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 Supreme Court on Monday punted on two major redistricting cases that voting-rights advocates hoped would lead to limits on partisan gerrymandering. In two cases coming out of Maryland and Wisconsin, SCOTUS handed down unanimous decisions on procedural issues, letting the court side-step the bigger questions. Gerrymandering foes hope that other, future cases will give the court another opportunity to rein in extreme partisan gerrymandering.

Kentucky, last Monday, settled a lawsuit brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch after the Justice Department intervened as well, according to court documents. Judicial Watch — and later, the Justice Department — had accused Kentucky of violating the National Voter Registration Act by not purging its voter rolls aggressively enough. Under the proposed agreement filed in court last week, Kentucky agreed to use certain protocols, in accordance with state law, to determine if voters on its rolls were no longer eligible to vote because they had moved. The state will specifically be using the U.S. postal service change of address database, as well as the Electronic Registration Information Center system (ERIC), an interstate voter registration database that uses driver’s license data to search for duplicate registrations. Both systems are fairly standard across states. The state has not agreed to use the aggressive approach used in Ohio that was given the green light by the Supreme Court last week.

The Kansas City Star had an interesting story over the weekend exploring how Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach entered President Trump’s inner circle, from where he’s lobbied to add a citizenship question to the Census and won a place on Trump’s now-defunct voter-fraud commission. According to the Star, Kobach connected to Trump via his son, Don Jr., to whom he was introduced by a mutual hunting buddy, Keith Mark.

Maine voters again approved the push towards a ranked-choice vote system on Tuesday. Under the system, voters rank candidates in order of preference, and the candidate who earns more than 50 percent of the vote wins, with a run-off system in place based on the ranked choice if no candidate earns 50 percent. While the GOP legislature and Gov. Paul LePage (R) oppose the system, its supporters successfully pushed it to the ballot, where Mainers on Tuesday voted 55 to 44 percent in its favor. The system will be used on November’s general election.

It looks as if North Carolina Republicans may succeed in cutting back early voting in the state, including the elimination of a Saturday voting day that is particularly popular among black voters. The bill passed the GOP legislature on Friday, and even if it is vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D), Republicans have a veto-proof majority that will allow them to override his rejection of it. Previously legislation passed by North Carolina Republicans that cut early voting, among other voting restrictions, was thrown out by an appeals court that said it targeted minorities with “almost surgical precision.”

And the Texas woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for voting illegally while on supervised release will not be granted a new trial following a ruling by State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez. Her attorney — who argued that the woman, Crystal Mason, was unaware it was illegal for her to cast the provisional ballot — said that she would appeal the decision.

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Voting rights advocates did not get the Supreme Court decisions they were looking for on Monday, when the court punted on partisan gerrymandering cases coming out of Wisconsin and Maryland. But they didn’t get the door shut on them, either.

“I am disappointed, but not devastated in any way,” said Michael Li, a senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, which filed briefs supporting the challengers in both cases.

“These are important decisions that actually move the ball forward and the court isn’t walking away from the issue. It didn’t make the issue messier than it was. They clarified the issue—that’s a big step forward,” Li told TPM.

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Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said Monday that his office received a referral from the FBI about the disclosure of memos written by former FBI Director Jim Comey to the press.

He was asked about the memos — and particularly whether there was an investigation into whether their release transmitted classified information inappropriately — by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) during a committee hearing.

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The Justice Department’s Inspector General declined to say on Monday what his office had turned up on alleged anti-Hillary Clinton leaks from the FBI to Rudy Giuliani or whether any DOJ employees had been sanctioned for the leaks.

“I’m not going to speak to any of the investigative steps we may or may not have taken, for the very reasons we describe in here, about what’s appropriate to do in terms of policy,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the Senate Judiciary committee, referring to his office’s freshly released report knocking ex-FBI Director James Comey for going public with details about the Clinton investigation.

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The Supreme Court rejected a challenge brought against the Republican-drawn legislative map in Wisconsin, in an unanimous decision that said the challengers who had sued over the map did not have standing.

Monday’s decision appeared to punt on the substantive issues in the case: whether an extreme partisan gerrymander can amount to a constitutional violation. The high court is sending the case back down to the lower court to allow the challengers to Wisconsin’s map to narrow their lawsuit.

