• Americans are more likely to believe former FBI Director James Comey than President Donald Trump by a 2-to-1 margin, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
  • More respondents disapproved of Comey’s ouster than approved of it, the poll shows.

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Americans are more “likely to believe” former FBI Director James Comey than President Donald Trump about the events that led to Comey’s abrupt ouster last month, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Friday.

By about a 2-to-1 margin, the respondents said they are more likely to trust Comey’s account, which he laid out in detail in Senate testimony earlier this month. Some 45 percent of respondents said they are more likely to believe Comey, while 22 percent said the same for Trump, who has disputed key parts of Comey’s testimony. Just 21 percent said “they believe neither of them,” while 8 percent said “they believe both of them,” according to ibf News.

Only 27 percent of Americans approve of Trump firing Comey, while 46 percent disapprove, the poll shows. 

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Trump terminated Comey last month amid the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Comey later testified that Trump asked him for loyalty — which an FBI chief does not owe a president — and made a statement that he interpreted as a request to “drop” a probe into former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Trump denied making those statements.

Trump is reportedly being investigated to find out if he attempted to impede the Russia probe.

  • Bitcoin has more than doubled in value this year, and other digital currencies have also soared.
  • While U.S. stocks churn near record highs, some analysts worry markets may be too ambivalent about speculation in other assets.
  • Bitcoin wealth is also concentrated in the hands of a few, data show.

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To some market analysts, quiet, expensive stock markets are being overlooked by worrisome speculative activity in products such as bitcoin.

The price of the digital currency has surged since the end of last year, topping $3,000 earlier this month from $968 at the end of December, according to CoinDesk. Bitcoin traded around $2,750 on Friday.

A rival has soared even more. Ethereum, also known as ether, leaped more than 4,000 percent from around $7 last December to above $300 this month. The overall market value for cryptocurrencies has risen from below $20 billion at the start of this year to above $110 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.

As the stock market becomes increasingly expensive for ordinary investors — Apple and Facebook shares cost around $150 each — trading has heated up in bitcoin and other digital currencies. Bitcoin can be bought in fractions as low as one hundredth of a millionth, or about less than one-tenth of a cent at current prices. That makes it an easy target for speculation. 

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During the dot-com euphoria of the late 1990s, ordinary investors piled into shares of young, unproven technology companies and the day-trading taxi driver symbolized the era. But this time ordinary investors are going elsewhere, says Ian Winer, head of equities at Wedbush.

“They’re not playing the stock market anymore. They’re playing all the markets that are less regulated, and one of them is the cryptocurrency market,” Winer said.

“Rather than your average guy or gal buying tech stocks, they’re buying bitcoin or ether,” he said. “I see speculation all over the place. I just don’t see it in the stock market.”

Number of bitcoin addresses by individual bitcoin balances

Number of bitcoin addresses
Individual balance of BTC greater than:
$ value per bitcoin balance at $2750
17.8 million 0.0000001 0.000275
17.6 million 0.000001 0.1 cents
16.8 million 0.00001 3 cents
12.9 million 0.0001 27.5 cents
7.5 million 0.001 2.75
4.4 million 0.01 27.5
1.8 million 0.1 275
531,248 1 2,750
137,501 10 27,500
13,852 100 275,000
1,619 1,000.00 $2.75
115 10,000.00 $27.50
3 100,000.00 $275 million

The average retail investor may not be reaping the benefits of bitcoin’s gains, however. Analysis of bitcoin addresses — a combination of letters and numbers that identifies a bitcoin recipient — shows that the majority of transactions are done in fractions of bitcoin.

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Just three addresses had balances of more than 100,000 bitcoins, or roughly $275 million, each, according to data from BitcoinPrivacy. In contrast, 16.8 million addresses had 0.00001 bitcoin, or about 3 cents, the data showed.

“Large amounts of bitcoin are heavily concentrated in the hands of a few people. People that get in now [can] only buy fractional pieces,” said Alex Sunnarborg, research analyst at CoinDesk.

