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The Justice Department official behind the request that the Census add a citizenship question for its 2020 survey stonewalled many of the questions asked by House Oversight Committee Democrats’ about the move at a Friday hearing.

John Gore, the acting assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division,  cited the lawsuits brought against the decision in order to dodge questions about why he sought the change. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, at times raised his voice and expressed frustration over the excuse.

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Trump Justice Department official John Gore on Friday suggested that the Justice Department has been unable to fully enforce the Voting Rights Act without the decennial Census asking a question about citizenship.

Gore was asked by Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) at a House oversight hearing whether the Justice Department has been unable to enforce the Voting Rights Act without the data.

Without accurate citizenship data? Yes,” Gore said, adding that the Justice Department has been “making do” by using extrapolations from the American Communities Survey, an ongoing survey sent to a small portion of the population.

The Census hasn’t asked the question on the version of the survey that goes to all households since 1950. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Gore spearheaded a DOJ request that the Commerce Department add a citizenship question to the upcoming 2020 Census.

Democrats, Census policy wonks and civil rights advocates fear that asking the question will spook immigrant communities from participating in the Census. An undercount would have a major impact on political representation and federal funding for those populations.

Later in the hearing, Gore cited a Voting Rights Act case brought in Texas by private plaintiffs that he said was thrown out because the court said the ACS data on citizenship was not sufficient.

“We would like avoid that fate,” Gore said. He couldn’t name any other cases where the lack of Census data made a difference, however.

He also clarified his answer to Gomez.

“So, yes, we do need that [data] at the Census block level. Yes, we are making do with the currently available data to draw estimates as to what’s going on at the Census block level,” Gore said. “Our letter lays out why the hard count Census data would be more appropriate for that function, because it’s a hard count, and it would be simpler for us to use.”

 

 

 

 

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John Gore, the Trump Justice Department official who leads the Civil Rights Division, told Congress Friday that the department has “no position” on whether number of citizens should play a role in how congressional districts are apportioned.

He was responding to a question at a House Oversight Committee hearing from Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL), who asked whether knowing the number of citizenships should play a role in apportionment.  Gore was behind the Justice Department request to add a citizenship question to the next Census.

“That’s a very important question. It’s a very important issue. It’s not one that the Department of Justice takes a position on,” Gore said. He added that the request was driven by enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, “not the separate question of how congressional seats are apportioned across the Constitution.”

The Constitution says that U.S. congressional districts should be drawn using total population. But some believe it’s an open question whether states can exclude non-citizens in drawing state legislative districts. Republicans in Missouri are already pushing to put such a requirement on November’s ballot.

Excluding non-citizens from redistricting stands to shift political power away from urban areas and other places with disproportionately high immigrant populations.

The Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census — which Gore was behind — could encourage more states to try to draw districts based on citizenship rather than total population, both critics and proponents of such an approach believe.

Gore was in front of the committee Friday for a hearing on the census.

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In the Trump era, it’s not easy for Republicans to distinguish themselves as the most hardcore anti-swamp, anti-status quo, anti-immigration candidate.

That’s not stopping the contenders in Georgia’s governor’s race, who have released a series of increasingly outlandish ads in the run-up to next week’s primary. Two that have generated headlines are variations on a theme: middle-aged white men in large vehicles pledging to personally round up undocumented immigrants.

The frontrunner in the race is Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a more moderate candidate who has backing from the state’s political and business establishment and a double-digit lead in polls. But Cagle is unlikely to meet the 50 percent threshold that would secure him the nomination, leaving his four opponents locked in an all-out war to score a spot in a June runoff election.

“Everybody is trying to do what they can to break from the pack,” state Sen. Josh McKoon, who is currently running for Secretary of State, told TPM.

With Cagle the clear favorite and all the candidates pushing an immigration-focused message, the ads are “an attempt to stand out and get some attention,” McKoon said.

