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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Federal prosecutors are seeking Trump Organization records related to an $130,000 payment that President Trump’s private attorney made to a porn star who has claimed to have had an affair with Trump in 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The request was related to raids conducted on attorney Michael Cohen’s home, office and a hotel room he was using Monday. The search warrants sought information on the payments, the New York Times and others reported.

The Wall Street Journal report on the request to Trump Organization is based on a personal familiar with the matter.

Cohen set up a separate entity through which he funneled the payment in October 2016, which he said came from his home equity line. Days before the 2016 election, the money was wired to a bank account connected to an attorney then representing porn star Stormy Daniels, whose birth name is Stephanie Clifford. Clifford, under a pseudonym, signed a nondisclosure agreement about the affair.

Trump Organization lawyer Jill A. Martin’s name was on a filing in an arbitration battle over Daniels’ efforts to speak publicly about her affair, the Wall Street Journal reported last month. Martin told the Journal at the time that she was involved “in her individual capacity” and that the “company has had no involvement in the matter.”

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The records sought in the search warrants used to conduct multiple raids on Michael Cohen Monday included documents related to hush money used to silence alleged mistresses of Donald Trump, as well as information on Cohen’s taxi medallion business, according to reports by the New York Times, CNN and others.

Investigators were looking for records related to payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, both who have claimed to have had affairs with Trump before he was President, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The White House has said Trump has denied the affairs, while Cohen — the President’s longtime personal attorney — has said that Trump was not involved in the $130,000 payment Cohen wired to an attorney representing Daniels just days before the 2016 election.

The FBI agents also were interested in information related to $150,000 that National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, Inc., paid McDougal, according to the Times. A.M.I.’s chief executive David J. Pecker is a friend of the President’s. The company bought the rights to McDougal’s story, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2016, but never ran her allegations that she had an consensual affair with Trump in 2006. Buying the exclusive rights prevented McDougal from taking her claims elsewhere.

Cohen’s tax medallion business has also attracted the attention of the investigators, sources familiar with the search warrant told CNN. The warrants sought information about Cohen’s associates in his taxi cab business, a source told Wall Street Journal. The warrant’s request for documents related to the medallions comes after Cohen’s companies were accused by New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance of owing the state about $40,000 in unpaid taxes. Cohen told TPM last year that the taxes are collected from drivers by the management company he uses, run by Gene “The Taxi King” Freidman.

One source also told CNN that the warrant sought information about other, smaller investments. The warrant mentioned being related in part to election laws, CNN said.

The searches were conducted by the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, the Times reported. The interim U.S. attorney, Geoffrey Berman, is recused from the investigation, ABC News reported. 

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who is overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and has been a target of criticism from President Trump — was involved in the decision to conduct an FBI raid Monday to seize the records of Trump’s personally attorney Michael Cohen, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

The report was based on three government officials.

Separately, ABC News reported that interim U.S. Attorney for New York’s Southern District, Geoffrey Berman, whose office led the raid, has recused himself from the investigation. Rosenstein signed off on Berman’s recusal, ABC News reported.

Berman, a former law partner at Rudy Giuliani’s firm, was personally interviewed for the gig by Trump last year.

Trump has publicly bashed Rosenstein, and according to the New York Times, privately mused about firing him last summer, around the same time he considered firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He reportedly backed down from firing Mueller when his White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to carry the directive out.

After news of the raid broke Monday afternoon, Trump fumed at Mueller, Rosenstein and at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is recused from the Russia probe.

Asked if he’d seek to fire Mueller, which would require going through Rosenstein, Trump appeared to leave the door open.

“I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said.

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The FBI’s raid on Michael Cohen, to put it bluntly, is a big frickin’ deal, former federal prosecutors and other criminal justice experts say.

To raid any law office would require investigators to jump through a whole special series of hoops and added review.  That one of the lawyer’s longtime clients is the sitting President of the United States adds another layer of extreme sensitivity and caution.

“The spotlight on this is so bright and the measure is so extraordinary that they would have to be a little crazy to do this without pretty ironclad evidence of some kind of wrongdoing,” said Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who studies technology, privacy, and civil liberties.

“You pull a move like this and it was all a big misunderstanding, that’s hugely embarrassing,” he said.  

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the decision to hand over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York certain information pertaining to Cohen brought to him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Bloomberg reported. The raid on Cohen’s office in midtown Manhattan, his home office and a hotel room he was using would have likely needed the sign off of interim U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman,  a White House-backed appointee of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as top officials at Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington, former prosecutors told TPM.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, they suggested, would likely have been looped in on the move. The Justice Department declined to comment.

