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 Justice Department’s third-ranking official, Rachel Brand, is planning to step down from her post, the New York Times reported Friday.

Brand, the Associate Attorney General, would be next in line to oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s election interference, if President Donald Trump fired Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The Times report cites two sources briefed on the matter. Spokespeople for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to TPM’s inquiry about the report.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) ignored bipartisan pleas by Senate leaders to not delay a Thursday vote on a massive government spending bill, with a deadline to keep the government open coming at midnight.

Paul used a procedural move to stall the legislation — the result of a major bipartisan budget deal — from coming up for a vote. In a feisty speech from the Senate floor, he demanded a vote for an amendment he is pushing that would restore budget caps that the spending deal seeks to lift.

“I ran for office because I was very critical of President Obama’s trillion-dollar deficits. Now we have Republicans hand-in-hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits,” Paul said. “I can’t in all good honesty and all good faith just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits.”

He brought with him to the Senate floor a number of signs, suggesting he is prepared for the long-haul in his floor remarks.

Just before Paul objected to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) move to call a vote, the Majority leader as well as his Democratic counterpart pleaded with him to accept a vote on a procedural move, a budget point of order, instead.

“I understand my friend and colleague from Kentucky does not join the President in supporting the bill, and it’s his right, of course, to vote against the bill, but I would argue that it’s time to vote,” McConnell said.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) noted that members of his caucus had their own amendments that they would prefer to bring up for a vote.

“It’s hard to make an argument that if one person gets an amendment, that everybody else won’t want an amendment, and then we’ll be here for a very long time,” Schumer said.

McConnell was seeking what’s known as “unanimous consent” to push up a vote on the bill to 6 p.m., a few hours before it the legislation had met the 30 hours of debate required for a vote. (It is typical for those 30-hour periods to be cut short using unanimous consent motions). It only takes one senator to block unanimous consent, an opportunity Paul took to take stand against the legislation.

“This is the most important debate we will have in the year over spending, and no amendments are allowed,” Paul said, while calling the argument that other lawmakers would then want their amendments voted on “canard”

“We’ve been open for business ten hours today. You can do four amendments an hour. We could have done 40 amendments,” Paul said.

If Paul holds firm, then the Senate will not be able to vote on advancing the spending legislation until 1 a.m., technically an hour after the previous funding bill has lapsed, with a final Senate vote on it after. The House would still need to vote on the spending bill after that before it was sent to President Trump for his signature.

Paul’s gambit is just the latest of a series of twists that spending legislation has faced since the deal was unveiled. A group of House conservatives are opposed to the bill, citing similar concerns to Paul’s about growing the deficit. That means House Speaker Paul Ryan will likely need the votes of Democrats, who are mixed on supporting spending legislation that does not include a clear path for passing legislation to protect the DACA program for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.


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Buried in this CBS News story detailing an actual wall that is being built to seperate House Intel’s Democratic and Republican staff, there’s a nugget suggesting that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is investigating allegations of leaks coming from Committee Republicans. The revelation came from Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), who has taken a prominent role in the committee’s Russia investigation.

Rooney said one reason for the tension is an erosion of trust, exacerbated by an ongoing ethics investigation into the “entire Republican staff,” including “the woman up front that answers the phone” for alleged leaks. He later added that the matter was being handled by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The OCE would not comment to me on Rooney’s remark, and Rooney’s office did not return my inquiry for more details. But because of how OCE works, we may eventually learn what’s going on here.

It’s important to note that the OCE is seperate from the House Committee on Ethics, which is made up of House members. The latter oversaw the investigation into House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes’ alleged disclosure of classified information (for which he was cleared). The former was formed in 2008 and is made up of private citizens, both on its staff and board. It can refer allegations of wrongdoing to the House Ethics Committee but is not authorized to make determinations of wrongdoing, nor can it sanction wrongdoers. (You can read more about its process and role here.)

It’s also important to note that, in the case that the OCE does make a referral for further review to the House Ethics Committee, there is a process in place that requires the House Committee to eventually make the OCE’s report public. That means that whatever Rooney was referring to here will, quite possibly, become public.

