Brett Talley, 37, an Assistant United States Attorney, is married to Annie Donaldson, the former chief of staff to ex-White House counsel Don McGahn.
Donaldson was a key figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. When McGahn met with President Trump, she was also in the room taking notes of their meetings. Mueller pointed to 10 separate instances in the final report in which the president may have obstructed justice; McGahn’s exchanges with Trump were a key factor.
On May 21, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to Donaldson and to Trump’s former communications director, Hope Hicks. Committee chairman Jerry Nadler is asking both women to turn over relevant documents and to testify before lawmakers. The subpoenas were issued on the same day that McGahn had been scheduled to testify before the committee. But the White House urged McGahn to ignore the subpoena and he did not show up for the hearing. It remains to be seen if Hicks and Donaldson will comply with the new subpoenas.
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BREAKING: Chairman @RepJerryNadler Issues Subpoenas for Hope Hicks & Annie Donaldson. Nadler: The Judiciary Committee’s investigation into obstruction of justice, public corruption and abuse of power by @realDonaldTrump and his Administration will continuehttps://t.co/etwJuYAzzd
— House Judiciary Dems (@HouseJudiciary) May 21, 2019
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Donaldson’s husband, Brett Talley, has experience being in the middle of a political firestorm. In 2017, President Trump nominated him to become a federal judge in the U.S. Middle District of Alabama, despite his lack of courtroom experience at the time. Talley later withdrew his name from consideration.
Here’s what you need to know about Brett Talley.
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1. The American Bar Association Rated Brett Talley ‘Not Qualified’ To Serve as a Federal Judge in 2017; He Had Never Tried a Case in a Courtroom Prior to Being Nominated by President Trump
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Former White House Counsel Don McGahn played a major role in the administration’s decisions concerning judicial nominations. As referenced above, his chief of staff at the White House was attorney Annie Donaldson, who is married to Brett Talley.
In September of 2017, Talley was working in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy when President Trump nominated him to sit on the federal bench at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. You can read the press release issued by the White House here.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which was chaired at the time by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), advanced his nomination. But the full Senate never took a vote. Talley ended up withdrawing his nomination in December of 2017 due to sharp criticism related to his short legal career. He had been practicing law for only about three years and had never tried a case in a courtroom before. Talley also reportedly did not disclose in written questionnaires to the Senate that his wife was a White House lawyer.
The American Bar Association submitted a letter to the committee on November 7 in which the organization unanimously stated that Talley was “Not Qualified” to be a federal judge due to his lack of experience. You can read the letter embedded above. Talley’s nomination was also featured on the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
2. Brett Talley Wrote About His Support For the National Rifle Association Following the Massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary; His Writings Came Up During His Confirmation Hearing Before the Senate Judiciary Committee
Brett Talley’s political viewpoints were discussed at length during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017. Senator Dianne Feinstein questioned him about previous statements he had made concerning the second amendment.
In February of 2013, Talley wrote in a blog post why he felt it was important for citizens to arm themselves. “One might be inclined to fear an armed citizenry, ever on the lookout for perceived tyranny, ever ready to strike against the government. Sounds like chaos and anarchy to me. But the reality of the situation is that an armed revolution truly is the last defense against tyranny, and it will only be invoked in an extreme circumstance.” Senator Feinstein asked Talley what situation he felt would justify armed rebellion in the United States. Talley’s response, reported by the New York Times, was that “he did not believe any situation in American history — with the ‘possible exception’ of slavery — had called for armed rebellion.”
Senator Feinstein also asked Talley if he would recuse himself from federal cases concerning weapons if he became a federal judge. She pointed to Talley’s blog as evidence of bias. Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, in which 20 students and 6 teachers were killed, Talley wrote that gun owners needed to join the National Rifle Association in order to protect second amendment rights. He accused Democrats of “[exploiting] the tragedy in Connecticut” in order to restrict constitutional rights. In a separate blog post, Talley wrote that the reaction to Sandy Hook was “wrongheaded” and pushed for having more armed security officers in schools to keep children safe from attackers.
3. Talley Has Expressed Support For Creating a Path to Citizenship For Illegal Immigrants
Brett Talley is a self-professed conservative on most issues. But in a 2013 blog post, he seemed to break with the Republican party on immigration. At the time, the Obama administration was working on an immigration reform package. (The effort died in Congress).
Talley argued that if it was easier for migrants to enter the U.S. legally, then “illegal immigration would dry up like alcohol running over the Canadian border after prohibition was lifted.” He added that the GOP needed to be more open to the idea of allowing a path to citizenship for immigrants who had crossed into the United States illegally. He wrote that the party was “obsessive in their absolute hatred of anything even approaching amnesty. Frankly, I think they need to get over it.”
Talley specifically expressed support for Dreamers, those who were brought to the United States as children. “These are the kids who have been in the United States all their lives, having been brought here when they were infants. They know nothing but America (some of them don’t even speak Spanish). Imagine for a moment someone knocked on your door and told you that you were being deported to Mexico. That’s pretty much what they are facing. If you think we should deport those kids, then I frankly don’t want you in my party.”
4. Brett Talley Worked as a Speechwriter Before Switching to Law Enforcement Roles
FacebookAnnie Donaldson and Brett Talley.
Brett Talley has a law degree from Harvard, which he earned in 2007. After beginning his career as a law clerk and associate at a law firm, Talley got involved in politics. He worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign for president as a senior writer. After the election, Talley went to work for Senator Rob Portman of Ohio as a speechwriter.
In April of 2015, Talley transitioned to law enforcement. He served as Deputy Solicitor General in Alabama for nearly two years. HIn early 2017, he moved to the Justice Department, where he was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy. As explained above, Talley was nominated to serve on the federal bench after just a few months in the Justice Department.
Talley remained at the Office of Legal Policy following the nomination process. He also spent two months as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, according to his Linkedin page. Talley was an advisor to the White House Counsel for several months in 2018, which would have meant he was working alongside his wife, Annie Donaldson. Talley has since returned to Montgomery, Alabama, where he is an Assistant United States Attorney.
5. Brett Talley Has Written Several Horror Novels & Was a Ghost Hunter in Alabama
31 Days of Halloween (2018): Lovecraft and the Supernatural https://t.co/QvshLcJe2b pic.twitter.com/tSgXpDt9LH
— Brett J. Talley (@brettjtalley) October 18, 2018
Brett Talley is a fan of the paranormal and isn’t shy about expressing that. His Twitter bio includes: “Teller of scary stories. Husband of an awesome [secret] wife. Retired ghost hunter.”
Talley was a member of the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group in 2009 and 2010, according to the Washington Post. On its website, the organization is described as a “group of ethically minded people searching for the truth of the paranormal existence. We help those who may be living with paranormal activity that can be disruptive and/or traumatic.” The group uses tools such as “digital thermometers, infrared, thermo graphic, and night vision cameras, handheld video cameras, digital audio recorders” during “ghost-hunting parties.”
Talley is also a published author. He has written several horror novels such as The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument: And Other Forbidden Knowledge; He Who Walks in Shadow; and That Which Should Not Be.
Talley explained his love for all things mysterious and why he chose to publish novels on his personal website. He wrote, “When people ask, Brett tells them he writes for fortune and glory. But the truth is the stories in his head simply refuse to stay put. Brett loves every kind of fiction—from horror to literary to historical to sci-fi—as long as there are fantastic characters with a compelling purpose. There’s still magic to be found in fiction, the mysterious and the unknown still beckon there, and the light can always triumph over the darkness, no matter how black the night may be.”
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