U.S. Justice Department unveils reforms for FBI wiretap applications

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it was implementing new compliance reforms at the FBI to minimize errors when it applies for wiretaps, following revelations it made numerous mistakes during its probe into President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Attorney General William Barr released two new memos outlining sweeping changes, including the creation of a new internal auditing office as well as a list of additional steps the FBI must undertake before filing an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Under the new protocol, if the FBI is seeking to monitor communications of an elected official or candidate, the director must first consider offering the target a defensive briefing, and the wiretap application must be approved by the Attorney General.

“The additional reforms announced today, which we worked on closely with the Attorney General’s office, will build on the FBI’s efforts to bolster its compliance program,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

The reforms could help take some heat off the bureau, which has been under fire for missteps in its early-stage investigation known as “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” into whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia.

In December, the department’s inspector released a major report scrutinizing the FBI’s FISA applications to spy on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.

He uncovered 17 major mistakes in the FBI’s applications – errors that were so substantial, they prompted a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge to issue a rare public rebuke of the FBI.

His findings have also since led to criminal charges against former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who in August pleaded guilty to doctoring in email used as a basis to renew an application to monitor Page.

U.S. Attorney General Barr defends response to protests, Trump-tied cases

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday defended himself in front of a Democratic-led House of Representative committee, denying accusations that he abused his power to help President Donald Trump’s associates and boost Trump’s re-election hopes.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler opened the hearing with scathing remarks, telling Barr: “Your tenure is marked by a persistent war against the department’s professional core in an apparent effort to secure favors for the president.”

Barr pushed back, saying, “I feel complete freedom to do what I feel is right.”

Barr rejected a claim by Nadler that an operation to deploy federal agents to U.S. cities, particularly Portland, Oregon, was an effort to boost Trump’s re-election campaign. Barr said he had not taken actions to help Trump’s associates, saying they do not deserve special breaks but also should not be treated more harshly than other defendants.

The hearing marks Barr’s first testimony before the House Judiciary Committee since he took office in February 2019, and comes as the Justice Department faces criticism for sending federal officers to forcibly disperse protesters in Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.

The department’s internal watchdog launched probes last week into federal involvement in both those cases.

The United States has seen weeks of widespread, mostly peaceful protests against racial bias and police violence following George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police in May.

Barr has highlighted the arson and violence that have broken out at some protests, blaming them primarily on far-left “antifa” elements and urging federal prosecutors to bring criminal charges whenever possible.

Barr defended the use of federal law enforcement to quell the protests in Portland, where some protesters have thrown objects at the federal courthouse.

“What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest; it is, by any objective measure, an assault on the Government of the United States,” Barr said.

In his testimony, he also downplayed accusations about systemic discrimination in policing across the country, saying it would “be an oversimplification to treat the problem as rooted in some deep-seated racism.”

“The threat to Black lives posed by crime on the streets is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct,” he said.

HOUSE INQUIRY

The House Judiciary Committee launched a broad inquiry last month into whether the Justice Department had become overly politicized.

The inquiry came after Barr intervened in several high-profile criminal cases involving people close to Trump. In February, he moved to scale back the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone, prompting four career prosecutors to withdraw.

In May, Barr sought to drop the criminal charge against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, setting the stage for an ongoing legal battle with the federal judge who was due to sentence Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Barr, in his testimony, insisted that Trump “has not attempted to interfere in these decisions.”

In June, Barr ousted the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, while that office was investigating Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Berman later told the committee: “I do not know what the attorney general’s motives were, but the irregular and unexplained actions by the attorney general raised serious concerns for me.”

In July, the Bureau of Prisons, which reports to Barr, ordered Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen out of home confinement and back to prison after he hesitated to sign a sweeping gag order that would have prevented him from releasing a book about the president.

A federal judge ordered Cohen released last week, saying there was evidence the Bureau of Prisons had retaliated against him.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. states accuse 26 drugmakers of generic drug price fixing in sweeping lawsuit

By Diane Bartz and Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Twenty-six drug manufacturers were sued on Wednesday by the attorneys general of most U.S. states and several territories, which accused them of conspiring to reduce competition and drive up generic drug prices.