“We express no view on the merits of the plaintiffs’ case,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority’s opinion. 

 Justice Elena Kagan wrote a concurring opinion, where she was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Clarence Thomas also wrote a concurring opinion where he was joined in part by Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Roberts, in his opinion, wrote that the voters could only challenge the drawing of the specific districts in which they vote, and not the entirety of a state’s map, as had been done in the Wisconsin case before the court, Gill v. Whitford.

“To the extent the plaintiffs’ alleged harm is the dilution of their votes, that injury is district specific. An individual voter in Wisconsin is placed in a single district. He votes for a single representative,” Roberts said. “The boundaries of the district, and the composition of its voters, determine whether and to what extent a particular voter is packed or cracked.”

The case was highly watched for whether the Supreme Court would intervene in partisan gerrymanders. Those hoping that the court would clear up when a legislature went too far in boosting a partisan advantage in drawing legislative districts were left disappointed Monday.

“We leave for another day consideration of other possible theories of harm not presented here and whether those theories might present justiciable claims giving rise to statewide remedies,” Roberts said.

Rather than directly dismiss the case, Roberts said that the high court was sending it back to the lower court level “so that the plaintiffs may have an opportunity to prove concrete and particularized injuries using evidence—unlike the bulk of the evidence presented thus far—that would tend to demonstrate a burden on their individual votes.”

Kagan, in her concurrence said she supported Roberts’ move to let the challengers offer more evidence that their votes voters had been diluted by Wisconsin’s map, but said that statewide evidence should also play a role in assessing their claims. She said that a state-wide remedy may also ultimately be warranted.

“It all depends on how much redistricting is needed to cure all the packing and cracking that the mapmakers have done,” she said.

Thomas’ concurrence said that he agreed with Roberts that the challengers lacked standing, but argued that their case should have directly dismissed rather than sent back to a lower court.

The Court also declined Monday to address the merits in a Maryland partisan gerrymandering case brought against the state’s Democratic-drawn legislative map. The Supreme Court said in a per curiam decision — meaning one not ascribed to any individual justice — that the lower court had been correct in rejecting the challengers’ request that it temporarily block Maryland’s map.

Read the Wisconsin opinion:

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President Trump decried on Twitter the “tough sentence” handed down to Paul Manafort Friday — an apparent reference to a judge’s decision to put the former Trump campaign chairman in jail pending his trial.

“Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob,” Trump said. “What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!”

Manafort was not sentenced, as Trump suggested. Rather, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jacksona revoked Manafort’s bail after he was accused of tampering with witnesses in the case against him. Manafort was taken into custody immediately after the judge’s decision — a development some observers believe will increase the pressure on him to cooperate in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and of related matters.

Already, Mueller has secured the cooperation of Manafort’s top business deputy Rick Gates, who also served on Trump’s campaign and was associated with Trump’s inner circle well after Manafort left the campaign. Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn is also cooperating with Mueller’s investigation after pleading guilty, while Trump’s longtime fixer Michael Cohen is reportedly considering cooperation with a separate federal investigation in Manhattan.

Trump’s tweet also comes after he’s issued a series of high-profile pardons, some for prosecutions he’s claimed were “unfair.” He used similar language when announcing his pardon of conservative activist Dinseh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws in 2014, as well as for Vice President Dick Cheney’s aide Scooter Libby, who was convicted of perjury in 2007 as part of special prosecutor investigation into the Valerie Plame leak.

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A federal judge Friday revoked the bail of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and ordered him taken into custody after he was accused of tampering with witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal case against him.

“I have struggled with this decision,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said before announcing her decision.

Manafort had been accused by special counsel Robert Mueller of reaching out to two former business partners who allegedly helped coordinate his lobbying effort for Ukraine in the United States. After initially asking the judge to revoke his bond, the special counsel brought new charges approved by a grand jury of obstruction of justice against Manafort and his longtime business Konstantin Kilimnik for the alleged communications.

Manafort pleaded not guilty to those charges Friday.

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Attorney General Loretta Lynch was “devastated” by the impromptu visit former President Bill Clinton made onto her plane on an Arizona tarmac, a top Justice Department official told the DOJ inspector general.

