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Shareholders vent, vote Wells Fargo board back

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. Shareholders irritated by the fallout from Wells Fargo s sales practices scandal sent a warning to the bank s executives and board, with some directors barely holding onto their jobs Tuesday in what is typically a symbolic vote. The shareholder meeting was the first time Wells Fargo had met collectively with its investors since acknowledging last fall that its employees opened up to 2 million bank accounts without getting customers authorization in order to meet unrealistic sales quotes. While all 15 board members kept their positions for another year, four directors received backing of 60 percent or less. That included Chairman Stephen Sanger, who received 56 percent support.

Wells Fargo shareholders today have sent the entire board a clear message of dissatisfaction, Sanger said.

Although shareholders voted everyone in, they were clearly unhappy. All the directors who were at Wells Fargo before the scandal broke got 80 percent or less of shareholders votes, based on preliminary results. The three who got 99 percent were CEO Tim Sloan who got his job in October after former CEO John Stumpf departed and two independent directors who started earlier this year. Last year, Wells board got approvals from at least 90 percent of shareholders a common level at big corporations. Sanger said he did not see the slim majority as a vote of no confidence in his role as chairman. And he said the board has no plans to replace any members of the board following the vote.

They didn t really have desire to replace any one director, but they did want to send a message to the board, Sanger said. Sanger did note that at least six members of the board will reach retirement age in next four years, which will bring some fresh faces onto a board that investors signaled needs to do more to stabilize Wells. Wells contentious, three-hour long shareholder meeting was interrupted several times by protesters, with one man, Bruce Marks with the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, being effectively dragged out by armed security guards. Sanger said Marks had to be removed because he physically approached a board member, something people sitting nearby disputed.

Other protesters were ordered to leave the meeting, escorted by guards but not physically forced to leave. Shareholders, current and former employees and customers vented their anger, questioning how well board members did their jobs and the work of the company s auditor. Many employees who spoke were affiliated with the Committee for Better Banks, a union-backed advocacy group, and called for additional investigation into Wells Fargo s sales practices, or even calling for union organization. Some customers who came to speak pleaded for mortgage relief.

It would have been a rare move for shareholders to oust the board, since investors typically look for stability at companies they re putting money into. But the recommendation by two major proxy advisory firms to vote out at least some of the directors meant a small but noticeable chance that at least one director would be voted out. Other shareholder proposals related to an additional investigation into the bank s retail sales practices and other corporate governance issues were also rejected by shareholders. Since the scandal broke and regulators imposed $185 million in fines last September, the bank has changed the way it pays branch employees, reclaimed promised compensation to several executives and apologized to customers. The bank also recently settled a class-action lawsuit to the tune of $142 million related to its sales practices.

Wells board has placed blame for the scandal at the feet of former managers, notably former CEO Stumpf and Carrie Tolstedt, who was the executive in charge of Wells community banking division while the problems were happening. Through a lawyer, Tolstedt has denied responsibility and says the board is trying to shift blame.

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Lawmakers suggest former Trump aide Flynn broke US law

WASHINGTON President Trump s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, appeared to violate federal law when he failed to seek permission or inform the U.S. government about accepting tens of thousands of dollars from Russian organizations after a trip there in 2015, leaders of a House oversight committee said Tuesday. The congressmen also raised new questions about fees Flynn received as part of $530,000 in consulting work his company performed for a businessman tied to Turkey s government. The bipartisan accusations that Flynn may have broken the law come as his foreign contacts are being examined by other congressional committees as part of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin. Congress returned earlier this week from its spring recess, and Tuesday s announcements reflected renewed interest on Capitol Hill.

Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Flynn could be criminally prosecuted because, as a former Army officer, he was barred from accepting payments from foreign governments. Flynn, who headed the military s top intelligence agency, is a retired lieutenant general and was Trump s national security adviser until he was fired in February.

That money needs to be recovered, said Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. You simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else. The congressmen spoke after reviewing classified documents regarding Flynn that were provided by his former agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency. They were also briefed by agency officials. The congressmen declined to describe in detail the materials they reviewed. Chaffetz and Cummings said they planned to write to the comptroller of the Army and the Defense Department s inspector general to determine whether Flynn broke the law and whether the government needs to pursue criminal charges.

Cummings also criticized the White House for refusing to turn over documents the committee requested about Flynn s vetting before his appointment and his foreign contacts during his three-week stint as national security adviser. In response to a letter to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a Trump administration official told the committee that documents relating to those contacts likely contained classified and other sensitive information and could not be turned over.

That is simply unacceptable, Cummings said. The committee also wants documents relating to Flynn s security clearance. In the White House response, Marc T. Short, Trump s director of legislative affairs, said the material could be provided only by the Defense Department. Flynn campaigned for and advised Trump before the presidential election and was chosen as national security adviser in January. Trump fired him in February on grounds that he had failed to notify senior administration officials about his contacts with Russian officials before his appointment.

Cummings said Flynn s failure to formally report the Russian payments on paperwork requesting his security clearance amounted to concealment of the money, which could be prosecuted as a felony. Chaffetz said Flynn was obligated to request permission from both the Defense and State departments about prospective foreign government payments. Flynn s lawyer said in a statement that Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency about the 2015 Moscow event organized by the Russia Today news organization. Flynn had led the spy agency until 2014, when he was forced to retire by the Obama administration. During his briefings, Flynn answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip, attorney Robert Kelner said.

A spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency, Jim Kudla, has said Flynn briefed the agency in advance about his trip to Moscow in accordance with standard security clearance procedures. A spokesman for Flynn previously said that Flynn disclosed the RT trip when he last came up for a security clearance review in January 2016. Flynn received $33,750 from RT, which has been described by U.S. intelligence officials as a propaganda front for Russia s government. During a televised RT celebration, Flynn sat at the head table, next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Chaffetz and Cummings said Tuesday said that the documents they reviewed showed no evidence Flynn asked permission for the payments or later detailed the amounts he received to military authorities.

There was nothing in the data to show that Gen. Flynn complied with the law, Chaffetz said. Chaffetz added that while it would be a bit strong to say that Flynn flat-out lied, he should have sought and received permission before accepting any foreign government payments. At issue in any further inquiry is whether the Russian and Turkish entities that paid Flynn were clearly government-supported or controlled. Flynn also disclosed to the White House that he received between $50,000 and $100,000 as part of his personal stake in $530,000 that his company, Flynn Intel Group, received for consulting work performed last year for a Turkish businessman. Flynn s firm filed as a foreign agent last month with the Justice Department for the consulting work and acknowledged that it may have benefited the government of Turkey. Flynn s client, Inovo BV, is owned by a Turkish businessman who is also a member of a committee overseen by Turkey s finance ministry.

Earlier Tuesday, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee announced a public panel May 8 to hear testimony for the first time from the former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, who played a role in Flynn s firing.

Yates was supposed to testify publicly before the House intelligence committee in March, but that was canceled and has yet to be rescheduled. Some Democrats believe the White House wants to limit what Yates says publicly, but the White House has denied this. Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper is also to testify at the May 8 hearing.

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Former federal officer pleads guilty to killing 2 strangers

The new book by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy,” recounts the death of her husband, her grief, and how she recovered from it.

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The new book by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy,” recounts the death of her husband, her grief, and how she recovered from it.

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