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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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he was for now declining congressional Republicans’ requests for a second special counsel to investigate alleged FBI misconduct in the Trump-Russia probe. But Sessions said he had instead named a top DOJ prosecutor to lead the internal effort to look into the GOP claims.

The announcement, made in a letter to top lawmakers, follows the news Wednesday that the Justice Department’s Inspector General will investigate how the FBI handled the surveillance warrant it sought for former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.

Sessions said in the letter that hat John Huber, a U.S. attorney in Utah, was working in coordination with the Inspector General’s office on the matters the Republicans raised in their request for a second special counsel earlier this month. Huber has also previously led the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“I am confident that Mr. Huber’s review will include a full, complete, and objective evaluation of these matters in a manner that is consistent with the law and the facts,” Sessions said.

Sessions’ letter was addressed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

Earlier this month, Grassley joined three other Senate Judiciary Republicans in calling for a second special counsel to investigate the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia probe. Goodlatte and Gowdy sent Sessions their own letter calling for a second special counsel in early March, alleging “evidence of bias, trending toward animus, among those charged with investigating serious cases.”

Their requests come as President Trump and his allies have engaged in an anti-FBI campaign in apparent effort to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign’s Russia ties.  Trump’s own lawyers called for a second special counsel late last year. One of those lawyers, John Dowd, who has since left Trump’s legal team, called for Mueller’s firing earlier this month.

Sessions’ letter Thursday appeared to rebut the congressional Republicans’ claims that the Inspector General did not have the tools necessary to investigate their concerns.

Sessions also stressed the extraordinary circumstances in which a special counsel is appointed. His letter left open the possibility that, depending on what Huber’s and the IG’s reviews turned up, a second special counsel could be appointed.

Read the full letter below:

[H/T HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly]

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Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director who was controversially fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has set up a legal defense fund, the law firm representing McCabe announced Thursday.

“Media reports indicate that at a minimum, there are a number of congressional inquiries that he will be required to respond to, as well as the broader Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation that is ongoing, and any potential lawsuits he might consider,” the GoFundMe page for the fundraising effort says.

McCabe was fired earlier this month just hours before he’d be eligible for his full FBI retirement package. The Justice Department statement announcing his termination accused McCabe of “unauthorized disclosure to the news media” and of a lack of candor, related to the the OIG’s probe into how the bureau handled the Clinton email scandal.

McCabe has denied the allegations. A cloud hanging over his firing is the repeated public attacks President Trump launched against McCabe, particularly once Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation began heating up. Privately, Trump reportedly mocked McCabe’s wife’s defeat in a 2015 Virginia state senate race.

The attacks on McCabe were part of a larger effort by the president and his supporters to push the notion that anti-Trump bias is rampant at the FBI.

“The support for Mr. McCabe has been overwhelming, humbling, and deeply appreciated.  He and his family continue to deal with the very public and extended humiliation that the Administration, and the President personally, have inflicted on them over the past year,” McCabe’s GoFundMe page says.

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The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday released a request that the Trump campaign provide emails from campaign aides John Mashburn and Rick Dearborn.

Dearborn, a former chief of staff of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, went on to lead the Trump transition team and served for about a year in the White House. Mashburn was the Trump campaign’s policy director, and is currently the White House’s Deputy Cabinet Secretary.

“We are writing today because we believe information obtained in a recent Committee interview warrants expanding those searches to two additional custodians who were not included in the original effort, John Mashburn and Rick Dearborn,” Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote in a letter dated Tuesday. “Doing so will help ensure the Campaign’s production fully responds to the categories of documents sought in the Committee’s initial letter.”

The letter follows an earlier request for information sent by the senators to the Trump campaign last July, seeking emails from an assortment of other campaign officials.

“The Campaign has since provided over 28,000 pages of responsive documents, as well as letters detailing the 21 campaign custodians whose emails were searched and the more than 300 search terms used,” the senators noted in their Tuesday letter.

Dearborn’s name has appeared in reports about connections between the National Rifle Association, Russia and Trump associates. Dearborn was sent an email by an NRA activist in May 2016 with the subject line “Kremlin Connection,” seeking his and Sessions’ advice for setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both Dearborn and Mashburn were also looped in on an effort to soften the GOP’s platform towards Russia with a Ukraine amendment, another campaign aide involved in the push told Business Insider. 

Read the letter below:

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The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General announced Wednesday that it had opened a probe into the FBI’s handling of a surveillance warrant for “a certain U.S. person.”

The announcement comes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as GOP lawmakers, called for more investigation into what they say was FBI misconduct in how it sought a court’s blessing to surveil Carter Page, who served as a foreign policy advisor on President Trump’s campaign.

The OIG announcement doesn’t name Page. But it also includes what appears to be a reference to Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy whose dossier of Trump-Russia ties was used by the FBI as part of its investigation into Page.

“As part of this examination, the OIG also will review information that was known to the DOJ and the FBI at the time the applications were filed from or about an alleged FBI confidential source,” the Office of Inspector General said in its statement.  “Additionally, the OIG will review the DOJ’s and FBI’s relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to the FISC applications.”

