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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After two days of confusion — with some but not all county election officials enforcing a Kansas voting restriction struck down by a federal judge Monday — the Kansas Secretary of State’s office instructed local officials Wednesday that proof-of-citizenship was not required to register to vote.

The instructions marked the end — or at least a pause — in a years-long saga of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach fighting tooth and nail to keep his signature voter restriction alive, despite multiple court rulings against it.

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Missouri’s Republican secretary of state used a Senate Rules Committee hearing on preventing future election interference to claim that “voter fraud is an exponentially greater threat than hacking of our election equipment,” comments that earned a stiff rebuke from a Senate Democrat on the committee.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s opening statement stressed that there was no evidence hackers altered any votes or voter registration information during the 2016 election, and that state officials were the ones who alerted the federal government of possible cyber-intrusions.

“This is not to say that our elections were perfect, that there was no fraud, that there were no unlawful corruption of votes or vote totals. The evidence indicates that voter fraud is an exponentially greater threat than hacking of our election equipment,” he said.

He then brought up 2010 Missouri state House race that was decided by one vote, where it was later found that two voters — relatives of the winner — had committed voter fraud.

(Ashcroft did not mention the type of fraud committed: the two voters pleaded guilty to claiming Kansas City addresses so they could vote in it. It’s unlikely that a voter ID law, which was in place in the state at the time, and proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirements would have stopped such an act.)

“Moving forward, any meaningful enhancement to election security must take a comprehensive approach to ensure that every legally registered voter is allowed to vote and their vote is not diluted by any sort of voter fraud, malfeasance or ineptitude,” Ashcroft said.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who was the first Democrat to question Ashcroft and the other witnesses, immediately zeroed in on Ashcroft’s remarks. Durbin asked that Ashcroft and the other election officials on the panel report the number of convictions of voter fraud that have occurred out of the total number of votes cast over the last decade to the committee after the hearing.

“The statement, Secretary Aschcroft, that you made has to be addressed for the record,” Durbin said, referring to the claim that voter fraud was an “exponentially” greater threat than hacking.

Durbin brought up that his state’s voter registration system had been infiltrated by hackers, and that they had the capability of to muck with voters’ registration information. It they had, it would have created a “chaotic situation” at polling places, resulting in “hundreds of thousands” of provisional ballots cast, Durbin said.

“I don’t know how that would have ended. They didn’t do it. Thank goodness they didn’t. But the threat was there,” Durbin said. “I can count on both hands the cases of voter fraud in the state of Illinois in the last several elections cycles, and the convictions even fewer.”

“When it comes to this hacking, it is exponentially greater threat to our voting system than voter fraud,” Durbin added.

Corrected: This post has been corrected to reflect that Sen. Dick Durbin represents Illinois.

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The FBI agent who has become a target of President Trump and his allies for the anti-Trump texts he sent while working on the Russia probe was escorted from the bureau’s “building as part of the ongoing internal proceedings,” his attorney said in a statement to reporters Tuesday.

CNN was first to report that Peter Strzok, who also worked on the Hillary Clinton email investigate, was escorted out of the building on Friday. He remains an FBI employee, his lawyer said in the statement.

“Pete has complied with every FBI procedure,” his attorney Aitan Goelman said, calling it, nonetheless, a “highly questionable process.”

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The former Senate Intelligence committee official charged with lying to FBI agents probing media leaks is seeking a gag order prohibiting President Trump, the Justice Department and other parties involved in the case from publicly opining on the allegations.

A court document filed by attorneys for James Wolfe — who, until recently, served as Senate Intel’s director of security — pointed to comments made by Trump after the Justice Department announced the charges it was bringing against the one-time staffer.

Wolfe has not been charged with leaking classified information — only with making false statements to the FBI, some of which concerning whether he disclosed nonpublic information to reporters.

Wolfe’s attorneys took issue with Trump remarks in which he said that the Justice Department “caught a leaker” and that, “You cannot leak classified information.”

Wolfe’s attorneys also pointed to statement from John Demers, a top national security official at the Justice Department, when the charges were announced that said that Wolfe’s alleged false statements “concern the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and confidential information.”

“Mr. Wolfe’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury and the presumption of innocence have been jeopardized by presidential comments about the merits of the case (“caught a leaker”) and highly prejudicial insinuations – straying far from the language and substance of the Indictment and echoed by the Justice Department – that Mr. Wolfe leaked classified information,” the  court filing said.