“I definitely think more and more retail investors have gone into it,” he said. “There is definitely a lot of fear of missing out.”

Younger investors more likely to buy bitcoin rather than stocks

Younger, tech-savvy people are also more likely to play the digital currency markets and the high risk involved, Sunnarborg said. He estimates that about two-thirds of investors in cryptocurrencies are under age 40.

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That same age category is less likely to invest in the stock market. Just one-third of millennials, or adults currently aged 21 to 35, said they owned a stock in a Bankrate study last July. In contrast, 51 percent of Gen Xers, or those age 36 to 51, said they owned a stock, and 48 percent of baby boomers, ages 52 to 70, according to the survey of 1,000 American adults conducted for Bankrate by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

“The next generation is suffering from the same thing that the Gen Xers suffered in the dot-com bust,” Winer said. “They’re playing all kind of markets that they know nothing about.”

He was referring to the speculative trading that ended in the stock market’s plunge in 2000.

Traders and market strategists also worry that a “fear of missing out trade” has helped send U.S. stocks deep into record territory — the S&P 500 has posted 24 record closes this year and is up 9 percent over that time.

The difference is this time, typical measures of overexuberance may not apply to stocks.

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Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s June global fund manager survey found that while a record 44 percent of managers say stocks are overvalued, their cash holdings have actually moved up to 5 percent, higher than the 10-year average of 4.5 percent. There’s “no irrational exuberance” in contrast with the 1999 bubble, the note said.

However, sluggish global growth and easy central bank policy could limit investment returns, while people remain wary about stock markets after the financial crisis.

“I do believe that in a market with few attractive alternatives, speculation tends to become rampant,” said Daniel Alpert, a founding managing partner at Westwood Capital. “And it almost doesn’t matter what people choose to speculate in, as long as they believe there is a fool greater than they out there somewhere.”

  • Mark Zuckerberg went to Chicago this week to say that Facebook’s new mission was to “bring people closer together” and “strengthen the social fabric.”
  • Zuckerberg skipped a White House meeting where a top exec from chief rival Google spoke favorably of the President’s agenda.
  • On Friday, Sheryl Sandberg met with U.K. Home Secretary amid mounting European pressure on U.S. internet giants.

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Mark Zuckerberg had a choice to make this week.

The Facebook CEO could either go to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump, along with nearly every other marquee CEO from the tech industry, or skip it and prepare for a Chicago rally for people who’d created social-support groups on Facebook.

Zuckerberg, who loudly criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords in early June, chose the latter. Facebook was alone among the five most-valuable U.S. tech firms in not sending a top executive to the White House meeting.

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At that same meeting, a top official from Facebook’s chief rival—Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt — sat at the table with Trump and praised the President’s pro-business agenda, saying it would create “big opportunities” for U.S. firms.

The contrast between the two companies, which together dominate digital advertising, is stark when it comes to U.S. government relations.

Both companies are on the defensive in Europe, where their business and legal practices are under attack, accused of not doing enough to stop the spread of terrorism or protect the privacy of EU citizens.

Google also faces a fine that could top €1 billion after the EU said it used its search monopoly to favor its own shopping services in search results.

While Google’s Schmidt softened up Trump with praise, Zuckerberg’s snub could make it harder to enlist the administration’s help as the pressure gets turned up in European capitals.

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In a sign of how seriously Facebook is taking the current political climate in Europe, COO Sheryl Sandberg met Friday with the U.K. Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and highlighted the company’s efforts “to keep terrorists off Facebook.”

“We had a constructive meeting with the Home Secretary,” Sandberg said in a statement provided to CNBC, in response to a request for comment on the meeting.

Sandberg’s trip comes one week after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa Mayand French President Emmanuel Macron said they would consider new laws to punish companies that refuse to remove content filled with all forms of hate speech, including terrorism.

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Zuckerberg’s choice surely played well with the Facebook rank and file and with users who oppose Trump politically.

