Trump’s pick for EPA already rolling back climate change protections

Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who is now acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was a “driving force” behind the agenda of Sen. James Inhofe, who called climate change a “hoax,” according to people familiar with Wheeler’s work for the senator.

President Donald Trump has said he intends to nominate Wheeler as the head of the EPA, and in the past five months as acting administrator, Wheeler has moved aggressively to roll back key environmental regulations, prompting critics and environmentalists to say he is fast confirming their worst fears for the agency’s future.

Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, is an outspoken climate change skeptic who was at different times chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe told CNN last year the EPA was “brainwashing our kids,” and famously once brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to demonstrate his belief that global warming isn’t real.

Inhofe said in a 2003 Senate speech, “I have offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax,” adding, “the claim that global warming is caused by man-made emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science.”

Wheeler worked for Inhofe for 14 years, and was his chief counsel and staff director. In that role, Wheeler would have overseen hearings Inhofe held and approved reports Inhofe issued claiming humans have no direct impact on climate change, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. In videos of committee hearings at the time, Wheeler is often seen whispering in Inhofe’s ear and handing him paperwork. In the 2008 “Almanac of the Unelected,” Wheeler’s job is described as “to work on (Inhofe’s) agenda for the committee.”

At a Washington Post forum last week, Wheeler said, “I believe … that man does … have an impact on the climate. That CO2 has an impact on the climate and we do take that seriously.” At the same forum, he admitted he had not read the climate change report released by his agency, which outlined dire warnings of the impact of global warming.

Elizabeth Gore, who was chief of staff for Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and is now a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, told CNN that Wheeler “was very high profile, he was a driving force behind Inhofe’s very dangerous agenda to attack climate change and undermine the policies that would protect us from carbon pollution.”

Wheeler declined CNN’s request for an interview, but in a statement the EPA said in part that the activing administrator, “has made it abundantly clear on multiple occasions … that humans have an impact on the climate.” An EPA official also said, “Mr. Wheeler was deeply honored to work for Senator Inhofe in several capacities, however Mr. Wheeler did not write and was not the architect of the Senator’s climate science speeches.”

Wheeler is one of six top EPA officials who either worked directly for Inhofe or on the Senate’s Energy and Public Works Committee. Others are Wheeler’s chief of staff, his principal deputy assistant administrator, his assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, a senior adviser for policy and an associate administrator for policy. An EPA official said the staffers started working at EPA before Wheeler arrived.

Wheeler moved to the EPA’S top slot in July after then-Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to resign amid numerous investigations, including questions surrounding his altering of federal documents, over-spending, use of security and other numerous scandals.

Like his former boss, Wheeler is seen to be focused on reversing regulations that protect the nation’s air and water and instead promoting the wishes of the industries impacted by those regulations. Critics fear that Wheeler, who works quietly behind the scenes and knows how to get things done in Washington, is more dangerous to the nation’s health than the scandal-plagued Pruitt ever was.

Michael Gerrard, faculty director of Columbia Law School’s Climate Deregulation Tracker, which follows government deregulation, believes Wheeler will be more successful at reversing environmental protections, “because he understands the administrative and legal process better and he does not have all the craziness of Pruitt’s personal proclivities that got in the way of his effectiveness.”

From 2009 until he joined the EPA last year, Wheeler was a lobbyist for energy, mining and coal companies. Bob Murray, the powerful CEO of Murray Energy, paid Wheeler’s lobbying firm nearly $3 million to, among other things, help the coal baron get access to major decision makers, such as a meeting in March 2017 with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

When Trump was elected, Murray Energy drafted an “action plan” for the Trump administration, essentially a wish list to get the Environmental Protection Agency off the coal industry’s back.

“Not a whole lot has changed from Pruitt to Wheeler,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who has demanded the inspector general investigate Murray’s wish list and Wheeler’s ties to industry. “Now more than ever, Trump’s EPA takes its marching orders from fossil fuel and other polluting industries. While Wheeler may not try to finagle a fast food franchise for his wife, he’s no different from Pruitt when it comes to shilling for industry and pushing whatever policies they want.”

