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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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Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.

Democrats participating in a full U.S. House of Representatives briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Friday morning asked about a dozen times whether he was pressured by the White House to write a memo that was then used to justify the firing of FBI Director James Comey—a memo Rosenstein is continuing to defend, even after confirming that he wrote it after President Trump declared his decision.

Rosenstein, according to members coming out of the classified briefing, wouldn’t say.

“What we didn’t get a clear understanding of is whether or not the memo was written with or without any urging from the White House,” Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC) told reporters after the briefing.

Asked whether Rosenstein said if he received any pressure to come down hard on Comey, Rep. Sherman (D-CA) said, “He avoided at least 10 times any question that would answer your question.”

Rep. Dave Trott (R-MI) told the Associated Press that at one point in the closed-door meeting, Oversight Committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) got up and asked: “So you just woke up one morning and decided to write a memo?”

Rosenstein’s reticence is frustrating many Democrats, even as they praised his decision to appoint former FBI Director Bob Mueller to serve as a special counsel on the Russia-Trump investigation.

“I still have a lot of questions about the motivation and timeframe” of the writing of the Comey memo, said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) after the briefing.

Still unanswered, according to Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), were “the basic questions involving the memo he wrote for the president.”

“Basically, it’s nice he decided to come to up to the Hill but it would have been nicer if he had come up and wanted to tell us something,” McGovern told reporters.

Soon after the briefing, the Justice Department released the opening statement Rosenstein gave the House members as well as the Senate, whom he he briefed Thursday afternoon. In the statement, Rosenstein defended writing the memo, which criticized Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

“I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it,” Rosenstein said in his statement, while calling Comey’s press conference on the results of the Clinton investigation “profoundly wrong and unfair.”

However, he also stressed that his memo should not be considered a “a legal brief,” “a finding of official misconduct,” “a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination,” “a survey of FBI morale or performance,” nor “a press release.”

“It is a candid internal memorandum about the FBI Director’s public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation,” his opening statement said.

Even though it was only May 8 that Trump officially declared his intention to fire Comey, according to Rosenstein’s opening statement, removing Comey from the post was something he discussed with Attorney General Jeff Sessions last winter, when Sessions was still a senator.

Coming out of their briefing Thursday afternoon, some senators suggested that Rosenstein wouldn’t say more about his decision to write the memo because he didn’t want to get in Mueller’s way, if that was where the investigation brought him

There was a least a hint of that being a factor when House Dems grilled him on Comey’s firing Friday morning.

“He basically said that the investigation will make that determination. Even if Special Counsel Mueller wants to investigate the circumstances surrounding the memo, he has that authority,” Butterfield said.

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A timeline, it appears, has been set for the shady “elections integrity” commission that President Trump created after making bogus claims of millions of illegal votes cast in  the 2016 election.

The commission, which was unveiled with an executive order last week, will have its first meeting in July, with a report expected within a year, according to Associated Press profile of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the proponent of restrictive laws who is vice chair of the commission.

Civil rights groups are already concerned that the commission — which so far is made up mostly of Republicans who have a history of exaggerating the prevalence of voter fraud — will put the cart before the horse and cherrypick examples of elections irregularities to justify recommendations for proposals that make it tougher to vote.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed an opens records request with Kobach’s office, and the offices of some of the other commissioners, seeking any documents suggesting that they are working on policy proposals before their probe of elections issues is complete, according to the AP.

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This story has been updated to include the response of the Trump administration.

A top official in the Health and Human Services Department allegedly suggested that if insurers supported the House GOP Obamacare repeal bill, the administration would continue funding subsidies that President Trump has threatened to halt that keep out-of-pocket costs down for low income consumers, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The offer — said to have been put forward by Seema Verma, the Trump-appointed administrator of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (pictured above) — left insurance industry officials “stunned,” the newspaper said.

“It made no sense,” one of the officials told the Times.

The Trump administration has rebuked the Los Angeles Times’ account of the meeting.

“The statement about Administrator Verma suggesting that the administration would fund CSRs is absolutely false. What she said at the AHIP meeting in April was that no decisions had been made about CSR’s,” said Jane Norris, CMS communications director, who, according to the CMS, attended the meeting.

