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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Yet another federal judge on Monday issued an opinion upholding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s authority — this one, for the first time, coming from a judge appointed by President Donald Trump, who has dubbed Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt.”

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich denied the request by a Russian firm, accused of funding the Russian social media troll effort, to throw out Mueller’s case against it.

Her opinion said that the Supreme Court and D.C. Appeals Court had made clear that that the acting attorney general had the authority to appoint a special counsel.

“The appointment does not violate core separation-of-powers principles. Nor has the Special Counsel exceeded his authority under the appointment order by investigating and prosecuting Concord,” she said, referring to the Russian company that sought for the charges to be dismissed on the basis that Mueller lacked the authority.

Concord Management is one of three companies, alongside 13 Russian individuals, named in an indictment handed down by a grand jury in February that said they were involved in the effort to influence the election with trolls on social media.

Concord Management is the firm of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a restauranteur so close to the Kremlin he’s been nicknamed “Putin’s chef.” It was somewhat of a surprise when the firm hired American lawyers and began fighting the charges.

Friedrich’s opinion referenced the orders upholding Mueller’s authority by U.S. District Judges Amy Berman Jackson and T.S. Ellis — the judges overseeing Mueller’s cases against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in D.C. and Virginia, respectively. She also mentioned the recent decision by Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge on Friedrich’s federal court in D.C., favoring Mueller in a request by Andrew Miller, a former aide to Trump ally Roger Stone, to throw out Mueller’s grand jury subpoena of him.

Read Friedrich’s full 41-page opinion below:

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — After being chastised repeatedly by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in front of the jury during Paul Manafort’s ongoing trial in Virginia, the prosecutors arguing the case appear to have had enough. On Thursday, they filed a court filing taking issue with Ellis’s outburst over a government witness who had watched the full trial before being called to the stand.

Ellis told the jury Thursday morning to “put aside any criticism” of the prosecutors. “I sometimes make mistakes,” Ellis said.

The prosecutors had asked Ellis on July 31 to permit the presence of the expert witness, IRS tax expert Michael Welch, in the courtroom for the proceedings. Thursday’s filing includes an excerpt of the transcript with Ellis explicitly granting the request and even asking the name of the expert.

On Wednesday when the government called Welch and asked him if he had heard previous witnesses testimony, Ellis blew up at prosecutor Uzo Asonye.

Thursday’s filing asked for the judge to address the issue in front of the jury at the start of the day’s proceedings and correct “the court’s erroneous admonishment” of the prosecutors.

This is not the first time prosecutors pushed back on Ellis for his admonishments. At a bench conference last week prosecutor Greg Andres brought up the judge continuing to suggest that the government is making mistakes. We don’t have “to be chastised in front of the jury for every mistake,” Andres said.

Ellis pushed back. He told the prosecutors to “get it right” and said that they “haven’t been chastised for every mistake.”

Asonye brought up the court filing to Ellis at the beginning of Thursday’s proceedings. “You’re to put that aside,” Ellis told the jury about the issue. “I may well have been wrong.”

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — Paul Manafort’s businesses between 2010 and 2014 collected more than $16 million in income that it failed to report to the IRS, according to the testimony of an IRS official Wednesday at Maanfort’s trial in Virginia for tax fraud and bank fraud.

Michael Welch, a revenue agent for the IRS, said that he came to that estimation by using Manafort’s own approach of only reporting income once it hit the U.S. He offered other versions of the analysis that estimated Manafort’s unreported income on the basis of when it landed in foreign entities prosecutors have linked to the former Trump campaign chairman. The estimates yielded by that approach were also “conservative,” Welch said, because he considered certain wires from foreign accounts — including those for a Florida dentist, a New Jersey horseback riding account and “International Yacht Collection” — to be business expenses that can be deducted from Manafort’s income.

He was following the testimony of Morgan Magionos, an FBI forensic accountant for who explained a chart she created showing that more than $15 million was wired from Manafort-controlled foreign accounts to pay for goods, services and real estate that Manafort and his family purchased between 2010 and 2014.

