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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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“What is a backsplash?”

“What is a pergola?”

Any fan of “Fixer Upper,” “House Hunters,” or “Love It Or List It” knows the answers to these questions. But in case the jurors at Paul Manafort’s ongoing trial weren’t avid consumers of HGTV, or contractors themselves, the prosecutors asked witnesses these and other queries about the intricacies of Manafort-funded home improvement projects, which special counsel Robert Mueller alleges was paid for by foreign wire transfers of income Manafort earned in Ukraine but failed to report on his taxes.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and to the additional counts concerning bank fraud.

Day 2 of the government’s case against Manafort focused on his vendors. My colleague Caitlin told you all about the luxury items discussed in testimony. But into the afternoon we moved into the topics of real estate, landscaping and house renovations.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis was repeatedly annoyed with the amount of detail prosecutors were asking the witnesses to go into about their Manafort-hired projects. The prosecutors contended that they needed to establish that this was personal spending and not business expenditures that could have been deducted from Manafort’s taxes.

First up was Wayne Holland, a realtor who lived in Manafort’s neighbohood, and who had helped Manafort purchase for his daughter Andrea a $1.9 million home in Arlington, Virginia. When Holland emailed Manafort about the property — after multiple tours with the Manafort family — Paul Manafort told him to “go for it” and that “we would offer the full price.”

Next was Stephen Jacobson, a longtime general contractor for Manafort whose company, Steve’s Painting and Carpentry, was based in the Hamptons. He wore a blue polo and jeans, and spoke with a gravely voice.

He primarily managed improvements to Manafort’s home in Bridgehampton, but would do work on other properties owned by the Manafort family.

“Paul’s a tough negotiator,” Jacobson recalled, “tough but fair.”

Among the Manafort projects Jacobson worked on was a 2010 reno-job at his Hamptons house that required knocking down and reframing its walls in order to extend the dining room, and update and renovate the kitchen. The price for that renovation was $123,765, he said. Between 2010-2014, Manafort was billed for more than $3 million in projects by Jacobson, according to his testimony.

Prosecutor Greg Andres was cut off by the judge when he attempted to ask Jacobson about a pool house.

Finally we had Doug DeLuca, a landscape designer extraordinaire based here in Virginia. He was hired by Manafort to redo the yard at the house he bought his daughter. DeLuca appeared a little nervous when he first took the stand. But when it came time for him to describe his work, he seemed eager to pitch his genius to any potential local clientele in the courtroom.

“The outdoor garden concept” he said, required the demo-ing of the existing “concrete” — a word he said almost with disgust. He installed for her an outdoor kitchen using “soap stone countertops,” with a grill and other appliances. For her “outdoor living room,” he gave her an American cedar pergola, which was modeled off of the pergola in Central Park. His “art approach” incorporated “natural growth twigs,” wisteria, and other plants to create a complete “green roof” that creates “shade” and “protection.”

DeLuca sounded like he had more to tell us about this landscaping masterpiece when the judge interjected to bark at the prosecutors, inquiring “what is the virtue” of describing this in such “exquisite detail?”

“You’re done, period,” Ellis said. “Let’s move on.”

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Remember the widely publicized surprise raid of Paul Manafort home last summer?

It became public a full two weeks after FBI agents executed it and was the most dramatic indication, at the time, of the increasing heat on Trump’s former campaign chairman. It was reported incorrectly to be a no-knock search, giving rise to criticisms from Manafort’s allies that special counsel Robert Mueller was being too aggressive in his investigation into Manafort.

Well, on Wednesday, at Manafort’s trial in Virginia, we finally heard from one of the FBI agents who helped execute the search. Matthew Mikuska — who was the search’s so-called “seizing agent,” meaning he was in charge of determining what was seized and how it was stored — took the stand. He was used by the prosecutors mainly to enter into evidence documents found in the raid, including loan papers, work materials relating to Manafort’s consulting in Ukraine, and invoices for the fancy goods he bought allegedly using untaxed income.

However, Mikuska also clarified some of the details of the raid, including denying once and for all that it was a no-knock search.