Whether it was good for Facebook shareholders—or risks relegating the company to a position behind Google in a line for the President’s ear—is less certain.

* Spreadbetter sees European bourses opening lower

* Nikkei edges higher, on track for 0.9 pct weekly rise

* Dollar edges down, but DXY poised for a winning week

* U.S. crude edges up, pulls further away from this week’s lows

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TOKYO, June 23 Asian shares flatlined on Friday but remained on track for a weekly gain, while crude oil prices pulled away from this week’s 10-month lows.

Financial spreadbetter CMC Markets sees European markets opening modestly weaker, with Britain’s FTSE 100, Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 all seen shedding points in early trade.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was nearly unchanged on the day, and was up 0.4 percent for the week.

The Shanghai Composite slipped 0.7 percent while China’s blue-chip CSI300 index was down 0.3 percent. The latter earlier this week hit an 18-month high on excitement over MSCI’s decision to include mainland shares in a key index.

“Investors have no incentives today to take new positions ahead of the weekend,” said Mitsuo Shimizu, equity strategist at Japan Asia Securities in Tokyo.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index was slightly higher in afternoon trade, on track to log a rise of 0.9 percent for a week in which it touched its highest levels since August 2015.

“The actual macro situation in Japan is pretty good,” said Ed Rogers, head of Rogers Investment Advisors in Tokyo, who noted the country’s streak of five quarters of positive gross domestic product numbers.

He said the dollar remained bolstered against the yen by the Federal Reserve’s move to hike interest rates last week and leave the door open for further monetary tightening later in the year.

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“We’re not seeing global inflation, but we think the Fed will continue to move. That stone’s rolling down the hill,” Rogers said.

Longer-term, that will support the dollar and underpin Japanese shares, he added.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was down 0.2 percent at 97.449, though up 0.3 percent for the week.

The euro was up 0.1 percent on the day at $1.1163 but was down 0.3 percent for the week, while the dollar was steady against the yen at 111.29, up 0.4 percent for the week.

“We’re getting close to the end of the month, and fundamentals aside, there will be people selling dollars, so it will be easy for the yen to strengthen next week,” said Mitsuo Imaizumi, Tokyo-based chief foreign exchange strategist for Daiwa Securities.

“We also need to keep an eye on the healthcare debate in Washington, because political turmoil tends to undermine the dollar,” he said.

U.S. Senate Republicans offered a bill on Thursday to overhaul Obamacare, the next phase in the party’s long war against the 2010 law enacted by then-President Barack Obama, though it remained unclear if the bill has enough support to pass the Senate.

On Wall Street overnight, U.S. shares put in a mixed performance, though the S&P healthcare index rose 1 percent and hit its fifth consecutive record close following the release of the Senate Republicans’ bill.

U.S. economic data on Thursday showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, but remained at levels consistent with a tight labour market. Home prices also increased in April more than expected.

The Mexican peso added 0.1 percent after soaring 1 percent on Thursday as Mexico’s central bank board raised interest rates, saying it wanted to anchor inflation expectations and take into account last week’s move by the U.S. Federal Reserve to hike borrowing costs.

Crude oil futures pulled further away from this week’s lows, though market sentiment remained fragile amid a global crude glut that has persisted despite OPEC-led output cuts.

Brent crude was up 0.4 percent at $45.40 a barrel. U.S. crude futures also rose 0.4 percent to $42.91 a barrel.

Spot gold added 0.2 percent to $1,252.51 an ounce, moving away from a five-week low touched earlier this week.

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  • Criticism from President Donald Trump and a turbulent snap election could mar U.S.-U.K. relations
  • Most analysts agree that the relationship may be slightly hurt, but is still intact
  • Voters accused British Prime Minister Theresa May of “hand-holding” with Trump

The so-called “special relationship” between the United States and Britain was forged on the beaches of Normandy 73 years ago.

This alliance, nurtured by presidents and prime ministers for decades, has taken a battering since President Donald Trump took office.