Their emotionless testimony was an atmospheric comedown to the day and half Manafort’s former co-defendant and longtime business deputy Rick Gates spent on the stand. His explosive testimony, which started Monday afternoon and stretched through Wednesday morning, included damning revelations about Manafort’s involvement in the alleged crimes as well as to his admissions to other crimes and embarrassing conduct not related to the current charges.

Manafort is accused of tax and bank fraud, much of it related to his work as a political operative in Ukraine before joining the Trump campaign. Prosecutors allege that the money was income that Manafort hid from his accountants and bookkeepers by wiring it directly to vendors, many of whom testified for the government earlier in the ongoing Virginia trial. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Magianos walked prosecutors on Wednesday afternoon through how she created the charts tracking the flow of money from Manafort’s foreign accounts to his real-estate purchases and to vendors who sold him goods and services.

Among the evidence prosecutors presented during Magionos’ testimony were documents used to open the foreign bank accounts, which included Manafort’s name and even copies of the front page of his passport. Magionos testified that emails from Manafort instructed a Cypriot law firm to complete certain wire transfers that aligned with invoices from the vendors. In the emails, which prosecutors displayed for the court, Manafort described the foreign accounts as “my” accounts.

Magionos also explained a chart she created showing the money that flowed into the foreign accounts that prosecutors have linked to Manafort. She said that much of the money flowed in from entities linked to Ukrainians who were funding Manafort’s political work.

In his cross-examination Manafort attorney Richard Westling asked Magionos about the signatures on some of the bank records that were referenced in her charts. Westling asked her about the differences between different signatures, suggesting that not all of the documents with Manafort’s signature were actually signed by Manafort.

Magionos conceded that there were differences but also pointed out that funds from the bank account in question largely benefitted Manafort.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — Paul Manafort attorney Kevin Downing asked Rick Gates during questioning Wednesday whether he told the special counsel about four extramarital affairs that Gates had.

Downing’s question came after prosecutor Greg Andres had stressed in his questioning of  Gates Wednesday morning that his plea deal would be ripped up if he lied from the stand.

When Downing got up for another round of questions, he asked Gates about his description of the relationship as “a” mistake.

After Downing asked whether Gates told the special counsel about four extramarital affairs, the prosecutors quickly objected on the basis of relevance.

Downing hinted that he wanted to get at the prosecution’s questioning of Gates about what would happen to his plea deal if he lied from the witness stand.

The judge asked the lawyers to come to the bench to discuss the matter.

Manafort is on trial here facing bank and tax fraud charges. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Gates served as Manafort’s deputy during the pair’s lobbying work in Ukraine. He was expected to be the prosecution’s star witness in the case after reaching a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

The bench conference took ten minutes. The court was not told what Judge T.S. Ellis ruled, but when Downing came back he asked Gates if his “secret life” spanned the period in defense exhibit 17, which spanned several years.

Gates first responded, “I made many mistakes over several years.”

Gates then responded “yes” to Downing’s question.
The tensions over Downing’s focus on Gates’ marital infidelity came after rounds of questioning where the temperature was somewhat cooler than what it had been on Tuesday afternoon, when Downing drubbed Manafort’s ex-business deputy about his admission that he embezzled from his former boss, and other alleged criminal activity.

Downing’s initial round of questions Wednesday morning focused on 2014 interviews Gates and Manafort gave separately to the FBI about their Ukraine work, which Gates understood to part of an investigation into how their former client, Ukraine ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, handled the country’s money.

Gates testified that Manafort had instructed him to be “open” with the FBI in that interview about how they were paid.

However, when Andres returned to the podium for another chance to question Gates, Gates said that Manafort did reach out to a Ukrainian businessman before his FBI interview to get more information about the entity that the businessman used to pay him and to make sure that it was “clean,” meaning it was only used to pay Manafort.

Andres also used his questioning to clean up some of the other messes made during Downing’s initial round of cross-examination Tuesday afternoon. Andres notably used the word “embezzlement,” a word prosecutors previously avoided in describing Gates’ scheme to take money from Manafort by inflating expense reports, and Gates testified that the Ukrainian businessmen funding their consulting work ultimately paid for the reported expenses.

