Top DOJ official demoted amid probe of contacts with Trump dossier firm

EXCLUSIVE: A senior Justice Department official was demoted this week amid an ongoing investigation into his contacts with the opposition research firm responsible for the anti-Trump “dossier,” the department confirmed to Fox News. Until Wednesday morning, Bruce G. Ohr held two titles at DOJ: associate deputy attorney general, a post that placed him four doors down from his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein; and director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), a program described by the department as “the centerpiece of the attorney general’s drug strategy.” Ohr will retain his OCDETF title but has been stripped of his higher post and ousted from his office on the fourth floor of “Main Justice.” Initially senior department officials could not provide the reason for Ohr’s demotion, but Fox News has learned that evidence collected by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., indicates that Ohr met during the 2016 campaign with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the “dossier.”  Later, a Justice Department official told Fox News: "It is unusual for anyone to wear two hats as he has done recently. This person is going to go back to a single focus—director of our organized crime and drug enforcement unit. As you know, combating transnational criminal organizations and drug trafficking is a top priority for the attorney general." Continue Reading

DOJ scrutiny opens door to new Uranium One investigation

The Justice Department’s scrutiny of an Obama-era deal that gave Russia partial control of the U.S. uranium supply has opened the door to the possibility of a new investigation – egged on by the White House. “If the attorney general feels there’s a need for that investigation, he should absolutely look into that – and obviously he sees cause for it,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Thursday. She was reacting to a report that DOJ prosecutors are now pressing FBI agents about a prior probe related to the Uranium One deal which Republican critics have criticized over alleged links to the Clintons. NBC News reported that agents are being asked to explain the evidence they found and whether there was any “improper effort” to stop a prosecution. It’s all part of a broader effort by the Justice Department, first reported by Fox News, to evaluate GOP calls for the appointment of a second special counsel examining Obama administration-tied controversies. As Fox News reported in November, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed “senior federal prosecutors” to make recommendations on whether such an appointment is warranted, and whether “any matters not currently under investigation should be opened.” Sessions told reporters last week that the DOJ is cooperating with congressional investigators on Uranium One and other issues, including by making available a confidential informant. He said a “senior attorney” has been supplied with “the resources he may need” to review cases and make a recommendation. Continue Reading

Judge partially lifts Trump administration ban on refugees

A federal judge in Seattle on Saturday partially lifted a Trump administration ban on certain refugees after two groups argued that the policy prevented people from some mostly Muslim countries from reuniting with family living legally in the United States. U.S. District Judge James Robart heard arguments Thursday in lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and Jewish Family Service, which say the ban causes irreparable harm and puts some people at risk. Government lawyers argued that the ban is needed to protect national security. Robart ordered the federal government to process certain refugee applications. He said his order applies to people "with a bona fide relationship to a person or entity within the United States." President Donald Trump restarted the refugee program in October "with enhanced vetting capabilities." The day before his executive order, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats sent a memo to Trump saying certain refugees must be banned unless additional security measures are implemented. It applies to the spouses and minor children of refugees who have already settled in the U.S. and suspends the refugee program for people coming from 11 countries, nine of which are mostly Muslim. In his decision, Robart wrote that "former officials detailed concretely how the Agency Memo will harm the United States' national security and foreign policy interests." Robart said his order restores refugee procedures in programs to what they were before the memo and noted Continue Reading

RBS to pay $125 million to settle California mortgage bond claims

The settlement announced on Friday by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was the latest by RBS aimed at resolving claims stemming from its sale of mortgage-backed securities, which were at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis. Becerra's office said those securities were typically backed by thousands of mortgage loans of varying quality in which the buyer relied on the assurance that those mortgages were carefully screened and were not overly risky. Becerra's office also said its investigations found that RBS failed to accurately disclose to investors the true traits of many of the thousands of mortgages underlying the securities. The probe also found that those misrepresentations led to millions of dollars in losses to the California Public Employees' Retirement System and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, Becerra's office said. "RBS decided to mislead California's pension funds in order to line its own pockets - plain and simple," Becerra said in a statement. RBS Chief Executive Officer Ross McEwan in a statement on Saturday said the bank was pleased to have reached the settlement, which related to issues with mortgage-backed securities in 2004 to 2008. "We have been very clear that putting our remaining legacy issues behind us is a key part of our strategy," he said. The settlement comes as RBS continues to seek to resolve a U.S. Justice Department investigation into its sales of mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis. In July, RBS agreed to pay $5.5 billion to resolve a lawsuit by the Continue Reading