The EPA said in a statement, “Mr. Wheeler did not lobby the Trump EPA while working for Murray Energy nor did he did work on the action plan or receive a copy of the memo.”

But in the five months since Wheeler has taken over, the EPA has pulled back on regulating the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, coal plants and motor vehicles.

Gerrard told CNN, “Wheeler is carrying out a wish-list of the industry lobbyists who wanted to shut down the environmental regulations, as he himself was a lobbyist with exactly the same objective. But now he is in the driver’s seat.”

In August, the EPA published the “Affordable Clean Energy” plan, designed to replace the Clean Power Plan, which was the Obama administration’s key measure to address climate change. The new rule sets far less stringent emission guidelines.

That same month, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a proposed rule to weaken car emissions and fuel economy standards. And in September, the EPA published a proposed rule weakening methane emission standards for some oil and gas production and changing requirements on leak repairs.

At the Washington Post forum, Wheeler said the Trump administration deserves credit for a decline in carbon emissions. “In the first year of the Trump administration, we’ve seen a 2.7% reduction in CO2 from 2016 to 2017,” he said.

Asked to name three EPA policies that are contributing to cleaner air, Wheeler struggled to answer. “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to give three off the top of my head,” he said. Of the three he later listed, two are proposed regulations that would dial-back back Obama-era rules that aimed to reduce pollution.

[CNN]

New emails show Trump’s unqualified Mar-a-Lago buddies are influencing VA policies

A new batch of emails obtained by Pro Publica show that three members of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort are influencing contract and budget decisions at the Department of Veterans Affairs — despite being completely unqualified to do so.

The emails show that the three Mar-a-Lago members — Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, West Palm Beach physician Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman — were involved in “some of the agency’s most consequential matters, most notably a multibillion-dollar effort to overhaul electronic health records for millions of veterans,” Pro Publica writes.

According to Pro Publica, the trio reviewed a draft of a $10 billion contract to overhaul the VA’s electronic medical records system, and they were listed among 40 different outside “experts” consulted for the contract despite lacking “any relevant expertise.”

Additionally, the emails show that Moskowitz used his position as an adviser to get the VA to adopt his mobile medical app, even though IT officials at the VA said that the app had serious functionality problems. In fact, one email shows that a VA IT official believed that “some of the code needs to be refactored and even rebuilt” for the app to work properly.

Moskowitz even recruited his son, Aaron Moskowitz, to pitch the benefits of the app during a conference between the VA and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Apple experts similarly pushed back on Moskowitz’s mobile app and said that “the national databases needed to make the app accurate didn’t exist,” Pro Publica writes.

[Raw Story]

Trump sent a love note to Kim Jong Un through South Korean president saying that he likes the dictator

According to a statement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that President Donald Trump asked him to pass a note to North Korea’s dictator.

According to CNN’s Manu Raju, the note said, “President Trump has a very amicable view of Chairman Kim and that he likes Chairman Kim… As much that he wishes to implement the rest of the agreement with Chairman Kim and that he will make true what Chairman Kim wishes.”

Trump hasn’t managed to get Kim Jong Un to agree

During a Minnesota rally in June, Trump told the audience, their agreement outlines denuclearization.

“Sentence one says ‘a total denuclearization of North Korea,’” Trump said. “There will be denuclearization. So that’s the real story.”

While it may have been a huge applause line for Trump, it isn’t true.

“President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018,” the first sentence actually reads.

While it does deal with denuclearization, it doesn’t commit North Korea to anything.

“Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the official statement said.

Not long after, however, it gives the true mandate: “[T]he DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

In April, Kim agreed to suspend nuclear tests, though he said it was because they didn’t need them anymore.

In August, however, it revealed North Korea was still developing nuclear weapons, despite the agreement to “work” on things.

Trump announced that he and Kim would be meeting in 2019 to continue their “talks.” It’s unclear the point of the note for the dictator, but at least it reaffirmed his feelings for the so-called “Chairman.”

