “implicate the President’s Executive Privilege.”

“We ask that you work with White House counsel to resolve any questions of privilege so that you can produce the documents that have been requested or provide a privilege log that describes the documents over which the President is asserting executive privilege,” they said.

Read the full letter below:

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Update: This story has been updated to include Rick Gates’ rebuttal to some of the prosecutors’ claims as well as the decision by the judge overseeing the case to not allow Gates to leave home confinement.

Two weeks after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team began its negotiations with Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates for a bail package, the government alleged in court filings Wednesday that it still had not obtained enough financial information from Gates to propose an agreement.

Gates and Manafort were placed in home confinement on Oct. 30, after turning themselves in as part of Mueller’s Russia investigation, where they’re facing allegations of money laundering, tax evasion and failure to comply with foreign lobbying disclosure laws.

At a hearing on Nov. 2, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson indicated she considered Gates and Manafort a flight risk but signaled her openness to releasing them from home confinement if they put up enough financial assets as bail.

The latest round of filings come as Gates has requested to be permitted to travel outside of his home for various family commitments and work meetings.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that Gates has still not “completed any paperwork to post his house, or any other property, and has failed to answer a series of questions about his assets.”

“[T]he government continues to have concerns about the accuracy of the defendant’s account of his net assets,” Mueller’s team said.

Prosecutors are opposed to the request filed by Gates on Wednesday to be allowed to leave the house to assist with transporting his children, to meet with work clients so that he can “continue to earn a living to support his family,” and to attend family events over the holidays.

The government in its response said that Gates’ suggestion that he will ask for permission to leave home for family events during Christmas “undermines the notion that counsel is diligently working to secure a bail package.”

In addition to the issues faced in assessing Gates’ net worth, Mueller also raised concerns about one of the individuals Gates has offered as a surety.

“Counsel has noted that one proposed surety already serves as a surety for a relative who is currently charged in the United States District Court for the Southern District New York, a circumstance that, at least at first blush, raises certain concerns,” the government said.

Late update:

Gates’ attorneys filed a response to the Special Counsel Office’s claims about the information needed for a bail package. The filing accused Mueller’s team of being “dismayingly disingenuous”  and said that “any delay in Mr. Gates submitting a bail package is entirely caused by” the Special Counsel’s Office. It laid out a number of steps Gates attorneys say they have taken to reach a deal on a bail package,  including submitting a new appraisal of Gates’ house, and handing over to Mueller the contact information of representatives who could confirm the value of some of Gates’ other assets.

Gates’ attorneys said that they planned on submitting those relevant documents to the court as well — a step they hadn’t taken yet because they had been “led to believe that by the SCO that the SCO sought in good faith to agree to a joint proposal.”

Nonetheless, the judge, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued an order Thursday denying Gates’ request to be released from home confinement for the particular circumstances he had outlined.

“The Court is well aware that a house full of busy children comes with constant and competing transportation demands, and that the burden shouldered by many mothers is exacerbated by defendant’s current bond conditions,” she said. “But the Court has repeatedly made it clear what it would take to secure defendant’s release, and the record reflects that the family may be able to ameliorate the problem in other ways during the time it takes to reach an agreement with the prosecution or submit the necessary financial information and have the issued resolved by the Court.”

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A federal judge said Wednesday that the legal fight over whether the House Intelligence Committee can subpoena the bank records of the Trump dossier firm was too important for the filings in the case to remain under seal.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon told lawyers representing the firm Fusion GPS, its bank and the House of Representative that they needed rework court pleadings filed previously under seal so that they could be made available to the public.

“Let the public see the pleadings,” Leon said. “This is not a normal case.”

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