The subsidies are known as cost-sharing reduction payments, and they go directly to insurers to subsidize costs like deductibles and co-pays for low-income consumers, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. They are the target of a House GOP lawsuit mounted in 2014 against the Obama administration that claims the payments are illegal because they were not explicitly appropriated by Congress. The case is on hold while the House GOP and the Trump administration figure out their next steps, but Trump on his own has threatened to halt them because he believes that would force Democrats to negotiate on repealing Obamacare.

Insurance companies have warned that an elimination of the payments will cause them to jack up their premiums to make up the shortfall or withdraw from the market entirely. Insurers have also raised concerns about the whether the Trump administration will continue to enforce the individual mandate after an executive order signed in January suggested they wouldn’t. Early filings for the 2018 plan year have shown major hikes in premiums, which Republicans have pointed to to justify their repeal effort.

“Obamacare has failed,” Alleigh Marre, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the LA Times. “For this reason, Republicans are reforming healthcare so it delivers access to quality, affordable coverage to the American people.”

The House GOP bill passed narrowly earlier this month, with almost no support from the insurance industry, health care providers or patient advocacy groups groups.

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Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.

The top Justice Department official who penned the memo that the White House used as justification to fire FBI Director James Comey answered some — but not all — questions from the Senate in a closed door briefing Thursday, senators told reporters afterward.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein confirmed that he wrote the May 9 memo after President Trump had declared that he was firing Comey, multiple senators said, but left some of their questions unanswered.

“He did acknowledge that he learned that Comey would be removed prior to him writing his memo,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told reporters.

According to Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ), Rosenstein would not say who told him at to write the memo.

“He would not completely answer that question,” Booker said. “He definitely talked about the contents of the memo, what his feelings were that made him write the memo, he clarified that the memo was not a legal brief, that it was not a political opinion.”

The White House released the memo, as well as a letter Trump wrote terminating Comey, soon after announcing the shocking decision he would be removed. The Rosenstein memo criticized Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation — and particularly the press conference to announce the recommendation that no charges would be brought — but his memo stopped short of explicitly recommending Comey’s termination.

It has since been reported that Trump had floated the idea of firing Comey before the memo was written, a timeline Rosenstein to a certain degree confirmed, according to the senators in Thursday’s briefing.

“He wouldn’t go into detail about the President’s May 8 declaration that he was going to fire Comey – he didn’t give us any detail on that. On May 9, he wrote his memo,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters.

On Wednesday evening, the Department of Justice announced that Rosenstein had appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel on the Russia-Trump investigation, a decision many Democrats praised coming out of the briefing with Rosenstein Thursday.

Senators said that they got the signal that Mueller has been given wide-breadth in his investigation and that is why Rosenstein was unable to answer many of their questions, including those about the Comey firing.

“He was prepared to talk about the reasons he gave in his memo, but he was not prepared to talk about any of the other circumstances surrounding the firing of James Comey out of his belief that it could come under the purview Mueller’s investigation,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said. That included details about conversations Rosenstein had with Trump and reasons Trump may have gave in his decision to remove Comey.

Yet Democrats were also still frustrated with the Rosenstein’s explanation, or lack thereof, for why he wrote the memo.

“It’s a curious explanation,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said, of the timeline for the memo. “It certainly leaves unanswered questions.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told reporters that Rosenstein had “no understanding that his memo was used as a coverup.”

“Or he doesn’t want to take any accountability for it,” Merkley told reporters. “Maybe somebody else found something useful in that. But I didn’t.”

Durbin, however, stressed that the general lack of answers from Rosenstein was reflective of the space he was giving Mueller.

“There’s obviously questions related to the investigation and he doesn’t want to jeopardize the investigation. He painted with a pretty broad brush in terms of possibilities, but he left it to Director Mueller to decide the scope of the investigation,” Durbin told reporters.

Later on in the scrum, he was asked again whether Rosenstein left a lot unanswered questions.