“He wrote me beautiful letters and we fell in love, OK?” Trump told a West Virginia audience. “No really. He wrote me beautiful letters.

[Raw Story]

Trump: Roger Stone has ‘guts’ for not testifying against me

President Donald Trump on Monday praised longtime associate Roger Stone for refusing to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller, as the president continues to denounce the investigation.

“‘I will never testify against Trump.’ This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out-of-control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump,'” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!'”

Stone, who has come under scrutiny in Mueller’s Russia probe for possible contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, said on Sunday during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that there’s “no circumstance in which I would testify against the president.” He has denied multiple times that he had any direct knowledge that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Stone also said Sunday that he has not discussed a pardon for himself or for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in a financial fraud trial brought by Mueller. The president told the New York Post last week that he has “never discussed” a pardon for Manfort, but “wouldn’t take it off the table.”

“I’ve had no discussion regarding a pardon,” Stone said over the weekend.

Trump on Twitter also continued to denounce Mueller’s investigation into whether Russia colluded with Trump’s presidential campaign, claiming without evidence that the special counsel “only wants lies.”

Stone during his Sunday interview claimed that Mueller wanted him to “bear false witness against” Trump, adding that he “would have to make things up.”

“Bob Mueller (who is a much different man than people think) and his out of control band of Angry Democrats, don’t want the truth, they only want lies,” Trump tweeted Monday. “The truth is very bad for their mission!”

[Politico]

Trump: Cohen should go to prison

President Trump on Monday said Michael Cohen does not deserve leniency for cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, arguing that his former personal lawyer should serve a “full and complete” prison sentence.

“He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free [sic],” Trump wrote on Twitter of Cohen. “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”

Trump sought to further distance himself from his onetime ally by incorrectly claiming that Cohen’s crimes were “unrelated to Trump.”

Cohen in August pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations, implicating Trump in a dramatic court hearing during which Cohen also pleaded to a slew of financial crimes stemming from his private business dealings.

Last week, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization’s efforts to build a tower in Russia, a central matter in Mueller’s investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

The former Trump lawyer asked a federal judge to spare him prison time, in part, because he said he lied to lawmakers in order to “to support and advance [Trump’s] political messaging.” Trump was referred to in court as Individual 1.

His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Cohen’s plea has angered Trump, who is facing growing legal and political danger as a result of his former ally’s cooperation.

While he blasted Cohen for turning against him, the president encouraged other people tied up in the Mueller probe to show loyalty.

Trump praised his on-again, off-again adviser, Roger Stone, for refusing to cooperate with investigators.

“He will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’” Trump wrote of Stone.

Stone has come under scrutiny for his alleged ties to WikiLeaks, which published emails stolen by Russians from Democratic officials during the 2016 campaign.

[The Hill]

Trump says country ‘would save billions’ if Democrats agreed to fund border wall

President Trump on Monday claimed that the country would “save billions of dollars” if Democrats voted to provide billions of dollars in funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The president went on to repeat a threat to close the southern border and said that immigrants will not be allowed in the “country illegally.”

“Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally! We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary. Also, STOP THE DRUGS!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump has previously threatened to shut down the southern border in response to an approaching caravan of Central American migrants.

He has additionally directed thousands of troops deployed to the border, and attempted to curb certain immigrants from being able to claim asylum as the group of migrants trekked toward the U.S. border.

The president revived his calls for a border wall on Monday as Congress grapples over wall funding while trying to pass spending bills and avert a partial government shutdown.

The Senate passed its version of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill with bipartisan support over the summer. The measure would allocate $1.6 billion for border security, including fencing.

The White House has since demanded $5 billion for border security, including wall funding, putting Democrats and the president at an impasse.

Trump has threatened to veto a bill that does not include adequate funding, while Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said Democrats oppose spending more than $1.6 billion.

