President Trump has suggested multiple times to senior Homeland Security and national security officials that they explore using nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes from hitting the United States, according to sources who have heard the president’s private remarks and been briefed on a National Security Council memorandum that recorded those comments.
Behind the scenes: During
one hurricane briefing at the White House, Trump said, “I got it. I got
it. Why don’t we nuke them?” according to one source who was there.
“They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across
the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it
disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?” the source added, paraphrasing the
Asked how the briefer reacted, the source recalled he said something to the effect of, “Sir, we’ll look into that.”
replied by asking incredulously how many hurricanes the U.S. could
handle and reiterating his suggestion that the government intervene
before they make landfall.
briefer “was knocked back on his heels,” the source in the room added.
“You could hear a gnat fart in that meeting. People were astonished.
After the meeting ended, we thought, ‘What the f—? What do we do with
raised the idea in another conversation with a senior administration
official. A 2017 NSC memo describes that second conversation, in which
Trump asked whether the administration should bomb hurricanes to stop
them from hitting the homeland. A source briefed on the NSC memo said it
does not contain the word “nuclear”; it just says the president talked
about bombing hurricanes.
source added that this NSC memo captured “multiple topics, not just
hurricanes. … It wasn’t that somebody was so terrified of the bombing
idea that they wrote it down. They just captured the president’s
The sources said that
Trump’s “bomb the hurricanes” idea — which he floated early in the first
year and a bit of his presidency before John Bolton took over as
national security adviser — went nowhere and never entered a formal
White House response:
A senior administration official said, “We don’t comment on private
discussions that the president may or may not have had with his national
A different senior administration official,
who has been briefed on the president’s hurricane bombing suggestion,
defended Trump’s idea and said it was no cause for alarm. “His goal — to
keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad,”
the official said. “His objective is not bad.”
people near the president do is they say ‘I love a president who asks
questions like that, who’s willing to ask tough questions.’ … It takes
strong people to respond to him in the right way when stuff like this
comes up. For me, alarm bells weren’t going off when I heard about it,
but I did think somebody is going to use this to feed into ‘the
president is crazy’ narrative.”
The big picture:
Trump didn’t invent this idea. The notion that detonating a nuclear
bomb over the eye of a hurricane could be used to counteract convection
currents dates to the Eisenhower era, when it was floated by a
keeps resurfacing in the public even though scientists agree it won’t
work. The myth has been so persistent that the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. government agency that predicts
changes in weather and the oceans, published an online fact sheet for the public under the heading “Tropical Cyclone Myths Page.”
page states: “Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the
storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive
fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land
areas and cause devastating environmental problems. Needless to say,
this is not a good idea.”
About 3 weeks after Trump’s 2016 election, National Geographic published an article titled, “Nuking Hurricanes: The Surprising History of a Really Bad Idea.” It found, among other problems, that:
a nuclear bomb into a hurricane would be banned under the terms of the
Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty between the U.S. and the former
Soviet Union. So that could stave off any experiments, as long as the
U.S. observes the terms of the treaty.
The main difficulty with using explosives to modify hurricanes is the amount of energy required. A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20×1013 watts and converts less than 10% of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.
If we think about mechanical energy, the energy at humanity’s
disposal is closer to the storm’s, but the task of focusing even
half of the energy on a spot in the middle of a remote ocean
would still be formidable. Brute force interference with
hurricanes doesn’t seem promising.
In addition, an explosive, even a nuclear explosive, produces a
shock wave, or pulse of high pressure, that propagates away from
the site of the explosion somewhat faster than the speed of
sound. Such an event doesn’t raise the barometric pressure after
the shock has passed because barometric pressure in the
atmosphere reflects the weight of the air above the ground. For
normal atmospheric pressure, there are about ten metric tons
(1000 kilograms per ton) of air bearing down on each square
meter of surface. In the strongest hurricanes there are nine. To
change a Category 5 hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane you
would have to add about a half ton of air for each square meter
inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion
(500,000,000) tons for a 20 km radius eye. It’s difficult to
envision a practical way of moving that much air around.
Attacking weak tropical waves or depressions before they have a
chance to grow into hurricanes isn’t promising either. About 80
of these disturbances form every year in the Atlantic basin, but
only about 5 become hurricanes in a typical year. There is no
way to tell in advance which ones will develop. If the energy
released in a tropical disturbance were only 10% of that released
in a hurricane, it’s still a lot of power, so that the hurricane
police would need to dim the whole world’s lights many times a
Lewis Ziska, one of the United States’ leading climate-change scientists, has quit the USDA’s Agriculture Department and says he’s protesting the Trump administration’s attempts to bury one of his studies. The study, which was published in Science Advances, was about how rice loses nutrients to the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere—which has implications for the 600 million people who depend on rice for most of their calories. Ziska, who’s worked at the USDA for 20 years, says the Trump administration questioned the findings of his study and attempted to minimize its press coverage. “This was a joint decision by ARS national program leaders—all career scientists—not to send out a press release on this paper,” a statement released by the USDA said in response to Ziska’s complaint.
Several government employees recently reported that they’d lost their jobs over climate-change disagreements and a Politico investigation showed that the USDA regularly buried its own climate-research discoveries. “You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views,” Ziska said.
The Environmental Protection Agency told staff scientists that it was no longer opposing a controversial Alaska mining project that could devastate one of the world’s most valuable wild salmon fisheries just one day after President Trump met with Alaska’s governor, CNN has learned.