Andres asked if Gates, who had previously testified to meeting with the special counsel’s office 20 times for trial prep, had been instructed by the special counsel’s team how to answer certain questions.

“The only answer I was told was to tell the truth,” Gates said.

Downing finished questioning Gates around 11 a.m. Wednesday. FBI agent Morgan Magionos is expected to take the stand next.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — During Rick Gates’ testimony in Paul Manafort’s financial crimes trial Tuesday, prosecutors questioned Gates about an email Manafort sent on Nov. 24, 2016 regarding Steve Calk, the executive of a bank where Manafort was seeking loans.

“Rick, we need to discuss Steve Calk for sec. of army. I hear the list is being considered this weekend,” the email said.

Gates had stayed on the Trump campaign after Manafort left in August, and, at the time of the email, was working for the inauguration committee. Another email sent by Manafort to Gates on Dec. 23, 2016 was an invitation list for the inauguration. Steve Calk and Steve Calk Jr. were on the list.

Gates testified that Manafort was asking for tickets to the inauguration for Steve Calk.

Calk was a Trump campaign economic advisor and an executive at the Chicago-based Federal Savings Bank. The bank lent Manafort $16 million through loans in December 2016 and January 2017. A search warrant that was partially unsealed earlier this summer alleged that Manafort made “several materially inconsistent representations during the process of negotiating.”

Mueller’s team alleges that Calk knew the loan was fraudulent. During a pretreial hearing, Judge T.S. Ellis asked prosecutor Greg Andres whether Calk knew the information on Manafort’s loan application was inaccurate. “He did,” Andres replied at the time.

Calk was named to Trump’s economic advisory team in August 2016, while Manafort was still chairman of the Trump campaign. He did not ultimately receive a job in the administration.

This line of questioning was the only time so far that Manafort and Gates’ work for the Trump campaign was referenced explicitly. Another email discussed Steve Calk being nominated for the campaign’s economic committee.

Manafort is on trial here facing bank and tax fraud charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Gates was Manafort’s right-hand man during the pair’s lobbying work in Ukraine, and his deputy on the Trump campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller originally charged Gates alongside Manafort, but Gates reached a plea deal with Mueller in exchange for cooperating in the investigation.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — Prosecutors on Monday, for the first time since Paul Manafort’s trial began last week, brought up $10 million that Manafort received from Russian Oleg Deripaska.

Deripaska is a Russian oligarch, ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and former business associate of Manafort’s who backed some of his work in Ukraine. Deripaska claims Manafort owes him millions of dollars following his investment in one of Manafort’s projects, a Ukrainian telecom company called Black Sea Cable.

During the 2016 campaign, Manafort reportedly discussed with his Ukrainian fixer, Konstantin Kilimnik, the possibility of giving Deripaska private briefings, suggesting that such briefings could be a way “to get whole.” 

The $10 million payment from Deripaska to Manafort was previously referenced as a loan to Manafort in a 2017 search warrant that was unsealed earlier this year. The document said that Manafort and his wife claimed on a 2010 tax form that they owed $10 million to Deripaska.

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye did not go into much more detail about the $10 million, which he brought up while questioning Manafort tax preparer Cindy Laporta. Asonye was asking Laporta about a summary she prepared for Manafort of wire transfers his businesses received between 2005-2015, where the $10 million from Deripaska was listed as a loan. Laporta said she was told nothing about the loan.

Asonye also asked her if the loan was ever reclassified as income in the financial summaries she put together for Manafort, based on his tax returns through 2015. She said no.

The inquiries came in a line of question where Asonye seemed to be suggesting that Manafort was reporting as loans money that was actually income. Prosecutors have accused Manafort of using these “sham” loans as a way to reduce his taxable income and, thus, lower his taxes.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges of bank fraud and tax fraud, which were brought as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

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In a major victory for voting rights, the Michigan state Supreme Court, where a majority of the justices are Republican, will let voters this fall approve or reject a ballot initiative to reform the state’s redistricting process into a 13-person independent commission. The conservative activists who were challenging the ballot measure said that they are accepting the court’s decision and will not continue the legal fight.

