Judge gets tough on Trump family business
A New York judge is increasing the pressure on former US President Donald Trump's family business and several associates, according to the New York Times.
Justice Arthur F. Engoron of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan has ordered Mr Trump's family enterprise to hand over to state investigators documents for a civil inquiry into whether the company misstated assets to get bank loans and reap taxation benefits.
In December, Justice Engoron also ordered the Trump Organisation to produce records that its lawyers had tried to shield, including some related to a massive Westchester County, N.Y. estate.
Justice Engoron said multiple documents, as well as communications with a law firm hired by the Trump Organisation, had to be handed over to the office of Ms. Letitia James, Attorney-General of New York.
The attorney general will be looking into possible fraud in Mr. Trump's business dealings before he was elected.
Justice Engoron denied claims that the documents at issue were covered by attorney-client privilege.
Mr Trump is headed for a Senate impeachment trial on a charge of "incitement of insurrection" after his supporters violently stormed the US Capitol.
TRUMP'S 'HIDDEN' COVID MAPS REVEALED
The White House has for the first time published coronavirus data that shows where the worst states are across America, which are continuing to battle COVID-19.
Cyrus Shahpar, the current COVID-19 Data Director for the Democrat-led White House, claimed the State Profile Reports had previously been "hidden".
He told his Twitter followers the state-level data will continue to be posted every week, and it has been made available in the same format which was provided to state officials in previous weeks.
"We are now sharing previously hidden weekly COVID-19 state profile reports with the public," Mr Shahpar said on Twitter.
"Many thanks to the people in and outside of government who mobilised to gather, analyse and share COVID-19 related data.
"Too many to mention. Often working long hours as volunteers.
"Their hard work is the foundation for a more transparent, data-driven federal response."
The data shows Arizona, South Carolina, and California have been hit the worst by the virus, with the rate of infection highest in South Carolina last week, where 645 new infections per 100,000 residents were recorded.
The White House has remained tight-lipped about the wild price swings in GameStop shares and other heavily shorted companies, even as the frenzy of activity by an army of renegade traders rattled Wall Street.
Asked whether the Biden administration could play a public role in educating Americans about the ongoing market saga, White House press secretary Jen Psaki demurred, pointing to a statement from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"I know the SEC issued a new statement earlier this morning, or just before I came out," she told reporters.
"I'd certainly point you to that. We of course respect the role of regulatory agencies. They are closely monitoring the situation, but it's under their purview at this point in time."
US President Joe Biden was due to meet with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, but Ms Psaki declined to say whether the two would discuss GameStop, reports Fox News.
"I know it's a big story but our focus and our big story is getting the American people back to work," she said
GameStop shares have climbed as high as $483 and fallen as low as $61 this week, a price surge so dramatic that TD Ameritrade, Robinhood and Charles Schwab placed restrictions on trading of the brick-and-mortar video game retailer. After plummeting on Thursday, GameStop shares made a dizzying recovery on Friday (local time) after Robinhood - facing a public outcry - said it would reinstate some trading.
The craziness escalated this week after an army of at-home traders in the Reddit forum "Wallstreetbets" put their support behind the stock, betting that share prices would rise even as Wall Street short-sellers gambled the exact opposite. Short-sellers - who bet on stock's decline by selling shares they don't own - have lost billions this week.
But the moves are reverberating across the broader market, with major indexes falling on Friday. Analysts say the losses for the big investors who shorted stocks are forcing them to sell other stocks in order to raise cash.
The stockmarket rollercoaster, viewed by many as a war waged by the 99% against wealthy Wall Street titans, has also raised questions among some politicians about increased regulatory oversight and concerns about non-professional investors who were seemingly blocked from trading GameStop shares for a brief period.
"For years, the same hedge funds, private equity firms, and wealthy investors dismayed by the GameStop trades have treated the stock market like their own personal casino while everyone else pays the price," Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said.
Ms Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate and a leading proponent of strict laws to rein in Wall Street and the private equity industry, renewed her push for the Securities and Exchange Commission to more tightly regulate the market.
"It's long past time for the SEC and other financial regulators to wake up and do their jobs - and with a new administration and Democrats running Congress, I intend to make sure they do," she said.
In a statement on Friday (local time), the SEC said it will work to protect "retail investors" by reviewing the recent trading volatility and pledged to scrutinise actions taken by "brokerages that may "disadvantage investors or otherwise unduly inhibit their ability to trade certain securities."
"We will act to protect retail investors when the facts demonstrate abusive or manipulative trading activity that is prohibited by the federal securities laws," the SEC said.
It added: "The Commission is working closely with our regulatory partners, both across the government and at FINRA and other self-regulatory organisations, including the stock exchanges, to ensure that regulated entities uphold their obligations to protect investors and to identify and pursue potential wrongdoing."
US' NEW IRAN ENVOY SPARKS UPROAR
Meanwhile, the new US government has named Rob Malley, an architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as its special envoy to Tehran, but policy hawks say he's too soft on the Islamic republic.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is "building a dedicated team" to address Washington's relations with Iran, to be led by Mr Malley, a State Department official said on Friday (local time).
Mr Malley, a childhood friend of Mr Blinken, has been serving as head of the International Crisis Group, an independent non-governmental organisation focused on conflict resolution.
Before that, he was one of the chief negotiators on the 2015 nuclear deal reached by Iran and world powers, under which Tehran was promised economic relief for major curbs in its contested nuclear program.
Mr Malley "brings to the position a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran's nuclear program," the State Department official said.
"The Secretary is confident he and his team will be able to do that once again."
The deal was reached under Barack Obama, when President Joe Biden was his number two.
But in 2018, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the accord, which was also signed by Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
The Trump administration deemed the deal not tough enough, and felt it should have also covered what it saw as Iran's "destabilising" activities in the Middle East. It slapped tough sanctions on Tehran.
This week, Mr Blinken confirmed the new US administration's intention to rejoin the accord - once Tehran meets its commitments.
Iran responded to the tough Trump-era sanctions by reducing its compliance with the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It wants Washington to make the first move.
Before he was even named to the post, rumours of Mr Malley's nomination prompted sharp criticism from anti-Iran hawks on the political right.
"It's deeply troubling that President Biden would consider appointing Rob Malley to direct Iran policy," Republican Senator Tom Cotton tweeted last week.
"Malley has a long track record of sympathy for the Iranian regime & animus towards Israel. The ayatollahs wouldn't believe their luck if he is selected."
- with wires
Originally published as Judge gets tough on Trump family business