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NBC News is reporting that Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security has told the outlet that, among the 21 state election systems that DHS previously said were targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 election, “an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.” Beyond that, the report is vague, and it’s not clear whether Manfra is referring to an incident we hadn’t already known about.

As I reported last year, there was a lot of confusion when the DHS informed state elections officials that their states were among 21 states it had previously indicated had been targeted by Russian hackers. A vast majority of the states had been subjected to what in cyber-security speak is known as “scanning” — an occurrence so common that some state officials told me that their websites are “scanned” hundreds of times a day. Some questioned why the DHS chose to describe such activity in language that led to such sensational headlines.

There were a few states, however, that did not fit that pattern.

Illinois publicly disclosed back in July of 2016 that hackers “were able to retrieve a number of voter records.” A month later a report by the state noted that the attack originated “from several foreign based IP addresses.” When DHS informed the 21 states of the attempted hacks, Illinois connected the notification to that incident.

Arizona, meanwhile, was notified in August 2016 of an attempted cyber-intrusion in June; a local elections administrator in Gila County opened a malicious email attachment and the computer’s username and password were stolen.

“We believe the Gila county hack was an isolated phishing attempt where a server in Russia was used,” Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona’s Secretary of State told TPM in an email today, while noting “that servers anywhere in the world could have been used.”

He added that when the DHS was informing the 21 states of an attempted Russian hack, Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan met with the DHS to discuss the attempts to “scan” states’ systems.”

“Just to be clear those are two different issues,” Roberts said.

My colleague Sam Thielman reported on the attempted intrusion in Wisconsin, where the hackers’ tried to intrude via a banner or a pop-up ad. Their attempt was unsuccessful, and was blocked by the state IT division’s protective measures.

It’s unclear whether these incidents — in Illinois, Arizona and Wisconsin — are the “exceptionally small number” of cases Manfra refers to in which Russian hackers successfully penetrated state election systems.

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The attorneys seeking to withdraw from their representation for ex-Trump campaign aide Rick Gates said that “that irreconcilable differences have developed with” Gates “which make our effective representation of the client impossible,” according to a court document that was filed last week, but only made public on Wednesday.

The three attorneys seeking to withdraw — Shanlon Wu, Walter Mack and Annemarie McAvoy — attended a hearing with Gates and prosecutors from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. The hearing was under seal, meaning that neither the public nor the press could watch it.

After the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered some, but not all, of the court documents the attorneys had filed in connection to their effort to withdraw be made public.

Gates is facing charges of money laundering, tax evasion and failure to disclose foreign lobbying as part of Mueller’s Russia probe. He has pleaded not guilty.

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who joined Gates in the charges, also pleaded not guilty.

Last Thursday, Gates’ attorneys said in a filing that they were requesting to “withdraw as counsel of record in this case effective immediately,” but for reasons that the judge kept under seal.

A document indicating their reasons was what was unsealed Wednesday. However, another document that was filed under seal connected to the attorneys’ move to withdraw has not yet been released.

“Counsel is constrained by attorney-client privilege as to the specifics involved but understand that the Court may wish to inquire more specifically of counsel for the basis of this motion,” the filing said. “Counsel will make themselves available to the Court for such inquiry in whatever forum the Court deems appropriate.”

Prior to their move, CNN reported that Gates had quietly hired a new lawyer, Tom Green, a move the outlet took as a sign that Gates may be negotiating with Mueller’s team. Green was not present at Wednesday’s hearing. Coming out of the court room, Wu indicated that he was still under the gag order the judge put on the case and would not be able to answer reporters’ questions.

Read the recently unsealed filing below:

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A federal judge on Wednesday considered a request from Rick Gates’ attorneys to withdraw from representing him. The hearing was under seal — meaning neither the public nor the press could sit in on it — and afterward, Gates’ attorneys indicated that they were still under gag order, so they could not say what had happened.

The hearing, which lasted about an hour, came amid speculation that Gates is switching up his legal team, perhaps in effort to come to a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Last month, CNN reported that Tom Green, of the Washington, D.C. firm Sidley Austin, had been quietly brought on and was seen at Mueller’s office multiple times. The CNN report suggested his addition to the team was a sign that Gates may be negotiating with Mueller.