“He did and I am trying to tell you why. He believes the scope of Mueller’s investigation is so broad, with so many questions, so many areas that may or may not lead to criminal prosecution, that there were many things that he didn’t want to comment on,” Durbin said.

 

 

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Thursday that the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel for the Justice Department’s Russia investigation was “perfectly appropriate.”

I believe that the professionals at the Justice Department need to do their jobs independently, objectively and throughly, and I believe that the special counsel, which is Robert Mueller now, helps them do that,” Ryan said at his weekly press conference.

Before the Justice Department’s announcement of Mueller’s selection, most Republicans opposed bringing on a special counsel into the investigation. The calls for a special counsel grew after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was previously overseeing the probe, and after reports that Trump had pressured Comey to drop the probe before firing him.

Ryan said Thursday that the appointment of a special counsel “helps assure people and the Justice Department that they’re going to go do their jobs independently and thoroughly.”

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The major overhaul of Medicaid House Republicans passed with their bill to repeal Obamacare earlier this month would cut $43 billion in Medicaid funding for non-disabled children over 10 years, a study by the consultant firm Avalere found. The study also broke down the cuts by states, finding that Texas, Florida and New York would be the biggest losers in Medicaid funding for children’s health care coverage.

The House GOP bill, the American Health Care Act, transforms the traditional Medicaid program from an unlimited match rate to what is known as a per capita cap, meaning the feds would set a limit on the funding offered to states on a per enrollee basis. Because the metric Republicans use to raise the caps over time is slower than the inflation rate of Medicaid, the cuts to the program would grow bigger over time.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the original version of the legislation would cut $880 billion from the program over the next decade.

The GOP Senate is in the process of writing its own bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that they said will include an overhaul of Medicaid. So far, they have signaled that they will embrace the House’s per capita cap’s approach, but are tinkering with the nuts and bolts of how the caps would work.

 

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Robert Mueller, the freshly named special counsel in the Russia investigation, is no stranger to bucking the wishes of a President seeking to get his way.

In 2004, Mueller, then the FBI director, participated in an intervention to prevent President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., and White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales from obtaining the signature of a hospitalized and barely-conscious John Ashcroft, the attorney general at the time, to reauthorize the the administration’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had declared illegal.

Mueller was alerted they were heading to the hospital by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who went on to succeed Mueller as FBI director and whom, ironically, Trump just last week fired from that post over the Russia probe. Comey and Mueller rushed to the hospital to intercept Card and Gonzales, with Mueller calling hospital security to warn against letting the White House officials  into Ashcroft’s room. The two arrived just before Card and Gonzales, who were rebuffed by Ashcroft when they presented him the executive order reauthorizing the program.

Now Mueller will be wading into a politically explosive matter involving a foreign country’s meddling in a presidential election, alleged ties between Trump associates and Russia, and a President who has been accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly pressuring Comey to drop the probe. The announcement came a mere 24 hours after news reports suggesting the existence of a memo written by Comey detailing the pressure from Trump to wind the Russia probe investigation.

Mueller, 72, was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was overseeing the investigation after Attorney General Jeff Session recused himself from campaign-related investigation. Though registered as Republican, Mueller has often been described apolitical and is widely respected, with boosters on both sides of the aisle. His appointment as special counsel was immediately met with near-unanimous praise.

When he stepped down as FBI director in 2013, Mueller was the second-longest serving director in its history. He was appointed by George W. Bush in 2001, having served several stints in various US attorney’s offices as well as roles in the Justice Department that included overseeing its criminal division. He was officially sworn in as director only days before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, though he had been serving as acting deputy attorney general for some time before that. He oversaw a transformation of the agency after the attacks to expand its focus on counter-terrorism and homeland security. In his tenure under the Bush administration, he faced scrutiny over why the 9/11 attacks weren’t prevented, oversaw the handling of the anthrax crisis and expanded the federal government’s surveillance and detention procedures.

His 10-year term was extended for two years by President Obama, who praised him for “extraordinary leadership and effectiveness.” At the twilight of his tenure was the FBI’s investigation into the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Since leaving the FBI, he has worked in private law practice at WilmerHale and also conducted a review of the NFL’s handling of domestic abuse allegations (his involvement in the NFL investigation was questioned given the football organization’s ties to the law firm).