The EPA publicly announced the reversal July 30, but EPA staff sources tell CNN that they were informed of the decision a month earlier, during a hastily arranged video conference after Trump’s meeting with Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The governor, a supporter of the project, emerged from that meeting saying the president assured him that he’s “doing everything he can to work with us on our mining concerns.”
The news came as a “total shock” to some top EPA scientists who were planning to oppose the project on environmental grounds, according to sources. Those sources asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
The copper-and-gold mine planned near Bristol Bay, Alaska, known as Pebble Mine, was blocked by the Obama administration’s EPA after scientists found that the mine would cause “complete loss of” the bay’s fish habitat.
EPA insiders tell CNN that the timing of the agency’s internal announcement suggests Trump was personally involved in the decision.
Dunleavy met with Trump aboard Air Force One on June 26, as the President’s plane was on the tarmac in Alaska. The President had stopped there on his way to the G20 summit in Japan.
Four EPA sources with knowledge of the decision told CNN that senior agency officials in Washington summoned scientists and other staffers to an internal videoconference on June 27, the day after the Trump-Dunleavy meeting, to inform them of the agency’s reversal. The details of that meeting are not on any official EPA calendar and have not previously been reported.
Those sources said the decision disregards the standard assessment process under the Clean Water Act, cutting scientists out of the process.
The EPA’s new position on the project is the latest development in a decade-long battle that has pitted environmentalists, Alaskan Natives and the fishing industry against pro-mining interests in Alaska.
In 2014, the project was halted because an EPA study found that it would cause “complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources” in some areas of Bristol Bay. The agency invoked a rarely used provision of the Clean Water Act that works like a veto, effectively banning mining on the site.
Some current and former EPA officials say the decision to remove the Clean Water Act restriction ignores scientific evidence. The decision follows a series of regulatory rollbacks and political appointments within the Trump administration’s EPA that have been criticized by former EPA administrators as favoring industry interests over the environment.
The June 26 meeting between Trump and Dunleavy marked the fourth time the two had met since December.
Dunleavy has publicly supported the mining project and wrote a letter to Trump in March protesting the EPA’s prior handling of the matter. He had dinner with Tom Collier, the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, the project’s developer, in February and spoke to him on the phone in May, according to copies of Dunleavy’s calendar reviewed by CNN. A member of Dunleavy’s administration used to work on the Pebble project in public relations.
In response to CNN’s question about whether Dunleavy asked Trump to direct the EPA to lift the restriction during the June meeting, Dunleavy’s press secretary said the two discussed mining and a public land order, but he declined to provide specifics of the conversation.
Dunleavy said in a statement, “This project, like all projects, should be scrutinized and examined under a fair and rigorous permitting process prescribed by law. That was not the case under the EPA’s unprecedented preemptive veto.”
Neither the White House nor the EPA responded to CNN’s question on whether the White House directed the EPA to lift the restriction on the mine.
Christine Todd Whitman, who served as an Environmental Protection Agency administrator during the George W. Bush administration, said the EPA’s decision to lift the restriction on the mine before the agency’s scientists fully reviewed the matter could violate the Clean Water Act.
A draft executive order from the White House could put the Federal Communications Commission in charge of shaping how Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR) and other large tech companies curate what appears on their websites, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
The draft order, a summary of which was obtained by CNN, calls for the
FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites
when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms.
Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump
administration’s draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission
to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files
lawsuits against misbehaving companies.
If put into effect, the order would reflect a significant escalation by
President Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies
over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by
technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant
reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to
give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the draft order, but referred CNN to Trump’s remarks at a recent meeting with
right-wing social media activists. During the meeting, Trump vowed to
“explore all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free
According to the summary seen by CNN, the draft executive order
currently carries the title “Protecting Americans from Online
Censorship.” It claims that the White House has received more than
15,000 anecdotal complaints of social media platforms censoring American
political discourse, the summary indicates. The Trump administration,
in the draft order, will offer to share the complaints it’s received
with the FTC.
In May, the White House launched a website inviting consumers to report complaints of alleged partisan bias by social media companies.
The FTC will also be asked to open a public complaint docket, according
to the summary, and to work with the FCC to develop a report
investigating how tech companies curate their platforms and whether they
do so in neutral ways. Companies whose monthly user base accounts for
one-eighth of the U.S. population or more could find themselves facing
scrutiny, the summary said, including but not limited to Facebook,
Google, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat.
The Trump administration’s proposal seeks to significantly narrow the protections afforded to companies under Section 230
of the Communications Decency Act, a part of the Telecommunications Act
of 1996. Under the current law, internet companies are not liable for
most of the content that their users or other third parties post on
their platforms. Tech platforms also qualify for broad legal immunity
when they take down objectionable content, at least when they are acting
“in good faith.” From the start, the legislation has been interpreted
to give tech companies the benefit of the doubt.
In a Senate floor speech
last year, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the authors of Section 230,
said his aim with the legislation was to make sure “that internet
companies could moderate their websites without getting clobbered by
“Imagine how hard it would be to launch a platform that’s open to
discussion of any topic when even the simplest, most narrowly-focused
website on the internet can become a magnet for lawsuits,” Wyden said.
By comparison, according to the summary,the White
House draft order asks the FCC to restrict the government’s view of the
good-faith provision. Under the draft proposal, the FCC will be asked to
find that social media sites do not qualify for the good-faith immunity
if they remove or suppress content without notifying the user who
posted the material, or if the decision is proven to be evidence of
anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive practices.