The lawsuit accused Novartis’ Sandoz unit, Teva Pharmaceuticals’ Actavis unit, Mylan, Pfizer Inc and other drugmakers of conspiring to rig the market between 2009 and 2016 for more than 80 drugs.

Attorneys general from 46 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories said the defendants prioritized profit over the public interest, depriving millions of consumers of lower prices for needed medication.

Ten executives, including many sales and marketing directors, are also defendants in the 543-page complaint filed in a federal court in Connecticut.

Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff said the instances of misconduct related to its $195 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in March “do not support the vast, systemic conspiracy the states allege.”

The settlement resolved allegations Novartis fixed generic drug prices between 2013 and 2015.

Pfizer spokeswoman Sally Beatty said the drugmaker did not believe it engaged in unlawful conduct. Mylan spokeswoman Lauren Kashtan said her company had found no evidence of price-fixing. Teva did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit follows similar cases over generic drug prices brought in 2016 and 2019, and which remain pending.

Brand names of some of the drugs at issue include glaucoma drug Xalatan, acne drug Differin, anti-seizure medicine Dilantin, anti-fungal medicine Lotrimin AF Cream, and Ritalin for attention deficit disorder.

“Through phone calls, text messages, emails, corporate conventions, and cozy dinner parties, generic pharmaceutical executives were in constant communication, colluding to fix prices and restrain competition,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said. “They took steps to evade accountability.”

(Reporting by Diane Bartz and Jonathan Stempel; Additional reporting by Ankur Banerjee and Caroline Humer; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang)

Trump, attorney general to meet as U.S. cities smolder amid protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with his top law enforcement officer behind closed doors on Monday as cities nationwide awoke from a smoldering weekend of violent protests over race and policing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chaotic demonstrations from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles swelled from peaceful protests – sparked by the death of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody last Monday – into scenes of violence that drew National Guard troops in at least 15 states and Washington.

Dozens of cities across the United States faced curfews at a level not seen since the riots following the 1968 assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. as fires burned near the White House and stores were looted in New York City and other major cities.

Floyd’s death is the latest in a string of similar incidents involving unarmed black men in recent years that has raised an outcry over excessive police force and racism, and re-ignited outrage across a starkly politically and racially divided country just months before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Video footage has shown a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, 46, for nearly nine minutes before he died on May 25.

Trump has made no major public statement to address the growing crisis but has issued a flurry of tweets, describing protesters as “thugs” and urging mayors and governors to “get tough.” He has also threatened to utilize the U.S. military, but his national security adviser on Sunday said the administration would not yet invoke federal control over the National Guard.

The Republican president was scheduled to hold a call with governors, law enforcement and national security officials later on Monday following his Oval Office meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr.

Critics have accused Trump, who is seeking re-election, of further stoking conflict and racial tension rather than seeking to bring the nation together and address the underlying issues.

Washington and other cities had been set to restart some normal economic activity over the weekend after more than two months of stay-at-home orders aimed at stemming the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has killed nearly 103,000 people nationwide and plunged more than 40 million people into joblessness.

Many states had already activated National Guard troops to help manage the pandemic, further straining local budgets with no immediate sign of relief from Congress as many weary Americans, particularly in urban areas, remain sheltered.

The demonstrations brought out a diversity of people in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, among other cities, and have spread around the globe with demonstrations in New Zealand on Monday following events in London and elsewhere.

Hundreds of storefronts were smashed and buildings vandalized in multiple cities as protesters and police clashed. But the mayor of St. Paul, which is adjacent to Minneapolis, told CNN on Monday that thousands had gathered there peacefully on Sunday. Other cities also saw more peaceful demonstrations, sometimes with police support.

The arrest of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who was charged with third-degree murder in Floyd’s case, has not quelled the demonstrations amid calls for the other three officers involved to also be charged.

