Trump Calls on Justice Department to Release Mueller Probe Documents: ‘Drain the Swamp!’

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to tout his latest theory that the “FBI or DOJ was infiltrating” his campaign during the 2016 election in order to sabotage it and allow for a Hillary Clinton victory.

This latest theory is based on a New York Times report that revealed the FBI launched an incredibly secretive investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016 and used an informant to glean info from four campaign affiliates: Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and George Papadopoulos.

That report was seized on by the Russia investigation’s chief critics in the media who argued it was evidence the FBI spied on the Trump campaign with the malicious intent of setting then-candidate Trump up and bringing him down (they clearly did not do a very good job of it, but that’s apparently beside the point). Trump himself has enjoyed this narrative, tweeting about it often, if always in the conditional.

Trump tweeted — erroneously, as no one reported that the informant was “implanted” into his campaign — on Friday:

“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”

Trump again wheeled out the “If” in his latest tweet Saturday evening:

“If the FBI or DOJ was infiltrating a campaign for the benefit of another campaign, that is a really big deal,” he wrote. “Only the release or review of documents that the House Intelligence Committee (also, Senate Judiciary) is asking for can give the conclusive answers. Drain the Swamp!”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has been engaged in a tense showdown with the Department of Justice over documents he has demanded that relate to special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties.

The DOJ has refused to hand over the documents, arguing they could endanger an intelligence source, Politico reported.

Now, while the New York Times and the Washington Post have omitted the name of that intelligence source from their reporting, it has become abundantly clear who he is. Hell, the Daily Caller reported on him three months ago, so the cat’s pretty much out of the bag.

[Mediaite]

Trump lauds Indiana GOP Senate candidate, knocks Donnelly as ‘Sleepin’ Joe’

President Trump on Thursday night heaped praise on newly minted Indiana GOP Senate nominee Mike Braun while escalating attacks on his opponent, incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

During a campaign rally in Elkhart, Ind., Trump lauded Braun as an effective businessman and someone who will be a loyal backer of the president’s agenda while characterizing Donnelly as simply awaiting marching orders from Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“This November Indiana will face an important choice: you can send a really incredible swamp person back to the Senate like Joe Donnelly, or you can send us a Republican like Mike Braun to drain the swamp,” Trump said, adding Donnelly “will do whatever Chuck Schumer and [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi tell him what to do.”

“If Joe Donnelly, Sleepin’ Joe and the Democrats, get back into power, remember what I said: they will raise your taxes, they will destroy your jobs, and they are going to knock the hell out of your borders,” he added.

Trump took repeated jabs at Donnelly as Republicans target the vulnerable incumbent, one of 10 Senate Democrats running for reelection this year in states that Trump carried in the 2016 election.

The president on Thursday railed against the Democratic senator for his opposition the GOP’s tax plan and efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare while underscoring Braun’s business experience.

“Mike Braun will be a great, great representative of the people of Indiana,” Trump said. “He’s a winner and very successful businessman.”

Trump invited Braun up to the stage, where the Republican nominee touted his support for the president, an issue that dominated the contentious Senate GOP primary that ended Tuesday.

“I’m a businessman and outsider just like our president, and you can count on me to be a true reinforcement and the guy who’s going to retire Joe Donnelly,” Braun said.

The decision to hold a rally two days after Braun won is seen as a way to unify Republicans after a brutal primary.

Republicans see Donnelly’s seat as a top pickup opportunity and a chance to expand their slim 51-seat majority.

But Braun, a former state legislator, endured attacks about his business record and self-funding during the primary that Democrats have already seized on ahead of the general election.

And Democrats sought to neutralize the president’s attacks ahead of his Thursday rally. Hours before Trump’s visit to Indiana, Donnelly’s campaign launched a TV ad that highlights his bipartisan work in Washington.

“It’s okay that the President and Vice President are here today for politics, but problems only get solved when you roll up your sleeves and put in the hard work,” Donnelly said in a statement after the rally. “I’m Indiana’s hired help in the Senate because I don’t work for any president or any political party – I work for Hoosiers, and that will never change.”

Vice President Pence, a former Indiana governor, touted Braun at the rally Thursday night, lauding the Senate nominee as a job creator and a stronger supporter of Trump’s agenda. The vice president also ticked through a list of votes where Donnelly didn’t align with Trump.

“Hoosiers … deserve to know when the president asked Joe Donnelly to support policies Indiana needs, Joe Donnelly voted no,” Pence said Thursday night. “Mike Braun will stand up for Hoosiers, and Mike Braun will stand with President Trump.”

Trump and Republicans are facing strong headwinds ahead of November. The president’s party historically loses seats in the first midterm election. Plus, Trump’s underwater approval ratings could hurt GOP incumbents running in competitive districts and states.

But Trump has expressed confidence that Republicans will do well in the November midterms. And he’s made repeated overtures to voters to not get “complacent” in the fall so that Republicans can protect their majorities in the House and Senate.

“It’s all at stake in November,” Trump said. “The strides that we’re making—it can also disappear if you put fools and if you put the wrong people in.”

“You have to work everyday from now and until November to elect more Republicans to continue making America great again.”

[The Hill]

Scott Pruitt and a crew of EPA aides spent four days in Morocco promoting natural gas

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt returned Wednesday from a trip to Morocco, where he talked with officials about their interest in importing natural gas as well as other areas of “continued cooperation” between the two countries.

The EPA disclosed the trip late Tuesday, issuing a media release that included photos and a statement from Pruitt saying that the visit “allowed us to directly convey our priorities and best practices with Moroccan leaders.”