Green was not spotted entering the hearing Wednesday. Rather, three attorneys seeking to quit Gates’ legal team attended, as well prosecutors on Mueller’s team and Gates himself.

Gates, a former Trump campaign aide, is facing charges of money laundering, tax evasion and failure to disclose foreign lobbying. Paul Manafort, a Gates business partner and Trump’s former champaign chair, was also charged in Mueller’s probe. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Last week, three attorneys that have been representing Gates filed a motion to withdraw from their representation of him. Their reasons were filed under seal because they involve “highly sensitive matters concerning the Defendant and public disclosure of the information would potentially be prejudicial to the Defendant,” according to their filing.

After Wednesday’s hearing, an entry was added to the case’s public docket that said that U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson had heard the matter and that motion to withdraw was “taken under advisement.”

Update: This story has been updated to include a docket entry filed after the hearing.

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The top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee said that Steve Bannon should face contempt hearings if he continued to refuse to answer all of the committee’s questions. In a statement, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the committee was “united on this matter.”

Schiff’s statement also accused the White House of blocking Bannon’s testimony, alleging that Bannon’s lawyer informed the committee that he would only answer “a set of fourteen yes-or-no questions the White House had pre-approved” regarding the presidential transition, Bannon’s tenure in the White House and Bannon’s conversations with President Trump after he left.

Bannon’s initial appearance in front of the House Intel Committee last month devolved into confusion when he, apparently upon instructions from the White House, declined to answer any questions covering the time after the 2016 campaign. His refusal prompted the committee to serve him a subpoena on the spot — a rare moment of bipartisanship for an investigation typically wracked with acrimony.

As they came out of a committee meeting on Monday evening, House Intel Democrats and Republicans alike said they expected Bannon to show up Tuesday morning and comply with their subpoena.

“We have all the tools that the House has to enforce subpoenas and we’ll take the steps necessary,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), a Republican leader of the Russia probe, said. “I expect him to be here.”

However, later that evening it was reported that Bannon would be a no-show. The interview, according to Schiff and other lawmakers, has now been rescheduled for next week.

Meanwhile, Bannon is also planning to be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, during which he reportedly intends to answer anything Mueller asks of him.

“Testifying before the Special Counsel does not obviate Mr. Bannon’s obligations under the subpoena issued by the Committee,” Schiff said. “Should Bannon maintain his refusal to return and testify fully to all questions, the Committee should begin contempt proceedings to compel his testimony.”

Neither the White House nor Bannon’s attorney responded to TPM’s requests for comment.

Read the full Schiff statement below:

“This week, Steve Bannon’s counsel informed the Committee that the White House continues to prohibit Mr. Bannon from testifying to the Committee beyond a set of fourteen yes-or-no questions the White House had pre-approved. The White House’s bar on Bannon’s testimony covers matters during the transition, his tenure at the White House, and his communications with the President since leaving government service, even though the President has not in fact invoked executive privilege.

“This is unacceptable, and the Committee remains united on this matter – the Committee’s subpoena remains in effect and his interview has been rescheduled for next week. Testifying before the Special Counsel does not obviate Mr. Bannon’s obligations under the subpoena issued by the Committee. Should Bannon maintain his refusal to return and testify fully to all questions, the Committee should begin contempt proceedings to compel his testimony.”

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Days after a widely debunked GOP intelligence memo attacking the FBI became public, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously Monday to release a Democratic rebuttal to the Republican memo, sending it over to the White House for President Trump to approve of its publication.

“The majority found themselves in an insupportable position when they released a misleading memo and refused to release the Democratic response,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters after the closed-door vote. “I think they were compelled to take the action they took today. And we think this will be very useful information for the American people to see.”

Democrats had claimed that the Republican memo, which alleged FBI misconduct in its Russia investigation, was misleading, and thus sought to assemble its own report based on the underlying intelligence that they say will add needed context.

Republicans on the Intel Committee last week blocked a Democratic move to release both memos at the same time, but had signaled that they were open to releasing the Dem memo once it went through the same process of classification review that the Republican memo did.

An open question is whether Trump will greenlight the Democratic memo the way he rubber stamped the Republican memo.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), a Republican who has been a leader of the Russia probe, said he was in favor Trump releasing the memo, while other Republicans on the committee were less committal one way or the other.

