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 Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department have issued subpoenas for people who have lent money to or assembled investors for real estate projects linked to Jared Kushner’s family in what appears to be a tax-related inquiry, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

The report, based on an unnamed source familiar with the matter, says the subpoenas were issued within the last year, but appear to be unrelated to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe or the other inquiries into Kushner family business dealings that have become publicly known.

Charles J. Harder, an attorney representing Kushner Cos., issued a statement to Bloomberg denying that the company was under a tax investigation or that it had been contacted by the relevant tax authorities.

“Kushner Cos. is not under investigation for any tax issues. It has had no contact with anyone at the IRS or Justice Department Tax Division,” Harder’s statement said. “It has received no subpoenas or audit requests about its taxes. It is not in tax court on any audits. If there is an investigation about others’ taxes, it has nothing to do with Kushner Cos. or its businesses.”

The Justice Department and IRS declined to comment for the Bloomberg story.

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Amid ongoing allegations that President Trump has sought to obstruct the Justice Department’s Russia probe, a new Washington Post report reveals that the White House Counsel last spring reached out to a top DOJ to request that then-FBI Director James Comey publicly state that Trump himself was not under investigation.

The April phone call between White House Counsel Don McGahn and Dana Boente — the Justice Department official who at the time was overseeing the probe — is one of many instances Washington Post details of McGahn’s struggles to assuage Trump’s demands. In May, Trump fired Comey.

The report goes on to recount other moments of tension between McGahn and Trump, as well as others on the White House legal team.

McGahn and Trump have had “spectacular fights,” one unnamed source told the Washington Post. At one point early on in the administration, McGahn was worried that the President was reaching out to the Justice Department behind his back, the Washington Post reported.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is closely examining questions concerning potential obstruction of justice. Mueller was appointed after Trump fired Comey last year, in a letter that cited referenced Comey’s private assurances to Trump that he was not personally under investigation.

Mueller has reportedly obtained a draft version of that letter that is said to have been more focused on the Russia investigation.

According to Wednesday’s report, the call to Boente — who now is the FBI’s general counsel, but has held other top DOJ positions under Trump including Acting Deputy Attorney General  —  occurred in April, after Trump had personally lobbied Comey to make the public announcement.

Trump suggested to Comey — in one such conversation that Comey recounted in Senate testimony — he might have the White House reach out to Boente, after Comey mentioned that he had passed Trump’s request on to the Acting Deputy Attorney General.

When McGahn called Boente, he asked first whether it was appropriate matter for them to discuss, the Washington Post reported. McGahn was ultimately unsuccessful in convincing Boente that Comey should make the public statement, according to the report.

It was previously reported by the New York Times that Trump sought to fire Mueller last June, but backed down when McGahn signaled that he’s quit rather than carry out the order. McGahn was interviewed by Mueller’s team in late November and early December.

Wednesday’s Washington Post report revealed McGahn’s legal team had put together that 18-day timeline for the period between when then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates first warned McGahn that then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn was misleading senior White House officials on Russian contacts and when Flynn was finally fired. That timeline, the Washington Post reported, has been turned over to Mueller.

McGahn has also come under fire for how he handled allegations of domestic abuse against a top White House aide. The aide, Porter, resigned last week, after the allegations became public. But the White House has continued to struggle to explain why Porter was allowed to continue to serve in his position, which included the handling of sensitive information, after it appeared that the allegations had come up in the FBI’s background check for a security clearance for him.

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Vice President Mike Pence falsely claimed Wednesday that it was the “universal conclusion of our intelligence communities” that “none” of the efforts by foreign actors to meddle in the 2016 election “had any effect on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Pence made the remarks at an Axios event, where Mike Allen asked Pence if he agreed with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ testimony to Congress Tuesday warning that Russia will target the 2018 midterms.

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Little was made publicly known at a status conference Wednesday about the circumstances of the recent move by Rick Gates’ attorneys to withdraw from his legal team.

The judge presiding over his case — in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has brought charges of tax evasion, money laundering and failure to disclose foreign lobbying against the former Trump aide — kicked the media and the public out of the courtroom so she could discuss the ongoing issues privately with Gates and his attorneys.

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A federal judge’s order Tuesday temporarily blocking the Trump administration from winding down the DACA program featured what has become something of a trend over the last year: A reference to a Tweet from the President’s own account the appeared to undercut whatever Trump’s Justice Department’s position was in the case.

In this instance, Brooklyn-based U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis was remarking on how it “is not clear how the President would ‘revisit’ the decision to rescind the DACA program if the DACA program were, as the Attorney General has stated, ‘an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.'”

A federal judge in San Francisco, who also halted Trump’s DACA termination last month, cited the same tweet to make a similar point.

And it’s not just DACA. Trump’s tweets have also popped up in the litigation around his travel ban over and over again.