Public health experts and local officials have also expressed concern the gatherings could trigger more cases of COVID-19, the highly transmissible and potentially deadly infection tied to the coronavirus.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Attorney general cites ‘irregularities’ at jail where Epstein died

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr attends a farewell ceremony for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr said on Monday there were “serious irregularities” at the federal prison in New York City where Jeffrey Epstein died in an apparent suicide, adding that the investigation into the disgraced money manager’s sex crimes would continue.

“Any co-conspirators should not rest easy,” Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official, said during a speech at an event in New Orleans.

Epstein was found dead on Saturday, having apparently hanged himself in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan where he was being held on new sex-trafficking charges. He was already a registered sex offender after pleading guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of unlawfully paying a teenage girl for sex.

Barr announced on Saturday that he had asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Epstein’s death.

In his remarks on Monday at the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police’s National Biennial Conference, Barr said the criminal case against Epstein was personally important to him and that the financier’s death denied his victims the chance to confront Epstein in a courtroom.

“I was appalled – and indeed the whole department was – and frankly angry to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” Barr said. “We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.”

Barr did not say what those irregularities were. The decision by officials at the Bureau of Prisons not to keep Epstein on a suicide watch by guards has come under scrutiny.

The prison where Epstein died is run by the federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the U.S. Justice Department.

Prior to his state conviction for sex crimes, Epstein had counted U.S. President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton among his associates.

The New York City medical examiner said an autopsy had been completed on Epstein on Sunday but that a determination on the cause of death is still pending.

Epstein was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, from at least 2002 to 2005.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump says he has not seen or read Mueller’s Russia probe report

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for travel to Texas from the White House in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had not seen or read a report into Russian election meddling by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a day after his attorney general would not say whether he had briefed the White House or shared the report.

Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday declined to say whether he had briefed the White House or shown them the report when questioned at a congressional hearing.

“I have not read the Mueller report, I haven’t seen the Mueller report. As far as I’m concerned I don’t care about the Mueller report. I’ve been totally exonerated. No collusion, no obstruction,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Barr told lawmakers at a hearing he intended to release “within a week” a redacted version of the long-awaited report, which Mueller submitted to Barr on March 22 after a 22-month investigation.

The 400-page report is expected to shed light on some of the more contentious episodes of Trump’s election bid and presidency, including his firing of FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and his campaign’s contacts with Russians.

In a March 24 letter to Congress, Barr said Mueller’s investigation did not establish that members of Trump’s presidential campaign had conspired with Russia.

He said Mueller presented evidence “on both sides” about whether Trump obstructed justice, but did not draw a conclusion one way or the other.

Barr said the White House did not review his letter to Congress laying out Mueller’s findings before he sent it.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

White House defers on release of Mueller’s report, Kremlin warms

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts as he returns to the White House after U.S. Attorney General William Barr reported to congressional leaders on the submission of the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Makini Brice and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Monday it was up to the U.S. Justice Department to decide if detailed findings from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation would be made public, a day after the attorney general said President Donald Trump had been cleared of any collusion.

Mueller wrapped up his investigation after nearly two years on Friday and submitted his findings to Attorney General William Barr, who on Sunday released a four-page summary saying there was no evidence of criminal collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election. Mueller’s report left unresolved whether Trump obstructed justice.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Monday said President Vladimir Putin was ready to improve ties with the United States following the release of Barr’s summary and called on the United States to formally recognize there was no collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

Trump last week openly backed the public release of the report from the investigation, which he had repeatedly lambasted as a “witch hunt.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr leaves his house after Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election in McClean, Virginia, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

U.S. Attorney General William Barr leaves his house after Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election in McClean, Virginia, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The Barr summary handed Trump a political victory ahead of his 2020 re-election effort, even as Democratic challengers and lawmakers vowed to press on with other investigations into his business and personal dealings.

Democrats also called for the full findings from Mueller to be released to Congress and the public and vowed to call Barr to appear before lawmakers to answer questions.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that while Trump wanted the special counsel’s report to come out, it was not up to him.