Wolfe’s attorneys said the “narrow” gag order was necessary, because, “Absent relief from this Court, there is no reason to expect that President Trump will cease making public statements about Mr. Wolfe and this case.”

The proposed order Wolfe’s attorneys offer U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson refers explicitly to the President:

After Wolfe’s attorneys filed the proposal,  Jackson issued an order requesting that Wolfe’s attorneys and the Justice Department present to her by Monday a briefing schedule for the proposed gag order,

Read Wolfe’s attorneys motion below:

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In a 100-plus-page decision knocking down Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship voter registration law, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson spent some two-dozen pages dismantling the testimonies offered by the so-called experts called by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to defend the law.

She said that “misleading evidence” and  “preconceived beliefs about this issue” were the basis of the testimony given by one member of President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, which Kobach once led. The author of a report Trump allies once touted as evidence of mass voter fraud offered estimates of Kansas non-citizen registration that were “individually flawed and wildly varied,” Robinson said. Additionally, the top researcher at an anti-immigration think tank who argued that the Kobach’s law did not affect voter turnout was not qualified to make such a conclusion, Robinson ruled, excluding large parts of his testimony.

Kobach — as part of a test an appeals court said the district judge should use to evaluate his voter law — needed to prove that voter fraud, and specifically non-citizen registration, was a “substantial” problem in Kansas. The experts he called appeared to be the best options he had to back that claim — and they fell well short of convincing the judge.

“The Court will not rely on extrapolated numbers from tiny sample sizes and otherwise flawed data,” she said.

Hans von Spakovsky

A Heritage Foundation scholar and an alum of George W. Bush’s Justice Department, Hans von Spakovsky was brought in to testify that the proof-of citizenship requirement was necessary in Kansas. Robinson said Monday that she gave his testimony little weight because it was “premised on several misleading and unsupported examples of non-citizen voter registration, mostly outside the State of Kansas.”

“His myriad misleading statements, coupled with his publicly stated preordained opinions about this subject matter, convinces the Court that Mr. von Spakovsky testified as an advocate and not as an objective expert witness,” she wrote.

She pointed out that von Spakovsky, during the proceedings, “could not identify any expert on the subject of non-citizen voter registration.”

He did nothing to verify a spreadsheet provided by a Kansas election official showing only 30 instances of non-citizen registration or attempted registration in a county in Kansas, Robinson said, that he used to back up his allegations.

“He later admitted during cross-examination that he had no personal knowledge as to whether or not any of these individuals had in fact falsely asserted U.S. citizenship when they became registered to vote and that he did not examine the facts of these individual cases,” the judge said.

She also picked apart other claims von Spakovsky made about voter fraud based on reports outside of Kansas, and knocked him for failing to correct or supplement his expert report when obvious flaws were pointed out to him during the proceedings.

“The record is replete with further evidence of Mr. von Spakovsky’s bias,” she said.

Jesse Richman

Old Dominion University associate professor Jesse Richman was offered by Kobach to provided a series of analyses alleging that tens of thousands of non-citizens were  registered to vote in Kansas. He previously authored a report alleging that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008, potentially swinging an entire state to President Obama, which spokespeople for President Trump later cited to back up his false claims of millions of illegal voters.

Robinson noted Richman’s methodology had previously been criticized by some 200 political scientists, while focusing on his claims about Kansas non-citizen voter registration. One estimation Richman provided, alleging 32,000 non-citizens registered to vote, was extrapolated from a survey of 14 reported non-citizens registrants.

“The first problem with Dr. Richman’s estimate is that the sample size is too small,” Robinson said, adding that Richman’s published findings about non-citizen voting can be accounted for entirely “by citizenship misreporting” and that his estimate also “suffers from registration overreporting.”

That and the other three estimates for non-citizen registration Richman provided, when “taken individually or as a whole,” were “flawed,” Robinson said.

“The Court finds Dr. Richman’s testimony and report about the methodology and basis for concluding that a statistically significant number of non-citizens have registered to vote in Kansas, are confusing, inconsistent, and methodologically flawed.”

Steven Camarota

Steven Camarota, the director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, had experience “limited to scholarship and reports that generally deal with immigration and citizenship issues,” Robinson wrote, “not election issues such as voter registration.”

Yet Kobach brought him in to testify on “voter registration statistics, and voter participation rates,” testimony Robinson ultimately excluded.

