A controversial federal judicial nominee failed to disclose that his wife is one of the top White House lawyers, working alongside the man who helped pick the nominees to the bench, the New York Times reports.
Ann Davidson, the 35-year-old chief of staff to White House counsel Don McGhan, is the wife of Brett J. Talley, who has been nominated to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Middle District of Alabama. Talley is the deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy.
The Times uncovered that Talley did not list his wife as a family member or other person who is “likely to present potential conflicts of interest” on his public Senate Questionnaire. As a district judge, Talley could hear matters on cases that involving the White House and its lawyers. Talley also didn’t mention Donaldson while describing his frequent contact with White House staff, according to the Times.
Talley, Davidson and the White House have not commented about the Times report.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Donaldson Has Worked at the White House Since March, While Talley Was Nominated to the Federal Bench in September
Annie Donaldson joined the White House in February as chief of staff to counsel Don McGahn, the administration’s top lawyer, according to a White House press release. She worked on the transition team alongside McGahn, according to Politico. Emails from her time working with the transition team were released by the Office of Government Ethics.
“Ms. Donaldson has worked on the last three presidential campaigns and represented numerous campaigns, officeholders, and others involved in the political process. Earlier in her career, she served in State government,” the press release said. She is making $155,000 per year in her role as deputy assistant and special counsel to the president and chief of staff to McGahn, according to the White House.
According to the New York Times, McGahn was heavily involved in helping Trump reshape the federal bench by picking nominees to the judiciary. But a source at the White House told the newspaper that Donaldson was not involved in that process.
Talley was nominated to serve as a District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in September, the White House said in a press release. Talley has already drawn criticism from Democrats and the legal world for his lack of experience. He has never tried a case and received a rare “not qualified” from the American Bar Association. His nomination was advanced last week on a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee and his Senate confirmation vote could come this week.
“Mr. Talley served as deputy solicitor general for the state of Alabama, currently serves in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy and was recommended by Alabama’s U.S. senators,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Times. “He is more than qualified to serve in the federal judiciary.”
2. She Has Been Interviewed by Robert Mueller’s Investigators as Part of the Russia Probe
Ann Donaldson has been interviewed recently by investigators from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as part of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, the New York Times reports. While she worked on the Trump campaign, providing legal services, according to her financial disclosure, the interviews center around the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, which occurred during her time at the White House, according to the Times.
Investigators talked to her about her detailed notes taken during conversations with Don McGahan on topics including Comey’s fire, sources told the newspaper. Mueller is investigating whether Trump tried to obstruct the Justice Department’s Russia investigation before.
Donaldson has had limited interaction with Trump, according to the Times, but spoke to McGahn after he met with the president and took notes, which have been provided to the special counsel’s office.
3. Donaldson Worked at Jones Day for 3 Years & Previously Worked for Mitt Romney
Donaldson is among several lawyers from the powerful D.C. firm Jones Day to come to the White House, including her boss, Don McGahn, according to The Associated Press. She worked as an associate at Jones Day from July 2014, practicing political law, until she joined the White House staff.
According to her Linkedin profile, Donaldson was previously an associate at Patton Boggs LLP from October 2011 to July 2014.
Before going to law school, Donaldson worked in politics. She was the campaign manager for the Massachusetts Republican Party in 2004, and was then the senior operations coordinator for the Office of the Governor of Massachusetts, from 2005 to 2007, during Mitt Romney’s tenure there.
Donaldson then worked on Romney’s campaign in 2008, as the assistant director of operations, and again in 2012, as associate counsel. She also spent 2008 working as the director of special projects and initiatives for the Free and Strong America PAC, according to her Linkedin profile. Her husband, Brett Talley, also worked for the Romney campaign in 2012, as a speech writer.
Donaldson’s financial disclosure form, shows that she has worked with several conservative political groups in recent years. According to Newsweek, she earned more than $5,000 the last two years from PAC Freedom Partners, affiliated with the Koch brothers, and compensation in excess of $5,000 from America Rising, Americans for Economic Freedom and Freedomworks For America, all for legal services.
4. She Is a Kentucky Native Who Graduated From the University of Alabama & Harvard Law School
Annie Donaldson Talley is originally from Richmond, Kentucky, where she graduated from Model Labratory School, according to her Linkedin profile. In 2004, she graduated from the University of Alabama, and she later attended Harvard Law School, completing her degree in 2011.
According to her White House bio, Donaldson, “was a Supreme Court Chair for the Harvard Law Review and executive editor for the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.”
Donaldson interned at the White House, during the Bush administration after graduating from Alabama, according to a Boston.com article from 2004. She then headed to Massachusetts to work for the Republican party there in an effort to unseat Democrats in the legislature.
“I do everything,” the then-22-year-old Donaldson, who was helping Judith Judson in her unsuccessful bid to unseat Theodore C. Speliotis in the 13th House District, told Boston.com. “I pick up copy paper from Staples, I talk to the media, I organize volunteers, raise funds, and plan events. Everything that comes up, big or small, comes down to me. I’m the only full-time person on the entire campaign. A campaign is so all-consuming that, really, you don’t have time to think.”
5. Donaldson & Talley Met at the University of Alabama & Have Been Married Since August 2015
Annie Donaldson and Brett Talley were married on August 15, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, according to a wedding announcement in her hometown newspaper, the Richmond Register. Donaldson and Talley met while they were at the University of Alabama.
“The ceremony was held at Capitol Park, the site of the historic ruins of the Second Capitol of Alabama, and was jointly officiated by Judge Joel Dubina of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge L. Scott Coogler of the Northern District of Alabama,” the announcement said.
They were living in Montgomery, Alabama, at the time.
Talley, in addition to his work as an attorney, is an award-winning author of horror novels. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2007.