Yet in its current form, the draft order could lead to significant
questions about the role the FCC and FTC can play when it comes to
interpreting and enforcing Section 230, an area they have previouslyleft
largely unaddressed. The effort to draft the order has been ongoing for
some time, the people said, and the proposal remains subject to change.
“It makes no sense to involve the FCC here,” said Berin Szoka, president
of the libertarian-leaning think tank TechFreedom. “They have
rule-making authority, but no jurisdiction — they can’t possibly want to
be involved. It would be an impossible position.”
The midday meeting is expected to involve five-minute presentations from
the companies on their respective policies and projects, according to
copies of an invitation obtained by CNN. The presentations will be
followed by a group discussion on technology and the companies’ roles in
fighting “signals of violence … while respecting free speech.”
Some people close to the tech industry expressed frustration that the
White House seemed to be trying to have it both ways — excoriating tech
companies for allegedly censoring conservative speech, a claim the
platforms vigorously dispute, while castigating them for failing to
block enough violent or hateful content.
“The internal inconsistency of this is outrageous,” one of them said.
President Donald Trump spent part of Tuesday morning tweeting about a
segment from Fox Business host Lou Dobbs’ show which championed Kevin
Cernekee, a former Google engineer who claims he was fired because of
the company’s purported anti-conservative bias. “All very illegal,”
Trump concluded of the company’s purported actions, adding, “We are
watching Google very closely!” This is at least the third time Trump has
publicly suggested he would take action against Google based on what
he’s seen on Fox.
Right-wing media have trumpeted Cernekee’s story over the
past few days, with outlets fitting him neatly into their narrative that
tech companies have it in for Republicans. But the story is more
complicated than that: While it portrays him as a rank-and-file
conservative, Cernekee appears to have repeatedly defended white
nationalists on internal Google message boards.
How Cernekee’s story ended up on the president’s Twitter
says a lot about the right-wing media ecosystem, their obsession with
finding supposed conservative martyrs of tech companies, and Trump’s
reckless consumption and promotion of whatever Fox News happens to put
in front of his eyes.
The cautionary tale of “Republican engineer” Kevin Cernekee
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal’s Rob Copeland profiled
Cernekee, portraying him as a “Republican engineer” fired from the
company for the conservative views he expressed on the company’s
internal message boards.
“Google told Mr. Cernekee in a termination letter that he
was let go for multiple violations of company policies, including
improperly downloading company information and misuse of the
remote-access software system,” Copeland reported. “Mr. Cernekee, who
hasn’t spoken publicly before about his status at Google, denies that.
He says he was fired for being an outspoken conservative in famously
liberal Silicon Valley.”
Copeland largely paraphrased Cernekee’s message board posts
or accepted his explanations of them rather than quoting their content.
This made it impossible for readers to assess precisely what his views
were. But the story’s 28th paragraph provides a tantalizing detail: A
fellow conservative engineer “internally circulated a dossier describing
Mr. Cernekee as ‘the face of the alt-right’ at Google” (that engineer
was also later fired).
It remains contested whether Cernekee’s views triggered his
termination. But the Journal’s framing of Cernekee as simply a
“Republican” with “conservative take[s]” who stands up for other
“right-leaning employees” created the impression that it is open season
on anyone to the right of Hillary Clinton. That makes his actual
The Daily Caller, which has its own complicated history with the alt-right, pulled on that thread a few days later
(though only after producing multiple stories amplifying Cernekee’s
claims). Deputy Editor J. Arthur Bloom reported that Cernekee had
“suggested raising money under the auspices of the company’s free speech
listserv for a bounty to identify Richard Spencer’s assailant.”
After Spencer, one of the nation’s most prominent white
nationalists, was punched while giving an interview in January 2017,
Cernekee suggested putting together a group donation to support the
search for the puncher through racist troll Charles Johnson’s website.
Cernekee identified Spencer only as a “well known
conservative activist.” When other Google employees pointed out that
Spencer is “a prominent, vehement racist and anti-Semite,” Cernekee
Bloom also reported that Cernekee had criticized a media
description of the “Golden State Skinheads” as a neo-Nazi group, and he
praised the organization for “[standing] up for free speech and free
“Conservatives angry at big tech may view such postings as a
cautionary lesson in the importance of vetting their cause célèbres,”
Conservative media made Cernekee a cause célèbre
Right-wing media outlets have spent the last several years trumpeting complaints
that social media platforms are biased against conservatives. This
behavior is consistent with conservatives’ decades-long strategy of
decrying the news media as biased against them in order to influence
media coverage. But it is inconsistent with the facts.
“There is no evidence that Google, Facebook, or any other
major tech company is biased against conservative employees or
conservative content,” Recode reported
in response to Cernekee’s allegations. “While it is true that most tech
employees lean liberal in their personal beliefs, that doesn’t mean
that their employers discriminate in the workplace, or in the products
they build and maintain.”
Cernekee’s story echoed the conservative narrative
about tech companies’ bias, and it rocketed through the right-wing media
after Thursday’s Wall Street Journal profile. He was treated as both a
conservative martyr and as a credible source for information on Google’s
Notably, these aggregations portrayed Cernekee as a
typical conservative, with only the Post mentioning that Cernekee had
been linked to the “alt-right.”
By Friday night, Cernekee was being feted on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, a regular home for both deceptive attacks on tech companies and white supremacist talking points.