The DOJ Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, is already investigating how the Department handled its inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. The findings from that probe are expected in the weeks to come.

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling has gained public momentum, Republicans have ramped up their criticism of the FBI, where the investigation started.

House Intel Republicans wrote a classified memo alleging the FBI misled the surveillance court in seeking the warrant for Page by not describing Steele’s ties to Democrats who were funding his research. That memo was declassified by the President in February over the objections of the Justice Department. It was quickly reported that many of the claims in the GOP memo were, at best, wildly misleading.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, spearheaded their own memo suggesting Steele misled the FBI about his contacts with the press. The Republicans, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), sent a referral to the Justice Department recommending it pursue a criminal investigation of Steele.

Sessions in February said that the Inspector General would investigate allegations of FBI misconduct related to the Page warrant, which it first sought after Page left the campaign in the fall of 2016 and successfully renewed three more times.

Read the full OIG announcement below:

Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz announced today that, in response to requests from the Attorney General and Members of Congress, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will initiate a review that will examine the Justice Department’s and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) compliance with legal requirements, and with applicable DOJ and FBI policies and procedures, in applications filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) relating to a certain U.S. person. As part of this examination, the OIG also will review information that was known to the DOJ and the FBI at the time the applications were filed from or about an alleged FBI confidential source. Additionally, the OIG will review the DOJ’s and FBI’s relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to the FISC applications.

If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.

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This morning, we published some of my reporting on the legal landscape for the lawsuits that Democrats and advocacy groups have filed challenging the Census’ move, under the Trump administration, to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

One thing to keep in mind as the cases wind their way through the courts is the timing. The Census Bureau will be sending its surveys to the printers for the 2020 Census in May 2019, making that, according to experts, the drop-dead deadline to remove or reinstate the citizenship question.

Depending how the initial court decisions come down on the lawsuits, I wouldn’t be surprised if either side timed their appeals in a way that attempted to game out this timeline.

We saw some similar strategizing play out recently when the Trump administration was appealing to the Supreme Court an order halting its move to end the DACA program. The administration filed it’s appeal in a less-than-urgent fashion that prompted speculation about whether the White House had one strategic eye on Congress, which might deliver a legislative fix.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in a tweet Wednesday linked the Trump administration’s controversial push to add a citizenship question to the Census to an approach to drawing districts that would boost Republican power.

Rubio is not the first conservative to suggest that data gathered by asking about citizenship on the decennial Census could be used to draw districts based on number of citizens or eligible voters, rather than total population. Currently, states use total population.

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The legal battle that is about to ensue over a question the Trump administration wants to add to the 2020 Census will be unlike major litigation around past censuses.

After an unprecedented move by the Trump administration to add a controversial question late in the Census planning process, courts will be asked to take an unprecedented step of preventing the administration from making the change before the count.

California filed a lawsuit challenging Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add a citizenship question to the upcoming Census just hours after the change was announced. Several other groups and parties are lining up behind California Attorney General Xavier Becerra with plans to bring legal challenges of their own.

Every Census is the target of a fair share of lawsuits. But the legal ground to be tread this time will be fresh, Census experts and voting rights attorneys tell TPM.

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross didn’t have to look far to find evidence that asking for one’s citizenship — as he announced Monday that the 2020 Census would do — could depress participation.

The Bureau itself said as much in an internal research report presented last fall, based on the experience of Census field workers. According to one worker, a Spanish-speaking respondent who admitted to her when she asked that he was not a citizen, later lied about his country of origin, “shut down” when she asked when he entered the country, and walked out of his apartment where she was conducting the survey.

Several other accounts in the report likewise pointed to a potential chilling effect of asking about citizenship.

Yet Ross — in a move that is being roundly criticized by former Census officials, policy wonks and civil rights groups — granted a request by the Justice Department  to include the question in the upcoming decennial survey, despite the Bureau having almost no time to test the effect of such an addition.

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The Trump administration on Monday evening announced that it was making a controversial change to the upcoming 2020 Census that experts say could lead to an undercount — particularly among minority and urban communities.

For the first time in decades, the Census will ask survey-takers their citizenship status, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a memo. The change was made at the request of the Justice Department.

Already, civil rights groups and Democrats say they will sue over the change.

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A few weeks back, I reported on the dismay among state elections officials of both parties that Matt Masterson, a commissioner at the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, was being replaced by a yet-to-be-named recommendation by Speaker Ryan.

Today, those officials got a silver lining with the news that Masterson would be moving to a new job at the Department of Homeland Security, where he would work on election cybersecurity issues. The move was first reported by The Hill and confirmed by Masterson in an EAC blog, in which he said that, in his new role at DHS, he would be “a federal liaison with the election community to improve the security and resilience of the election process.”

While speaking with state officials earlier this month about Masterson’s departure from the commission, I heard repeatedly about how helpful Masterson was as a go-between between election administrators and the DHS. As the DHS was ramping up its efforts to help out with election cybersecurity last year, Masterson played a crucial role in opening the lines of the communication between state officials and the feds, they told me.

Election experts and state officials were quick to praise the DHS for bringing on Masterson.

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