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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Senate Republicans don’t think it would be a good idea for President Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But few were willing on Monday to elaborate on what steps need to be taken to protect the special counsel, even after the President and his personal lawyer lashed out at Mueller by name over the weekend.

“I have zero concern that the President is going to fire Mueller. Zero,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday, despite having introduced legislation that would prevent Trump from doing so.

Graham —  who on Sunday said that firing Mueller would be “the beginning of the end” of Trump’s presidency – told reporters on Monday that he introduced the bill protecting the special counsel “to let people know where I stand.”

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President Trump’s campaign committee is fundraising off a controversial request from his Justice Department that the 2020 Census include a question about citizenship.

An email from the campaign committee poses a survey to recipients with the subject line “a truly simple question for you.”

“The President wants the 2020 United States Census to ask people whether or not they are citizens,” the email said. “In another era, this would be COMMON SENSE… but 19 attorneys general said they will fight the President if he dares to ask people if they are citizens. The President wants to know if you’re on his side.”

The email then includes a survey on the question that leads to page seeking contributions to the campaign.

Former Census officials, policy wonks and civil rights advocates have all come out against the idea of asking about citizenship status in the decennial census. They fear that it will depress participation — especially among minority and immigrant communities. Internal Census research has shown that the question prompts fears about confidentiality and privacy among survey takers. Even citizens who live with non-citizens might be fearful about participating if the question is included, particularly given the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration, critics of the idea say.

An undercounting of urban and minority communities stands to shift political power and resources to rural and white communities.

Critics also say adding the question this late in Census planning period adds another practical complication for a Census already facing a number of logistical hurdles.

ProPublica reported recently that John Gore, a political appointee at the Justice Department who previously represented Republicans in high-profile voting rights lawsuits, was behind the request that Census Bureau consider adding the question. An aide to a former Republican senator who championed a bill to include the citizenship question has recently joined the Census as a political appointee, ProPublica also reported.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who will have the final say over whether the question is included, is required to submit to Congress the questions Census intends to ask by the end of the month.

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The attorney leading the White House’s response to the Russia investigation said on Sunday something that he’s told reporters numerous times before: that President Trump was not about to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

But White House attorney Ty Cobb’s assurances seem more divorced from his client’s public posture than ever.

Over the weekend Trump escalated his war with Mueller and the Justice Department at large. He raged at Mueller over Twitter — calling him out by name on Twitter for the first time. Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, for the first time called for Mueller’s firing — a comment he initially said was being made on behalf of the president, before walking it back by calling it a personal statement of his own.

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In Georgia, state GOP lawmakers are pushing a bill that would shrink the period in which Atlanta voters can cast their votes. A law passed in the 1970s let Atlanta polling places stay open until 8 p.m. Supporters of the new legislation, which would require polling places to close at 7 p.m. and eliminate Sunday voting statewide, say it’s a matter of restoring uniformity of the state. But opponents say it would restrict voting among those who participate in “souls to the polls” church voter drives, many of whom are African American. The legislation was filed after a Democrat won a special election in a district that includes parts of Atlanta.

For the last few months, Nevada Republicans have been trying to recall two Democratic state senators and an independent who caucuses with them. Supporters of the recall effort haven’t really hid the fact that it’s an attempt to replace these legislators with Republicans — giving control of the Senate back to the GOP — rather than punish any unethical conduct or wrongdoing. But Republicans were dealt a blow last week when a Nevada state court ruled that people who had signed recall petitions could choose to remove their names. It’s possible that enough people will abandon the petitions to bring Republicans below the number of signatures needed to force a recall election.

Lawmakers in Maryland are considering a number of bills that would make it easier to vote. An automatic voter registration bill passed the state Senate last week and is expected to coast through the House. Legislators are considering another bill that would amend the state constitution to allow same-day voter registration.

In Connecticut, meanwhile, lawmakers are weighing legislation that would restore voting rights to people on parole and allow those in custody but not yet convicted of a crime to vote.

The Kansas proof-of-citizenship voter registration trial gets back underway today. The court was in recess for the second half of last week. We left off last Tuesday with attorneys questioning two rebuttal witnesses that the ACLU picked to respond to “experts” that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach called on to claim significant rates of noncitizen voting. Kobach is expected to bring in a pollster the state commissioned to survey Kansans on the law, and the ACLU is expected to put a rebuttal witness on the stand to respond to that testimony as well.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the latest request from Pennsylvania Republicans. State legislators want the Supreme Court to address the new congressional map that a court-appointed expert drew after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the old map. Justice Samuel Alito — who handles such requests from Pennsylvania — asked the parties in the case to submit responses to the GOP request two weeks ago. Alito previously rejected Republican entreaties to get involved, so court observers speculate that the delay this time could be because justices are writing opinions explaining why or why not they should intervene.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe late Friday evening, just before he was eligible for his pension. In a statement (see below), Sessions cited a yet-to-be released inspector general report that he said found McCabe “made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor – including under oath – on multiple occasions.”