After providing the former engineer the platform to repeat his
allegation that he was fired for being a conservative, Carlson turned
his attention to Google’s influence on the 2020 election.
“Do you believe that Google will attempt to influence the
election outcome or will attempt to try to prevent Trump from being
reelected?” Carlson asked.
“I do believe so. I think that’s a major threat,” he replied.
“And yet, Congress, including Republicans are just sitting
back and acting like it’s not happening,” Carlson responded. “It’s
disgusting. Kevin, thank you for sounding that alarm.”
Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends hosted Cernekee on Monday where he repeated his allegation that Google intends to prevent Trump’s reelection.
That interview, in turn, became the basis for a segment on the Monday night edition of Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, which aired several hours after the Daily Caller published its story detailing Cernekee’s postings.
“That is nasty stuff,” the host commented of Cernekee’s
allegations, “and by the way, it’s illegal.” He later added that the
Justice Department “should be sitting right inside the Google complex”
to prevent “a fraud on the American public.” His guest, Breitbart.com’s
Peter Schweizer, added that DOJ should be “monitoring what Google is
doing in real time now.”
Dobbs’ show attracts fewer than 400,000 viewers on average. But Trump is often one of them, and he was apparently watching Monday night.
Cernekee’s allegations enter the Trump-Fox feedback loop
Trump is obsessed with Fox, watching hours of its
programming every day and frequently tweeting about segments that catch
his attention. This Trump-Fox feedback loop regularly influences the Trump administration’s policy, personnel, and political strategy.
On Monday morning, Trump promised
to “honor the sacred memory of those we have lost” during mass
shootings in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, by “acting as one people.”
That night, he tweetedthreeclips
from Dobbs’ show. Two of the president’s tweets dealt with the
program’s discussion of Cernekee’s claim that Google is biased against
The next morning, after tweeting twoquotes from the morning’s edition of Fox & Friends, Trump returned to the issue of Google’s bias.
In a tweetstorm, the president contrasted what he said he
had been told by Google CEO Sundar Pichai with what he had heard on
Dobbs’ show the previous night, including from Cernekee.
Trump-Fox feedback loop is particularly salient in giving the president
targets for his ire, and the network’s obsession with tech platform
bias has repeatedly resulted in angry Trump tweets. This is at least the
third time Trump has responded to Fox segments by tweeting that his
administration would take action against Google.
In August 2018, in response to a conspiracy-minded Dobbs segment,
the president accused Google of illegally “suppressing voices of
Conservatives” adding that his administration would address the
And last month, Trump tweeted that his administration would review whether Google has committed “treason” after he saw a Fox & Friends news brief in which one of his supporters baselessly floated that claim.
Conservatives have a political and financial interest in
ginning up claims that the tech platforms are biased against them, and
right-wing media eagerly amplify their claims for their own interests.
This pattern will continue and such issues that don’t hold up to
scrutiny will be thrust into the mainstream discourse because the
president of the United States loves to watch Fox News.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats repeatedly found his warnings about the threat posed by Russia suppressed by the White House, The New York Times reported Sunday amid his resignation from the post.
According to The Times, Coats has often found himself at odds with President Donald Trump over Russia, a situation that worsened in recent months.
Coats saw Russia as an adversary to the US, The Times wrote, and pushed for closer cooperation with European countries to counter it, but the White House did not agree.
Several times Coats saw his language on the Kremlin’s activities watered down by the White House, according to The Times.
A secret report by Coats on Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2018 midterms by spreading disinformation was reportedly altered by the White House. A public statement on Coats’ conclusions contained less critical language than the original, The Times said.
A former senior intelligence official told The Washington Post that Coats felt marginalized on national security issues by the president and had come to see his departure as inevitable.
Trump has long faced scrutiny for his warm comments on Russia and his changing positions on whether Russia interfered to help him secure his 2016 election victory.
Robert Mueller concluded in the special counsel’s Russia investigation that there was insufficient evidence to charge the president or his aides with criminally conspiring with Russia in 2016.
Trump in a tweet Sunday announced that Coats would step down in mid-August and nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas as his replacement.
In his tweet, he thanked Coats for his service but offered him no praise.
“The intelligence community is stronger than ever and increasingly well prepared to meet new challenges and opportunities,” Coats wrote in his resignation letter, citing the recent appointment of an official charged with countering foreign election interference.
During his time as director of national intelligence, Coats had publicly contradicted Trump on the president’s claims regarding Russia and North Korea.
In a statement released after Trump’s summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2018, Coats rebutted the president’s apparent acceptance of Putin’s claim that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 election.
At a national security conference in Colorado last year, Coats reacted with incredulity when told Trump had invited Putin to the White House at the summit.
“That’s going to be special,” he remarked.
And in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, Coats contradicted Trump’s claims that North Korea no longer posed a threat because of his summits with its leader, Kim Jong Un.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide is at a record high, Europe is in the midst of a hellish heat wave, and extreme weather is ravaging large swaths of the globe, but President Donald Trump dismissed the need for climate action during the G20 summit in Japan on Saturday and falsely claimed that air and water in the U.S. are the “cleanest” they have ever been.
Trump told reporters during a press conference Saturday morning that he is not ignoring the threat of the climate crisis, but he doesn’t want to take action to confront the emergency because such a move would threaten corporate profits.
“So we have the best numbers that we’ve ever had recently,” Trump said. “I’m not looking to put our companies out of business.”
