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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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​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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The Justice Department’s third-ranking official, Rachel Brand, is planning to step down from her post, the New York Times reported Friday.

Brand, the Associate Attorney General, would be next in line to oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s election interference, if President Donald Trump fired Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The Times report cites two sources briefed on the matter. Spokespeople for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to TPM’s inquiry about the report.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) ignored bipartisan pleas by Senate leaders to not delay a Thursday vote on a massive government spending bill, with a deadline to keep the government open coming at midnight.

Paul used a procedural move to stall the legislation — the result of a major bipartisan budget deal — from coming up for a vote. In a feisty speech from the Senate floor, he demanded a vote for an amendment he is pushing that would restore budget caps that the spending deal seeks to lift.

“I ran for office because I was very critical of President Obama’s trillion-dollar deficits. Now we have Republicans hand-in-hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits,” Paul said. “I can’t in all good honesty and all good faith just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits.”

He brought with him to the Senate floor a number of signs, suggesting he is prepared for the long-haul in his floor remarks.

Just before Paul objected to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) move to call a vote, the Majority leader as well as his Democratic counterpart pleaded with him to accept a vote on a procedural move, a budget point of order, instead.

“I understand my friend and colleague from Kentucky does not join the President in supporting the bill, and it’s his right, of course, to vote against the bill, but I would argue that it’s time to vote,” McConnell said.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) noted that members of his caucus had their own amendments that they would prefer to bring up for a vote.

“It’s hard to make an argument that if one person gets an amendment, that everybody else won’t want an amendment, and then we’ll be here for a very long time,” Schumer said.

McConnell was seeking what’s known as “unanimous consent” to push up a vote on the bill to 6 p.m., a few hours before it the legislation had met the 30 hours of debate required for a vote. (It is typical for those 30-hour periods to be cut short using unanimous consent motions). It only takes one senator to block unanimous consent, an opportunity Paul took to take stand against the legislation.

“This is the most important debate we will have in the year over spending, and no amendments are allowed,” Paul said, while calling the argument that other lawmakers would then want their amendments voted on “canard”

“We’ve been open for business ten hours today. You can do four amendments an hour. We could have done 40 amendments,” Paul said.

If Paul holds firm, then the Senate will not be able to vote on advancing the spending legislation until 1 a.m., technically an hour after the previous funding bill has lapsed, with a final Senate vote on it after. The House would still need to vote on the spending bill after that before it was sent to President Trump for his signature.

Paul’s gambit is just the latest of a series of twists that spending legislation has faced since the deal was unveiled. A group of House conservatives are opposed to the bill, citing similar concerns to Paul’s about growing the deficit. That means House Speaker Paul Ryan will likely need the votes of Democrats, who are mixed on supporting spending legislation that does not include a clear path for passing legislation to protect the DACA program for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

 

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Buried in this CBS News story detailing an actual wall that is being built to seperate House Intel’s Democratic and Republican staff, there’s a nugget suggesting that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is investigating allegations of leaks coming from Committee Republicans. The revelation came from Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), who has taken a prominent role in the committee’s Russia investigation.

Rooney said one reason for the tension is an erosion of trust, exacerbated by an ongoing ethics investigation into the “entire Republican staff,” including “the woman up front that answers the phone” for alleged leaks. He later added that the matter was being handled by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The OCE would not comment to me on Rooney’s remark, and Rooney’s office did not return my inquiry for more details. But because of how OCE works, we may eventually learn what’s going on here.

It’s important to note that the OCE is seperate from the House Committee on Ethics, which is made up of House members. The latter oversaw the investigation into House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes’ alleged disclosure of classified information (for which he was cleared). The former was formed in 2008 and is made up of private citizens, both on its staff and board. It can refer allegations of wrongdoing to the House Ethics Committee but is not authorized to make determinations of wrongdoing, nor can it sanction wrongdoers. (You can read more about its process and role here.)

It’s also important to note that, in the case that the OCE does make a referral for further review to the House Ethics Committee, there is a process in place that requires the House Committee to eventually make the OCE’s report public. That means that whatever Rooney was referring to here will, quite possibly, become public.

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NBC News is reporting that Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security has told the outlet that, among the 21 state election systems that DHS previously said were targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 election, “an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.” Beyond that, the report is vague, and it’s not clear whether Manfra is referring to an incident we hadn’t already known about.

As I reported last year, there was a lot of confusion when the DHS informed state elections officials that their states were among 21 states it had previously indicated had been targeted by Russian hackers. A vast majority of the states had been subjected to what in cyber-security speak is known as “scanning” — an occurrence so common that some state officials told me that their websites are “scanned” hundreds of times a day. Some questioned why the DHS chose to describe such activity in language that led to such sensational headlines.

There were a few states, however, that did not fit that pattern.

Illinois publicly disclosed back in July of 2016 that hackers “were able to retrieve a number of voter records.” A month later a report by the state noted that the attack originated “from several foreign based IP addresses.” When DHS informed the 21 states of the attempted hacks, Illinois connected the notification to that incident.

Arizona, meanwhile, was notified in August 2016 of an attempted cyber-intrusion in June; a local elections administrator in Gila County opened a malicious email attachment and the computer’s username and password were stolen.

“We believe the Gila county hack was an isolated phishing attempt where a server in Russia was used,” Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona’s Secretary of State told TPM in an email today, while noting “that servers anywhere in the world could have been used.”

He added that when the DHS was informing the 21 states of an attempted Russian hack, Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan met with the DHS to discuss the attempts to “scan” states’ systems.”

“Just to be clear those are two different issues,” Roberts said.

My colleague Sam Thielman reported on the attempted intrusion in Wisconsin, where the hackers’ tried to intrude via a banner or a pop-up ad. Their attempt was unsuccessful, and was blocked by the state IT division’s protective measures.

It’s unclear whether these incidents — in Illinois, Arizona and Wisconsin — are the “exceptionally small number” of cases Manfra refers to in which Russian hackers successfully penetrated state election systems.

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The attorneys seeking to withdraw from their representation for ex-Trump campaign aide Rick Gates said that “that irreconcilable differences have developed with” Gates “which make our effective representation of the client impossible,” according to a court document that was filed last week, but only made public on Wednesday.

The three attorneys seeking to withdraw — Shanlon Wu, Walter Mack and Annemarie McAvoy — attended a hearing with Gates and prosecutors from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. The hearing was under seal, meaning that neither the public nor the press could watch it.

After the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered some, but not all, of the court documents the attorneys had filed in connection to their effort to withdraw be made public.

Gates is facing charges of money laundering, tax evasion and failure to disclose foreign lobbying as part of Mueller’s Russia probe. He has pleaded not guilty.

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who joined Gates in the charges, also pleaded not guilty.

Last Thursday, Gates’ attorneys said in a filing that they were requesting to “withdraw as counsel of record in this case effective immediately,” but for reasons that the judge kept under seal.

A document indicating their reasons was what was unsealed Wednesday. However, another document that was filed under seal connected to the attorneys’ move to withdraw has not yet been released.

“Counsel is constrained by attorney-client privilege as to the specifics involved but understand that the Court may wish to inquire more specifically of counsel for the basis of this motion,” the filing said. “Counsel will make themselves available to the Court for such inquiry in whatever forum the Court deems appropriate.”

Prior to their move, CNN reported that Gates had quietly hired a new lawyer, Tom Green, a move the outlet took as a sign that Gates may be negotiating with Mueller’s team. Green was not present at Wednesday’s hearing. Coming out of the court room, Wu indicated that he was still under the gag order the judge put on the case and would not be able to answer reporters’ questions.

Read the recently unsealed filing below:

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