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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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At a hearing Thursday morning, Paul Manafort’s attorneys made a dense and heady argument that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s money laundering count against their client should be thrown out — and, in doing so, gave us a hint of what might be driving this particular request.

One of Manafort’s attorneys, Richard Westling, told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson that “millions of dollars” Manafort made from lobbying work in Ukraine were under restraint — meaning Manafort currently can’t touch the money — due to what Westling argued was a “thin” legal theory that prosecutors were pushing.

The implication was that, because this money was tied up, Manafort was unable to use it to pay his legal fees.

Manafort’s lawyers’ argument comes two weeks after we learned that in 2017 Mueller had seized funds from at least three Manafort-linked bank accounts. Another filing last week revealed that a bank account owned by Manafort’s daughter and her husband also had been seized.

Westling was arguing in favor of dismissing count two in the Manafort indictment in Washington, D.C. (Mueller has brought a separate case against Manafort in Virginia.) The count alleges that money Manafort made while allegedly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires that lobbying done in the U.S. on behalf of foreign powers be disclosed, was part of a money-laundering conspiracy.

Manafort is also seeking to throw out the related forfeiture allegation, which says that if Manafort is convicted of the money laundering conspiracy, the government can seize all property traceable to the money laundering scheme.

Manafort’s attorneys, in a court filing, asked that the court “release any and all property currently held based upon that allegation.”

They argued that the money Manafort made lobbying for a pro-Russia Ukrainian party shouldn’t be considered tainted because it isn’t the act of lobbying that is allegedly illegal under FARA, just Manafort’s alleged failure to disclose it.

Jackson brought up language in the FARA statute that linked the registration requirement to the act of lobbying, suggesting she was skeptical of Manafort’s attempts to distinguish the two. She later asked why it shouldn’t be up to a jury to decide whether Manafort was trying to keep his undisclosed lobbying work under the radar by funneling the funding for it through an “XYZ corporation” in some foreign country.

That question led to Westling’s comment about “millions” of Manafort’s dollars being restrained. His remark implied that waiting for a jury is detrimental to Manafort’s ability to pay for a robust legal representation now.

Even before Manafort was first hit with Mueller’s indictment in October, there were clues that he was struggling to cover the costs of his legal representation. He parted ways from Wilmer Hale, a major D.C. law firm, in August in part because of the financial strain of their representation, the Daily Beast reported. He then hired Kevin Downing and Thomas Zehnle, who had previously worked at a boutique law firm. (They left the firm Miller & Chevalier soon after taking on Manafort because representing him posed a conflict for the firm.) Westling joined Manafort’s team last month.

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Paul Manafort wants to see more records of conversations between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on the scope of the Russia probe.

Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing argued for that they and the court were entitled to additional Justice Department records in a sometimes contentious federal court hearing Thursday on Manafort’s motion to have the indictment against him thrown out. Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, claims the order naming Mueller special counsel is a violation of DOJ regulations. Manafort also argues that Mueller’s investigation has exceeded the authority granted to him by exploring Manafort’s business dealings in Ukraine.

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A federal judge has ordered that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach be held in contempt of court for disobeying her orders in the proof-of-citizenship voter registration case.

Judge Julie Robinson in her decision Wednesday bashed Kobach’s failure to  send postcards to voters whose registrations were restored by her previous move to block the proof-of-citizenship requirement for the 2016 election.

“Kansans have come to expect these postcards to confirm their registration status, and Defendant ensured the Court on the record that they had been sent prior to the 2016 general election,” Robinson said. “They were not, and the fact that he sent a different notice to those voters does not wholly remove the contempt, nor does his attempt to resend postcards eighteen months after the election and five months after Plaintiffs notified him of the issue.”

She also took issue with Kobach’s refusal to update the state’s training manual for election officials to reflect her 2016 order blocking the proof-of-citizenship requirement. Kobach had argued that he need not change the manual until the Supreme Court had a chance to weigh in on the case, and that he communicated with election officials via email the changes in policy due to her 2016 order.

