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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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Special counsel Robert Mueller in court filings Tuesday raised concerns that a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s chef”  could get access — via the discovery process in the criminal case against his firm — to sensitive materials, including “information that could thwart the ongoing efforts of the United States to “prevent his continuing criminal activity in Russia and elsewhere outside the United States.”

The filing came in the case that Mueller has brought against Russian individuals and entities accused of facilitating Russia’s election meddling on social media, and in particular, in a back-and-forth between Mueller and the only co-defendant in the indictment who has shown up in court to face the charges.

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U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis denied on Tuesday former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s request to dismiss the case the special counsel Robert Mueller brought against him in Virginia.

“In sum, because the Special Counsel’s appointment was consistent with both constitutional requirements regarding appointment of officers and statutory requirements governing the authority to conduct criminal litigation on behalf of the United States, the Special Counsel had legal authority to investigate and to prosecute this matter and dismissal of the Superseding Indictment is not warranted,” Ellis said in his opinion

He said that the “only issue is whether the Special Counsel’s investigation and prosecution of the matters contained in the Superseding Indictment falls within the valid grant of jurisdiction contained in [paragraph b(i)] of the May 17 Appointment Order,” a reference to a provision Mueller’s appointment order tasking him with investigation of “any links and/or coordination bet ween the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”

Ellis concluded:

“It does; the Special Counsel’s investigation of defendant falls squarely within the jurisdiction outlined in [paragraph b(i)] of the May 17 Appointment Order, and because [paragraph b(i)] was an appropriate grant of authority, there is no basis for dismissal of the Superseding Indictment on this ground. ”

During the hearing on Manafort’s request, Ellis posed sharp and skeptical questions at the attorneys for Mueller’s team. That skepticism came through in his opinion Tuesday, even as he decided that a dismissal of the charges against Manafort was not warranted.

“[T]that conclusion should not be read as approval of the practice of appointing Special Counsel to prosecute cases of alleged high-level misconduct,” Ellis said.  “Here, we have a prosecution of a campaign official, not a government official, for acts that occurred well before the Presidential election. To be sure, it is plausible, indeed ultimately persuasive here, to argue that the investigation and prosecution has some relevance to the election which occurred months if not years after the alleged misconduct.”

He argued that a “a bipartisan commission with subpoena power” would be a “better mechanism for addressing concerns about election interference.”

“The appointment of special prosecutors has the potential to disrupt these checks and balances, and to inject a level of toxic partisanship into investigation of matters of public importance,” Ellis said, adding the the U.S. system of checks and balances “ultimately works only if people of virtue, sensitivity, and courage, not affected by the winds of public opinion, choose to work within the confines of the law.”

“Let us hope that the people in charge of this prosecution, including the Special Counsel and the Assistant Attorney General, are such people,” he said.

(The reference to the “Assistant Attorney General” appears to be a reference to Rod Rosenstein, who does not carry that title. Rosenstein is the deputy attorney general and the acting attorney general in the Mueller probe.)

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Justice Anthony Kennedy would like the world to know that he’s no fan of President Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric even while he provided the crucial vote upholding the President’s travel ban, which targeted some majority-Muslim countries after Trump during the campaign promised a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Kennedy filed a brief concurrence with the majority’s 5-4 opinion upholding the third iteration of the Trump policy. The justice did not call out Trump by name, but said that, while certain government actions and statements are not subject to judicial scrutiny, it is “imperative” for a government official “to adhere to the Constitution and to its meaning and its promise.”

He then referenced the Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects freedom of religion:

The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion and promises the free exercise of religion. From these safeguards, and from the guarantee of freedom of speech, it follows there is freedom of belief and expression. It is an urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees and mandates in all their actions, even in the sphere of foreign affairs. An anxious world must know that our Government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts.

Court observers are watching closely to see if Kennedy chooses to retire this summer. Doing so would let Trump appoint a replacement who could sit on the court for decades.

Read the Kennedy concurrence, which starts on page 45 below:

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The Twitter account for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign was ready to remind everyone, in the minutes after the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s travel ban, of the unprecedented power grab that helped secure such a decision.

The tweet was  photo of McConnell going in for a hand shake with Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who filled the absence on the bench created by Justice Scalia Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016 and provided the fifth vote upholding the ban Tuesday.

McConnell notoriously blocked then-President Barack Obama from filling the seat with his own choice, D.C. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, and refused to grant the Obama nominee even a committee hearing.

The seat stayed open well over a year, while the prospect of a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice to fill the pivotal ninth seat appeared to help drive conservatives otherwise skeptical of Trump to the ballot box in 2016, according to exit polls.

Trump nominated Gorsuch, who has quickly emerged as one of the most conservative justices on the court, soon after his inauguration and Senate Republicans led by McConnell blew up the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees to see him confirmed.