“I think that the president is doing exactly what he should and that’s leaving that decision into the hands of the attorney general and we’ll see what decision he makes on that front,” Sanders said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” program on Monday.

Sanders declined to comment on whether Trump would invoke presidential privilege to withhold any information. But Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, said it “would be very inappropriate” to release the president’s written answers to the special counsel, saying they were confidential. Despite lengthy negotiations, Mueller never obtained an in-person interview with the president.

“As a lawyer, you don’t waive privileges and you don’t waive investigative detail absent either a court order or an agreement between the parties,” Sekulow told CNN in an interview, adding that Barr would make the final decision.

Trump embraced the summary’s findings, retweeting Barr’s assessment and related headlines news media despite years of decrying the “fake news” as #ReleaseTheFullMuellerReport trended nationwide on social media.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in a conference call with reporters, called on Washington to make the first move to reset ties and repeated Moscow’s denial of any interference in U.S. elections and internal affairs or those of any other country.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also said the allegations of election meddling against a number of Russians were politically motivated.

Mueller’s investigation led to charges and guilty pleas against dozens of people, including a series of Russian nationals and companies as well as several advisers to President Donald Trump, including this former campaign chairman and national security adviser.

 

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott)

U.S. attorney general says to hire 300 prosecutors to fight crime

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers opening remarks at the Justice Department's 2017 Hate Crimes Summit in Washington, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

(Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Wednesday the Justice Department plans to hire 300 additional assistant U.S. attorneys to help fight a recent national increase in crime, including a focus on transnational gangs such as MS-13.

“As you all know, we have a multi-front battle in front of us right now: an increase in violent crime, vicious gangs, an opioid epidemic, threats from terrorism and human traffickers,” Sessions said in a speech in Las Vegas.

Referring to so-called sanctuary cities, Sessions said one problem is the refusal of 300 U.S. jurisdictions to hand over illegal immigrants who commit crimes to federal immigration authorities. “These jurisdictions are protecting criminals rather than their law-abiding residents,” he said.

Sessions noted the U.S. murder rate had risen 10 percent nationwide in just one year, marking the largest increase since 1968. The increase was from 2014 to 2015, the latest figures available. Murder and crime rates generally in the United States have fallen over the last several decades.

President Donald Trump had made the restoration of law and order one of the planks of his election campaign.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

U.S. attorney general pushes to stop suing local police

A bitterly divided Senate confirmed Republican Senator Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general of the United States. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday that the federal government should stop spending money to sue local police departments, signaling a sharp departure from the previous administration’s policy toward law enforcement exhibiting patterns of racism or excessive force.

In his speech to the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington, Sessions said the Justice Department should instead use its resources to help police figure out the best way to fight crime.

He announced the formation of a Justice Department task force to look at deficiencies in current practices to combat crime and propose new legislation.

The Justice Department is still weighing whether it should impose reforms on the Chicago Police Department, which was the subject of a critical report by the Obama administration.

Sessions said violent crime had risen since 2014, although it is down almost half since the early 1990s.

Federal Bureau of Investigation crime statistics for 2015, the latest year for which complete data is available, showed violent crimes increased 3.9 percent from 2014, while property crimes declined by 2.6 percent. The rise in violent crime came after two years of decreases, not decades of declines as Sessions suggested.

The Obama administration began several investigations into police departments that it said were unfairly targeting minorities and using excessive force. Videos of such incidents shared online have sparked protests in cities from Baltimore to Ferguson, Missouri.

The address to the attorneys general, who are responsible for prosecuting state-level crimes, signaled that the Trump administration would commit itself to supporting police rather than questioning their practices.

“To confront the challenge of rising crime, we must rely heavily on local law enforcement to lead the way,” Sessions said in prepared remarks. “And they must know they have our steadfast support.”

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Janet Reno, first U.S. woman attorney general, dies aged 78

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno testifies before the 9-11 commission in the Hart Senate office building on Capitol Hill in Washington

By Will Dunham

(Reuters) – Janet Reno, the first woman U.S. attorney general who served eight tumultuous years with President Bill Clinton, has died aged 78.