However he also refused to change the publicly available online version of the manual, until finally taking it down weeks before the contempt hearing in March.

“If this document was only available internally, the Court would be persuaded that Defendant did not disobey the Court’s order. But it was publicly available; the e-mails updating the document were not,” Robinson said Wednesday.

The judge also criticized Kobach for appearing to throw his staff under the bus in his ever-changing defenses of his actions regarding her 2016 order, and said she was “troubled by Defendant’s failure to take responsibility for violating this Court’s order.”

“Defendant deflected blame for his failure to comply onto county officials, and onto his own staff, some of whom are not licensed attorneys,” she said.

She ordered that Kobach cover the attorneys fees’ of the challengers in the case or the costs of their efforts to bring Kobach in compliance with her order. She said further remedies would be deferred until her final decision in the ACLU’s lawsuit challenging to the proof-citizenship requirement. The trial was in March.

Read Judge Julie Robinson’s decision below:

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Eleven House Republicans sent a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging him to prosecute Hillary Clinton and more than a half-dozen current or former Justice Department officials, including former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

The letter complains that the investigations into Clinton and President Trump’s campaign have been marked by “dissimilar degrees of zealousness.”

“Because we believe that those in positions of high authority should be treated the same as every other American, we want to be sure that the potential violations of law outlined below are vetted appropriately,” the House Republicans said.

The letter — which also went to FBI Director Christopher Wray and U.S. Attorney John Huber, whom Sessions named to oversee the investigation into GOP-fueled anti-DOJ allegations — comes after the FBI raided Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, last week.

It goes on to cherry-pick certain details reported about the ongoing Russia probe, as well as other speculation and disputed accusations, to allege that crimes may have been committed by Clinton and certain DOJ officials.

They accuse Comey of leaking classified information for Trump-related memos he handed over to a law professor friend, who in turn leaked them to the New York Times, among other allegations. Lynch is accused in the letter of potentially obstructing an agency investigation, with the Republicans pointing to extremely flimsy reporting on the so-called “Uranium One” deal.

They raised the DOJ Inspector General’s report about former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to refer him for potential criminal violations. Clinton, meanwhile, is accused of potential campaign finance allegations because her campaign’s lawyer facilitated financing for the opposition research project that led to the “dossier” of Trump-Russia allegations assembled by Christopher Steele.

Among the other individuals singled out in the letter are the FBI’s Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who sent each other anti-Trump texts during the campaign, as well as former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and the current FBI general counsel Dana Boente. Yates and Boente get called out for their involvement vetting the surveillance warrant applications for ex-Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.

[H/T Politico’s Kyle Cheney]

Read the full letter below:

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Just two days before the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made clear he had no intention of letting such bill be brought up for a full Senate vote.

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility, as the Majority Leader and we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto Tuesday. He reiterated his previous claims that such legislation is not necessary and that there is “no indication” that President Trump would fire Mueller.

“I don’t think the President is going to do that. And just as a practical matter, even if we passed it, why would he sign it?” McConnell said.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act — legislation that was created by merging two bipartisan Senate bills designed to protect Mueller. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC, Chris Coons (D-DE), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Cory Booker (D-NY) are the legislation’s sponsors.

It remains to be seen whether McConnell’s stated refusal to advance the bill will spook Judiciary Republicans from supporting it on Thursday.

The legislation would codify Justice Department regulations limiting who can fire a special counsel and for what reasons. It also would give a fired special counsel the option to challenge his or her removal court.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in a statement called it a “mistake” not to pass legislation protecting Mueller.

“We ought to head off a constitutional crisis at the pass, rather than waiting until it’s too late,” Schumer said. “I hope the Judiciary Committee moves forward with a bill, and that members of Senator McConnell’s caucus push him to reconsider.”

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from Minority Leader Schumer.

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Michael Cohen’s attorney revealed in open court Monday that Sean Hannity is the mystery third client Cohen alluded to in previous court filings, according to reporters live-tweeting the proceedings.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood ruled during the hearing that Cohen must disclose the client’s identity. The revelation came in a hearing on Cohen’s efforts to halt the government’s review of documents seized form his office, residence and hotel room, so that Cohen or an independent third party can sort out records falling under attorney-client privilege first.