Cracking down on illegal immigration and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has been a hallmark of the Trump administration after focusing heavily on the issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Congress has until Dec. 7 to pass seven appropriations bills to keep the entire government funded. The president previously signed five funding bills in September, and agencies covered by those bills would not be affected by a shutdown this month.

Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route back from the Group of 20 Summit on Saturday that he would consider approving a two-week extension of government funding to provide more time in the wake of the death of former President George H.W. Bush.

[The Hill]

Trump Calls U.S. Defense Spending “Crazy” in Apparent Change of Heart on Military Budget

President Donald Trump blasted the United States’ defense spending in a Monday morning tweet, despite long being a champion for increased military spending.

Trump took to Twitter to say that the U.S. has spent $716 billion on defense this year—an amount he called “crazy.” However, last August, the president signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which approved that exact amount for defense spending in the fiscal year 2019.

At the time, Trump said the increase in spending was to provide the U.S. military with resources “better than any military on earth.” The bill provided the largest military pay raise in nine years.

On Monday, Trump seemed to have a change of heart, lamenting the country’s high defense spending and blaming it on an arms race with Russia and China. The president said he would aim to meet with the leaders of these two nations “at some time in the future” to stop the “uncontrollable Arms Race.”

The Trump administration has been critical of Russia’s ballistic missile program recently, even threatening to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in October. China, too, has upped its military development in recent years.

Defense spending is at record highs around the world, with China’s military budget falling just behind that of the U.S. at $228 billion in 2017. The U.S. spends about 17% of its $4 trillion federal budget on national defense.

[Yahoo]

Trump Greets Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, Promptly Walks Off Stage

President Donald Trump continued to represent the U.S. on Saturday when he walked off stage during what was supposed to be a photo opportunity for him and other world leaders at the G20 summit.

In video captured during this weekend’s summit in Argentina, Trump is seen strolling up to Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, shaking his hand briefly, then wandering away.

Macri can be seen gesturing for Trump to return before an aide chased after the U.S. president to get his attention. Both presidents were scheduled to take photos together with other world leaders, according to The Guardian.

As Splinter News points out, this is not Trump’s first time walking away aimlessly; nor is it his second, nor his third.

[Huffington Post]

Media

Trump says he will withdraw from NAFTA, pressuring Congress to approve new trade deal

President Donald Trump said he intends to formally notify Canada and Mexico of his intention to withdraw from the nearly 25-year-old NAFTA agreement in six months. The move would put pressure on Congress to approve his new trade deal with the two U.S. neighbors.

“I’ll be terminating it within a relatively short period of time. We get rid of NAFTA. It’s been a disaster for the United States,” Trump said on board Air Force One after departing Buenos Aires, where he signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement with the leaders of those two countries.

“And so Congress will have a choice of the USMCA or pre-NAFTA, which worked very well,” Trump added.

Trump’s comments confirmed what many have long suspected — that he would use the act of withdrawing from NAFTA as a cudgel to force Congress into passing the new deal.

But it also could be seen as an admission that the new agreement is not popular enough to be approved on its own merits, so Trump has to use the threat of disrupting the entire North American economy to round up the votes in Congress to get the deal past the finish line.

While a number of business groups do support the new deal because it contains new provisions on digital trade and strengthens intellectual property rights protections, others are simply relieved that it would keep much of the original agreement in place.

House Democrats, who are likely to hold the key to whether the new agreement is approved, have complained that labor and environmental provisions are not strong enough and have signaled they would like those concerns addressed as part of the implementing legislation.

Trump’s untested move would send the administration and Congress into a legal wilderness. The NAFTA deal includes a provision that allows a withdrawal after providing a six-month notice, but opinions differ on whether the president can act on his own.

Lawmakers passed legislation to implement the original deal in 1993. It’s uncertain whether a withdrawal initiated by the president would repeal the law that put the deal into force.

The president needs to take a look at the Constitution — it gives Congress authority over trade,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in September. “The president cannot pull America out of NAFTA without Congress’s permission.”

A 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service seems to be back up that position.

“It could be argued that because international trade is an area of shared constitutional authority, Congress must have a role in any decision by the United States to terminate or withdraw from an FTA,” CRS said.