“I’m not looking to create a standard that is so high that we’re going to lose 20-25 percent of our production. I’m not willing to do that,” Trump continued. “We have the cleanest water we’ve ever had, we have the cleanest air—you saw the reports come out recently. We have the cleanest air we’ve ever had. But I’m not willing to sacrifice the tremendous power of what we’ve built up over a long period of time, and what I’ve enhanced and revived.”
As the Associated Pressreported after Trump claimed earlier this month that the U.S. is “setting records environmentally” with its air and water quality, “U.S. does not have the cleanest air, and it hasn’t gotten better under the Trump administration.”
“The U.S. ranks poorly on smog pollution,which kills 24,000 Americans per year,” according to AP. “On a scale from the cleanest to the dirtiest, the U.S. is at 123 out of 195 countries measured.”
Furthermore, according to a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tens of millions of Americans are exposed to unsafe drinking water each year.
Trump’s comments came amid reports that the U.S. president attempted to pressure allies to weaken the G20 commitment to fighting climate change.
According toPolitico, Trump tried “to enlist the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Australia, and Turkey in opposing commitments to stand by the Paris climate agreement made at previous G-20 summits.”
Trump’s efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, as the U.S. remained the sole outlier in refusing to back the summit’s climate declaration.
“Under the compromise struck at the last minute on Saturday,” Politicoreported, “heads of state from 19 of the 20 countries backed the Paris agreement, while the United States secured a carve-out under an ‘agree to disagree’ framework—the same solution as in previous G20s since U.S. President Donald Trump was elected.”
President Donald Trump today suggested tech giants like Google and Twitter are the greatest threat to the integrity of the 2020 presidential election — and said anti-conservative bias among the companies had a greater impact in 2016 than Russian meddling.
“Let me tell you, they’re trying to rig the election,” Trump said in a phone interview on Fox Business. “That’s what we should be looking at, not that witch hunt, the phony witch hunt.”
Charging Google with being “totally biased” in favor of Democrats and fomenting “hatred for the Republicans,” Trump downplayed Russia’s 2016 social media manipulation: “You know, they talk about Russia because they had some bloggers—and by the way, those bloggers, some of them were going both ways. They were for Clinton and for Trump.”
Lawmakers, academics and U.S. intelligence officials are in broad agreement that Russia mounted a vast online disinformation campaign ahead of the 2016 election with the aim of inflaming American political and social tensions, supporting Trump’s candidacy and depressing Democratic voter turnout.
Trump’s comments reiterated claims that he and other prominent Republicans have made alleging that tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are biased against conservatives and deliberately stifle their accounts and content. The companies flatly deny these allegations.
His criticisms came immediately after an extended broadside against Twitter for allegedly blocking people from following his account on the site, a claim the president has made repeatedly without evidence.
Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A Google spokesperson said, “We build our products with extraordinary care and safeguards to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without any regard for political viewpoint,” noting the company’s publicly available criteria for determining the quality of search results.
The Trump administration has refused to publicize dozens of government-funded studies that carry warnings about the effects of climate change, defying a longstanding practice of touting such findings by the Agriculture Department’s acclaimed in-house scientists.
The studies range from a groundbreaking discovery that rice loses vitamins in a carbon-rich environment — a potentially serious health concern for the 600 million people world-wide whose diet consists mostly of rice — to a finding that climate change could exacerbate allergy seasons to a warning to farmers about the reduction in quality of grasses important for raising cattle.
All of these studies were peer-reviewed by scientists and cleared through the non-partisan Agricultural Research Service, one of the world’s leading sources of scientific information for farmers and consumers.
None of the studies were focused on the causes of global warming – an often politically charged issue. Rather, the research examined the wide-ranging effects of rising carbon dioxide, increasing temperatures and volatile weather.
The administration, researchers said, appears to be trying to limit the circulation of evidence of climate change and avoid press coverage that may raise questions about the administration’s stance on the issue.
“The intent is to try to suppress a message — in this case, the increasing danger of human-caused climate change,” said Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University. “Who loses out? The people, who are already suffering the impacts of sea level rise and unprecedented super storms, droughts, wildfires and heat waves.”
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who has expressed skepticism about climate science in the past and allegedly retaliated against in-house economists whose findings contradicted administration policies, declined to comment. A spokesperson for USDA said there have been no directives within the department that discouraged the dissemination of climate-related science.
“Research continues on these subjects and we promote the research once researchers are ready to announce the findings, after going through the appropriate reviews and clearances,” the spokesperson said in an email.
“USDA has several thousand scientists and over 100,000 employees who work on myriad topics and issues; not every single finding or piece of work solicits a government press release,” the spokesperson added.
However, a POLITICO investigation revealed a persistent pattern in which the Trump administration refused to draw attention to findings that show the potential dangers and consequences of climate change, covering dozens of separate studies. The administration’s moves flout decades of department practice of promoting its research in the spirit of educating farmers and consumers around the world, according to an analysis of USDA communications under previous administrations.
The lack of promotion means research from scores of government scientists receives less public attention. Climate-related studies are still being published without fanfare in scientific journals, but they can be very difficult to find. The USDA doesn’t post all its studies in one place.
Since Trump took office in January 2017, the Agricultural Research Service has issued releases for just two climate-related studies, both of which had findings that were favorable to the politically powerful meat industry. One found that beef production makes a relatively small contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and another that removing animal products from the diet for environmental reasons would likely cause widespread nutritional problems. The agency issued a third press release about soy processing that briefly mentioned greenhouse gas emissions, noting that reducing fossil fuel use or emissions was “a personal consideration” for farmers.