The infamous meeting, which drove speculation of DOJ bias in the Hillary Clinton email probe, was recounted in excruciating detail in the inspector general report released Thursday, which covered Bill Clinton’s reasoning for making the trip to Lynch’s plane (“I don’t want her to think I’m afraid to shake hands with her because she’s the Attorney General”), and her own recollections of when she realized that the former President was about to overstay his welcome (Clinton moved some of her bags on the plane so he could take a seat.)

DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz found no evidence that the Clinton email probe was discussed. However, he said Lynch made an “error in judgment” in not cutting the conversation short, given its problematic appearance, and that she should have made more of an effort to clear the air publicly.

Lynch told the IG investigators as the conversation with Clinton ““went on and on,”  her concerns about it grew.

The incident started when Clinton was told by staff that Lynch’s plane, delayed in Phoenix while on a community policing tour, was only about 20 to 30 yards from his. He denied that he delayed his departure from Phoenix, where he was participating in campaign events for his wife, in order to speak to her.

“I literally didn’t know she was there until somebody told me she was there,” he said. “And we looked out the window and it was really close and all of her staff was unloading, so I thought she’s about to get off and I’ll just go shake hands with her when she gets off. I don’t want her to think I’m afraid to shake hands with her because she’s the Attorney General.”

By the time he approached her plane, most of the staff that had been traveling with her had exited for the motorcade waiting for them, and only Lynch, her husband, and her security remained onboard.

Lynch’s aides told the inspector general they had no idea of Clinton’s plans to board the plane, while Lynch recalled only learning when her head of security informed her that Clinton sought to speak with her.

“And I think my initial reaction was the profound statement, ‘What?’ Something like that. And he repeated that,” she told IG investigators, adding she was surprised he wanted to speak to her because she said they lacked any social relationship.

She thought they would briefly exchange pleasantries. However, Clinton, she recalled, spent the first few minutes chatting up the others, including flight crew on the plane.

After a few minutes of then chatting with Lynch, Clinton then moved tote bags she had placed on a bench, and took a seat to keep talking.

He spoke about Phoenix, golf, their travels and their grandchildren, Lynch recalled.

Lynch said Clinton complimented her tenure as attorney general, which Clinton also recalled, while denying that he called her his favorite cabinet member.

“I like her, but I’m very close to Tom Vilsack and was very close to a couple of the others, so I couldn’t have said that, but I do like her a lot,” he told the IG.

Lynch remembered the compliment as something he “would have said that to every cabinet member at that time.”

They only discussed Hillary Clinton in the context of her and Lynch being grandmothers, Bill Clinton recalled. Both denied discussion of the email probe, other Justice Department investigations, the election or any suggestion that Lynch would get a position in a Hillary Clinton administration.

The conversation lasted 20 minutes, Lynch recalled, before one of her staffers boarded the plane to intervene.

Meanwhile, among Lynch’s staff waiting on the tarmac in her motorcade, a panic was beginning to swell, according to the report:

The Deputy Chief of Staff said that they quickly realized that the meeting was problematic, because Clinton was not just the former President but was also the husband of someone who was under investigation. The Deputy Chief of Staff said that she felt “shocked,” and that they all “just felt completely…blindsided.” The Senior Counselor said that they immediately were aware that the meeting was ill-advised and that the “optics were not great.”

They called DOJ’s Public Affairs Director Melanie Newman and “sounded the alarm.”

After five minutes, a DOJ press staffer accompanying Lynch on the trip asked a security official waiting in the car meant for Lynch what was going on.  The press official informed a photographer waiting outside Lynch’s plane that the attorney general would not be taking pictures and that he should go back to his car.

After a discussion with her other staffers, another official, Lynch’s senior counselor, decided to reboard the plane.

“I don’t know what’s going on up there, but I should at least go up to intervene or help her if she needs help,” she recalled thinking. “It was part uncertainty and part kind of like this is a bad idea.”

After being briefly stopped by security, the staffer made it on the plane, but could not recall hearing what was being discussed. She thought Lynch gave the vibe of being “uncomfortable and wanted the meeting to be done.”