He will resign from WilmerHale to avoid any conflicts of interest while overseeing the Russia investigation, the Justice Department said in its announcement of his appointment.

Correction: Mueller was serving as acting deputy attorney general before he became FBI director in 2001, not as acting FBI director. We regret the error.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee demanded Wednesday that the FBI and the White House turn over evidence relating to former FBI Director James Comey’s interactions with President Trump after reports of a memo that Comey was said have written detailing a request from Trump to wind down the Russia investigation.

The letters were signed by both the Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), as well as the chair and ranking member of the subcommittee on crime and terrorism, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The committee’s letter to the White House noted Trump’s tweets last week suggesting he had “tapes” of his conversations with Comey and included audio recordings in its request for “all White House records memorializing interactions with Mr. Comey relating to the FBI’s investigation of alleged ties between President Trump’s associates and Russia, or the Clinton email investigation, including all audio recordings, transcripts, notes, summaries, and memoranda.”

The committee’s letter to the FBI asks the agency to hand over the Comey memo if it exists, as well as other documents “memorializing interactions he had with Presidents Trump and Obama, Attorneys General Sessions and Lynch, and Deputy Attorneys General Rosenstein, Boente, and Yates regarding the investigations of Trump associates’ alleged connections with Russia or the Clinton email investigation.”

House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) also put in a request with the FBI for such memos Tuesday evening, but his request pertained to all Comey memos stretching back to the beginning of the Obama administration, not just those related to the Russia inquiry or the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State.

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Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.

The “nothing to see here” mentality that has dominated congressional Republicans’ approach to President Trump’s growing pile of scandals finally cracked Tuesday night.

With the new allegation that Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to tamp down the Russia investigation, the House GOP is now making at least a public showing of exercising its oversight responsibilities.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced Tuesday evening that he was requesting documents from the FBI related to the Comey allegations, while House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) stressed that Congress’ “job is to get the facts and t0 be sober about doing that.”

“Look, there has been a lot of reporting lately. I think that requires close examination,” Ryan said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

The House leadership’s acknowledgment that deeper digging was necessary – though how much and how aggressively remains to be seen – comes after months of turning a blind eye to other questions of inappropriate behavior raised about the Trump administration at the outset of his presidency.

There are signs that Republicans aren’t being totally earnest in their freshly-minted crusade for more information. Chaffetz’s letter to the FBI requests Comey memos not just for the first few months of the Trump administration but dating all the way back to the beginning of the Obama presidency in 2009.

GOP lawmakers are still insistent that they will stay focused on their agenda of repealing Obamacare and cutting taxes, even as a drip-drip-drip of leaks about Trump’s handling of Comey’s firing continues. But now, there is potential for a paper trail – in the form of memos Comey was said to have written about his conversations with Trump – to be obtained and analyzed.

“The Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman has requested the memo in question, and I am actually interested in the entire compendium of Comey memos. I think that might be something of interest to the Congress,” Rep, Michael Burgess (R-TX) said Wednesday morning.

Coming out of their regular House GOP conference meeting, Republicans mostly ducked questions from reporters about the potential that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice in trying to quash the Russia probe. Wednesday is their first full day back after Trump’s abrupt firing of Comey last week, and the reports since then that Comey wrote a memo detailing a February request from the President to lay off of his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

A few GOP members were willing to pretzel-twist themselves into a defense of Trump, but some were more circumspect with their desire to see a fact-finding process play out.

“I’m a process guy. I believe that there are processes that are available to us, organic to us, in both the House and the Senate, and I believe that we need to let those processes unfold,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-AK) told reporters, adding that lawmakers needed to have a “Joe Friday mentality”

“Just the facts, and it will be the facts that will allow us to go from that point forward should there be a necessity to move in another direction,” he said.

More than a few GOP members said that they would like Comey to publicly testify, in addition to calling for the release of the memo at the center of the latest reports.

“If he’s got a charge to make, he needs to make it,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said. But he, like most Republicans, was not ready to join Democrats in their call for a special prosecutor or select committee to intervene.