Sessions’ decision to fire McCabe comes after the former No. 2 at the bureau was oft-targeted by President Trump, who had zeroed in the Democratic state legislative campaign McCabe’s wife ran and lost in 2015 as dubious evidence of political bias.

McCabe vehemently denied the allegations of dishonesty, raising the specter that the actions against him were meant to impair his credibility as a witness against President Trump for the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

“The idea that I was dishonest is just wrong,” McCabe told the New York Times. “This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness.”

McCabe released a statement (see below) amplifying his claims that his firing was the culmination of the “Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the … Special Counsel investigation.”

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Echoing the calls of President Trump’s attorneys, perhaps a couple months late, key Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are calling for a second special counsel to be appointed to assist with the Justice Department inspector general’s inquiry into how the department handled 2016-related matters, including the Russia investigation.

“We have the utmost confidence in the Inspector General’s integrity, fairness, and impartiality, and trust that he will complete these reviews in a thorough, unbiased, and timely fashion,” Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) said in a Thursday letter to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “However, by statute, the Inspector General does not have the tools that a prosecutor would to gather all the facts, such as the ability to obtain testimony from essential witnesses who are not current DOJ employees. Thus, we believe that a special counsel is needed to work with the Inspector General to independently gather the facts and make prosecutorial decisions, if any are merited.”

Their letter discusses allegations Republicans previously have made about Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy who compiled a dossier about the Trump campaign’s Russia connections. They have zeroed in on the role Steele’s research played in the surveillance warrant the Justice Department secured for former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page.

Attached to their letter is a letter perviously sent by Grassley and Graham to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. That Feb. 28 letter listed 31 different lines of inquiry — some of them made up of multiple questions  — they sought the IG to report to Congress on, ranging from the Page warrant to the investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn (who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation) to leaks to the press.

The Republican senators also attached their previous referral recommending a criminal investigation into Steele, with the suggestion that Steele misled the FBI about his communications with the press in 2016.

Last December, President Trump’s private attorney in the Russia probe Jay Sekulow called for a second special counsel. Senate Judiciary Republicans were lukewarm about the idea at best at the time, but the accusations on the Hill of DOJ misconduct have ramped up significantly, with House Intel Republicans releasing their own quickly-debunked memo about the Page warrant.

Mueller’s probe, meanwhile, has gained significant public moment. He secured a plea deal with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates last month, and filed indictments against 13 Russians for allegedly stealing U.S. identities to meddle in the election through social media.

On Thursday it was reported that Mueller issued subpoenas for the Trump Organization.

Read Thursday’s letter from Grassley and the other Judiciary Republicans below:

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House Democrats on Thursday accused Trump-appointed officials in the State Department and at the White House of working with outside conservative activists to conduct a “cleaning” of career staff whom, according to emails handed over to Dems by a whistleblower, they deemed insufficiently loyal to the President’s agenda.

Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) — the top Democrats on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees, respectively — made the claims in a letter dated Thursday to White House chief of staff John Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. In the letter, Cummings and Engel requested documents and interviews related to the reassignment of State Department career staff and civil servants.

Politico has also obtained the emails the Democrats referenced in their letter.

In one email, David Wurmser, formerly a Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, sent former House Speaker Newt Gingrich a March 2017 article in the Conservative Review targeting Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a career State staffer and expert in Iran policy.

“Newt: I think a cleaning is in order here,”  Wurmser wrote, according to the Democrats’ letter. “I hear Tillerson actually been reasonably good on stuff like this and cleaning house, but there are so many that it boggles the mind…”

Gingrich then passed Wurmser’s email (which referred to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom President Donald Trump fired earlier this week) along to Trump appointees in the State Department, according to Cummings and Engel.

The Conservative Review story that Wurmser cited claimed that Nowrouzzadeh, who joined the State Department under the George W. Bush administration, had “burrowed” into the State Department. It also noted her role in the promotion of President Barack Obama’s Iran deal, which Trump has disparaged as a “disaster.”

Nowrouzzadeh reached out to her advisor Brian Hook, a political appointee and director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, seeking that he help her “correct the record,” according to the Democrats’ letter.

Instead, according to Cummings and Engel, Hook forwarded her email to other State Department officials, who in turned forwarded it to aides at the White House.

One White House aide, Julie Haller, said falsely in an email that Nowrouzzadeh was “born in Iran” (she is of Iranian descent but was born in Connecticut, according to Politico). “[U]pon my understanding,” Haller wrote,  Nowrouzzadeh “cried when the President won.”