Clinton took another five minutes to say his goodbyes, the staffer recounted, and when he left she recalled Lynch looking “kind of … gray and, you know, not pleased.”

Newman, the public affairs director, recalled Lynch being “devastated” by the meeting:

[Lynch] doesn’t take mistakes lightly, and she felt like she had made…an incredible…mistake in judgment by saying yes instead of no, that he could come on the plane. But also, she’s like the most polite, Southern person alive. I, I don’t know in what circumstances she would have said no, or what would have happened if she had said no…. I would have much preferred a story that the Attorney General turned a former President of the United States away on the tarmac, but…she doesn’t make mistakes, and she was not pleased with herself for making this kind of high-stakes mistake.

Clinton, in his interview with the inspector general investigators, said he was surprised by the scrutiny the meeting attracted.

“[T]he mainstream media wasn’t as bad on that as they were on a lot of things, I thought, I think the ones that were criticizing me, I thought you know, I don’t know whether I’m more offended that they think I’m crooked or that they think I’m stupid,” he said, according to the report.

Read the report, where the section on the tarmac meeting starts on page 202, below:

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In a blistering court filing Thursday, a company accused of funding Russia’s 2016 election internet troll effort accused “unlawfully appointed” Special Counsel Robert Mueller of engaging in a “hysterical dithyramb” and of equating a “make-believe electioneering case to others involving international terrorism and major drug trafficking.”

“In short, fake law, which is much more dangerous than fake news,” Concord Management’s attorneys said in the court document.

The filing was in response to Mueller’s request to the court that certain restrictions be placed on who had access to evidence prosecutors turned over to defense as part of the proceedings. Mueller, in proposing the order, cited concerns that the sensitive materials might make it into to hands of foreign intel. The materials include information about other actors, not currently charged, who are still engaged in election-meddling efforts, Mueller said.

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Controversial actions taken by then-FBI Director James Comey in the lead-up to the 2016 election were not driven by political bias, the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz said Thursday. However, Comey still broke with DOJ protocols in decisions the Inspector General described as “extraordinary,” “insubordinate,” “ad hoc,” and “based on his personal views even if it meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice.”

The findings were in a long-awaited and much anticipated report where the Department’s independent watchdog was examining the handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, as well as other actions taken by the Justice Department before the 2016 election.

The report found serious breaches of protocol by Comey, which will bolster the official case the White House made to justify President Trump’s decision to fire him. But it did little to support Trump’s claim that Comey or the FBI was biased against the President.

Thursday’s report said that Comey’s move to hold a press conference, without briefing Justice Department leadership of his plans, in July 2016 announcing the FBI’s findings in its Clinton email probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails was “extraordinary and insubordinate.”

“[W]e found none of his reasons to be a persuasive basis for deviating from well-established Department policies in a way intentionally designed to avoid supervision by Department leadership over his actions,” the DOJ Inspector General said.

Also being examined was Comey’s move to send a letter to Congress, just days before the election, to announce that the email probe was being reopened due to emails found on a computer in the probe of Anthony Weiner, whose wife was a top Clinton aide.

The Inspector General knocked the Justice Department for its delay on moving on the emails, which were discovered in late September, according to the report.

The DOJ said it found no evidence that the email probe — called the “Midyear investigation” — was “deliberately placed on the back-burner by others in the FBI to protect Clinton.” However it pointed to claims that the delay was due to a move to prioritize the Russia probe, where a top agent Peter Strzok had also sent a series of anti-Trump texts to another DOJ official, the IG previously revealed.

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s
decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.” the IG said.

This delay had “potentially far-reaching consequences,” the report said, with Comey telling IG investigators that it affected his decision to write the letter to Congress.

While the Inspector General found no evidence Comey’s decision to send the letter “was influenced by political preferences,” it again criticized him for engaging in “ad hoc decision making based on his personal views even if it meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are ready to pounce on the report, with Democrats having alleged that the FBI was unfair to Clinton and Republicans poised to use the report to bash Comey, a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.

The IG also looked at various disclosures to the media, and particularly those authorized by then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year. A preliminary Inspector General report on McCabe came out a few weeks after his termination.

Read the report below:

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