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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Three Democratic senators wrote to the U.S. Government Accountability Office Wednesday requesting  an investigation into President Trump’s much-criticized, sketchy voter fraud commission.

The senators, Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), say that the commission has not responded to any of their requests for more information about its operations. They pointed to disclosures that came through open records requests, litigation and investigative reporting that “raise questions about the partisan motives and actions of the Commission.”

“Without any [commission] response to Congressional inquiries, we fear that the manner in which [the commission] is conducting its work will prevent the public from a full and transparent understanding of the Commission’s conclusions and unnecessarily diminish confidence in our democratic process,” the senators said.

They go onto request that the GAO look at the commission’s funding, the information it bases its conclusions on, its methodology and the steps it took to protect voter information and follow regulations related to its work.

Read the full letter below:

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Criticisms that President Trump’s voter fraud commission is not operating transparently are now coming from within the hen house.

A Democratic member of the commission sent a letter to its executive director seeking more information about the communications among commissioner members, with federal agencies, with commission staff on its work “and/or policy proposals that may be offered to policymakers as either a component of any report or under separate cover of which this Commissioner may be unaware.”

“There’s been a lot of frustration with the lack of information that people are able to get out of the commission,” Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap told TPM.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Dunlap said he had not received a response to his letter from Andrew Kossack, the commission’s executive director.

Dunlap, in the letter, cites the Federal Advisory Committee Act in requesting “copies of any and all correspondence between Commission members in the possession of the Commission.” He also recounts his frustration when he first heard about developments and details about the commission’s work through inquiries from the media.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, Dunlap told TPM, was when a reporter texted him about a Washington Post report Saturday that a researcher for the commission had been arrested on child porn charges.

“Four days have gone by. We’ve heard nothing from the leadership of the commission or staff about the situation,” Dunlap said. Dunlap said he may have met the researcher, Ronald Williams, at a commission meeting, but was otherwise unaware of his role and what sort of research he was doing.

But it’s not just that. Dunlap told TPM he was surprised when he was asked by reporters about communications between the commission’s vice chair Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Republican commissioners J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky about a controversial request for state voter roll information. The communications that happened before Adams and von Spakovsky were formally named to the commission, and they were only revealed as part of a lawsuit against the commission.

“You have a situation where you have the names J. Christian Adams, Hans von Spakovsky and Kris Kobach keep coming up as being the architects of the work of the commission. But what about the rest of us?” Dunlap told TPM. “There are other members of the commission and nobody is consulting with me about what I think the issues are that we should be looking at.”

Despite his concerns, Dunlap said he does not have any intentions of quitting commission.

“I think that would be a one day story [if I resigned],” Dunlap said. “I think I am a lot more effective at the front lines than I am in retreat.”

Read his letter to the executive director below:

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions would not give a straight answer to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) request to confirm that he will not put reporters in jail “for doing their jobs.”

“I don’t know if I can make a blanket commitment to that effect,” Sessions said during his hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“But I would say this, we have not taken any aggressive action against the media at this point,” he continued. “We have matters that involve the most serious national security issues that put our country at risk, and we will utilize the authorities that we have legally and constitutionally if we have to.”

“We always try to find an alternative way, as you probably know, Senator Klobuchar, to directly confronting media persons,” he added. “But that is not a total blanket protection.”

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday he did not “believe” he had any conversations “directly” with members or staff of President Trump’s voter fraud commission.

Documents surfaced in a legal case against the commission revealed some level of communication between the commission members and DOJ, though it is unclear from the documents who exactly commission members spoke to and what they discussed.

“I do not believe I’ve ever had a single conversation with any member or staff of the commission directly,” Sessions said in response to a question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

She followed up by asking if there’s been any coordination between the commission and Sessions’ staff.

“I don’t know that coordinating is the correct — we’ve been asked for assistance on several issues,” Sessions said.  “I think it’s quite appropriate for the President to have a commission to review possible irregularities in elections. But you can be sure that Department of Justice will fairly and objectively enforce the law.”

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wouldn’t say whether it would be appropriate for a President to preemptively pardon people who are of interest to a federal investigation.

That scenario is a hot topic in light of Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s Russia probe, as President Trump has reportedly asked advisers about his abilities to pardon himself and those close to him, and Mueller’s team has appeared to take measures to circumvent that possibility, by working with the New York state attorney general’s office. (Presidents can only pardon federal crimes, not state crimes.)

After bringing up that Sessions had previously refused to say whether he had discussed potential pardons for people implicated by the Russia investigation, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) posed the question to Sessions as a hypothetical.

“Broadly speaking, do you believe that it would be problematic for an ongoing investigation if a president were to preemptively issue a pardon for someone who we have reason to believe is of interest to that investigation before the special counsel had a chance to finish his work?” Klobuchar asked.

Well, the pardon power is quite broad. I’m not studied it. I do not know if that would be appropriate or not, frankly,” Sessions said. He later added that he would look into it and follow up with a written response to the committee.

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Updated at 1:36 p.m. ET

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Wednesday that he had not been interviewed or contacted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The revelation came after some squirming by Sessions as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) grilled him during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about his interactions with the Mueller probe thus far.

“I’d be pleased to answer that. I am not sure I should without clearing with the special counsel. What do you think?” Sessions said.

Leahy repeated his question: whether Sessions had been interviewed by Mueller’s team, prompting Sessions to say “no.”

Leahy had also asked whether Mueller had requested an interview with Sessions. That question went unanswered until later in the day, when Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed Sessions further.

With questions that seemed to suggest Blumenthal knew something, he asked Sessions if he had been contacted by Mueller’s probe. Sessions said he didn’t know, but picked up on the implication of Blumenthal’s questions. “Do you have a source?” he asked Blumenthal at one point. Sessions promised to check with his staff.

A short time later, Sessions said his staff had subsequently assured him Mueller’s probe had not reached out for an interview.

“My staff handed me a note that I have not been asked for an interview at this point. My office certainly hasn’t been contacted with regard to that,” Sessions said.

“Maybe you better check your source.”

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to confirm or deny whether President Trump brought up the federal Russia investigation as a reason to fire FBI Director James Comey.

“That calls for a communication that I have had with the president, and I believe it remains confidential,” Sessions said, in response to questioning from top Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein (CA) at committee hearing Wednesday.

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Without calling out President Trump by name, Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai shut down the idea Trump put forward last week that NBC and other broadcasters could be punished for “Fake News” by blocking the renewal of their station licenses, a process the FCC oversees.

“I believe in the First Amendment,” Pai, who was selected by Trump to lead the independent commission, said at a Washington event Tuesday, according to Politico.

“The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment, and under the law the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on content of a particular newscast,” he continued.

Pai was not the only commissioner to throw cold water on Trump’s threat, which Trump tweeted after NBC published a report on remarks the President made at a private Pentagon meeting.

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic appointee to the commission, tweeted her own response to Trump’s tweet last week.

Beyond the First Amendment considerations, there would be practical issues facing the FCC if it tried to carry out Trump’s threats. Networks like NBC aren’t issued a blanket license through the FCC. Rather, the individual stations it owns and operates renew their licenses on a cyclical basis (on top of the dozens of NBC affiliates the corporation does not own).

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Gregory Katsas, a top White House lawyer who has been nominated by President Trump for a powerful appeals court seat, told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that he had “given legal advice on a few discrete legal questions” arising out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but denied any involvement in some of the key moments leading to the probe, including the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

“I have no knowledge of any underlying facts regarding Russian interference,” Katsas said at the hearing for his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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