According to the Democrats’ letter, Haller also wrote to Trump aide Sean Doocey and other White House officials that it was “easy to get a detail suspended and because she’s a conditional career, we just need to confirm the year she is in.”

Hook cut short Nowrouzzadeh’s year-long stint at the Policy Planning Staff, which serves as an in-house think tank, by three months, Politico reported, and the State Department misled Politico when it initially reported her reassignment last year.

In an email exchange where career staffer Edward Lacey, the deputy director of Policy Planning Staff, instructed a press aide to stress that Nowrouzzadeh’s tenure in the role had been completed, Nowrouzzadeh rebuked his characterization, according to the report.

“Ed – My assignment was not ‘completed,’” she wrote, according to Politico. “The 3 month curtailment to the duration of my detail was also not handled in accordance with that which was explicitly stated in my [memorandum of understanding].”

According the House Democrats’ letter and Politico’s report, Nowrouzzadeh was not the only career staffer whom Trump appointees treated with suspicion.

Last April, according to Politico, Hook sent an email to himself with a list of names where he described one name as a “turncoat” and another as a “leaker and troublemaker.”

The email was titled “Derek notes” — an apparent reference to then-National Security Council aide Derek Harvey, according to the report.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, in a comment to Politico, denied that members of the Policy Planning Staff were biased against career staffers, and said that more than half of the office’s current staff are career professionals.

“Any suggestion that the makeup of the Policy Planning Staff reflects a bias against career civil servants is completely without merit,” she said. “The details of Policy Planning’s staffing under Director Hook demonstrate that career civil servants continue to play an integral role, as do political appointees.”

Read the House Democrats’ letter below:

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller in recent weeks issued subpoenas for the Trump Organization seeking certain documents, including those related to Russia, the New York Times reported Thursday, citing two unnamed sources.

The subpoenas come as there are other signs that Mueller’s investigation is examining the business dealings of Trump and his family.

Trump last year said that a Mueller investigation into his businesses, unrelated to Russia, would be a “violation.”

Trump has denied conducting business in Russia, beyond the Miss Universe pageant he held in Moscow in 2013, and what he has described as a house he sold “to a very wealthy Russian many years ago.”

However, Trump associates explored building a Trump Tower in Moscow — a project that was being considered even after Trump entered the presidential campaign in 2015.

In 2015, Trump signed a non-binding “letter of intent,” and discussed the potential deal with his attorney Michael Cohen. Felix Sater, a Trump business associate, told TPM that he and Cohen were still working on the project towards the end of 2015. Cohen sent an email in January 2016 to Vladimir Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov seeking assistance on a project with “a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower – Moscow project in Moscow City.”

Some members of Trump’s White House legal team for the Russia investigation have stressed that they expect it to wrap up shortly. The move to subpoena the Trump Organization suggested that Mueller isn’t done quite yet. Neither the White House nor Trump Org. attorney Alan S. Futerfas returned the New York Times’ request for comment about the subpoena.

Mueller has already racked up plea deals from members of Trump’s 2016 campaign, as well as his ex-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is facing multiple indictments in Mueller’s probe, which also issued indictments against 13 Russians said to have engaged in a social media crusade to influence American voters.

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It looks like a case over whether the government must turn over the so-called Comey memos is heading to an appeals court.

Last month, a federal judge sided with the government in a consolidated lawsuit brought by a handful of news organizations, including CNN, USA Today and the Daily Caller, as well as the conservative advocacy groups Freedom Watch and Judicial Watch. The plaintiffs hoped to get their hands on memos ex-FBI Director James Comey wrote detailing his interactions with President Trump, and their earlier Freedom of Information Act requests for the memos were denied. The Department of Justice argued that turning over the memos would impede Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Judicial Watch and Daily Caller on Thursday filed a notice in the case signaling that they are appealing the judge’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

We’ll be watching this case to see where it goes.

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I’m back from Kansas City, Kansas, after covering six days of the trial for Kris Kobach’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement.

While covering the trial I was staying at a hotel right next to the courthouse — the only hotel, really, that was near the courthouse. That meant that basically everyone involved in the case were there too, including Kobach’s legal team (who, presumably, are normally based in Topeka), the ACLU lawyers challenging them, and other attorneys representing the challengers. Reporters working for other non-local outlets were also there.

This definitely made things convenient, but at times a little awkward. The ACLU attorneys were pretty friendly with reporters; Kobach’s team and witnesses didn’t say to much to us beyond small talk greetings. And in the evenings after the days when things got tense in the court, having everyone in the same hotel could be a little claustrophobic.

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