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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 White House and the National Security Council are refusing to respond to inquiries from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which is reviewing a number of White House-related matters, GAO General Counsel Thomas Armstrong alleged in a May 9 letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn.

“In response to our requests, White House Counsel and NSC staff have either refused to have any discussion with GAO staff or not responded at all,” Armstrong wrote, calling the lack of cooperation a “clear departure from past practice.”

The letter was released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, who are requesting that Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) hold a hearing “on the dramatic decision by the White House to obstruct investigations by our independent investigators at the Government Accountability Office.”

Armstrong, in his letter, asked McGahn to respond to his concerns by May 25. According to the Democrats, the White House has not replied.

The White House press shop did not respond to TPM’s inquiry about the GAO’s claims.

Armstrong’s letter referenced its reviews of the NSC’s role in U.S. efforts abroad, of vacancies at the Inspector General and of the costs of President Trump’s travel.

He told McGahn that “GAO has a history of working with attorneys from your office and the NSC to obtain information needed for our reports.”

The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works on behalf of Congress to investigate government operations.

Read the GAO letter below:

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Many states are moving forward with lawsuits challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, alleging that it will discourage immigrant populations from participating in the survey. But Alabama is suing to see that some immigrants — at least not those in the U.S. legally — aren’t even counted. The state, in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, is seeking to cut undocumented immigrants out of the count that the Census Bureau uses to apportion U.S. congressional districts. The state alleges that it is about lose a congressional seat and an electoral vote to a state with a “larger illegal alien population.”

Texas did not wait long to appeal an order Monday from a federal judge requiring the state to fix its online DMV system so that voter registration would be offered to those who updated their driver’s license info on the web. On the same day that U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia gave Texas 45 days to address the issue, which he said was a violation of the National Voter Registration Act, Texas filed its notice of appeal of the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Friday, Texas asked the 5th Circuit for an emergency stay on the federal judge’s NVRA decision.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach suffered a legal setback on Tuesday when an appeals court dismissed his request that it overturn a federal judge’s contempt finding against him. Kobach had filed the request too early in the legal process, the appeals court said.

Another appeals court, meanwhile, upheld a 2015 Montana campaign finance law that a group called Montanans for Community Development had in a lawsuit alleged  was too broad and vague. The group wanted to distribute mailers during the 2016 election attacking candidates, but didn’t want to disclose its donors. This sort of activity was barred under the Montana Disclose Act.

Democrats in Florida, meanwhile, brought a lawsuit challenging a Florida law that gives candidates of the same party as the governor the top spot on the ballot. In practice, the law has given Republican candidates an electoral advantage for the last 20 years, during which the state has had a Republican governor, the lawsuit said.

Pennsylvania, which has been the site of a months-long redistricting battle, is considering a redistricting reform measure that would place the task of drawing a new electoral map in the hands of a citizen commission — instead of lawmakers — and would encourage a more bipartisan approach. The state Senate bill sat dormant in committee for months, but was moved to the full Senate for a vote on Tuesday. If it passes the Senate, it still faces major obstacles in the lower chamber of the state’s legislature.

A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers are making their own push for a redistricting overhaul with a measure that would let a panel of 12 voters approve maps drawn by legislative staff. The anti-gerrymandering measure passed the legislature earlier this month and will be on the ballot for voters’ approval in November.

Speaking of gerrymandering, we have, apparently, been pronouncing the word wrong — or so says the Wall Street Journal.

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The federal judge presiding over Paul Manafort’s case in Washington, D.C. dealt him another legal setback Friday by declining to throw out charges brought against him that Manafort alleged were “multiplicitous.”

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had previously dismissed two seperate legal challenges brought by Manafort alleging that special counsel Robert Mueller was acting outside of his authority.

Manafort has been charged with money laundering, false statements and failure to disclose foreign lobbying — stemming from work he did in Ukraine predating his time on Trump’s campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, as well as to the other charges Mueller brought against him in Virginia.

The issue Jackson decided on Friday was whether two of the counts in the D.C. indictment — both having to do with what Manafort told the government about his Ukraine lobbying — were duplicative, since they both dealt with the same set of statements Manafort made to the Department of Justice.

“But the test for multiplicity is not whether two counts are based on the same set of facts; rather, it is whether the statutory elements of the two offenses are the same,” Jackson wrote.

She denied Manafort’s request but noted that he can raise the issue again after the trial.

Read her opinion below:

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Shortly before the inauguration, Donald Trump’s self-described “fixer” Michael Cohen met at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-tied oligarch and discussed Russian-U.S. relations, the New York Times reported.

Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg could be seen on video entering Trump Tower on January 9, 2017, in what would be the first of three meetings, the New York Times reported Friday. 

Vekselberg, the chairman of Renova Group, has been sanctioned by the Trump administration and was questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators at a New York-area airport earlier this year, the New York Times previously reported.