According to a Survey USA poll released Tuesday, Cagle leads with 35 percent of the vote, Secretary of State Brian Kemp is in second with 17 percent, and former state lawmaker Hunter Hill and businessman Clay Tippins are tied for third place in the high single-digits. Around a quarter of likely GOP primary voters remain undecided.

In a Thursday interview with TPM, Kemp credited his recent ad buys with helping him close the polling gap. The initial ad showed Kemp pointing a shotgun at one of his teenage daughter’s potential suitors, pressing him to pledge his “respect” and “healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment.” In a second ad released days later, Kemp disembarks from the cab of a Ford F350 and tells the camera, “I’ve got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.”

Kemp told TPM he’d spent well over $1 million on those last two ad buys, and that he had been “very conservative” with his money until the end of the race so that he could flood the airwaves with this last-minute burst.

“It’s almost humorous that the left has taken all of that so serious and doesn’t get that we had fun doing that ad,” Kemp said of the backlash he’s received. “It was a playful way to draw attention to our issues and my values.”

Kemp was already on the national media’s radar from his tenure as secretary of state, during which he settled a federal lawsuit accusing him of disenfranchising thousands of minority voters.

Another candidate, State Sen. Michael Williams, is trailing in the polls but doing his best to catch up. This week, he rolled out an ad touting his “deportation bus,” which is currently crisscrossing the state, making stops in Georgia’s bluer cities. The vehicle’s rear door is painted with the words: “Danger! Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molestors [sic], and other criminals on board. Follow me to Mexico.”

Williams has labeled himself the “most outspoken anti-illegal candidate” in the state’s history and wants to pass legislation that would deputize police officers in all Georgia counties as ICE agents.

Williams’ tour has had some difficulties getting off the ground. On Wednesday, protesters prevented his bus from departing for a scheduled stop in Decatur, and on Thursday the bus stalled on the side of a highway, apparently because water got into the engine.

YouTube initially pulled his ad promoting the tour, labeling it hate speech, before reversing course and allowing it to run on the site. (In a statement, a YouTube spokeswoman told TPM the company “made the wrong call” and that the video was “mistakenly removed.”)

Reached by phone on Thursday, Williams said that YouTube’s decision told him “that when you have someone out there who is fighting against those liberals who are trying to oppress us, you can win.”

He also suggested that “Antifa” could have been behind the bus malfunction, pointing to the “phone calls, texts, and online” threats they’ve received.

“We’ve gotten threats and we found water in our gas tank,” he said. “So you put the two together.”

The state senator is no stranger to controversy. After the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Williams raffled off a bump stock, the same device the shooter used to make his semi-automatic weapon fire more rapidly. Williams said the goal was to “take a stand against the leaders of the liberal progressive left.” He also attended Atlanta’s “March Against Sharia” last year along with members of the III % anti-government militia group.

McKoon, the secretary of state candidate, told TPM that some of these stunts play well among Republicans in the Peach State, where they help draw attention to what is still expected to be a low-turnout primary midterm election.

“For most folks outside of metropolitan Atlanta, the old idea of a guy coming to ask a girl out and the dad bringing out the guns to clean them, it’s not something that is foreign to a lot of Georgians,” he said of Kemp’s ad. “So I think there may have been some disconnect there between folks who are maybe outside of the Deep South.”

Other Georgia Republicans said the immigration ads, at least, are unhelpful and play on outdated stereotypes about the state.

“Unproductive all the way around,” Mark Rountree, head of an Atlanta-based GOP polling and consulting firm, told TPM of the immigration ads, noting that “molesters” was spelled incorrectly on Williams’ bus.

“I think sometimes national media simplifies Georgia into somewhat of a simplistic, one-dimensional Republican audience but we have very high-income, high-educated people voting in this election, and these ads are not speaking to them.”

Hill, the former state lawmaker, has consistently bested Williams in the polls without pushing such extreme rhetoric on immigration. In an email, he told TPM that voters don’t want politicians who just “talk a big game or pull gimmicks during an election cycle.”