Thousands of pages of internal documents and emails related to President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission became public on Friday, after a Democratic commissioner brought a lawsuit alleging a lack of transparency. The docs show internal discussions about drafting a letter to state election officials seeking voter roll data — a letter that, when sent last year, prompted backlash among Democratic and Republican election officials alike. The Democratic commissioner, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, said in a letter with the release of the documents that the internal materials lack any “evidence of widespread voter fraud.”

“That the commission predicted it would find widespread evidence of fraud actually reveals a troubling bias,” Dunlap said.

Another batch of internal documents related to the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the Census dropped over the weekend, as part of litigation over the issue. The documents offer more evidence that the Commerce Department, led by Secretary Wilbur Ross, was working on adding the question well before the Justice Department formally requested that it do so, ostensibly to help with Voting Rights Act enforcement. Nonetheless, the DOJ request was the administration’s initial justification for adding the question.

The New York Times on Thursday had a must-read report on a county in North Carolina that is particularly harsh on people who break election laws by voting while on probation or parole, often arresting or jailing them. Alamance County’s felon disenfranchisement law is currently the subject of a lawsuit brought by a civil rights group, which contends that it is racist. Voters who were prosecuted under the law told the Times that no one told them, during their sentencing hearings, that they were not allowed to vote while on probation or parole.

A North Carolina Supreme Court candidate is suing over a recently passed GOP law removing his party ID from his name on November’s ballot. Any candidate who changed party affiliations within 90 days of filing will not have that party label next to his or her name, under the new law, which appears to be an effort by Republican legislators to boost the GOP incumbent in the state Supreme Court race. They had previously canceled a primary election for the seat in order to help the incumbent, but that plan backfired when another candidate, Chris Anglin, jumped into the race as a Republican. Anglin, who switched parties three weeks before filing, is now suing over the new law blocking his party ID from appearing on the ballot.

On Monday’s 53rd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, former First Lady Michelle Obama announced that she would leading a week of action in September to encourage voter registration.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 17: Former Donald Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort looks on during Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 17, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The exhibit and witness lists special counsel Robert Mueller released before the ongoing Paul Manafort trial in Virginia gave us a hint that there would be some accusation having to do with season tickets for the New York Yankees. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis even mentioned the reference to the Yankees at pretrial, seeming to think he was confusing Manafort’s trial with another case. The prosecutors confirmed for him that there was indeed a Yankees tie to Manafort.

We already knew, via a search warrant for Manafort’s home that was unsealed earlier this summer, that investigators indicated that Manafort had allegedly claimed, while applying for a loan, that a $300,000 delinquency on his credit card was a loan to a friend for Yankees tickets that the friend paid back.

On Friday, as prosecutors questioned Manafort’s tax preparers, the Yankees tickets came up in a different context, without mention of the credit card debt. There were, however, suggestions that it was connected. As Uzo Asonye questioned Cindy LaPorta, a KWC accountant granted immunity, he went over an email Rick Gates sent her and another accountant in 2016 responding to their questions about Manafort’s consulting firm’s taxes.

Gates’ responses, which were displayed for the courtroom, indicated that the firm, Davis Manafort International, was reporting 4 seats at Yankees games, as well as tickets for other sports teams. LaPorta, asked during trial about the query about the sports team, explained that “80/20” referred to the practice of deducting 80 percent of the firm money spent on the ticket as a business expense and considering the other 20 percent a personal expense. She was asked what it would mean if someone else, other than the firm, had paid for the tickets. She said that if Davis Manafort International didn’t pay for them, then they’re not deductible.

The prosecutor didn’t go any farther than that, but I would guess we will be hearing about these tickets again as we delve deeper into Manafort and Gates’ conduct when Manafort was applying for the allegedly fraudulent loans.

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