Earlier Monday, Trump tweeted the Democratic ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff had “illegally leak[ed] confidential information,” which some took as a hint that the President did not approve of the Dems’ memo’s release.

He has not read Schiff’s memo yet. Before he had read the Republican memo, however, he was picked up on a hot mic telling a lawmaker he “100 percent” supported its release. The Republican memo was written by staff of House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes, based on classified intelligence material the Justice Department turned over to the committee.

Republicans on this and other committees have amped up their attacks of the FBI, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation appears have been gaining traction and has already resulted in charges brought against four people associated with Trump or his campaign.

Schiff also said during Monday’s committee meeting, Nunes was asked again, as he was last week, about any coordination with the White House in their push to release the memo. Schiff said Nunes avoided answering the question directly and instead read a “very lawyerly” written response, “saying that the White House had not been involved in the actual drafting of the memo.”

“But in terms of whether it was coordinated with the White House, they were consulted or strategized, the whole concept, he refused to answer those questions,” Schiff said

Republicans have sworn that their memo was not an effort to undermine Mueller, but Trump himself undercut that point by tweeting that it “vindicates” him.

The dueling memos represented an unprecedented politicization of classified intelligence material, and particularly the FISA process by which the U.S. government seeks warrants to surveil U.S. citizens through a highly secretive court.

Prior to the Republican memo’s release, the Justice Department and the FBI very publicly objected to the publication of it. Schiff on Monday said the Democrats had already provided for the Justice Department their memo, and that they welcomed the Department’s vetting to protect sources and methods.

However, Schiff said that that he would also be seeking an explanation for any redactions made at the next step of the process, in case the White House seeks to include redactions for “political purposes.”

The Republican memo alleged that the FBI misled the FISA judge — or possibly, multiple FISA judges — by failing to fully describe who was behind the financing of research by ex-British spy Christopher Steele that they said was an “essential” part of the warrant to surveil Carter Page, a former advisor on the  Trump campaign. Steele’s research was funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign through intermediaries.

It has since been reported that the FBI had suggested in its Page warrant that Steele’s research was politically motivated.

Dems have also objected to how the GOP memo describes committee testimony from retiring FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, during which (in Republicans’ words) “no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the [The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] without the Steele dossier information.”

Outside FISA experts have been extremely skeptical, if not outright incredulous, the FBI would have based its Page warrant solely on Steele’s research.

The process GOP lawmakers used to release their memo was extremely obscure. After voting to let the full House of Representatives to view it last month, their vote last Monday sent it to the President, to give him the opportunity to object to releasing it.

Trump instead sought to declassify it in its entirety without any redactions.  Had he not, Republicans would have had the option of reading it from the House floor or into the congressional record, as a way of publicizing its contents.

“What will we do if the White House essentially redacts to protect itself or refuses to release? I think it’s going to be very hard for the White House, like it was hard for the Republicans on the committee, to block release of this. I am more concerned that they make political redactions,” Schiff said.

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Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is still going hard after Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy who compiled the so-called Trump dossier.

After referring Steele to the Justice Department last month for criminal prosecution, Grassley was back at it Monday, publicly releasing a heavily redacted version of a memo alleging that Steele materially misled the FBI about his contacts with the media.

Grassley released his memo, which he sent Justice Department last month with the criminal referral for Steele, after receiving permission from the FBI to do so, with redactions. He unveiled it Monday alongside a letter to the Justice Department seeking that the department declassify the material redacted in the memo.

“The government should not be blotting out information that it admits isn’t secret, and it should not take dramatic steps by Congress and the White House to get answers that the American people are demanding,” Grassley said in a press release accompanying the memo and the letter.

Grassley’s desire to release a memo impugning Steele echoes the efforts of House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes, whose widely-debunked memo released last week alleged the FBI misled a surveillance court about its use of Steele’s research in a Russia probe FISA application.

With the redactions, it’s hard to make out exactly what Grassley is accusing Steele of. However, the unredacted portions of his memo reference fall 2016 media reports on Steele’s work, as well as statements Steele has made in a British lawsuits about his media contacts during that period.

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