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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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Any hopes by President Trump that the special counsel’s Russia investigation will be wrapped up by the first half of the year were put into question Tuesday, with comments by a federal judge indicating the trial for his former campaign chair and another former aide might not begin until September or October, in the run up to the midterm elections.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson declined to set a trial date for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates at a status conference Tuesday morning. 

Instead, noting the massive amount of discovery the defense was having to work through, she suggested that the May date proposed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team last week was too soon. She hinted that a date in September or October might end up being more appropriate.

Jackson said that a trial date would be nailed down after the first round of motions — in which the defense will have the chance to argue any defects in the prosecution or the indictment — are dealt with. Those motions and responses are to be filed in in February and March, she said, with a hearing on them set for April 17.

She scheduled another status conference before then, for Feb. 14, for other housekeeping issues in the case to be dealt with.

Manafort and Gates have been charged with money laundering, tax evasion and failure to disclose foreign lobbying. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Read the latest reporter’s notebook (Prime access) on this story »

 

Gates Chastised for Fundraising Video

Jackson also addressed the concerns she had raised last month over a fundraiser held for Gates’ legal defense fund, at which he appeared via a video statement. She had asked his attorneys to explain why that video message was not in violation of a gag order in the case.

The judge said that the legal defense fund was permissible and Gates was allowed to solicit donations and thank those who contributed to it. The problem, Jackson said, was that press was invited to the Dec. 19, fundraiser and that Jack Burkman — the GOP lobbyist who organized the event and whom Gates thanked in his video message — went on to bash the prosecution.

“It is hard to swallow,” she said, that Burkman was not acting as Gates’ surrogate, given that they had coordinated the video message for the event.

If one of Gates’ surrogates is publicly attacking the prosecution, particularly in front of the press, “you should not be cheering them on,” she said.

Gates’ attorney Shanlon Wu noted that they were not involved in putting together the guest list for the event.

Manafort’s Bail Hang-Up

It appeared Gates was close to be released from home confinement, with Jackson asking him to come back to her courtroom Tuesday afternoon to sign a last round of the paperwork before his release.

Manafort’s release, which the judge seemed to green light in a December 15 order, has been stalled by some confusion over what Jackson OKed last month. Manafort’s attorney suggested that her order actually added another $7 million to his bail requirements, for a total of $17 million. Jackson did not agree with this interpretation and pointed out that he has had a month to point out that error, if it did exist, in a motion.

Additionally, Jackson asked that a note from Manafort’s doctor that had been passed along to her be filed as a public notion for her to consider it.

The Civil Lawsuit Against Mueller

Andrew Weissmann, a lawyer for the Mueller team, brought up the civil lawsuit Manafort filed against the special counsel earlier this month. The complaint is in front of another D.C. district court judge. Weissmann indicated that Mueller planned to asked for the civil lawsuit to be dismissed. He questioned whether the venue was appropriate, given that the issues Manafort was raising could have been raised in the criminal case in front of Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

The judge said she was not going to opine on that question since the civil lawsuit wasn’t in front of her, but wondered whether it would be appropriate for that case to be transferred in front of her as well — something that wasn’t required, she said, but could be allowed.

“This is a rather unique situation,” she said, asking Manafort’s attorney if he had a position on transferring the case.

Downing went on to claim that the civil lawsuit was not in fact asking for the indictment against Manafort to be dropped, as had been suggested. Jackson questioned this claim, and even pointed to language in the second count of the civil lawsuit, which asked for the actions Mueller had taken against Manafort to be set aside.

“I’m not entirely sure how you can say what you just said,” Jackson told Downing. She asked the attorney to file by Friday his opinion on whether the civil case should be transferred to her court.

Read the latest editor’s brief (Prime access) on this story »

 

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Michael Cohen — President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer who once claimed that there was no such thing as spousal rape — orchestrated a $130,000 payment to an ex-porn star to keep her from publicly discussing allegations that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The payment was part of a nondisclosure agreement negotiations in the fall of 2016, just before Trump was elected, according to the report, which is based on “people familiar with the matter.”

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller in court filings Friday indicated that he would be seeking a May 14 trial date for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign aide Rick Gates.

Manafort and Gates have been charged in federal court in Washington with money laundering, tax evasion and failure to disclose foreign lobbying, part of Mueller’s broader probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The proposed trial date came in a status report to the judge in the case in which Mueller also updated the court on the discovery process.

Mueller’s team has handed over to the defense more than 590,000 items, including “financial records, records from vendors identified in the indictment, email communications involving the defendants, and corporate records,” the filing said.

