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No. 3 Justice Department official stepping down amid turmoil

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 5:37 PM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 5:36 PM


            FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2018, file photo, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand speaks during the opening of the summit on Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking at Department of Justice in Washington. Brand, the Justice Department’s No. 3 official is planning to step down at a time of turmoil in the agency. A friend of Brand told The Associated Press that she is stepping down for a private sector job. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2018, file photo, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand speaks during the opening of the summit on Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking at Department of Justice in Washington. Brand, the Justice Department’s No. 3 official is planning to step down at a time of turmoil in the agency. A friend of Brand told The Associated Press that she is stepping down for a private sector job. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

The Justice Department's No. 3 official is planning to step down at a time of turmoil in the agency.

Rachel Brand is leaving for the top legal job at Walmart, friend and former colleague Jamie Gorelick told The Associated Press Friday.

Brand attracted interest because of her potential to assume a key role in the Trump-Russia investigation. The official overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has been repeatedly criticized by Trump. If Rosenstein had been fired or quit, oversight would have fallen to Brand. That job would now fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

"She felt this was an opportunity she couldn't turn down," Gorelick said. Walmart sought Brand to be head of global corporate governance at the retail giant, a position Gorelick said has legal and policy responsibilities that will cater to her strengths.

"It really seems to have her name on it," Gorelick said.

President and CEO Doug McMillon said Walmart "is fortunate to have a leader of Rachel Brand's stature join the company."

The New York Times first reported the departure, which comes as the Justice Department has been subject to unprecedented attack by President Donald Trump. His broadsides have strained morale at the institution known for its vaunted independence from the White House.

And her departure leaves another vacancy at the Justice Department, which still lacks Senate-confirmed leaders over many of its most important divisions.

Trump, who has openly lamented his inability to influence Justice Department decisions, has stepped up his criticism in recent weeks, fueled by the release of a politically explosive memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance powers in the Russia investigation.

Brand, who became associate attorney general in May, has kept a relatively low profile and, unlike other top officials, has not been personally targeted by Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the "quality and leadership" of Brand and Rosenstein at a Justice Department event last week that focused on human trafficking, which was one of her stated priorities.

In a statement, Brand said she is proud of the department's accomplishments during her short time there.

"The men and women of the Department of Justice impress me every day," she said.

Brand was also a high-ranking official in the department under George W. Bush. In her current capacity, she oversaw a number of politically challenging areas of the department, including the civil rights, antitrust and civil divisions.

"Rachel has shown real leadership over many important divisions at the department," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Friday night in which he congratulated Brand. "She will always remain part of the Department of Justice family."

She had recently pushed Congress to renew a foreign intelligence surveillance program that gives the U.S. government authority to spy on foreigners located outside the country. And she had been vocal about the department's efforts to support students who say their free speech rights are being violated on college campuses.

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Several sinkholes open in Florida neighborhood, threaten homes

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 6:08 AM

Several sinkholes opened in a Florida neighborhood. (Photo: WFTV.com)
Several sinkholes opened in a Florida neighborhood. (Photo: WFTV.com)

Several sinkholes opened in The Villages Thursday, threatening several homes, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said. 

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Four homes have been evacuated. Officials said the largest of the three holes is 35 feet deep and 18 feet wide. 

One of the sinkholes that opened up is outside Frank Newman’s home.

He said he heard strange sounds and wasn’t sure what was going on.

“At about 12:30 I was watching the Olympics when I heard something that I thought was thunder,” Newman said.

Hours later, he found out what was actually going on.

“My front door bell rings about 3:10. It was a policeman saying, ‘You got to get out of your house,’” Newman said.

Marion County Emergency Management was also at the scene and said that utilities to the four closest homes have been disconnected as a precaution.

The sinkholes go beneath two of the homes.

Photos: Sinkholes open in Villages neighborhood

Cracks formed outside Newman’s neighbor’s home and a hole opened up near her front door.

“In her house, she is seeing cracks inside the house on the floor and stuff,” Newman said. “She can’t get her car out of the garage because the garage door won’t open.”

Signs have been placed outside some of the homes warning the houses have been condemned.

Golf course officials are draining a lake to help the situation. Utilities officials said that if a water main break occurs, they will be able to handle it, but 20 homes could potentially lose water service if that happens.

Residents were allowed to briefly return to their homes to pick up some belongings.