And Georgia already has some pretty stringent immigration laws. The legislature banned sanctuary cities in 2009, and there are strict barriers preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses or in-state education.

But with Trump this week referring to undocumented people as “animals,” Georgia’s Republicans are just doing their best to keep up.

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Attorneys bringing a private lawsuit alleging a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to expose the private information of DNC donors and a DNC employee faced tough questioning from the federal judge in Washington, D.C. overseeing the case Thursday.

During arguments on motions filed by the Trump campaign and Roger Stone, who is also a defendant, to throw out the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle directed most of her questioning at Protect Democracy Project attorney Benjamin Leon Berwick, whose group is representing the private plaintiffs bringing the case.

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For months, good-government groups and some Democratic lawmakers have been calling on Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to recuse himself from matters related to the federal investigation into Russian election meddling. Mnuchin’s role as finance chair of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign means he can’t impartially oversee a probe that delves into Trump associates’ financial affairs, they have argued.

Those calls took on a new urgency this week when The New Yorker revealed that Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed on long-time Trump fixer Michael Cohen were removed from a database kept by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) division.

Their absence, which is highly unusual, so alarmed a longtime law enforcement official that he or she leaked some of the documents to the press out of concern that information was being intentionally withheld from law enforcement.

In multiple letters sent since late 2017, Democratic lawmakers have asked Mnuchin to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and to detail any information Treasury has received about potential illegal activities by Trump and his associates.

“Have you ever directed, or has any other Trump administration official, Trump campaign official, or Trump family member called on you to direct U.S. Treasury officials or staff members to obscure, destroy, or withhold information implicating the president, Trump campaign officials, Trump family members, or his associates?” the Democrats wrote in January.

They received no response from Mnuchin.

Appearing on MSNBC Wednesday night, one of the Democrats, Rep. Maxine Waters of California, said the reported removal of the SARs from the Treasury database underscores the need for Mnuchin to provide answers.

“Someone removed this information, and the Treasury Secretary is going to have to answer for this,” Waters said. “The question is, why did he ignore us?”

In December, progressive groups noted in their own letter to Treasury’s Inspector General that Mnuchin had replaced the director of FinCEN with his own choice, just days after former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was indicted for money laundering and a host of other financial crimes.

The groups called the timing “extremely worrisome,” and asked the IG’s office to look into whether Mnuchin should recuse, a request the IG declined.

On Thursday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Treasury Department Inspector General asking for an investigation into the “possible compromise” of information in the database.

Sources familiar with FinCEN’s database told the New Yorker they could have been removed by a request from the special counsel’s team or from federal prosecutors who are investigating Cohen for financial crimes.

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment. In a Thursday afternoon statement, a FinCEN spokesperson said that they do sometimes limit access to SARs in ongoing investigations.

This post has been updated.

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Texts and emails sent by President Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen show that his work on a Trump Tower Moscow deal continued at least through May 2016, well after January 2016 end-date Cohen previously claimed, Yahoo News reported Wednesday evening.

The messages were provided to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators by Felix Sater — a Cohen pal and former business associate of Trump’s — who previously told TPM that work on the Moscow Trump deal continued through at least late 2015.

Cohen, in congressional testimony, claimed work on the project, which never came to fruition, ended in late January 2016.

Yahoo News confirmed existence of the texts and emails with multiple sources who were able to describe them. Sater told Yahoo News he provided the texts to investigators voluntarily and without a subpoena.

The messages sent between Cohen and Sater show Cohen’s desire to involve high-ranking Russian officials in the project, according to Yahoo News. It was previously reported that in mid-January Cohen sought to reach out to the Kremlin, using a public facing email for Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Peskov says he saw Cohen’s message but never responded to it.