How Johnny Depp’s legal and financial headaches could forever shake up Hollywood

On-screen, actor Johnny Depp is best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in the highly successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. But off-screen, his legal battle with his former managers has evolved into another must-watch drama due to its potential impact on Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter detailed in a new post. In mid-January, Depp filed a lawsuit accusing The Management Group, which had represented him for more than a decade, of fraud and mismanagement. During this time, TMG's Joel Mandel claimed Depp made more than $650 million, an enormous figure that Depp used to fuel a lavish lifestyle, including 14 residences, more than 200 artworks and a 156-foot yacht. Ultimately, Depp's extravagant spending led to financial troubles. TMG slapped Depp with a countersuit, claiming Depp did not pay a commission to the firm for the upcoming installment of Pirates of the Caribbean. The legal wrangling is shaping up to be a closely watched battle that could reshape how Hollywood management works. Depp's lawyer claims his managers did not have a right to a slice of his earnings without a written contract. Under California law, attorneys are not entitled to a portion of the clients' earnings until they have a contract. Still, TMG asserts that while Joel Mandel and his brother Robert are attorneys, they did not provide legal work for Depp and thus are exempt from the law. TMG declined CNBC's request for comment. Depp did not respond to CNBC's requests for comment. To learn more about Depp's legal wrangling with his former managers, read The Hollywood Reporter's in-depth profile. Continue Reading

Johnny Depp’s ex-business managers face federal probes for fraud

The ongoing legal battle between Hollywood actor Johnny Depp and his former business managers intensifies as reports reveal that his former business managers are facing investigations from three federal agencies. Management Group founders Joel and Rob Mandel may potentially face fraud and money laundering charges by the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department, while the Securities and Exchange Commission are probing how the firm managed Depp's funds, said people familiar with the situation, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The Management Group has not been contacted yet in regards to the probe, according to a person close to the matter. The IRS-Justice Department probe is in its early stages, while the SEC has already subpoenaed one person in its probe, said a person familiar with the matter, according to the report. Depp's lawyers have also met with government officials, the report said. "In 30 years of business, no current or former client of TMG has raised any issue, other than Johnny Depp who continues to spread malicious, unfounded lies about the company. TMG will vigorously defend and defeat all of Depp's fabricated claims," a lawyer for TMG said in a statement to CNBC. Depp's legal battle with the firm started in January, when the "Pirates of the Caribbean" actor sued the Management Group (TMG) for $25 million alleging fraud and professional negligence. Depp claimed that the firm caused him to lose tens of millions of dollars and incur $40 million in debt. The Mandel brothers have struck back, calling the claims "baseless" and have responded with a countersuit, claiming that Depp is responsible for his Continue Reading

In victory for Trump, judge tosses suit on foreign payments

A federal judge in New York on Thursday threw out a lawsuit claiming that President Donald Trump violated the U.S. Constitution by accepting foreign payments through his hotels and other businesses, handing him a major victory on an issue that has dogged him since before he took office in January. Though other lawsuits remain pending that make similar claims, the ruling by U.S. District Judge George Daniels is the first to weigh the merits of the U.S. Constitution's anti-corruption provisions as they apply to Trump, a wealthy businessman who as president regularly visits his own hotels, resorts and golf clubs. In his 29-page opinion granting the government's request to toss the suit, Daniels said the plaintiffs were not legally entitled to sue. Continue Reading

Asking for a Friend: I Have a Fancy Law Degree, but No One Will Hire Me to Do Good!