“Until you have a charge of criminal activity – and I would certainly consider a charge by the former director of the FBI a credible charge – but until that’s made, you don’t really have anything to justify a special prosecutor,’ Cole said.

One of the few Republicans who has called for a special prosecutor, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), took the extra step of floating the possibility of impeachment Wednesday.

“If the allegations are true, yes,” he said, when asked if what the Comey memo detailed was grounds for impeachment.

According to members, the details of the Trump allegations weren’t discussed in the conference meeting, but rather, it was broadly acknowledged that steps were being taken to look into them and they should refrain from speculating.

“The Speaker stressed that we still had oversight responsibilities no matter who’s in the White House and  that we’re going to fully perform those oversight responsibilities,” Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) said.

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A new study offers an estimate on the number of people who would be most vulnerable to premium hikes or losing coverage altogether due to the House GOP Obamacare repeal bill’s rollback of the Affordable Care Act’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than six million people would have both the type of conditions and the lapse in coverage that would allow insurers to charge them more, under a state waiver option offered in the legislation, the American Health Care Act.

When House Republicans voted on the bill earlier this year, they offered little in terms of analysis of the impact of the waiver provision, which was unveiled about a week before the vote on the legislation. The CBO is expected to release its own analysis of the legislation next week.

The Kaiser study, released Wednesday, looked at the number of people who had gaps in coverage according to most recent National Health Interview Survey, and further broke them down by the survey’s estimate of people with pre-existing conditions that could have prompted a denial of insurance coverage in the pre-Affordable Care Act days.

The analysis found that 6.3 million people met these conditions, making them vulnerable to a provision in the House GOP’s American Health Care Act that allows states to opt out of Obamacare insurer mandates prohibiting insurers from jacking up premiums based on one’s health status. Under the waiver option, known as the MacArthur amendment, insurers in opt-out states would be able charge those with pre-existing conditions more than the the standard premium rate if the consumers had a lapse in coverage longer than 63 days.

“In many cases, people uninsured for several months or more in a year have been without coverage for a long period of time. In other cases, people lose insurance and experience a gap as a result of loss of a job with health benefits or a decrease in income that makes coverage less affordable,” the analysis said. “Young people may have a gap in coverage as they turn 26 and are unable to stay on their parents’ insurance policies. Medicaid beneficiaries can also have a gap if their incomes rise and they are no longer eligible for the program.”

The analysis said that even more than the 6.3 million cited have other types of conditions, such as asthma depression or hypertension, that could lead to a rise in premiums under AHCA, even though they were not declinable in the pre-ACA days.

Republicans have come under fire for the bill’s rollback of the ACA’s protections for pre-existing conditions. Technically, under the GOP bill, Obamacare’s “guaranteed issue” provision — meaning its ban on insurers denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions — would stay on the books. But by allowing states to opt out of the ACA’s so-called community ratings based on health status the GOP bill would essentially allow insurers to price sick people out of the market.

The bill narrowly passed the House after an additional $8 billion was added to the $130 billion or so already in the bill to help finance state high-risk pools and other programs Republicans say could be set up to protect people with pre-existing conditions. That amount is far below what experts have estimated an appropriate risk pool to cost and the legislation is vague in its directive for states to do so if they seek to waive out of the ACA’s consumer protections.

The Senate is currently working on its own Obamacare repeal bill.

The Kaiser study pointed to a number of unknowns that could affect how many people would actually experience premium hikes due to pre-existing conditions and coverage lapses. Obviously it would depend greatly on how many states ultimately took the waiver.

Kaiser also pointed out that the number of people who would have a lapse in coverage could be higher than the 2015 survey on which its estimates are based. For one, the tax credits under the GOP bill are less generous for certain groups of people — particularly lower-income and older consumers — than the current Obamacare subsidies, meaning more people could have a harder time affording continuous coverage. The GOP bill also imposes major cuts to Medicaid, and those who would no longer be eligible for the Medicaid expansion that is phased out in the Republican legislation could be susceptible to lapses in coverage.

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