Trump criticized London Mayor Sadiq Khan after the most recent terror attack in the city and he has previously suggested British intelligence agencies spied on him during his campaign.

 

Both outbursts drew widespread condemnation throughout the U.K. and beyond, and raised the question: Are U.S.-U.K. ties irreparably damaged?

Most analysts would say the relationship may be a bit bruised but intact.

More from NBC News:

2 U.S. Soldiers killed in Eastern Afghanistan after Afghan soldier opens fire
British PM clings to power after election humiliation
U.K. leader’s election gamble has ‘chaotic’ Brexit consequences

“The core of the relationship between the U.S. and U.K. rests on its nuclear, intelligence and special forces cooperation — and is usually protected from the vagaries of politics,” said Tim Oliver of LSE Ideas, the foreign policy think tank of the London School of Economics. “The U.S. and U.K. trust each other in ways we don’t trust anyone else in the world.”

That said, the usually courteous diplomatic relationship between the two nations may be a bit frayed.

After the terror attack on London Bridge and Borough Market, in which at least eight people died and 50 were wounded, Trump took to Twitter to describe Khan as “pathetic.”

 

Dozens of public transit projects around the country are in danger of stalling as the White House’s plan to boost U.S. infrastructure fails to gain momentum — with thousands of jobs at risk.

The uncertainty over these projects has worsened in recent days as President Trump — who had vowed to make the week’s focus infrastructure — faced a ­series of distractions, including a congressional hearing featuring former FBI director James B. Comey.

The president, who had called for $1 trillion in new infrastructure programs to create millions of jobs, now faces an increasing probability that not only will his proposal fail in Congress but that existing infrastructure efforts will also stumble.

The situation has emerged because the Trump administration has signaled it wants to take an approach to infrastructure spending that is different from the previous administration’s. Instead of funding many of the existing projects that depend on federal money — a practice that officials say they worry is wasteful — the administration says it wants to move toward a version of financing projects that is based far more on private funding.

The sudden uncertainty has left local officials who had long anticipated federal support for their projects worrying whether they will get it.

 

In previously unreported letters, officials at the Department of Transportation last week told project managers for a bus corridor in Pittsburgh and rail projects in Phoenix and New York that the administration’s budget plan for next year “proposes no funding for new projects” under an existing federal program known as the Capital Investment Grant.

Robert Rubinstein, who received the letter as executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, said the proposed cancellation of funding would effectively kill the project, which has been in the works for 10 years. It would have created an electric-bus corridor between Pittsburgh and nearby Oakland, Pa.

“We don’t have enough resources locally to undertake the larger project,” Rubinstein said. He said officials had sought roughly $80 million in federal money to go toward the $224 million project. He said the several million dollars already spent on studies and engineering reviews could be lost.

CIG funding allocates $2.3 billion each year to various projects and was recently authorized by lawmakers from both parties. Its projects include public transportation projects such as rail, streetcars and rapid bus systems. The White House’s most recent budget has proposed phasing out CIG funding, and the White House can block any new CIG projects even if there is congressional support.

Andrew Brady, senior director of government affairs at the American Public Transportation Association, said that more than 50 public transit projects are at risk of being denied federal funding because of Trump’s planned cuts to infrastructure spending.

“He’s saying a lot of good things on infrastructure, but what he’s done is implement very real cuts to infrastructure programs,” Brady said.

Capitol Hill aides closely tracking infrastructure funding say that uncertainty over the administration’s infrastructure plans is particularly threatening to programs that are far along and are dependent on federal funding for completion.

 The projects that are most at risk, they said, include some that have moved through the funding pipeline for years but are just short of final approval. Many are in states that Trump won last year, and they include a light-rail ­platform-lengthening project in Texas, a streetcar line in Arizona, and a bus rapid-transit line in Indiana.

Bryan Luellen, a spokesman for IndyGo, said the agency is concerned about long-term funding stability as it embarks on a major expansion of its system. The agency is expecting the CIG program to cover $75 million of the $96 million project and plans to seek federal funding for two other rapid-transit projects in coming years.