The New York Times, in breaking the news of the raids, said investigators seized business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including Stormy Daniels, an adult film star whose alleged affair with Donald Trump in 2006 Cohen sought to keep quiet ahead of the 2016 election through a $130,000 hush payment.

The Washington Post, citing a person a person with knowledge of the case, reported that Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.

The Justice Department has extensive rules about seizing records of lawyers that could typically fall under attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors are required to consult with the the Criminal Division at Main Justice, and to get the sign off of the U.S. attorney overseeing the investigation or the relevant assistant attorney general. It’s also recommended that a special team of attorneys who are walled off from the prosecutors overseeing the inquiry be set up to review the potentially privileged documents.

“It’s procedurally cumbersome, it’s sensitive, it raises the hackles of the bar,” Sam Buell, a former prosecutor who worked on the Enron investigation, told TPM. “It’s not done on a fishing expedition. It’s only done when you’re reasonably confident that you’re going to find evidence of criminality and you need to do it with a search warrant.”

Investigators’ willingness to go the route of a high-profile raid, instead of a less intrusive subpoena or even a voluntary request for documents, suggested to outside experts that there’s at least some concern that Cohen could be withholding evidence.

“It tells you that, one, they had some pretty compelling reason to think that Cohen was not or would not produce the records they were trying to get in response to a subpoena” Sanchez said, adding that he’d, “infer that they have some evidence he has already withheld something that he claimed to have turned over.”

Secondly, Sanchez said, the move suggests that the prosecutors would have reason to believe that the records that they are seeking would be exempt from attorney-client privilege. The most obvious exception, Sanchez said, is the crime-fraud exemption which applies to communications made in the furtherance of a crime.

“If you’re talking to your attorney about a crime you’ve already committed, that’s privileged,” Sanchez said. “If you’re talking to your attorney to get them to help you to commit crime, that’s the part that’s not privileged.”

Former prosecutors also said that move to hand off the inquiry to federal prosecutors in New York once Mueller flagged the information shows that the special counsel is playing it by the book, even as President Trump and his allies suggest that he’s on a witch hunt.

“That’s pretty standard,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who investigated organized crime for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York. “It would be news if [Mueller] didn’t [refer it out].”

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A redacted search warrant that was released in court filings this weekend suggests that federal investigators were already zeroing in on Paul Manafort’s Ukraine work soon after Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed. That timeline casts further doubt on the argument Manafort has tried to make that the financial crimes connected to his Ukraine work were not part of Mueller’s initial purview, and that the scope of Mueller’s investigation should be narrowed to just allegations linked specifically to Russian election meddling.

The Manafort filing in the federal case against him in Washington, D.C., seeks to  exclude from trial evidence collected from a May 2017 search of a Manafort storage unit. On May 26, an FBI agent was allowed to enter the storage unit in Virginia and observed the labels on the boxes the investigator saw there, which the agent then used in an affidavit for a search warrant. Federal investigators were granted the warrant and searched the storage unit on May 27.

Manafort is now arguing the fruit of that search should be suppressed because the person who helped the FBI agent to unlock the storage unit and allowed the FBI agent enter it on May 26 was not authorized by Manafort to do so, even though that person (whose name is redacted in the filing) is listed on the unit’s lease. Manafort’s attorneys describe him as a former employee of Manafort’s, but the investigator’s affidavit says that he had left Manafort’s consulting firm to work for another business that Manafort operates.

Regardless of how the judge overseeing the case against Manafort comes down on that procedural argument, the details in the search warrant suggest that the probe into Manafort’s Ukraine work was up and running when Mueller took over the larger Russia investigation.

“They would have just picked up on it. There’s no way in 10 days they would have gotten a search warrant together without someone having done other investigation,” said Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor who worked on the Watergate investigation. “That would be literally impossible.”

Manafort, the former chairman of President Trump’s campaign, faces charges of an assortment of financial crimes related to the lobbying he did for the pro-Russia Ukrainian political party Party of Regions, as well as a failure to disclose that work under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have argued that the Ukraine allegations are beyond the Russia inquiry the special counsel was appointed to investigate.