But the Sater-Cohen communications about the project continued well after that, according to the Yahoo News report, and Sater also encouraged Cohen to attend a St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in mid-June 2016, which Washington Post previously reported.

Cohen, citing the need to prepare for the 2016 Republican Nation Convention in July, did not attend the forum, the Washington Post reported.

Cohen’s discussions with Sater about the Trump Tower Moscow ended then, according to Yahoo News, but Sater said he continued working on a potential deal through December 2016, stopping only after Trump had been elected.

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If Michael Cohen doesn’t want Michael Avenatti to show up at his federal court hearing next week, Cohen’s lawyers are going to have to find a legal basis to block him – and fast.

U.S. Judge Kimba Wood ruled Wednesday that Cohen had to promptly respond to Avenatti’s motion to intervene at a status conference related to the criminal investigation into Cohen’s financial dealings. The proceeding is focused on the rules governing materials seized from Cohen’s premises by federal agents.

In her ruling, Wood pointedly wrote that Cohen “should include citations to any legal authorities that support his position.”

Last week, after Avenatti released a document detailing some of Cohen’s private bank records, Cohen’s lawyers submitted a filing requesting that Avenatti be barred from intervening for spreading “misinformation.” They cited a few parts of Avenatti’s document that appear to have mistakenly conflated Cohen with a Canadian businessman who shares his name.

But the key information released by Avenatti has been confirmed by several major news outlets. It showed that Cohen set up a shell company to receive huge corporate payments and handle hush money payouts to his client, adult film star Stormy Daniels. Daniels alleges that she had an affair with President Trump in 2006.

Avenatti responded this week with a sharp letter of his own, pointing out that it was his First Amendment right to publish information that is “of the utmost public concern.” He said Cohen’s team’s arguments should be rejected based on their failure to “cite a single statute, rule, case or any other legal authority” supporting their position.

Wood gave Cohen’s lawyers a Friday evening deadline to respond. The hearing is scheduled for next Thursday, May 24.

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Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti was sued Wednesday for breach of contract by his former law partner Jason Frank.

Frank alleges that Avenatti violated a settlement agreement that had been reached in December. Under the terms of the settlement, according to the complaint, Avenatti’s law firm was to pay Frank $4.85 million, with a $2 million installment due by May 14. Avenatti failed to wire the installment, the complaint alleges.

In a statement to TPM, Frank’s attorney Eric M. George said that Avenatti’s law firm “entered into a crystal clear written settlement agreement to resolve a prior lawsuit brought by Jason Frank, his former law partner.”

“The settlement agreement was approved by a federal court and was a condition of his law firm exiting bankruptcy,” he said. “Under this settlement, Mr. Avenatti’s law firm was required to pay Mr. Frank $4.85 million, all of which was personally guaranteed by Mr. Avenatti.”

Avenatti, in an email to TPM, said that Frank was “trying to capitalize on the situation.”

“The suit is completely bogus. Who cares?” Avenatti said.

Read the complaint below:

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“At least one” U.S. government informant met with Trump campaign officials in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

That person met “several times” with campaign national security advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, according to the report, which offered no additional information on the informant’s identity or connection with U.S. authorities.

The meetings had not previously been reported authoritatively by a major outlet. They were apparently part of the FBI’s frenzied, secretive effort to determine whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government while taking pains not to influence the election results.

Conservative media figures from Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel to radio host Rush Limbaugh have spent the last few days raising alarms about what they claim was an FBI informant dispatched to “spy” on the Trump campaign. Their concerns stem from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) weeks-long effort to pursue information about an intelligence source who aided the federal Russia investigation.

Nunes ultimately subpoenaed the Justice Department for documents about that individual. Though the DOJ did not turn them over, citing concerns about the person’s safety, Nunes and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) appeared to back down after sitting for a classified briefing with top intel officials last week.

It’s not confirmed that Nunes’ efforts are related to the informant mentioned in the Times article.

Page did not immediately respond to a text from TPM seeking comment.

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