<<enter caption here>> on August 10, 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia.
The building where former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has a residence is shown August 10, 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia. Manafort’s residence was searched for evidence as part of the Russia investigation being conducted by special investigator Robert Mueller. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

According to Mikuska, the agents entered Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia condo through the garage, and took an elevator from there to the lobby, and another from the lobby to the fourth floor to Manafort’s unit at about 6 a.m.

The FBI employees knocked three times total, waiting 30 seconds between each knock, while the knocking agent announced that they were the FBI, according to Mikuska’s testimony.

They finally entered with key provided for them; Mikuska said he was not aware of where the key came from (a fob to the garage was provided to them, as well).

Mikuska said an agent announced again that they were the FBI there to execute a search warrant. He saw Manafort walking out of a door to his left.

Mikuska described the condo as “luxury” and said it had three bedrooms, an office, tons of closet space, and an open-plan kitchen-dining area-living room. Among those executing the search, Mikuska said, were members of the FBI’s ERT (Evidence Response Team) to take pictures, and from the FBI’s CART (Computer Analysis Response) team for the seizure of digital materials.

During his cross-examination, Manafort attorney Richard Westling questioned Mikuska on what the FBI employees were wearing (jeans or khakis with FBI jackets), whether they were armed (yes) and did they have bullet proof vests (“objection”).

Westling also asked Mikuska if the search was “covert,” a term the FBI agent said was very specific and did not apply to this situation.

The search was “designed to be quiet and non-interruptive,” Mikuska said.

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U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis made a stink Wednesday, at the Paul Manafort trial in Virginia, about the prosecution’s efforts to introduce as evidence photos of the former Trump campaign chairman’s home renovation projects, his suits and his antique rugs.

“Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle,” Ellis chastised Uzo Asonye, a prosecutor based in Virginia who is assisting special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

The exhibit list the prosecutors filed ahead of the trial, which started Tuesday, referenced photos of a watch, couture clothing and home projects that included a putting green.

The thousands of dollars of allegedly untaxed income Manafort made consulting in Ukraine then spent on high-end apparel, expensive homes and fancy cars figured prominently in the government’s opening statement, where Asonye mentioned that Manafort also allegedly owned a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the tax charges, as well as to allegations of bank fraud.

On Wednesday, the prosecutors attempted to introduce some of that evidence — namely, a proposal, with photos and graphics, to renovate the electrical wiring at Manafort’s Hamptons home. It came as prosecutors questioned Matt Mikuska, an FBI agent who helped execute a search warrant on Manafort’s condo in Virginia last summer. That brought an objection from Richard Westling, an attorney for Manafort. Ellis, after sending the jury and the witness out of the room for a recess, accused the prosecutors of “gilding the lily” in their effort to display the photos.

Ellis questioned Asonye on what the relevance of Manafort’s spending habits were to the allegations that he failed to disclose on his tax forms his full income or that he maintained foreign bank accounts. Ellis took issue particularly with the fact that the prosecutor was using the FBI agent’s testimony to try to admit the photos, when the vendors who allegedly received wire transfers from Manafort’s bank accounts would later be on the stand to authenticate the invoices and confirm that they were paid.

“Enough is enough,” Ellis scolded Asonye, adding that the home renovation photo “doesn’t advance the ball.”

The judge brought up not just the renovation proposal, but potential exhibits of apparel Manafort allegedly bought using his unreported income, including an exhibit of a watch from a Beverly Hills store called House of Bijan.

“Is it Bi-JAWN?,” Ellis asked.

Asonyre corrected him that it was pronounced “bee-shyan,” letting the soft j roll off his tongue.

“If it doesn’t say Men’s Warehouse, then I don’t know it,” Ellis said.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — The federal judge overseeing the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort doesn’t want the word “oligarch” – which was invoked by both sides on Tuesday – to be used in front of the jury

In a back and forth between U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis and prosecutors at the start of Wednesday’s proceedings, the prosecutors argued that witnesses should be allowed to use the term in testimony.

Ellis ordered the government to file briefs to defend the use of the term, which he said was “pejorative.”

“We’re not going to have this case tried that he associated with despicable people,” Ellis said, referring to Manafort.

“That’s not the American way,” Ellis added.

Federal prosecutor Greg Andres argued that “oligarch” was the word Manafort’s associates used to refer to the moguls who were financing their consulting work in Ukraine.