McConnell, meanwhile, has bragged that blocking Garland was “the most consequential decision I’ve made in my entire public career.”

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The Russian firm that special counsel Robert Mueller has charged with funding Russia’s election meddling on social media and is run by an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” challenged Mueller’s legal authority in court filings Monday.

The arguments that the company, Concord Management, presented to attack Mueller’s investigation were somewhat distinct from those previously put forward by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, whose own efforts to challenge thescope of Mueller’s authority were rejected by a federal judge in D.C. in May. A separate Manafort challenge to Mueller’s legal authority brought in the Virginia case against him is still pending.

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The Supreme Court dealt voting rights advocates another setback Monday in a decision that mainly sided with Texas in the latest battle in a years-long war over the state’s legislative maps. The Court mostly overturned a finding by a lower court that many of the districts — which Texas adopted based on an interim map approved by that court in 2012 as a temporary fix — were still impermissible gerrymanders. It also overturned the lower court’s finding that Texas hadn’t wiped away a discriminatory intent finding by adopting the interim map.

The Supreme Court also on Monday sent back to a lower court a North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case. That means that the high court will not have another opportunity to hear arguments on partisan gerrymandering for several more months.

Last week, however, voting rights advocates secured a high-profile victory in their challenge to Kansas Secretary of State’s Kris Kobach’s proof-of-citizenship voter-registration requirement when a district judge handed down her decision permanently blocking the requirement. In the days that followed the ruling, handed down last Monday evening, there was some confusion over what Kobach was telling local officials to bring them into compliance with the judge’s ruling. On Wednesday, Kobach formally told the county clerks to stop asking registering voters to show proof of citizenship, though he’s been slower to clean up the references to the requirement on his own website.

Voting groups also were dealt an incremental court win in another voter registration case — this one brought against the state of Missouri — when a judge denied Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s request to dismiss the case. Voting rights groups are suing Missouri for its alleged failure to update voters’ registration information when they update their relevant personal information online or by mail through the DMV.

North Carolina Republicans inched closer to putting an amendment on the ballot this year that would add a voter ID requirement to the state constitution. The initiative made it through committee via party-line vote on Thursday, and the legislature is expected to vote on it during their last week in session. A previous iteration of the state’s voter ID requirement was struck down by an appeals court in 2016, which found that the law and other voting restrictions were passed by GOP lawmakers with the intent to discriminate. The state legislature is also pushing for cutbacks to early voting, disproportionately used by minority voters. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the state house.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acknowledged in a memo submitted Thursday in the lawsuits challenging the addition of a proof-of-citizenship question that the move to add the question did not start with the Justice Department’s December 2017 request for it, which up until Thursday had been the official Trump administration story. Rather, Ross said he began discussing it with top administration figures after he was appointed in February 2017, and that it was he who brought the idea to the DOJ and asked if it would be helpful for its enforcement of the Voting Rights Act — a justification the administration put forward that has long been viewed with skepticism.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller has obtained and is reviewing phones and a computer used by Erik Prince, the President Trump-ally whose sister Betsy DeVos is the secretary of education, ABC News reported Monday.

A statement to ABC News from Prince’s spokesperson said that he “has spoken voluntarily with Congress and also cooperated completely with the Special Counsel’s investigation, including by providing them total access to his phones and computer.”

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The Supreme Court for a second time sided with Texas in a years-long legal fight starting with legislative maps its statehouse drew in 2011.

In a 5-4 majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the high court reversed a lower court’s finding that that the map that Texas adopted in 2013 was adopted with a discriminatory intent. The map had been okayed by the lower court as a temporary fix for the 2012 election. But the lower court rejected the 2013 map as a permanent solution — a decision the Supreme Court largely reversed Monday, with the exception of one Texas House district.

Texas’ legislative map was first found to be racially discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act by the lower court — a three-judge panel  — in 2011, but the Supreme Court ordered the lower court to narrow its remedy for fixing the map going into the 2012 elections.

The Texas legislature then rushed to adopt the map in 2013, even as the lower court said it was still assessing the effects of the map. The lower court then later ruled that Texas in doing so was continuing to act with the intent of racial discrimination — a finding that threatened to put the state back under the so-called pre-clearance regime that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder.

The Supreme Court on Monday was weighing in on appeal of the lower court’s finding that the intentional discrimination of the 2011 map had not been wiped away by the state adopting in 2013 the court-ordered map. The case was called Abbot v. Perez.

“We now hold that the three-judge court committed a fundamental legal error. It was the challengers’ burden to show that the 2013 Legislature acted with discriminatory
intent when it enacted plans that the court itself had produced,” Alito wrote. “The 2013 Legislature was not obligated to show that it had ‘cured’ the unlawful intent that the court attributed to the 2011 Legislature. Thus, the essential pillar of the three-judge court’s reasoning was critically flawed.”