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Most of the top U.S. officials appearing in front of the Senate Intelligence committee Tuesday to discuss worldwide threats said that they did not take a position on or communicate with the White House about the release of two documents that have come under scrutiny from Democrats.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked the officials about the anti-FBI memo written by House Intelligence Republicans released this month. Wyden also asked about a Treasury Department list of Russian oligarchs, which it was required by law to release. The list was cribbed from a Forbes list of wealthiest Russian businessmen.

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​The U.S. intelligence community believes that Russia will “continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople, and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” according to an assessment it released along with the appearance of top officials at a congressional hearing.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats outlined the intelligence community’s conclusions at an open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday.

“Foreign elections are critical inflection points that offer opportunities for Russia to advance its interests both overtly and covertly,” the written assessment, released along with Coats’ testimony said.

Coats said in his opening statement that Russia, along with other actors was, “likely to pursue even more aggressive cyber attacks with the intent of degrading our democratic values and weakening our alliances.”

There should be no doubt that Russia perceived its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” he said.

In response to questions from the committee, Coats was direct: “[C]learly in 2016, [the Kremlin] upped their game. They took advantage of social media. They’re doing that not only in the United States, they’re doing it throughout Europe and elsewhere.”

Coats said it would be prudent to expect further attacks from Russia “and maybe other malign actors,” adding that “steps need to be taken to work with state and local officials because many elections will be state and local—governorships, even members of certain houses of representation within the states themselves.”

To that end, he called for greater communication with the general public.

“[W]e need to inform the American public that this is real, that this is going to be happening. And resilience is needed, for us to stand up and say we’re not going to allow some Russian to tell us how to vote and how to run our country. I think there needs to be a national cry for that.”

Sam Thielman contributed reporting

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Thomas Brunell, a controversial potential pick for a top Census Bureau post, is no longer under consideration for the position, a Department of Commerce spokesperson confirmed to TPM Monday.

Mother Jones had previously reported Monday, citing two unnamed sources informed of his decision, that Brunell had withdrawn. Moments before the Mother Jones report appeared, Terri Ann Lowenthal, a knowledgable Census Bureau observer, told TPM that she had been told Brunell had withdrawn.

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An NBC News report last week claiming a U.S. official confirmed that several states’ voter rolls were penetrated by Russian hackers is getting belated pushback from the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS blasted out a statement Monday that said NBC “misrepresented facts” and “falsely report[ed]” the DHS official’s comments.

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As we get closer to the midterm elections, reporters have their eyes on a few key gerrymandering cases, and are watching to see whether the legal ground is shifting on redistricting issues.

Pennsylvania was the site of much of that action over the last week. On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court released an opinion backing the order it had issued last month, overturning the state’s 2011 U.S. congressional map, which, the court found, was tilted in favor of Republicans. The opinion raised a number of reasons the map — which featured a district so misshapen that some observers dubbed it “Donald Duck Kicking Goofy” — was illegal. Election law experts have touted the opinion as a landmark one because it used Pennsylvania’s state constitution, rather than the U.S. Constitution, to rule the districts illegal.

Pennsylvania Republicans are not happy with this turn of events. Rep. Cris Dush, a Republican state representative, suggested impeaching the five Democratic judges on the Court. It’s yet to be seen whether his measure could gain serious traction or if it’s just a fringe idea. Pennsylvania Republicans also turned to the U.S. Supreme Court to bail them out. That gambit failed last Monday, when Justice Samuel Alito — the conservative justice who fields emergency requests from Pennsylvania — personally rejected the opportunity to block the state Supreme Court’s order.

Now, according to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court order, the GOP-controlled legislature has to prepare a new, fair congressional map for Democratic Governor Tom Wolf to approve. Lawmakers submitted it to Wolf Friday. If Wolf and the state legislature don’t agree on a map, the court will appoint a “special master” to create one.

At stake is a congressional map for a state where 13 of 18 congressional seats are held by Republicans. A more fairly drawn map could return three of those seats to Democrats in future elections, according to some predictions.

Meanwhile, redistricting reform is taking a different path in Ohio. The state’s legislature approved a ballot measure on Tuesday that would require lawmakers to get bipartisan approval for federal congressional maps. Voters will have to assent to the initiative in the state’s May primary elections; if they do, it will go into effect in 2021, with the next round of redistricting. Back in 2015, Ohio approved a ballot measure to significantly reduce gerrymandering in state legislative districts, making the state a leader on voting-district reforms.

Also this week, the Census Bureau announced that, on its 2020 survey, it will continue to count prisoners as residents of the often-rural communities where they are incarcerated, not the often-urban communities they see as home. A decision to change this practice, making it more in line with how the Census counts students, could have lessened the advantage given to rural areas in America’s electoral system.

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