Vekselberg’s American cousin Andrew Intrater attended the Trump Tower meeting and told the New York Times that Vekselberg’s appearance wasn’t initially planned. Intrater’s company Columbus Nova signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen later in January. About half of the contract was ultimately paid out to Cohen, the Washington Post reported, before it was terminated when Cohen had trouble finding investors for the company.

Columbus Nova has denied that it was used by Vekselberg — its biggest client — as a middleman to pay Cohen. It was caught scrubbing mentions of its ties to Renova Group from its website.

Federal investigators have shown interest in the Cohen contract, the New York Times reported.

“Obviously, if I’d known in January 2017 that I was about to hire this high-profile guy who’d wind up in this big mess, I wouldn’t have introduced him to my biggest client, and wouldn’t have hired him at all,” Intrater told the New York Times.

Intrater said the men agreed to meet again at Trump’s inauguration, an encounter that was previously reported by the Post. It’s not clear from the Times’ report when and where the third meeting occurred.

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A Senate Judiciary Democrat is alleging that Donald Trump Jr. gave false testimony in a September 2017 interview with the committee, in which the President’s son denied that foreign governments or foreign nationals sought to assist President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), in a Thursday letter to Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), pointed to a recent report that Trump Jr. met at Trump Tower in August 2016 with an Israeli social media specialist and an emissary for princes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Israeli, Joel Zamel, touted his firm’s ability to manipulate social media to boost Trump’s campaign, while the emissary, George Nader, told Trump Jr. that the princes he represented would also like to help his father’s election, the New York Times reported. Trump Jr.’s attorney Alan Futerfas confirmed the meeting happened but claimed that his client was not interested in the attendees’ pitches.

Coons is asking for Grassley to bring Trump Jr. back in front of the committee for public testimony. His letter included a transcript from Trump Jr.’s committee interview, when he was asked about foreign countries other than Russia.

Coons’ letter also cited the referral Grassley sent the Justice Department calling for it to investigate alleged false statements Republicans accused Christopher Steele — the ex-British spy who assembled the Trump-Russia dossier — of making to the FBI.

A committee spokesman for Grassley did not immediately respond to TPM’s inquiry, nor did Trump Jr.’s lawyer.

Read the full letter below:

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A legal defense fund set up for Trump campaign advisor Michael Caputo has raised more than $300,000, a press release from the fund touted Friday, and is now prepared to pay the legal fees of other Trump associates, including J.D. Gordon, another veteran of the Trump campaign.

Caputo’s cooperation with congressional investigators, according to the statement, has cost him $125,000 in legal fees. Caputo, a longtime GOP operative who also did some consulting work in Russia, agreed to an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team earlier this month.

Gordon also has been interviewed by Mueller and by congressional investigators. A member of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team, Gordon was involved in discussions about softening the GOP Platform’s Ukraine posturing towards Russia.

“With his fees so far paid in full, Michael asked us to consider assisting others caught up in this partisan witch hunt,” principal trustee Ralph Lorigo said in the press release. “Our articles of trust allow such expenditures and we believe his donors support this decision.”

An image from Michael Caputo’s legal defense fund website.

The defense fund, dubbed the Michael Caputo Legal Fund, is one of a number of entities being set up to pay the escalating legal fees of Trump associates swept up in the various Russia investigations. The Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust was set up earlier this year to assist Trump aides, but questions remain about who will receive legal funding and how those decisions will be made.

Trump ally Roger Stone — claiming the domain name whoframedrogerstone.com — has his own legal defense fund.

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates was scolded by a federal judge last year for filming a video promoting his legal defense fund, the Defending American Rights Legal Fund, in violation of a gag order the judge had imposed on the case. Gates, in his decision to later cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in a plea deal, cited the mounting legals costs fighting the case posed.

The White House has said that President Trump will pay his own personal legal fees, though the Republican National Committee bankrolled his personal attorneys for some time. The RNC also paid the legal firm representing Trump’s former communication director Hope Hicks  $450,000, according to recent disclosure forms.

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Roger Stone emailed a New York radio host — whom Stone himself has described as his “intermediary” to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange — in September 2016 seeking that the host ask Assange about specific Hillary Clinton emails, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Stone had previously told the House Intel committee last year that he had asked the host, later revealed to be Randy Credico, merely to “independently confirm” a report in June 2016 that Wikileaks had obtained Clinton’s emails.

In emails obtained by the Journal, Stone, on September 28, 2016, requested that Credico ask Assange “for any State or HRC e-mail from August 10 to August 30–particularly on August 20, 2011.”

When Credico suggested that Wikileaks would have already posted all the Clinton emails that existed, according to the Journal, Stone replied, “Why do we assume WikiLeaks has released everything they have ???””

The Stone-Credico emails were not turned over to the House Intelligence Committee, Stone’s attorney Grant Smith confirmed to the Journal.