“Obviously, the less federal support we have, the less we can do overall,” he said.

Besides the transit program, Trump’s budget proposes ending the Department of Transportation’s TIGER grant program, which was created under the Obama administration in the 2009 stimulus bill and has since funded $5 billion worth of road, rail, port and bicycle projects.

Trump’s budget request said the program funds “projects with localized benefits” that often “do not rise to the level of national or regional significance.”

Those projects, it said, would be better funded through another DOT grant program, Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects, that is focused on roads and freight rail.

 

Goldman Sachs faced a looming deadline in July. Under new federal rules, the storied Wall Street bank was required to rid itself of about $6 billion in risky investments, such as stakes in hedge funds, that regulators fear could hamper it during an economic downturn.

But by late last year, Goldman had yet to find a buyer and appealed to the Federal Reserve for a reprieve. The agency gave Goldman and several other banks five more years to comply with the rules put in place in response to the 2008 financial crisis.

Now, it appears, Goldman may be able to keep those investments after all.

Republican lawmakers passed legislation in the House this week that would do away with the requirement all together. It is part of a sweeping plan to ease banking industry rules they argue have been hampering the economy and made it more difficult to get a loan. The effort, backed by the Trump administration, aims to dismantle major portions of the Obama administration’s 2010 financial reform law, known as the Dodd Frank Act, landmark legislation that forced banks to maintain a larger financial cushion and take on less debt.

“Congratulations to Jeb Hensarling & Republicans on successful House vote to repeal major parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law. GROWTH!,” President Trump said in a tweet Friday morning. (Rep. Hensarling, a Republican from Texas, shepherded the legislation.)

 Supporters touted the rules as a chance to help community and regional banks, many of which struggle to comply with a regulatory regime aimed mostly at the biggest banks. But the big banks would also gain relief, and one of the key ways is the proposed elimination of a provision known as the “Volcker rule.”

The rule, named after its chief champion, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, has two prongs. The first limits banks’ ability to buy and sell exotic financial instruments, and the second limits the ability of banks to operate and invest in hedge funds and private-equity funds.

Banks that make loans and collect consumer deposits, such as checking and savings accounts, shouldn’t be using that money to take on the same type of risks that hedge funds do, supporters of the rule say. But House Republicans argued that the Volcker has sapped liquidity from the markets — in other words, reduced the number of institutional buyers and sellers — and said in a summary of the legislation that repealing the rule would “promote more resilient capital markets and a more stable financial system.”

To comply, big Wall Street banks have shut down their “proprietary trading” desks to eliminate speculative trades and began selling off their investments in hedge and private equity funds. The shift was particularly significant for Goldman, which once claimed that such proprietary trading accounted for 10 percent of its revenue.

In an CNBC interview earlier this year, Goldman chief executive Lloyd Blankfein said restrictions on bank trading could prevent companies from being involved in the kinds of transactions that are “beneficial to the financial markets. There should be more flexibility.”

Many in the industry complain that the regulations governing the Volcker rule are so complex it made it difficult to distinguish between the financial transactions a bank may do on its own behalf, purely for profit, or on behalf of a client. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, once warned that “for every trader, we are going to have to have a lawyer, compliance officer, doctor to see what their testosterone levels are, and a shrink — what is your intent?”

Some regulators have acknowledged the complexity of the rules, though critics say banks are exaggerating. “Proprietary trading had banks with conflicts of interest against their customers,” Volcker said in an interview. “The idea that the restraint on proprietary trading is hurting customer service is baloney.”

 

In the meantime, big banks have received two extensions to comply with aspects of the rule, the first in 2015. The latest covers “illiquid funds,” typically investments banks made in hedge and private funds that may now be difficult to sell.

“I have doubts over the need for an extension. How much of it is just a hope that the rule would go away?,” Volcker said.

The extension gave Goldman more time to rid itself of about $6 billion in investments. Morgan Stanley has applied for more time to deal with about $1.9 billion of such assets.

