Update


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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House Oversight Committee launches probe into Rob Porter's employment

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

Who is Rob Porter?

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of staff secretary Rob Porter in the wake of allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Wednesday.

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Porter submitted his resignation Feb. 2.

Gowdy told CNN that the committee launched a probe Tuesday night into Porter’s employment and when White House officials knew about the domestic violence allegations levied against him.

Porter has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial,” Gowdy told CNN. “I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer.”

Porter resigned Feb. 2 after his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse and said they spoke with federal authorities about the claims, prompting critics to question why he had remained employed in the Trump administration. The allegations held up a background check needed to grant Porter a security clearance for work in the White House. Officials said he was working on an interim security clearance.

The process to get Porter his clearance was ongoing at the time of his resignation.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” Gowdy asked on CNN. “I am biased toward the victim.”

>> Related: White House ‘could have done better’ handling Rob Porter allegations, spokesman says

Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, and his second, Jennifer Willoughby, told the FBI about the alleged domestic violence in January 2017, after they were contacted while Porter was applying for his security clearance, according to The Washington Post.

White House officials defended Porter in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, and President Donald Trump has faced criticism for what critics called his lack of care for the victims and his focus on the fact that Porter has denied the claims.

“I was surprised by (the allegations), but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. … It was very said when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with White House Secretary Rob Porter (C) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (R) as they return to the White House December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)(Pool/Getty Images)

Holderness told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive throughout their relationship, which started in 2000, but that things escalated after they were wed in June 2003. She said Porter kicked her during their honeymoon and during a 2005 vacation in Italy, punched her in the face.

Willoughby, who married Porter in November 2009 and separated from him in early 2010, told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive.

Willoughby obtained a protective order against Porter in June 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave her apartment, according to court records obtained by The Daily Mail. In the complaint, Willoughby said Porter punched in a glass door while she was locked inside the apartment, but left after he heard she was on the phone with police.

She told the Mail that in December 2010, he dragged her out of a shower while she was naked in order to yell at her.

The couple was divorced in 2013.

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Veteran resident dies, receives patriotic farewell from nursing home

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

File image of the American flag.
Christopher Bruno, Freeimages
File image of the American flag.(Christopher Bruno, Freeimages)

A veterans nursing home in South Carolina honored a resident who died this week with a patriotic farewell that has gone viral.

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In a Facebook post, Laura Dorn thanked the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson for taking such good care of her father, Doug Timmons, who had Alzheimer's disease and was a resident of the facility for the last three years. Dorn wrote that her father died early Thursday morning and the staff took the time to honor him for his service as his body was removed from the facility. In a video that Dorn posted, Timmons' body, draped with an American flag, is wheeled out as staff line up and a musical tribute plays.

In a Facebook review of the nursing home, Dorn thanked the "caring, accommodating and selfless" staff who she said treated her father like family. Dorn wrote, "They treated my Dad with dignity and respect from the first moment there until he drew his last breath, then sent him off with a hero's procession."

The video has received more than 3 million views.

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Trump thanks Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats

Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 4:16 PM

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he is “very thankful” that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats, telling reporters in New Jersey that the decision will help the U.S. cut down on salaries.

>> Read more trending news

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we will have a smaller payroll,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. … We’re going to save a lot of money.”

The comments were Trump’s first addressing Putin’s decision last month to expel 755 diplomats and technical personnel from the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, according to The Post.

Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 included a 29 percent cut of State Department funding, NPR reported.

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email to The New York Times on Friday that the president was making a joke.

“He was being sarcastic,” she told the newspaper.

Still, some lawmakers questioned Trump’s decision to praise Putin.

“After weeks of silence regarding Vladimir Putin's outrageous expulsion of hundreds of U.S. embassy personnel, President Trump once again let Russia off the hook and instead insulted America’s diplomats,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“No doubt, the President's staff will eventually try to clean up after the parade by claiming it was a joke, but there's nothing funny about this,” he said.

According to Politico, “many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers. The local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments, but cost savings are possible in the long run.”

Unidentified sources told the news site that most of the U.S. diplomats made to leave Russia will be moved to different posts.

Putin’s decision to kick American diplomats out of the country came in retaliation for sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. Trump signed the bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support and required congressional approval to lift the restrictions, although he criticized it as being “seriously flawed.”

Vladimir Putin - Fast Facts

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Photo shows Michigan congresswoman playing Candy Crush during State of the Union

Published: Saturday, February 03, 2018 @ 2:58 PM

Highlights of President Trump’s First State of the Union Address

A Democratic congresswoman from Michigan was caught playing Candy Crush on her phone during Tuesday's State of the Union address.

A Getty photographer captured U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence playing the game on her iPhone during President Trump's address, the Detroit Free Press reported. Other photographs taken during the address show many legislators using their phones.

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Lawrence is a former mayor of Southfield, Michigan. She was elected to Congress in 2014 to represent Michigan's 14th District and is in her second term, the Free Press reported. Her office did not respond to the Free Press for a request for comment on the photo.

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