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It slipped under the radar during a busy news week, but President Trump on Thursday re-upped his false claim that “millions and millions of people” voted illegally. The statement was especially jarring given that some of the biggest purveyors of voter fraud allegations have struggled in recent weeks to prove those allegations in court. I covered the difficulties Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach had in backing up his claims of mass non-citizen voter registration during a federal trial last month. And, on March 30, one of Kobach’s fellow commissioners on Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, J. Christian Adams, suffered a major defeat in a lawsuit that his organization spearheaded. The judge in her opinion said that the formula used by the Adams’ organization, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, to allege mass voter fraud was “misleading.”

The last week has brought a number of court decisions favoring voting rights. A federal judge in Texas ruled on Tuesday that the state had violated the National Voter Registration Act with how it handled people seeking to register to vote when they applied for or renewed driver’s licenses online. (The challengers said the language used in the online portal — which would instruct applicants to hand in paper voter registration applications — was confusing.)

In Florida, meanwhile, a judge wrote a scathing order requiring the state to obey a previous court order to rework its system to restore felons’ voting rights. It denied  Governor Rick Scott’s (R) request that the judge pause a previous decision on the issue. The old process only let felons apply for restored franchise five years after they complete their sentences, and the applications were approved on a case-by-case basis, with the governor allowed to intervene in each decision.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats and voting rights advocates are turning to the courts to block the Trump administration’s decision to ask a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. On Tuesday, seventeen states joined several municipalities in filing a lawsuit challenging the move. California also has its own lawsuit against the decision.

Beyond the lawsuits, voting rights advocates made more progress in passing state-level measures to expand voting rights. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Friday allowed an automatic voting registration (AVR) bill that had passed the legislature to become law. New Jersey could become the next state to enact AVR: an AVR bill was previously vetoed by Governor Chris Christie (R), but with the state new lead by Democrat Phil Murphy, the bill — which has already been introduced and passed out of committee — will likely be signed into law.

A report released by the Brennan Center on 2018 election legislation last week noted “remarkable momentum around automatic voter registration” — and around legislation seeking to expand the franchise more generally. Twelve states have seen pro-voting rights bills advance in at least one of their legislative chambers, according to the report. Even still, some states are still seeking to cut back on voting rights: Five states have seen restrictive measures make it through at least one chamber.

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Paul Manafort in a court filing Friday afternoon asked a federal judge to order Special Counsel Robert Mueller to fill in some of the vaguer details of the grand jury indictment against the former Trump campaign chairman.

Manafort’s attorneys said they need more particulars about how Manafort “caused” — quoting the most recent indictment against him — various allegedly fraudulent activity. They want more specifics about the false statements Manafort allegedly made in preparing his taxes and in interactions with the Justice Department about his foreign lobbying work. They also requested that the special counsel be ordered to name the anonymous accomplices referenced in the indictment, and the unnamed companies that were allegedly involved in Manafort’s foreign lobbying scheme.

“Without the particulars, which are within the Special Counsel’s easy reach to provide, the defendant is left grasping for straws and depleting his limited resources,” the filing said.

Manafort was first charged by Mueller’s probe in October. The indictment referenced in Friday’s filing is a superseding indictment — meaning an indictment that replaces or expands an original set of charges — that was filed in D.C. in February. He is charged with a conspiracy to defraud the United States, money laundering, and failure to disclose his foreign lobbying. He is also facing similar charges in Virginia. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Read the full filing below:

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller obtained a search warrant for phone records linked to Paul Manafort last month, a filing in one of Mueller’s criminal criminal cases against Manafort revealed Thursday.

The warrant, for a “Search Of Information Associated With Five Telephone Numbers Controlled By AT&T,” was obtained by Muller on March 9. He turned over to Manafort a redacted version of the warrant affidavit on Wednesday, according to the court document, which was filed by Mueller.

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In his latest round of anti-FBI shenanigans, House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) is threatening legal action against the Justice Department for refusing to show him unredacted versions of materials documenting the launch of the FBI’s Russia probe.

In an April 4 letter sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who’s overseeing the investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself) and FBI Director Christopher Wray, Nunes accuses the Justice Department of “arbitrary resistance to legitimate oversight.”‘

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A federal judge on Wednesday appeared skeptical of a civil lawsuit filed by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort alleging that the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller exceeded their authority in prosecuting him as part of the sprawling Russia probe.

The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, is also presiding over the criminal case brought by Mueller against Manafort in federal court in Washington, D.C. (There’s an additional criminal case against Manafort pending in Virginia). Manafort is facing charges of tax fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and failing to disclose foreign lobbying related to his work in Ukraine. He has pleaded not guilty. 

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