Mueller’s team has previously told the court in filings that it will likely need three weeks to lay out its case against Manafort and Gates.

Read the filing below:

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Comments by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, which may have been an attempt to save face as his voter fraud commission was dissolved, have created a number of headaches for the Justice Department attorneys defending the defunct commission in the various lawsuits against it.

“The investigations will continue now, but they won’t be able to stall it through litigation,” Kobach told Breitbart News after the commission was dissolved. That interview has since been referenced in multiple court documents filed by commissions’ legal challengers.

Kobach’s claims — as well as similar claims made by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and by President Trump himself — about the next steps for the commission’s so-called investigation have been repeatedly rebuked by government officials in court filings and hearings.

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A federal judge in Washington on Thursday ordered the government to turn over for his review behind closed doors the so-called Comey memos, that various outlets are suing the Justice Department to release.

The DOJ has said releasing the memos would undermine the ongoing federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. It had previously asked the judge, James E. Boasberg, to review an affidavit from an FBI employee explaining why releasing the memos is an issue for the probe.

Boasberg said on Thursday that he would review that declaration, as well as “all withheld documents,” in camera — meaning within his chambers – and without the other side in the case seeing them. He gave the DOJ until Jan. 18 to turn the documents over.

CNN, USA Today, and other journalists, as well as the conservative group Judicial Watch, sued the Justice Department for allegedly violating the Freedom of Information Act in withholding the memos. The memos were written by former FBI Director James Comey and are accounts of meetings with Trump where Comey claims the President pressured him to drop his investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Trump fired Comey last May, and the existence of the memos became known first through press leaks and then through Comey’s dramatic testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The lawyers representing the outlets in the FOIA case cheered the judge’s move to review the memos, according to CNN.

“It’s rather heartening that Judge Boasberg has chosen to review the Comey memoranda himself, instead of just relying upon the descriptions in the agency affidavits. Given the significant public interest value inherent in these documents, the Government’s arguments against disclosure of them at all should be addressed with utmost caution,” Bradley Moss, who is representing USA Today in the case, told CNN.

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Former Trump campaign CEO and scorned ex-White House adviser Steve Bannon is expected to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia probe next Tuesday, Reuters reported Thursday.

Bannon will be interviewed about his time on the campaign, rather than the transition or his seven-month stint White House, according to the report.

Bannon departed the White House in August, amid a shakeup ushered by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who had replaced Reince Priebus as chief of staff a few weeks prior.

Bannon was said to have kept in touch with Trump after leaving the White House, but Trump last week publicly rebuked Bannon for comments he made in Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury.”

In the book, Bannon called the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman at the time Paul Manafort had with Russian figures “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

Earlier Thursday, it was reported that Bannon had hired Bill Burck — who is also representing Priebus and White House Counsel Don McGahn — to represent him in the various investigations into Russia election meddling. Sources told the Daily Beast that Bannon intends to “fully cooperate” with the probes.

Read an editor’s backgrounder (Prime access) on Steve Bannon »

 

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The Justice Department, in court filings Thursday, pushed back on a federal judge’s order that Kris Kobach file a declaration clarifying how his now-defunct voter fraud commission is handling state voter roll data.

The filing claimed that since the commission was disbanded by President Trump last week, Kobach should not be considered a defendant in the relevant lawsuit — which was brought by the ACLU of Florida — and that the DOJ attorneys should not be considered his counsel. The Kansas secretary of state had served as the commission’s vice chair and de facto leader.

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A Russian billionaire and Putin ally sued former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime deputy Rick Gates Wednesday, alleging that the two men “siphoned for themselves millions of dollars” as part of a Ukrainian investment scheme that was paid to their “alter ego companies.”

The complaint — filed by Surf Horizon Limited, a company linked to oil tycoon Oleg Deripaska, according to Reuters — includes references to the indictment Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought against Manafort and Gates.

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Ahead of Wednesday oral arguments for a Supreme Court case that could boost efforts to aggressively purge voter rolls, voting rights advocates weren’t optimistic that they’d get a sweeping ruling in their favor, given the court’s conservative make-up. Rather, some hoped merely that the court might rule narrowly against Ohio’s system for removing voters, which they see as the most restrictive in the nation.

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The ex-British spy hired to investigate President Trump’s Russia ties walked away from a meeting with the FBI in September 2016 with the sense that the bureau had its own independent sourcing prompting its interest in the matter, according to congressional testimony from the co-founder of the firm that hired him.

When Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson spoke privately to Senate Judiciary Committee investigators last year, he detailed the firm’s months-long oppo project looking into then-candidate Trump. The transcript was released unexpectedly Tuesday by the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), to the objection of its chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

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