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Missing Florida girl, 11, found with suspected abductor at Georgia hotel, deputies say

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 5:52 AM

Alice Johnson. (Photo via Florida Department of Law Enforcement)
Florida Department of Law Enforcement
Alice Johnson. (Photo via Florida Department of Law Enforcement)(Florida Department of Law Enforcement)

An 11-year-old Orange County, Florida, girl was found Sunday afternoon at a Georgia hotel room with a 24-year-old Illinois man who had abducted her, Georgia's Bibb County Sheriff’s Office said.

Alice Amelia Johnson was reported missing at about 9 a.m. Sunday from a subdivision near University Boulevard and North Econlockhatchee Trail in Orange County, deputies said.

Investigators said they tracked Alice's cellphone while she was traveling with John Peter Byrns, of Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

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At about 2 p.m. Sunday, Orange County deputies contacted Bibb County deputies, who were contacted by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent two hours later, officials said.

Byrns and Alice were found shortly before 6 p.m. in a room at a Holiday Inn Express and Suites near Macon, deputies said.

Investigators said charges are pending against Byrns, who is being held at the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center.

Alice was reunited with her parents Sunday evening.

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Florida school shooting: Teacher of the year's emotional Facebook post goes viral

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 4:35 AM

WATCH: Suspected Florida High School Shooter Nikolas Cruz Appears In Court

An educator at Eustis Middle School in Florida, who was named teacher of the year last month, posted her reaction on social media to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.

>> WATCH: Florida school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez slams politicians, NRA in emotional speech

Posted by Kelly Guthrie Raley on Sunday, June 22, 2014

Kelly Guthrie Raley’s response has been shared more than 600,000 times since she posted it on her Facebook page, with many more likes.

>> Florida sheriff to politicians who don't support gun control: 'You will not get re-elected'

Raley wrote that mental health issues, lack of available care for them, lack of discipline at home, lack of parental support for teacher discipline of their children, lack of moral values, promotion of violence through video games and the screaming on reality TV have created a culture where compassion is gone and the “permanency of death” is not understood by youths.

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"Those 17 lives mattered," she wrote. "When are we going to take our own responsibility seriously?"

>> Read her full post here

Okay, I’ll be the bad guy and say what no one else is brave enough to say, but wants to say. I’ll take all the...

Posted by Kelly Guthrie Raley on Thursday, February 15, 2018
 

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Self-proclaimed white nationalist banned from Seattle gym

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 6:28 AM

A Seattle gym banned Greg Johnson, a self-proclaimed white nationalist. (Photo: KIRO7.com)
A Seattle gym banned Greg Johnson, a self-proclaimed white nationalist. (Photo: KIRO7.com)

A self-proclaimed white nationalist was banned from a Fremont gym after the owners learned he is a leader in the alt-right community.

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The owners of Northwest Fitness Project say Greg Johnson is longer welcome there.

“The trainer terminated his contract and we banned him from the gym,” said Kyle Davis, a co-owner of the gym.

It's a move that has some people wondering if it violates a city ordinance that says "places of public accommodation" can't discriminate based on a person's beliefs.

But the owners of the gym say that ordinance doesn't apply -- because it’s not a public space. To use the space, you must be the client of a trainer.

“There’s no open gym membership, it's not like people can come and go as they please,” Davis said. “Trainers come and run their own businesses out of this location."

“There's a right of first refusal of the independent trainer. And (the trainer) chose to not work with him anymore due to the harm it would cause his reputation, and not wanting to be associated with those views,” Davis said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Greg Johnson an "international figure for white nationalism” and “one of the leading voices of the far-right.”

In September 2017, the New York Times interviewed him undercover and posted it on its website.

In the interview, Johnson says, “I would identify myself as a white nationalist. That states the goals I have politically.”

When asked about people who are Jewish, Johnson says, “The solution would ultimately (be) to expel them.”

Davis said he’s disturbed to hear Johnson’s views.

“I would feel threatened, yes,” he said. “I'm converting to Judaism, my fiancée is Jewish and we want to raise our kids Jewish.”

The owners say after Johnson was banned, a white nationalist publication told followers to post negative reviews on the gym's Yelp and Facebook pages.

“We were at a five (star average review); it went down to a three,” said Matthew Holland, the other co-owner of Northwest Fitness Project.

But hundreds of people supported the gym on social media, helping it bounce back.

“Now we're to like a 4.8,” Holland said. “We have a great community and we didn't realize how awesome they all were. Going through a rough time like this, it was just so encouraging.”

The Puget Sound Anarchists first published last week that Johnson lives in Seattle. It’s also how the gym owners found out about Johnson’s beliefs.

Johnson did not comment.

The gym said it heard Johnson left the area.

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