In a letter Sunday night, Cohen’s attorneys claimed that Cohen had been engaged in “traditional legal tasks” with at least three clients in 2017 through 2018. The letter named President Donald Trump, who has already sought to get involved in the current dispute over the seized documents, and Elliot Broidy, a GOP fundraiser for whom Cohen arranged a hush payment for a Playboy model he impregnated, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Cohen resisted naming the third client, citing his client’s preference that his identity not be made public.

Prosectors have argued that they should be allowed to move forward through the Justice Department’s typical process in which the government handles documents seized from attorneys. Under that process, a special team of DOJ lawyers not involved in the investigation, sort out any documents that fall under attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors, in the Cohen dispute, have argued that their investigation focuses on his business dealing, and that Cohen appears to have been engaged in little traditional legal work anyway.

At the hearing Monday, Cohen’s lawyers floated disclosing the third client to the judge privately under seal, according to the reporters live-tweeting it, but Judge Wood said that they had not met the threshold for the client’s name to remain hidden from the public.

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President Trump’s commission to validate claims of voter fraud may be dead, but Trump and his White House are standing by his baseless assertions. The White House last week backed Trump’s revival of his false claim that millions voted illegally in 2016. “The president still feels there was a large amount of voter fraud,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday.

Trump’s administration is, meanwhile, moving forward with efforts to put a question about citizenship on the Census; the question could lead to a major undercount that would shift political power toward rural white areas. Top Census officials met with lawmakers last Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss the 2020 Census. A public House Oversight Committee hearing on the 2020 Census has been scheduled for May 8, at which Census Bureau and Commerce Department officials will likely be interrogated by Democratic lawmakers who see the move as a cynical political power grab. Their Senate counterparts are asking for a public hearing as well.

In the meantime, the Commerce Department is not publicly releasing any documents related to its decision to add the citizenship question; a spokesperson told NPR that they’ll become public when they are filed as part of the administration’s defense in the multiple lawsuits that state AGs and municipalities have brought against the move. The latest lawsuit against the citizenship question — this one backed by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s redistricting group — was filed Wednesday in Maryland.

Remember that Nevada GOP campaign to put two Democratic state legislators up for a recall vote? Well, after a judge’s ruling last month that Nevadans would be allowed to remove their names from petitions to recall the legislators, election officials confirmed that, after a review of the signatures, Nevada Republicans had failed to meet the threshold. They’re still clamoring for officials to re-check that review, but the effort looks as good as dead for now.

We’re seeing more and more examples of voting rights advocates going on the offensive, both in courtrooms and statehouses. New Jersey legislators last week, for instance, sent to the governor’s desk automatic voter registration legislation — a bill that newly elected Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy says he’ll sign.

Two pro-democracy groups, meanwhile, are spearheading a lawsuit against J. Christian Adams, a former member of Trump’s voter fraud commission who has led a private campaign to bully election officials into purging voter rolls. The lawsuit was filed Thursday on behalf of four people whom Adams — in reports released by his group Public Interest Legal Foundation — falsely accused of being non-citizens illegally registered to vote in Virginia.

I’m continuing to watch a case in Florida in which Florida Gov. Rick Scott is appealing a district judge’s order requiring Scott to rework the state’s system for restoring voting rights to felons. Previously, felons had to wait five years after completing their sentences, and Scott could personally intervene in each case to decide who regains the right to vote. Regardless of what happens in the appeal, the issue will be a Florida ballot initiative in November.

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Federal prosecutors in a letter to U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood Monday pushed back on President Trump’s request that he and his attorney Michael Cohen get the first opportunity, before Justice Department lawyers, to review documents seized in FBI raids on Cohen last week.

“[T]he President still cannot identify a single case in which a court has ordered such a remedy, and for good reason — the President’s proposal would set a dangerous precedent,” the letter, from the deputy U.S. attorney overseeing the investigation and three assistant U.S. attorneys in New York’s Southern District, said.