Dear Liza, 
 1 I just graduated in the top third of my class from a top law school. Most of my friends went off to big firms, where they are now making six figures. 
1 Throughout law school, I was told (and I believed) that working for big firms was morally wrong: that it was the public, not corporations, that needed—and lacked—legal talent. I wanted to make a difference, so I looked for jobs at nonprofits or in government. I had been told that there was a nonprofit “community” interested in helping young people find their place in it, but I’ve discovered that is not the case. Most people never bothered to reply to my e-mails, and one organization still owes me over $1,000 for the work I did for them (my requests for payment have gone unanswered). Worse, most nonprofits refuse to hire anyone who doesn’t have experience working at a big, soulless firm. 
2 As a result, I am working for a government organization on a small stipend from my school. I feel bitter toward the nonprofit “community,” not to mention lied to. I am not sure what to do next, and have been thinking about giving up.
3 What should I do? Should I sell out to a big firm for a few years, to get the “training” all the nonprofits fetishize? Is it even worth it at this point, given what I’ve discovered about the exploitative nonprofit world? If it is worth it, what can I do to change the nonprofit community so that it is less hypocritical and treats its people better?4 — Alienated From His Labor5 Dear Alienated,6 That sounds frustrating, but the good and bad news is that you are laboring under several layers of misconception.7 Jane Greengold Stevens, who has worked as a public-interest lawyer for 47 years and makes hiring decisions in that sector, says it’s “100 percent wrong” that public-interest law firms are looking for private-sector experience. If anything, a corporate Continue Reading

4 Reasons Why Robert Mueller Is an Ideal Special Counsel

History will one day tell the story of how the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, just over 100 days into his presidency, fired the director of the FBI, James Comey, in an apparent attempt to stop an investigation into the president’s own team of advisers. The firing set off alarm bells, and will for decades to come look like the behavior of a man on the run, obstructing justice. Adding fuel to the fire, leading figures in his administration immediately dismissed the idea of appointing a special counsel to investigate the matter and hemmed and hawed about a congressional investigation as well. For several days, it seemed possible that an unstoppable series of events would clamp down the investigation, and in so doing, tamp down a central tenet of American democracy—the balance of powers. But today, a week after Director Comey’s firing, it seems we have the beginning of a possible redirection of the story. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the chief official in charge of the DOJ’s investigation, appointed a special counsel to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” It is not just the appointment of a special counsel that is cause for relief but the specific choice of Robert Mueller. In many ways, Mueller is as good a person to occupy this post as any we could hope for. By temperament and by experience, Mueller hints at the possibility of an antidote to the Trump administration’s defiant stance against the laws of the land. Here are four reasons why: 1) Mueller is an intrepid professional. Famously, he required FBI agents and officials to wear white button-down shirts, to signify their commitment to maintaining professional standards. In the context of the Trump administration, which consistently downplays professional skill in favor of loyalty, Mueller’s credentials are Continue Reading

Meet Bob Ferguson, the Washington State Attorney General Who Shut Down Trump’s Muslim Ban

When Donald Trump signed his January 27 executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” which temporarily halted the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations, as well as slamming the door shut on refugees, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson was ready. When the order was unveiled, Ferguson was meeting with other Democratic state attorneys general in Fort Lauderdale, discussing likely challenges they would face from the Trump administration on immigration law, civil rights, environmental regulations, and other key policy areas. Following the meeting, Ferguson, a canny strategist who spent his youth as a high-level competitive chess player, twice winning the Washington State championship, immediately put a longstanding response plan into action. Within minutes of the order being signed, Ferguson’s team—including an expanded civil-rights division, which he had prepared over the past several months for just such a moment, and which had been in contact with Democratic attorneys general nationwide to work out how to respond to such actions—was poring over the text, looking for legal weaknesses that could expose it to a constitutional challenge. By the time he returned to the West Coast the following morning, the legal wheels for a court challenge were firmly in motion. “After the shock [of Trump’s election victory] wore off,” the attorney general said, speaking by phone from the state capital of Olympia. “I wanted my office to be ready in case President Trump attempted to deliver on some of his campaign promises—for example, delivering a Muslim ban. We felt the executive order was unconstitutional and unlawful and was adversely impacting thousands of Washington State residents.” Ferguson, who has been state attorney general since 2013, added, “I felt it was important that someone stand up to the president. I wouldn’t have Continue Reading