Citigroup only has about $400 million left and has also been granted an extension. The bank’s chief executive, Michael Corbat, said at a banking conference earlier this month that it was time to make changes to Volcker. “We don’t want to be in the proprietary trading business. We don’t want to be using consumer deposits to speculate,” he said.

ut the law is too complex, Corbat said, noting that the rules had been written by five different agencies. Those agencies “have taken the same law, the same rule and applied it five different ways. And what we’ve said is we don’t care which one, just pick one of them. Pick one of them and enforce it that way, and we’d be great with that.”

The House legislation that would repeal the rule all together is unlikely to pass the Senate intact and regulators, who already spent years wiring the rules, may shy away from making significant, time-consuming changes. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker who has been directed by Trump to make recommendations on improving the banking system, appears to be leaning toward a compromise. “I support the Volcker Rule, but there needs to be proper definition around the Volcker Rule so banks can understand what they can do and what they can’t do,” Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee in January.

The effort to repeal or even weaken the rule has outraged some. “The Volcker firewall was among the most critical pieces of Wall Street reform,” said Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), one of the original sponsors of the provision. “This casino allowed banks to make big bets with taxpayer-insured funds, destabilizing the financial system and the U.S. economy.”

But a repeal of the rule could pay off for big banks. Wall Street banks stand to recoup about $2 billion in profits next year if the trading restrictions were lifted, according to research by Nomura, a global investment bank. That includes a boost of about $446 million for Goldman.

The U.S. Department of Justice argued Friday that President Trump’s businesses are legally permitted to accept payments from foreign governments while he is in office, and thus Trump is not in violation of a constitutional clause barring the acceptance of emoluments.

In a 70-page legal brief responding to a liberal watchdog group’s lawsuit, the administration said that market-rate payments for goods or services made to the president’s real estate, hotel and golf companies do not constitute emoluments as defined by the Constitution.

Otherwise, they argued, presidents going back to George Washington would have run afoul of the rules barring domestic and foreign emoluments.

Justice Department attorneys referenced a series of Washington’s letters and speeches to support their argument.

“Neither the text nor the history of the Clauses shows that they were intended to reach benefits arising from a President’s private business pursuits having nothing to do with his office or personal service to a foreign power,” the administration argued. “Were Plaintiffs’ interpretation correct, Presidents from the very beginning of the Republic, including George Washington, would have received prohibited ‘emolument.’”

 Advocates from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) brought the suit against Trump in January, shortly after he entered office. The group asserted that because Trump-owned buildings take in rent, room rentals and other payments from foreign governments — which may seek to curry favor with him — the president has breached the emoluments clause.

That clause in the Constitution says that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” It was written out of fear that the young republic’s leaders or ambassadors could be bought off by a richer European power, but it has never been tried in court.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and other countries have held state-sponsored events at Trump’s D.C. hotel, and other entities associated with foreign governments lend money to his businesses or lease space in his properties.

CREW had initially argued that its own group was harmed by the president’s actions because his conduct required the organization to divert resources from other issues. In April, two other plaintiffs joined the suit: an association of restaurants and restaurant workers, and a woman who books banquet halls for two D.C. hotels, the Carlyle Hotel near Dupont Circle and the Glover Park Hotel on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

In its response, the Justice Department wrote that “CREW’s voluntary decision to focus on its opposition to the President’s financial holdings does not constitute a concrete, judicially cognizable” injury.

The Justice Department argued that the claims by the restaurant group and the competing hotel worker didn’t provide sufficient allegations. They asked Judge Ronnie Abrams for the U.S. District Court in Southern New York to dismiss the suit “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or for failure to state a claim.”

Trump announced shortly before taking office that he would retain ownership of his company but leave it in control of his adult sons, Eric and Don Jr. He vowed that his firm, the Trump Organization, would not pursue new deals while he is in office, and the company said it will donate profits from foreign hotel meeting business to the U.S. Treasury at the end of the year.