Much of Alito’s opinion dealt with the procedural issue of whether Texas had appealed the case to the Supreme Court too early given that the lower court was still working on a remedy. The conservative majority rejected the argument that Texas’s appeal was premature.

Moving on to the merits of the case, Alito said that “when all the relevant evidence in the record is taken into account, it is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.”

In addition to reversing the lower court’s intentional discrimination decision, the Supreme Court on Monday overturned its decision that three legislative districts should be invalidated because they had a discriminatory effect, but it allowed to stand the court’s decision that a fourth district, a state House district, was an impermissible racial gerrymander.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, filed a brief concurring opinion that said they did not believe the Voting Rights Act could be applied to redistricting.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent joined by the court’s three other liberals, bashed the majority for guaranteeing Texas “continued use of much of its discriminatory maps.”

“This disregard of both precedent and fact comes at serious costs to our democracy. It means that, after years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas—despite constituting a majority of the population within the State—will continue to be underrepresented in the political process,” she wrote. “Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will. The fundamental right to vote is too precious to be disregarded in this manner.”

 

Read the opinion below:

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In a sign that special counsel Robert Mueller is laying the foundation for the cases he’s brought to live on even after he wraps up his own Russia investigation, two federal prosecutors not on his team joined his case Friday against Russians accused of meddling in the 2016 election on social media.

The two Justice Department attorneys —Heather Alpino of its National Security Division, and Jonathan Kravis, who works in the D.C. U.S. attorneys office — entered appearances on the docket in the case Mueller has brought against the Russians in February.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — Former Trump voter fraud commissioner J. Christian Adams was in a federal court in Virginia Friday to defend reports his group released in 2016 and 2017 alleging that thousands of non-citizens were illegally registered to vote and possibly voting in Virginia.

Adams and his group, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, are being sued for defamation and voter intimation by four voters, all citizens, who were named in PILF’s reports that listed alleged non-citizen illegal registrants.

Attorneys for Adams and PILF argued that the reports were not targeting the defendants but rather the government officials who Adams claims are not enforcing voter fraud laws.

The plaintiffs argued that the report amounted to character assassination of those falsely alleged to be non-citizens. If anyone’s character was being assassinated, Adams’ attorney Michael Lockerby argued, it was those of the government officials who hadn’t prosecuted allegations of voter fraud.

The four voters — as well as the Richmond chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens — allege Adams and PILF violated the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act, as well as Virginia defamation law. Friday’s hearing, in front U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, was to hear arguments on the defendants’ motion to throw out the lawsuit.

Grady kicked off his questioning by asking Lockerby what responsibility Adams and PILF had to vet the public records they’d obtained from election registrars indicating voters who had been removed from the rolls. According to the complaint, one of the challengers was put on the registrars’ list of removals because a paperwork error.

“At the end of the day, these are public records,” Lockerby argued, blaming the government officials, rather than the defendants, for mistakenly listing the names.

He argued that PILF corrected the record for two of the plaintiffs and removed their names in the 2017 report. That claim was challenged by plaintiffs later in the hearing, who pointed out PILF was warned on multiple occasions it was mischaracterizing the voters, and only revised the second report after it had already been published.

Lockerby also argued that the publication of the reported was protected by the First Amendment and that Adams was exercising his right to draw attention to an issue of public interest.

“I can be worried about crime,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Cameron Kistler, a lawyer at the group Protect Democracy, “but that doesn’t mean I can falsely accuse my neighbor of being an ax-murderer to draw attention to the issue.”

Adams’ report, titled “Aliens Invasion,” claimed it found “1046 aliens who registered to vote illegally” and that “Each of the aliens we have discovered to have registered or voted has likely committed a felony.”

The follow-up report “Aliens Invasion II,” said that the Justice Department “has done nothing about the felonies committed by 433 suspected aliens registered in Prince William County alone.” The reports included appendixes that listed the names, and in some cases addresses and phone numbers, of the people alleged to be non-citizens who illegally registered.

Both sides encouraged the judge to read the report itself in assessing the issue.

Kistler argued during the hearing that it was not just the release of the public records themselves, but the “gloss they put on the public records” that was at issue.

Much of the hearing focused on whether LULAC had standing to bring the case, given none of its members were named and there was no explicit language referencing Latinos in the language of Aliens Invasion and Aliens Invasion II.

The judge offered questions skeptical of LULAC’s involvement in the case, suggesting that the “aliens” in the report could just as easily refer to Irish immigrants or immigrants of other nationalities.

He closed the hour-plus hearing promising a decision on the motion to dismiss soon, and telling the parties that discovery would not begin before that.

The case raised “very interesting issues,” he said.

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