The letter was filed about two hours before a hearing scheduled in front of Wood on Cohen’s effort to halt the review of the seized records by what’s known as a “filter team” or a “taint team” — a group of DOJ lawyers not working on the investigation tasked with sorting out documents covered by attorney-client privilege. Trump — having retained a new personal attorney last week — has sought to intervene in the matter. In a letter Sunday night, his attorney proposed letting Cohen review the documents first, and having him provide for Trump copies of documents that “relate to him in any way.” Trump’s letter also rejected another proposal that had been floated by Cohen: bringing in an independent special master to sort out the privileged documents.

The federal prosecutors in their letter to Wood Monday, called Trump’s position “extreme” and said that under his theory, “every person who has communicated with a lawyer would be given the power to turn every search warrant into a subpoena and to demand the return of lawfully-seized evidence in order to undertake their own review of the evidence.”

“Such a rule is unworkable and ripe for abuse,” the assistant U.S. attorneys said.

Read their full letter below:

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Federal prosectors in New York revealed on Friday that President Trump’s longtime fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen has been under grand jury investigation for months for alleged “criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings,” and that as part of the investigation they had obtained previously covert search warrants for multiple Cohen email accounts.

The revelations were made in a court filing made public after a hearing Friday morning during which Cohen’s attorneys sought to prevent prosecutors from having access to documents seized in Monday raids on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. Cohen’s attorneys are arguing that that either they or an independent third party should be allowed to sort out the records that fall under attorney-client privilege. Standard DOJ practice is that a team known as a “Filter Team” of DOJ lawyers separate from the prosecutors investigating the case undertake the review to screen out those documents.

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The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General report on Andrew McCabe, the former top FBI official who President Trump fired last month, was obtained and published by the New York Times on Friday, shortly after it was transmitted to Congress.

The Inspector General concluded that on four separate occasions, McCabe lacked candor in explaining his role in an October 30 Wall Street Journal story about internal Justice Department disagreements about its Hillary Clinton investigations.

“While the disclosure may have served McCabe’s personal interests in seeking to rebut the WSJ article on October 23 and to avoid another personally damaging WSJ story on October 30, it did so at the expense of undermining public confidence in the Department as a whole,” the Inspector General’s report said.

Three of those four occasions involved testimony under oath, the IG’s report said.

A major disagreement highlighted in the report is whether McCabe made then-FBI Director James Comey aware that he had authorized a top FBI official to participate in the story, which confirmed that there was an investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

McCabe said he told Comey after the story was published that he had OKed the disclosure, which was in his authority as the deputy director. Comey had told the IG investigators that McCabe did not inform Comey that he had greenlit the leak. The IG report — citing other evidence that backed Comey’s account — sided with Comey’s retelling of that conversation.

Before firing McCabe, Trump had zeroed in on contributions a political group aligned with then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) made to McCabe’s wife’s unsuccessful campaign for state senator in 2015. McCabe’s termination as Deputy FBI Director — just hours before he would have been eligible for the bureau’s full retirement package — came as Trump was escalating his war on the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The official rationale for the termination of McCabe from the Justice Department was that McCabe misled IG’s investigators probing the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email inquiry. McCabe has denied allegations that he misled the IG.

In a statement Friday, McCabe’s lawyer Michael Bromwich said Comey’s own description of his conversation with McCabe about about the WSJ story — on which two of the four lack of candor conclusions are based — is that his recollection was uncertain.

“[McCabe’s] treatment was far more harsh and far less fair than he deserved, and his reward for the loyalty he showed to his country over the course of his career was a truncated form of administrative due process, including the lack of any right to appeal outside the Department of Justice (DOJ),” Bromwich, a former DOJ IG, said.

“The rush to fire McCabe late on a Friday night, just hours before he was to retire, casts a tremendous shadow over the integrity of this process,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “There’s really no way to look at McCabe’s firing other than overtly political.”

Read the full report below:

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