Manafort is being tried on multiple counts of bank and tax fraud arising out of his consulting work for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine. He has pleaded not guilty. The case against Manafort is the first to come to trial in special counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — If you had told anyone observing the Paul Manafort case in Virginia — except perhaps the judge himself — that we’d be done with jury selection, opening statements and a witness’ testimony by the first day, I don’t know if they would have believed you.

But U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis — with his streamlined voir dire process and cranky nudges to counsel that they move things along — accomplished just that on Tuesday, the first day of Manafort’s trial.

The pace was particularly surprising given the reputation that judge has earned over the course of the proceedings. As you may have picked up from our previous coverage, Ellis has a penchant for random asides, long-winded explanations of procedure and reminders at any time possible that he’s spent 30 years on the bench.

But today that extraneous commentary was expended mostly on speeding things up. He declined for now to rule one-by-one on a Manafort motion to exclude dozens of exhibits related to his Ukraine consulting work, instead offering prosecutors some conditions of what would be admissible and telling them to use that to cull down their list.

He conducted most of jury voir dire — the process of verbally questioning potential jurors — at the bench, where he previously told us he’d only ask additional questions offered by the parties if he thought the questions were reasonable.

During the part of the jury selection process when the parties could strike individual jurors, he scolded them if they were taking too long with each turn.

“The board will be available for you later if you want to look at it,” Ellis told the lagging prosecutors at one point, referencing the special clipboard used for them to submit their strikes.

As prosecutors questioned their first witness, he repeatedly chided them for entering in too many exhibits, and badgered them on how much longer they were going to take.

Ellis’ tactics appeared to have worked. Both prosecutor Greg Andres and Manafort attorney Richard Westling wrapped up their rounds of questioning well before the initial amount of time they said they intended to take.

One day down. Maybe fewer than we thought still to go.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA —Delivering his opening statement at the Virginia trial of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, his defense attorney targeted Manafort’s longtime business deputy Rick Gates for allegedly “abusing” Manafort’s trust and accused him of embezzling millions of dollars from his former employer.

“Rick Gates violated one of life’s most basic rules: when you’re in a hole, stop digging,” attorney Thomas Zehnle said.

His 30-minute opening statement painted Manafort as a successful but busy global consultant who trusted Gates and other outside professionals to handle the day-to-day operations of his business, including its finances.

“Unfortunately for Paul Manafort, his trust in Rick Gates was misplaced,” Zehnle told the jury.

Manafort is facing charges of bank fraud and tax fraud. He has pleaded not guilty. In his opening statement, prosecutor Uzo Asonye: “All of these charges boil down to one simple issue: Did Paul Manafort lie?”

Gates was originally a co-defendant in the case, until reaching a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller in February. He is expected to testify against Manafort in the trial.

Zehnle accused Gates of having an “evolving” story about his dealings with Manafort, and pointed out that as part of his plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the prosecutors during plea negotiations.

“The foundation of the special counsel’s case rests squarely on this witness,” Zehnle said.

In Zehnle’s retelling it was Gates who was the point person for Manafort’s book-keepers and tax preparers.

“Little did Paul know that Rick was lining his own pockets,” Zehnle said.

Gates misled the outside accountants, Zehnle said, because “he had his hands in the cookie jar,” and couldn’t let anyone know.

Among the government’s allegations is that Manafort failed to disclose to the government foreign bank accounts, through which flowed money Manafort made doing lucrative consulting in Ukraine work. Zehnle said Manafort was not responsible for how or why those foreign bank accounts were set up, but was required by the Ukrainian backers paying his consulting bills that he be paid this way.

Of Manafort’s Ukraine endeavors, where he advised the pro-Russian Party of Regions and ex-President Victor Yanukovych, Zehnle said the “focus” of Manafort and his associates efforts “was to bring the country closer to western democracy.”

As for Mueller’s bank fraud allegations, Zehnle said that Manafort was “open” with the outside professionals who helped to facilitate loans, about why he was seeking the money and what he planned to spend it on. He said that Manafort was in the process of paying back the loans, before Mueller brought charges against him and his assets were seized.

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He’s been called Paul Manafort’s “right-hand-man,” his “protegé,” and even Manafort’s “rabbi.” Now Rick Gates — who, at one time, was also Manafort’s co-defendant — is expected to be the key witness against his old business partner and mentor in his trial on bank and tax fraud charges.

