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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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The Trump-selected Justice Department official who pushed for the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census was a no-show at the start of a congressional hearing on the state of Census prep, prompting House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) to suggest he would subpoena the official.

Justice Department Civil Rights Division acting head John Gore was scheduled to be one of the House Oversight hearing’s witnesses, but he was not present when Gowdy introduced the panelists.

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President Trump’s preparations for a potential interview with Special Counsel have not exactly been going smoothly, according to a Monday Wall Street report, which detailed the difficulty the President had making it through a mock interview:

In an informal, four-hour practice session, Mr. Trump’s lawyers were only able to walk him through two questions, given the frequent interruptions on national-security matters along with Mr. Trump’s loquaciousness, one person familiar with the matter said.

Trump’s lawyers have set a May 17 deadline — the one-year anniversary of Mueller’s appointment — to decide whether the President should sit down for questioning by the special counsel, the Journal reported. If Trump decides not to grant Mueller a voluntary interview, it could prompt the special counsel to subpoena him, escalating a legal battle.

Trump last week shook up his legal team by adding on Emmet Flood to replace Ty Cobb, the White House counsel responsible for responding to the Russia probe. Trump also recently brought on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to represent him personally. Giuliani has taken a more aggressive tone to dealing with Mueller in various interviews with the press.

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As the House Oversight Committee prepares to hold a hearing on 2020 Census prep Tuesday, one of the lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question, which could lead to an undercount of immigrant populations, is gaining traction. Oakland, Fremont and four other municipalities in California have joined the lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. It’s one of several lawsuits seeking to block the Census Department from asking the question.

The Arizona legislature on Friday failed to pass a measure that would put an overhaul of the state’s independent redistricting commission on the ballot. Critics of the proposal said that it would have politicized the commission.

Meanwhile, a Missouri measure that would bring in a “non-partisan state demographer” to draw competitive legislative maps that, in turn, would be approved by the redistricting commissions that already exist in the state, will be on the ballot for Missouri voters to approve in November after a group called Clean Missouri turned in 340,000 petition signatures on Thursday. The proposal also puts more restrictions on political lobbying in the state and limits campaign contributions for Missouri legislators.

Friday marked the 150th anniversary of Florida’s system for felon re-enfranchisement, which requires ex-felons to wait five years after their sentenced is completed. The state Clemency Board, which includes the governor, decides on whether their voting rights are restored. A lawsuit seeking to overhaul the system has been stalled in the courts. But voting rights advocates in the state are preparing for a ballot initiative this November with a similar goal — restore voting rights for ex-felons — and a poll released last week showed that Florida voters overwhelmingly support the ballot initiative.

Voting rights activists were successful in getting a state judge to block Arkansas’ voter ID law. However, their efforts to get the law tossed out hit a snag on Wednesday when the state’s Supreme Court said that Arkansas could still enforce the requirement in its primary, where early voting began last week.

A campaign finance case in Montana may be heading for the U.S. Supreme Court’s doorstep. A 1994 law limiting campaign contributions in the state was struck down by a federal court, but a three judge appeals court panel overruled that decision and the full U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review the panel’s decision. It’s not clear yet whether the challengers in the case, Lair v. Motl, will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach signaled in a court filing that he will be appealing the contempt finding handed down by the federal judge who oversaw the state’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement trial. The move came as Kansas legislators tried unsuccessfully to force Kobach to pay for any penalties arising from the contempt order out of his own pocket. We’re still waiting for U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson to hand down her final ruling on the merits of the case.

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President Trump kicked off his Monday morning with a multi-tweet tirade against the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in particular.

The tweets referenced two former FBI officials by name, suggesting that their recent departures may be “part of the Probers getting caught.” The tweets also reference dispatches from a federal court hearing on Friday in which the judge showed skepticism toward Mueller’s prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis grilled Mueller’s team on whether the charges the special counsel has brought against Manafort — which revolve around alleged financial crimes stemming from the operative’s lobbying work in Ukraine — are really related to the election interference investigation.

Last week, two FBI officials known to have worked closely with former FBI Director James Comey resigned from the bureau. One was Lisa Page, who sent anti-Trump texts sent to another FBI official, Peter Strzok, with whom she was having an affair. The other was former FBI general counsel James Baker, who is departing the bureau for the national security blog Lawfare. That they both resigned on Friday was a coincidence, according to CNN.  Page worked briefly on Mueller’s team, while Baker was involved in the Russia probe before it was handed over the Mueller.

Trump’s tweets come has his recently rebooted legal team has signaled a more aggressive posture towards Mueller’s investigation.

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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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