At the trial, he argued that the uptick in voter registration and turn out between the Kansas midterm elections in 2010 and 2014 showed that the law, which was implemented in 2013, did not make it harder to vote.

Robinson said Monday that Camarota was “not qualified to explain the reasons for the change in data between 2010 and 2014, or to insert assumptions into the record based on studies or academic literature regarding voter registration and turnout.”

“These are not his areas of expertise,” she said, ruling that his expertise was limited to his explanation of certain Census data.

“[H]e is not qualified as an expert in voter registration, voting trends, or election issues, so he is not qualified to opine on issues of causation.”

Read the judge’s opinion below:

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A federal judge on Monday ruled that Kansas’ proof of citizenship voter registration requirement was a violation of the Constitution as well as the National Voter Registration Act.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson had in previous orders temporarily blocked the requirement, which was championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Robinson on Monday handed down her decision on merits of the case, which went to trial earlier this year.

Her 100-plus page opinion also knocked Kobach, who defended the law himself in court, for his “history of non-compliance with this Court’s orders,” and imposed “sanctions responsive to Defendant’s repeated and flagrant violations of discovery and disclosure rules.” She ordered he take six hours of legal ed classes.

The case was a consolidation of two lawsuits: one from a college student alleging a constitutional violation, and the other an ACLU challenge on behalf of individual voters as well the Kansas League of Women Voters that focused on the National Voter Registration Act claim.

Robinson said that evidence brought by the League of Women Voters, which argued the requirement complicated its voter registration drives, led her to conclude “that tens of thousands of eligible citizens were blocked from registration before this Court’s preliminary injunction, and that the process of completing the registration process was burdensome for them.”

The judge also went through the testimonies of the individual Kansans who had challenged the law, arguing that their experiences backed up the testimony of the League of Women Voters, as well as the challengers’ expert witnesses, in illustrating the “concerns about the barriers to registration after the DPOC [documentary proof of citizenship] law became effective.”

Kansas had put forth a voter who had gone through a hearing process the state set up for individuals who claimed to have been unable to find any of the documents meeting the registration citizenship requirement. Robinson on Monday said that the woman, Jo French, had actually contradicted Kansas’ position in her testimony, which showed “the lengthy and burdensome process of registering to vote without a citizenship document.”

Robinson, in her decision Monday, took into account the test previously handed down by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals outlining what Kansas would have to prove for the requirement to be legally permissible. The first part of the test was whether there was a “substantial” number of non-citizens registering under the old system of registrants signing an affidavit attesting to their eligibility, and here Robinson said that she found “no credible evidence that a substantial number of noncitizens registered to vote under the attestation regime.” She said that analysis put forward by Kansas expert witness Hans von Spakovsky was likely based on “misleading evidence, and largely based on his preconceived beliefs about this issue, which has led to his aggressive public advocacy of stricter proof-of-citizenship laws.”

She also said that 39 cases of confirmed noncitizen registrants put forward by the state were not substantial “when compared to the total number of registered voters, the total number of noncitizens in Kansas, or the number of applicants on the suspense/cancellation list as of March 2016.”

“Defendant insists that these numbers are just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’ This trial was his opportunity to produce credible evidence of that iceberg, but he failed to do so,” Robinson said.

The second part of the appeals court’s test was whether “‘nothing less than DPOC is sufficient to meet’ Kansas’s NVRA eligibility-assessment and registration duties,” Robinson wrote. Robinson cited arguments by the challengers that better training would be sufficient to cut down on non-citizens inadvertently being registered to vote, as well as to testimony by the challengers’ experts that many of the non-citizen registrations cited by the state appeared to have been due to administrative error.

“If most noncitizen registrations are due to mistake or administrative error, as opposed to intentional fraud, that fact shapes the best method for enforcing the citizenship requirement,” Robsinson said, later arguing that “More consistent, centralized training for county clerks” would be a ” less burdensome way,” among others discussed in the case, “to ensure to the best of their abilities that noncitizens do not inadvertently end up on the voter rolls.”

Kobach indicated during the proceedings that he would appeal a district court loss to the appeals court, and to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Robinson’s decision recounted the number of procedural issues Kobach and his legal team ran into over the course of the proceedings, which included his failed attempt to introduce new internal state voter registration statistics on the eve of the trial, instead of during the typical discovery process, as well as a rules he broke in introducing various witness testimonies.

She said that Kobach showed “a pattern and practice” of “flaunting disclosure and discovery rules that are designed to prevent prejudice and surprise at
trial,” prompting her to impose sanctions on him — specifically six hours of legal education, beyond those required by his law license, focusing on trial procedure.