By contrast, POLITICO found that in the case of the groundbreaking rice study USDA officials not only withheld their own prepared release, but actively sought to prevent dissemination of the findings by the agency’s research partners.
Researchers at the University of Washington had collaborated with scientists at USDA, as well as others in Japan, China and Australia, for more than two years to study how rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could affect rice — humanity’s most important crop. They found that it not only loses protein and minerals, but is also likely to lose key vitamins as plants adapt to a changing environment.
The study had undergone intensive review, addressing questions from academic peers and within USDA itself. But after having prepared an announcement of the findings, the department abruptly decided not to publicize the study and urged the University of Washington to hold back its own release on the findings, which two of their researchers had co-authored.
In an email to staffers dated May 7, 2018, an incredulous Jeff Hodson, a UW communications director, advised his colleagues that the USDA communications office was “adamant that there was not enough data to be able to say what the paper is saying, and that others may question the science.”
“It was so unusual to have an agency basically say: ‘Don’t do a press release,’ ” Hodson recalled in an interview. “We stand for spreading the word about the science we do, especially when it has a potential impact on millions and millions of people.”
Researchers say the failure to publicize their work damages the credibility of the Agriculture Department and represents an unwarranted political intrusion into science.
“Why the hell is the U.S., which is ostensibly the leader in science research, ignoring this?” said one USDA scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid the possibility of retaliation. “It’s not like we’re working on something that’s esoteric … we’re working on something that has dire consequences for the entire planet.”
“You can only postpone reality for so long,” the researcher added.
* * *
With a budget of just over $1 billion, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service — known as ARS — is often referred to as “one of the best kept secrets” in the sprawling department because of its outsize impact on society. The agency has pioneered a variety of major breakthroughs, from figuring out how to mass produce penicillin so it could be widely used during World War II to coming up with creative ways to keep sliced apples from browning, and has for decades been at the forefront of understanding how a changing climate will affect agriculture.
The agency has stringent guidelines to prevent political meddling in research projects themselves. The Trump administration, researchers say, is not directly censoring scientific findings or black-balling researchon climate change. Instead, they say, officials are essentially choosing to ignore or downplay findings that don’t line up with the administration’s agenda.
Some scientists see the fact that the administration has targeted another research arm of USDA, the Economic Research Service, as a warning shot. Perdue is moving ERS out of Washington, which some economists see as retribution for issuing reports that countered the administration’s agenda, as POLITICO recently reported.
“There’s a sense that you should watch what you say,” said Ricardo Salvador, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s going to result in some pretty big gaps in practical knowledge. … it will take years to undo the damage.”
Among the ARS studies that did not receive publicity from the Agriculture Department are:
A 2017 finding that climate change was likely to increase agricultural pollution and nutrient runoff in the Lower Mississippi River Delta, but that certain conservation practices, including not tilling soil and planting cover crops, would help farmers more than compensate and bring down pollutant loads regardless of the impacts of climate change.
A January 2018 finding that the Southern Plains — the agriculture-rich region that stretches from Kansas to Texas — is increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, from the crops that rely on the waning Ogallala aquifer to the cattle that graze the grasslands.
An April 2018 finding that elevated CO2 levels lead to “substantial and persistent” declines in the quality of certain prairie grasses that are important for raising cattle. The protein content in the grass drops as photosynthesis kicks into high gear due to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — a trend that could pose health problems for the animals and cost ranchers money.
A July 2018 finding that coffee, which is already being affected by climate change, can potentially help scientists figure out how to evaluate and respond to the complex interactions between plants, pests and a changing environment. Rising CO2 in the atmosphere is projected to alter pest biology, such as by making weeds proliferate or temperatures more hospitable to damaging insects.
An October 2018 finding, in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service, that climate change would likely lead to more runoff in the Chesapeake Bay watershed during certain seasons.
A March 2019 finding that increased temperature swings might already be boosting pollen to the point that it’s contributing to longer and more intense allergy seasons across the northern hemisphere. “This study, done across multiple continents, highlights an important link between ongoing global warming and public health—one that could be exacerbated as temperatures continue to increase,” the researchers wrote.
Those were among at least 45 ARS studies related to climate change since the beginning of the Trump administration that did not receive any promotion, according to POLITICO’s review. The total number of studies that have published on climate-related issues is likely to be larger, because ARS studies appear across a broad range of narrowly focused journals and can be difficult to locate.
Five days after POLITICO presented its findings to the department and asked for a response, ARS issued a press release on wheat genetics that used the term “climate change.” It marked the third time the agency had used the term in a press release touting scientific findings in two and a half years.
While spokespeople say Perdue, the former Georgia governor who has been agriculture secretary since April 2017, has not interfered with ARS or the dissemination of its studies, the secretary has recently suggested that he’s at times been frustrated with USDA research.
“We know that research, some has been found in the past to not have been adequately peer-reviewed in a way that created wrong information, and we’re very serious when we say we’re fact-based, data-driven decision makers,” he said in April, responding to a question from POLITICO. “That relies on sound, replicable science rather than opinion. What I see unfortunately happening many times is that we tried to make policy decisions based on political science rather than on sound science.”
President Donald Trump, for his part, has been clear about his views on climate science and agricultural research generally: He doesn’t think much of either.
In each of his budgets, Trump has proposed deep cuts to agricultural research, requests that ignore a broad, bipartisan coalition urging more funding for such science as China and other competitors accelerate their spending. Congress has so far kept funding mostly flat.