Others argue Congress ceded authority to the executive branch decades ago that would allow Trump to terminate trade deals. They say Section 125 of the Trade Act of 1974 provides the underlying legal basis for a president to terminate or withdraw from an agreement and revoke any tariff reductions.

[Politico]

Cohen claims ‘regular contact’ with Trump legal team when crafting false statement to Congress

President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said Friday he was in “close and regular contact” with Trump’s White House staff and legal team when he prepared a statement for Congress that he now says falsely downplayed Trump’s effort to land a Trump Tower Moscow deal during the 2016 presidential campaign.

In a filing seeking a lenient sentence, Cohen’s attorneys say his false statement to Congress — which Cohen pleaded guilty to on Thursday — was based on Trump and his team’s efforts to “portray contact with Russian representatives” by Trump, his campaign or his company “as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.”

“Seeking to stay in line with this message, Michael told Congress that his communications and efforts to finalize a building project in Moscow on behalf of the Trump Organization, which he began pursuing in 2015, had come to an end in January 2016, when a general inquiry he made to the Kremlin went unanswered,” Cohen’s lawyers Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester write.

But “Michael had a lengthy substantive conversation with the personal assistant to a Kremlin official following his outreach in January 2016, engaged in additional communications concerning the project as late as June 2016, and kept [Trump] apprised of these communications,” they wrote. “He and [Trump] also discussed possible travel to Russia in the summer of 2016, and Michael took steps to clear dates for such travel.”

They also say Cohen kept Trump “apprised” of his contacts with Russia during the campaign.

In the filing, Cohen’s lawyers say his false statement to Congress arose out of loyalty to Trump, who they refer to throughout as “Client-1.”
“Furthermore, in the weeks during which his then-counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1,” his lawyers wrote.

Cohen’s filing also explicitly describes his efforts to silence two women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to making hush-money payments to one woman and arranging an effort with the National Enquirer to bottle up the other’s story in violation of campaign finance laws.

Cohen’s lawyers explicitly describe the payments as “centered on extramarital affairs of a presidential candidate.”

They also repeatedly refer to Cohen, 52, as “Michael,” an attempt to cast him in a softer light as he prepares to be sentenced. The filing includes two dozen letters of support from Cohen’s family, friends and associates attesting to his character.

Petrillo and Lester say Cohen should be sentenced to “time served” rather than face incarceration based on his remorse and his ongoing cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Michael participated in seven voluntary interview meetings with the Special Counsel’s Office of the Department of Justice,” they wrote. “He intends to continue to make himself available to the SCO as and when needed for additional questioning. He also agreed to plead guilty to an additional count, namely, making false statements to Congress, based in part on information that he voluntarily provided to the SCO in meetings governed by a limited-use immunity proffer agreement.”

Petrillo and Lester say Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller, as well as New York prosecutors investigating the Trump Foundation, underscore his “personal resolve, notwithstanding past errors, to re-point his internal compass true north toward a productive, ethical and thoroughly law abiding life.”

Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, who once called Cohen an “honest” person, has repeatedly slammed him as a self-serving liar since he turned on Trump over the summer.

After Cohen’s second guilty plea this week, Giuliani reemphasized Cohen’s history of lying.

“It’s no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress. He’s a proven liar who is doing everything he can to get out of a long-term prison sentence for serious crimes of bank and tax fraud that had nothing to do with the Trump Organization,” Giuliani said in a statement. “It is important to understand that documents that the Special Counsel’s Office is using to show that Cohen lied to Congress were voluntarily disclosed by the Trump Organization because there was nothing to hide.”

Giuliani said Trump had been “open and transparent” about his efforts to build a Trump Tower Moscow. In fact, Trump had long sought a deal to build in Russia but as his campaign gained traction, he downplayed his business relationships there and repeatedly insisted he had nothing to do with Russia, a denial he underscored repeatedly after the discovery of Russia efforts to interfere in the election.

[Politico]

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