“It is not clear to the Court whether Defendant repeatedly failed to meet his disclosure obligations intentionally or due to his unfamiliarity with the federal rules. Therefore, the Court finds that an additional sanction is appropriate in the form of Continuing Legal Education,” she said. “Defendant chose to represent his own office in this matter, and as such, had a duty to familiarize himself with the governing rules of procedure, and to ensure as the lead attorney on this case that his discovery obligations were satisfied despite his many duties as a busy public servant. ”

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The Supreme Court on Monday punted on two major redistricting cases that voting-rights advocates hoped would lead to limits on partisan gerrymandering. In two cases coming out of Maryland and Wisconsin, SCOTUS handed down unanimous decisions on procedural issues, letting the court side-step the bigger questions. Gerrymandering foes hope that other, future cases will give the court another opportunity to rein in extreme partisan gerrymandering.

Kentucky, last Monday, settled a lawsuit brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch after the Justice Department intervened as well, according to court documents. Judicial Watch — and later, the Justice Department — had accused Kentucky of violating the National Voter Registration Act by not purging its voter rolls aggressively enough. Under the proposed agreement filed in court last week, Kentucky agreed to use certain protocols, in accordance with state law, to determine if voters on its rolls were no longer eligible to vote because they had moved. The state will specifically be using the U.S. postal service change of address database, as well as the Electronic Registration Information Center system (ERIC), an interstate voter registration database that uses driver’s license data to search for duplicate registrations. Both systems are fairly standard across states. The state has not agreed to use the aggressive approach used in Ohio that was given the green light by the Supreme Court last week.

The Kansas City Star had an interesting story over the weekend exploring how Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach entered President Trump’s inner circle, from where he’s lobbied to add a citizenship question to the Census and won a place on Trump’s now-defunct voter-fraud commission. According to the Star, Kobach connected to Trump via his son, Don Jr., to whom he was introduced by a mutual hunting buddy, Keith Mark.

Maine voters again approved the push towards a ranked-choice vote system on Tuesday. Under the system, voters rank candidates in order of preference, and the candidate who earns more than 50 percent of the vote wins, with a run-off system in place based on the ranked choice if no candidate earns 50 percent. While the GOP legislature and Gov. Paul LePage (R) oppose the system, its supporters successfully pushed it to the ballot, where Mainers on Tuesday voted 55 to 44 percent in its favor. The system will be used on November’s general election.

It looks as if North Carolina Republicans may succeed in cutting back early voting in the state, including the elimination of a Saturday voting day that is particularly popular among black voters. The bill passed the GOP legislature on Friday, and even if it is vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D), Republicans have a veto-proof majority that will allow them to override his rejection of it. Previously legislation passed by North Carolina Republicans that cut early voting, among other voting restrictions, was thrown out by an appeals court that said it targeted minorities with “almost surgical precision.”

And the Texas woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for voting illegally while on supervised release will not be granted a new trial following a ruling by State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez. Her attorney — who argued that the woman, Crystal Mason, was unaware it was illegal for her to cast the provisional ballot — said that she would appeal the decision.

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Voting rights advocates did not get the Supreme Court decisions they were looking for on Monday, when the court punted on partisan gerrymandering cases coming out of Wisconsin and Maryland. But they didn’t get the door shut on them, either.

“I am disappointed, but not devastated in any way,” said Michael Li, a senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, which filed briefs supporting the challengers in both cases.

“These are important decisions that actually move the ball forward and the court isn’t walking away from the issue. It didn’t make the issue messier than it was. They clarified the issue—that’s a big step forward,” Li told TPM.

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Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said Monday that his office received a referral from the FBI about the disclosure of memos written by former FBI Director Jim Comey to the press.

He was asked about the memos — and particularly whether there was an investigation into whether their release transmitted classified information inappropriately — by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) during a committee hearing.

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The Justice Department’s Inspector General declined to say on Monday what his office had turned up on alleged anti-Hillary Clinton leaks from the FBI to Rudy Giuliani or whether any DOJ employees had been sanctioned for the leaks.

“I’m not going to speak to any of the investigative steps we may or may not have taken, for the very reasons we describe in here, about what’s appropriate to do in terms of policy,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the Senate Judiciary committee, referring to his office’s freshly released report knocking ex-FBI Director James Comey for going public with details about the Clinton investigation.

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