Stone, in an email to TPM, said that he “turned over all emails that met the precise wording of their document request.”

“I supplied the emails to the WSJ – they fell outside the scope of their request,” Stone said

The emails had also not been turned over to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Stone attorney Grant Smith told the Journal.

Credico met with Senate Intel Dem staff on Wednesday, he told the Journal, where he had a limited discussion about Wikileaks, 2016 and Stone.

Stone, suggesting that Credico was serving as an informant for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, also appeared to threaten Credico with a lawsuit, according to emails viewed by the Journal.

“Everyone says u are wearing a wire for Mueller,” Stone said in an April 8 email.

“Run your mouth = get sued,” Stone told Credico two days later.

Both Stone and Credico told the Journal that they have not been in touch with Mueller’s team.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Stone.

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The White House attorney responsible for handling its response to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe was spotted heading into two Justice Department briefings Thursday for lawmakers on a reported “informant” the FBI used in its investigation of the Trump campaign.

Emmet Flood was spotted at the Justice Department, where Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and other DOJ officials were scheduled to brief House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intel Committee, also attended the noon briefing, after initial reports that only Republican lawmakers were invited. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly also reportedly attended at least part of the briefing.

 

FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also joined Rosenstein at the briefings. After the noon meeting, they headed to the Capitol to brief the so-called “Gang of 8”: The House and Senate Intel Committees’ chairs and vice chairs, the House Speaker and Minority Leader, and the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders. (Ryan attended the noon briefing due to a prior commitment.) Gowdy was also slated to attend that meeting.

Flood, too, was spotted heading into the briefing, being held in the basement of the Capitol, as was Kelly.

Kelly did not explain Flood’s presence at the briefings when asked by CNN reporters at the Capitol.

The White House Press Secretary had previously said that White House officials would not be attending the briefings.

The White House in a statement said that Flood and Kelly only made brief remarks at the top of the meetings to “relay the President’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law,” as well as to convey “the President’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government.”

“After making their brief comments they departed before the meetings officially started,” the statement said.

Update: This story has been updated with a statement from the White House.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller stressed that his investigation into Russian election meddling was ongoing and consisted of “multiple lines of non-public inquiry,” in a court filing Wednesday evening in a lawsuit brought by media companies seeking the release of certain records related to the probe.

“Many aspects of the investigation are factually and legally interconnected: they involve overlapping courses of conduct, relationships, and events, and they rely on similar sources, methods, and techniques,” the special counsel said. “The investigation is not complete and its details remain non-public.”

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team suggested Wednesday that there were other yet-to-be-revealed public relations firms involved in Paul Manafort’s Ukraine lobbying scheme beyond those already referenced specifically in the indictment.

The hint came in a hearing in front of a federal judge in Washington D.C. concerning Manafort’s request for what’s known as a bill of particulars. Manafort is asking the judge to require the prosecutors to give him more details about the charges being brought against him.

Manafort’s attorneys pointed specifically to a line in the indictment referring to alleged unregistered foreign lobbying work done by Company A, Company B, Company C “and others.”

Company A and Company B are Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group respectively, it’s been reported. Company C refers to a PR firm allegedly hired by Manafort to promote a report assembled by the law firm Skadden Arps justifying the imprisonment of the political rival of Manafort’s Ukrainian client.

The prosecutors have confirmed for Manafort’s attorneys those companies’ identities.

Greg Andres, of Mueller’s team, initially told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that the “others” referred to the principals at Company A and B, who he said were working on the Ukraine lobbying campaigns. But towards the end of the hearing, Andres got up to clarify that the “and others” also refers to other PR firms. He said the Manafort’s attorneys had been put on notice that there were other PR firms.

Earlier in the hearing, Andres argued that the prosecutors weren’t legally required to disclose the information that Manafort was seeking at this point in the proceedings. He also said that doing so would prematurely give Manafort a list of the witnesses the government planned to call at trial, though Andres admitted that that was less of a concern for him.

The particular portion of the indictment in question related to the charge that Manafort violated that Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires that any lobbying done in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign agent be registered with the Justice Department. He also faces charges of money laundering and false statements related to his Ukraine lobbying work, which predated the several months he served as chairman of President Trump’s 2016 campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, as well as to those brought by Mueller in a separate case in Virginia.

In the lead-up to a grand jury handing down the indictment against Manafort and his business deputy Rick Gates last October, it was reported that the Podesta Group and Mercury has been subpoenaed by Mueller. The Podesta Group has since been shuttered, though it’s unclear whether Mueller plans to bring any charges against the firm, which was led by Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Both groups were hired to lobby on Capitol Hill on behalf of an organization called European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which Mueller alleges was a front for Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions.

Corrected: A previous version of this story misattributed a comment made by Mueller prosecutor Greg Andres to Scott Meisler, another member of Mueller’s team. Andres made the remark that “and others” referred to principals at Company A and Company B.

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