After a rocky road to cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Gates is expected to provide critical testimony against Manafort, whose own attorney has called Gates the “heart” of the government’s case.

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Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock filed a lawsuit last week challenging the Trump administration’s recent move to roll back requirements that certain nonprofits identify for the IRS any contributors giving more than $5,000. Bullock told the New York Times that the goal of his lawsuit, which alleges the Trump administration strayed from government procedure in dismantling the regs, was to “make sure that dark money and foreign money isn’t flowing into our elections unchecked.”

National Democratic lawmakers have proposed legislation that would make it illegal to knowingly and intentionally disseminate false information about elections. The legislation would also criminalize knowingly claiming an endorsement from someone within 60 days of a federal election.

A Florida ban on early voting sites on college campuses was struck down last week by a federal judge, who said in his opinion, “Throwing up roadblocks in front of younger voters does not remotely serve the public interest.” The ban had been put in place by Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner (R).

A judge in Iowa temporarily blocked a number of voting restrictions recently implemented in the state, including a requirement that absentee voters put state ID numbers on their absentee-ballot applications, as well as a provision that let election officials throw out ballots if they believe the voter’s signature doesn’t match the signature on record. The order also restored 11 days of early voting that GOP lawmakers had sought to roll back.

North Carolina Republicans, in their scramble to give the the state’s Supreme Court a Republican majority, passed a bill last week to remove the party ID of one of the candidates running as a Republican for a seat, whom they feared would split the vote from the GOP incumbent. Even if Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoes the bill, Republicans have the votes to overturn the veto.

There were two big batches of internal documents related to the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census that were released last week as part of a lawsuit challenging the decision. I reported on both troves, including emails showing Commerce Secretary Ross’ eagerness to add the question well before any formal request for it from the DOJ, as well as the panic among Census officials about the potential fallout of including the question.

An email release, meanwhile, in litigation surrounding Michigan’s gerrymandering scheme revealed the drafters of the GOP-drawn map boasted about the partisan advantage they were ensuring in the redistricting process.

A new study analyzes the impacts of a Supreme Court decision okaying an Ohio voter purge protocol, if Ohio’s system — which allows a voter’s removal from the rolls if he sits out six years of federal elections and doesn’t return a mailer confirming his address — is adopted more broadly. Among the study’s findings is that as many as 88,752 voters in Florida and North Carolina who showed up at the polls in 2016 would have found their names not on the rolls if the two states were implementing Ohio’s standards and the voters had not returned the mailer cards.

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Prosecutors believe former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort made $60 million doing consulting work in Ukraine — a “significant percentage” of which he allegedly did not report on his tax returns — according a Monday court filing by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The filing was opposing the move by Manafort’s attorneys to exclude from trial a wide swath of evidence related to his Ukraine work, which began around 2005 and started to die down in 2014. The Virginia trial starts on Tuesday.

Manafort has been charged with bank fraud and tax fraud. Prosecutors argue that the ouster of his top Ukrainian client, ex-President Victor Yanukovch, from the country in 2014 led to a significant drop in Manafort’s income, and that “is relevant to the bank frauds that he later committed.”

The prosecutors argued in Monday’s filing that Manafort’s attorney had not followed U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis’ directions in seeking to exclude the evidence. The prosecutors said the evidence was need to prove the extent of the work Manafort performed to earn the allegedly unreported income, and to show in particular the oligarchs who allegedly paid Manafort through foreign accounts. Among the charges Manafort is facing is failure to register foreign bank accounts with the government.

Prosecutors pointed to documents that Manafort is seeking to throw out that show his relationship with the oligarchs, includung Sergei Lyovochkin, Andriy Klyuyev, Borys Kolesnikov and Rinat Akhmetov, according to the Mueller filing.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty.

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In an August 2017 email exchange with a top aide about adding a citizenship citizenship question to the census form, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he would call Attorney General Jeff Sessions if the Justice Department had not “come to a conclusion” in its “analysis.”

The email, among the thousands of pages of documents released late last week as part of the litigation over the addition of the citizenship question to decennial form, was just one of a number showing Ross’ eagerness to see the question included on the 2020 survey — even before the Trump administration finished formulating the ostensible reason for why it was needed.

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