Reno’s goddaughter, Gabrielle D’Alemberte, said she succumbed to complications of Parkinson’s disease early on Monday in Miami.

The blunt-spoken lawyer worked as the top U.S. law enforcement official under Clinton from 1993 to 2001, becoming the longest-serving attorney general of the 20th century.

Just weeks into the job, she authorized the deadly 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian cult compound at Waco, Texas.

Reno later authorized federal agents to seize six-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez from relatives in Miami in 2000, and headed the Justice Department during the government’s huge antitrust case against Microsoft.

The former Miami prosecutor, picked by Clinton after his first two choices for the job ran into trouble at the confirmation stage, exhibited an independent streak and a brusque manner that often upset the White House.

Reno weathered White House complaints that she was not a team player and that she sought too many special prosecutors to investigate cases, including the Whitewater affair involving the finances of the president and first lady Hillary Clinton.

She always said she made decisions based on evidence and the law.

WACO, GONZALES

Reno was only 38 days into the attorney general’s job when she approved the April 19, 1993, FBI raid that led to the deaths of about 80 people, including many children, at the Waco cult compound.

Federal agents had earlier tried to serve a warrant on the cult’s leader, David Koresh, who said he was the Messiah, for stockpiling weapons. Four agents and six cult members were killed in an ensuing shootout, leading to a 51-day standoff.

With negotiations at an impasse, Reno gave the go-ahead for the raid after hearing reports of child abuse in the compound. The raid on the heavily armed cultists ended in an inferno that engulfed the site.

“I made the decision. I’m accountable. The buck stops with me,” a grim-looking Reno told a later news conference.

Reno took a personal interest in the political tussle over Elian Gonzalez, the young shipwreck survivor whose mother drowned fleeing Cuba.

Reno met the boy and his Miami relatives who battled to keep him from returning to communist Cuba, and his father and grandmothers, who wanted to raise Gonzalez in his homeland.

Reno argued that Elian belonged with his father and acted after the Miami relatives defied a U.S. government order to hand him over. She authorized armed agents to take the boy from his relatives’ home in a pre-dawn raid in April 2000 and re-unite him with his father, who took him back to Cuba.

The raid infuriated Miami’s Cuban exile community, whose members picketed her home and denounced her as a “witch” and lackey of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

MICROSOFT, OKLAHOMA

In 1998, Reno’s Justice Department brought a huge antitrust case against Microsoft. Two years later, a federal judge ordered the breakup of the software giant because it had ignored his ruling that it had used unlawful monopolistic practices.

The case was settled in 2001 by the administration of George W. Bush, Clinton’s Republican successor, in terms seen as favorable to Microsoft.

Reno appeared with Clinton after the 1995 truck bomb attack on the Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people, and vowed to seek the death penalty for the perpetrators.

Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001 become the first federal prisoner executed since 1963. McVeigh said he carried out the attack to punish the U.S. government for the Waco cult raid and another raid in Idaho.

Some comedians made fun of Reno during her time in office, lampooning her appearance and height, around 6 feet 2 inches, among them Will Ferrell who impersonated her on “Saturday Night Live.”

Shortly after leaving office in January 2001 she appeared on the show next to Ferrell, both wearing identical outfits, in a sketch called “Janet Reno’s Dance Party.”

She was diagnosed in 1995 with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the central nervous system that caused trembling in her arms. “All it does is shake and you get used to it shaking after a while,” she told a TV interviewer.

Reno was attorney general throughout Clinton’s two terms as president and was in the job longer than anyone except William Wirt, who held it from November 1817 until March 1829.

After leaving Washington, Reno returned to Florida and ran for governor in 2002, but lost in the Democratic primary.

Reno was born on July 21, 1938, in Miami to parents who were newspaper reporters. She attended public schools in Miami and earned a chemistry degree at Cornell University in 1960.

She received her law degree from Harvard three years later and worked as a lawyer in Miami.

(Reporting by Will Dunham and Chris Michaud; Editing by Andrew Heavens)