The president has also repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus on climate change. After the government released its latest national climate assessment in November, a sweeping document based on science, Trump bluntly told reporters: “I don’t believe it.”
Officials at USDA apparently took the hint and the department did not promote the report, despite the fact that it was drafted in part by its own scientists and included serious warnings about how a changing climate poses a threat to farmers and ranchers across the country.
* * *
The USDA’s failure to publicize climate-related research does more than just quell media coverage: It can also prompt universities, fearful of antagonizing a potential source of funding, to reconsider their own plans to publicize studies.
The saga of the rice study last spring shows how a snub from USDA can create spillover effects throughout the academic world.
Emails obtained by POLITICO from one of the study’s co-authors show that ARS communications staff actually wrote a release on the study, but then decided not to send it out. The Agriculture Department and UW in Seattle had initially planned to coordinate their releases, which would both be included in a press packet prepared by the journal Science Advances, which published the study in May.
The journal had anticipated there would be significant media interest in the paper. Several earlier studies had already shown that rice loses protein, zinc and iron under the elevated CO2 levels that scientists predict for later this century, raising potentially serious concerns for hundreds of millions of people who are highly dependent on rice and already at risk of food insecurity. This latest study by ARS and its academic partners around the world had confirmed those previous findings and — for the first time — found that vitamins can also drop out of rice in these conditions.
Several days before the paper was slated to be published, Hodson, the UW communications official, sent ARS communications staff a draft of the press release the university was planning to send out. ARS officials returned the favor, sending UW their own draft press release. The headline on USDA’s draft was clear: “Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels Can Reduce Vitamin Content in Rice,” though the body of the release did not mention the word “climate.”
All seemed to be on track for the rollout. A few days later, however, Hodson got a phone call from an ARS communications staffer. She told him that the agency had decided not to issue a press release after all and suggested UW reconsider its plans, noting that senior leaders at ARS now had serious concerns about the paper, according to the emails.
The staffer explained that officials were “adamant that there was not enough data to be able to say what the paper is saying, and that others may question the science,” Hodson wrote in his email to his colleagues shortly after the call.
Having the Agriculture Department question the data just days before its publication struck many of the co-authors as inappropriate. The paper had already gone through a technical and policy review within ARS, both of which are standard procedure, and it had gone through a stringent peer-review process.
Kristie Ebi, one of the co-authors from UW, replied to Hodson: “Interesting — USDA is really trying to keep the press release from coming out.”
Nonetheless, senior leaders at UW took USDA’s concerns about the paper seriously, Hodson said. (It also wasn’t lost on anyone, he said, that other parts of the university receive substantial grant funding from the Agriculture Department.) The university conducted an internal review and determined that the science was sound. It went ahead with its press release.
The USDA’s attempt to quash the release had ripple effects as far as Nebraska. After catching wind of USDA’s call to the University of Washington, Bryan College of Health Sciences, in Lincoln, Neb., delayed and ultimately shortened its own release to avoid potentially offending the Agriculture Department.
“I’m disappointed,” said Irakli Loladze, a mathematical biologist at Bryan who co-authored the rice paper. “I do not even work at the USDA, but a potential call from the government agency was enough of a threat for my school to skip participating in the press-package arranged by the journal. Instead, our college issued a local and abbreviated release.”
A spokesperson for Bryan College said that the institution supports Loladze’s work and noted that the college ultimately issued its own press release and covered the study in its own publications.
“There was no omission or intentional delay based on what others were saying or doing,” the spokesperson said.
Despite the efforts of the Agriculture Department, the rice paper attracted substantial international press coverage, largely because many of the outside institutions that collaborated on the study, including the University of Tokyo, promoted it.
Kazuhiko Kobayashi, an agricultural scientist at the University of Tokyo and co-author on the paper, said he couldn’t understand why the U.S. government wouldn’t publicize such findings.
“It’s not necessarily bad for USDA,” he saidin an interview.“Actually, it’s kind of neutral.”
“In Japan we have an expression: sontaku,” he said, offering his own speculation about the political dynamic in the United States. “It means that you don’t want to stimulate your boss … you feel you cannot predict your boss’s reaction.”
A USDA spokesperson said the decision to spike the press release on the rice study was driven by a scientific disagreement, not by the fact that it was climate-related.
“The concern was about nutritional claims, not anything relating to climate change or C02 levels,” the spokesperson said in an email. “The nutrition program leaders at ARS disagreed with the implication in the paper that 600 million people are at risk of vitamin deficiency. They felt that the data do not support this.”
The spokesperson said no political appointees were involved in the decision.
Authors of the rice study strongly disagreed with the concerns USDA raised about their paper. In an email leading up to publication, Loladze, the Bryan College researcher, accused the department of essentially “cherry picking” data to raise issues that weren’t scientifically valid, according to the emails.
* * *
When the Agriculture Departmentchooses to promote a study, the impact can be significant, particularly for the agriculture-focused news outlets that are widely read by farmers and ranchers.
Earlier this year, when the agency decided to issue its release about the study finding that producing beef — often criticized for having an outsize carbon and water footprint — actually makes up a very small fraction of greenhouse gas emissions, the agricultural trade press cranked out several stories, much to the delight of the beef industry. The study had also been supported by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
The USDA’s efforts to hide climate work aren’t limited to ARS. A review of department press releases, blog posts and social media shows a clear pattern of avoiding the topic. These platforms largely eschew the term “climate change” and also steer clear of climate-related terms. Even the word “climate” itself appears to have now fallen out of favor, along with phrases like carbon, greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation and sequestration.
In April, for example, USDA sent out a press release noting that USDA officials had signed on to a communique on the sidelines of a G-20 agricultural scientists’ meeting that reaffirmed their commitment to “science-based decision making.” The release made no mention of the fact that most of the principles USDA had agreed to were actually related to “climate-smart” agriculture.
Scott Hutchins, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for research, education and economics, told POLITICO at the time that he emphasized science-based decision-making in the release — not climate — because that was the strength the participants brought to these international dialogues. He added that there was “no intent whatsoever” to avoid including the words “climate smart” in the release.
A spokesperson for USDA said that department leadership “has not discouraged ARS or any USDA agency from using terms such as climate change, climate, or carbon sequestration, or from highlighting work on these topics.”
But David Festa, senior vice president of ecosystems at the Environmental Defense Fund, which works with farmers and ranchers on climate mitigation, said tensions within the USDA over climate issues are preventing a more robust discussion of the effects of climate change on American agriculture.
“USDA really could and should be leading … and they’re not,” Festa said.
Aaron Lehman, an Iowa farmer whose operation is roughly half conventional, half organic grain, said farmers are simply not getting much information from USDA related to how to adapt to or mitigate climate change.
“My farmers tell me this is frustrating,” said Lehman, who serves as Iowa Farmers Union President.
The gap in the conversation is particularly pronounced right now, he said, as an unprecedented percentage of growers across the Midwest have had difficulty planting their crops because fields are either too wet or flooded — an extreme weather scenario that’s been disastrous for agriculture this year.
“Farmers have a sense that the volatility is getting worse,” he said.
“You get the sense that it’s very sensitive,” Lehman said of the current dynamic around climate science at USDA. “But if you can’t have an open conversation about it, if you feel like you’re being shunned, how are we going to make progress?”
* * *
Even during the George W. Bush administration, when climate change was first deemed a “sensitive” topic within ARS — a designation that means science and other documents related to it require an extra layer of managerial clearance — the department still routinely highlighted climate-related research for the public.
In the first three years of Bush’s second term, for example, USDA promoted research on how farmers can change their tilling practices to reduce carbon being released into the atmosphere, a look at how various farm practices help capture carbon into soil, and a forecast on how rising CO2 levels would likely affect key crops. The communications office highlighted work showing that using switchgrass as a biofuel in lieu of ethanol could store more carbon in soil, which would not only mitigate greenhouse gas emissions but also boost soil health. There was also a release on a study simulating how climate change would pose challenges to groundwater.
Under Bush,the department publicly launched a five-year project on “Climate Friendly Farming” and touted a sweeping initiative aimed at better understanding and reducing agriculture’s greenhouse emissions.
“Even a small increase in the amount of carbon stored per acre of farmland would have a large effect on offsetting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions,” an ARS release noted in 2005.
Jim Connaughton, who served as chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and director of the White House Office of Environmental Policy during the Bush administration, said he was encouraged that USDA and other agencies have so far been able to continue conducting climate science even as the issue has become more politically sensitive within the current administration. However, he noted it was “really unusual” for research agencies to systematically hold back scientific communication.
During the Bush era, he said, “The agencies were unfettered in their own decisions about publicizing their own science.”
“The tone from the top matters,” he added. “The political appointees are taking signals about their own communication products.”
During the Obama years, USDA became increasingly outspoken about climate change and the need to involve agriculture, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation.
The department came up with sweeping action plans on climate change and climate science and highlighted its work on a number of different platforms, including press releases, blog posts and social media blasts. In 2014, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also launched Climate Hubs in 10 regions across the country aimed at helping farmers and ranchers cope with an increasingly unpredictable climate.
“We were trying to take science and make it real and actionable for farmers,” said Robert Bonnie, who served as undersecretary for natural resources and the environment at USDA during the Obama administration. “If you’re taking a certain block of research and not communicating it, it defeats the purpose of why USDA does the research in the first place.”
A Trump administration official consulted with advisers to a think tank skeptical of climate change to help challenge widely accepted scientific findings about global warming, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press.
William Happer, a member of the National Security Council, made the request to policy advisers with the Heartland Institute this March.
Happer and Heartland Institute adviser Hal Doiron discussed Happer’s scientific arguments in a paper attempting to knock down climate change as well as ideas to make the work “more useful to a wider readership” in a March 3 email exchange.
Happer also said he had discussed the work with another Heartland Institute adviser, Thomas Wysmuller, according to the emails obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request by the Environmental Defense Fund.
The National Security Council declined to comment on the emails.
Jim Lakely, interim president of Heartland Institute, told The Hill that the government’s stances on climate change are not above question.
“As for Wysmuller and Doiron, they are unpaid policy advisors and friends of The Heartland Institute and have known Dr. Happer for many years,” he said.
“It would be hard to find a group of men with more qualifications or experience to criticize NASA’s alarmist public statements on the climate than Happer, Doiron, and Wysmuller.”
The Trump administration is reportedly considering creating a new panel headed by Happer to the question the broad scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human activity and is potentially dangerous.
Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns over the proposed panel, saying it would fly in the face of scientific evidence.
Happer is a well-known climate change skeptic, having argued that carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and gas, is good for humans and that carbon emissions have been demonized like “the poor Jews under Hitler.”