“We are committed to working closely with countries like Morocco to enhance environmental stewardship around the world,” Pruitt said.

The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Pruitt took along seven aides and an undisclosed number of staff from his protective detail. The group included four political aides, including Samantha Dravis, associate administrator of the Office of Policy, and senior advisers Sarah Greenwalt and Lincoln Ferguson, as well as one career official, Jane Nishida, principal deputy assistant administrator of the Office of International and Tribal Affairs. Pruitt’s head of security determines how many advance staffers travel on any given trip, EPA officials said, and in this instance it was two.

At the request of Senate Democrats, the EPA inspector general is looking into Pruitt’s use of military and private flights, as well as his frequent visits to his home state of Oklahoma during his first few months on the job.

“It seems strange that Administrator Pruitt would prioritize a trip to Morocco to discuss natural gas exports while there is no shortage of more pressing issues here in the U.S. that actually fall within the jurisdiction of the agency he leads,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I presume Mr. Pruitt is aware his agency’s inspector general is conducting an investigation into his questionable travel, which makes his decision to take this trip an odd choice at best.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement that Pruitt “acts like he is a globe-trotting salesman for the fossil fuel industry who can make taxpayers foot the bill.”

Pruitt traveled in business class for three flights, according to an individual who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an internal agency matter, and in economy class for two flights. Asked about the travel arrangements, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox replied in an email, “Due to concerns from our security team, Administrator Pruitt was granted a waiver by EPA’s Chief Financial Officer to fly business-class.”

Wilcox said he could not provide the trip’s total cost because the travelers’ arrangements were booked through their respective departments.

Pruitt met with three top Moroccan officials, according to the agency statement, including the minister of energy, mines and sustainable development; the minister of justice and liberties; and the secretary of state to the minister of foreign affairs. Wilcox said Pruitt “discussed our bilateral free trade agreement, solid waste response, disaster relief and communications with top Moroccan officials.”

His visit came shortly after the EPA held a workshop in Rabat about solid waste management, public participation and crisis communication.

Morocco, the only African country with which the United States has a free-trade agreement, is a signatory to the 2015 Paris climate agreement and has collaborated in the past with U.S. officials on its push to expand domestic solar energy production. During the trip, Moroccan officials took Pruitt on a tour of the IRESEN Green Energy Park, which the EPA said showed the administrator “firsthand the work being done to promote environmental innovation, including solar energy across Morocco.”

[Washington Post]

Trump Official Blames Obama for His $1 Million Office Redesign

Since the Trump administration moved in last year, there’s been an unspoken competition among Cabinet officials to spend as much taxpayer money as possible in the most questionable of ways. A favorite among the group, of course, has been refusing to come within 20 feet of coach, insisting instead on flying business or first class or, hell, just renting a private plane or borrowing a jet from the government. Also popular? Dropping tens of thousands—and in some cases hundreds of thousands—on office redesigns as though they’re Fortune 100 C.E.O.s and not government bureaucrats.

Over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, whose department had its funding slashed in the latest White House budget, dropped $31,000 on a dining set for “safety” reasons. At the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the front-runner for Most Blatantly Corrupt Trump Official, invoiced taxpayers for a “brown maple wood stand-up desk with brass locks,” a second “oversize desk with decorative woodworking that some E.P.A. employees compared to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office” (cost of refurbishment: $2,075), and a nearly $43,000 soundproof phone booth, which, it turns out, was illegal for him to purchase without notifying Congress first. And to round out the club, on Tuesday afternoon we learned that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, one of the people responsible for dragging us into a trade war with China, spent nearly $1 million to redecorate two of his offices.

According to the New York Post, Lighthizer spent $3,500 of taxpayer money on an antique desk, $859 on a hugely important 30-inch “Executive Office of the President” plaque, and $830 to “transport and install two paintings on loan from the Smithsonian.” In addition, he paid Executive Furniture of Washington, D.C., which specializes in high-end furniture and wood-finished desks, a whopping $475,000. For his staff, he splurged on 60 sit-stand desks ($18,500), a modular wall system ($290,000), and 90 Herman Miller Aeron office chairs ($54,000). But if you thought Lighthizer would take responsibility for the expenditures, think again:

When asked about the spending spree, Lighthizer’s office pointed the finger at the Obama administration.

“The furniture purchases are the culmination of a longtime, planned project that began under the Obama administration to replace two-decade-old furniture,” Lighthizer’s office said in a statement.

(An official from Lighthizer’s office further explained to The Hive: “Ambassador Lighthizer did not direct these expenditures, which were planned and executed consistent with career staff’s spending authority. All furnishings were acquired through Executive Office of the President contracting procedures. In my opinion as a senior career official responsible for developing and implementing this project, these funds were critical for continuing to execute effectively USTR’s mission.”)

Obama-era, unsurprisingly reps were having none of this explanation, telling the Post that they didn’t approve any major remodeling plans and that it was “laughable” Team Trump would try to pin this on them, considering the new administration had no problem pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on day four of Trump’s presidency. “We told 11 other countries that we were going to do a trade deal with them, and the Trump administration found the power to unwind that,” an Obama trade official told the Post. “So furniture purchases cannot be as binding.”

As for whether Lighthizer will suffer any consequences for the pricey interior design choices, the odds are about as likely as Trump blurbing a second print run of James Comey’s book. Though the president is indeed on a firing spree, ethical transgressions like Lighthizer’s seem only to improve one’s standing with the boss. If Pruitt can hang on after his office decor spending spree, shady housing arrangement, and insistence on outfitting his official business car like it’s the Batmobile, then Lighthizer should be just fine.

[Vanity Fair]

Trump: ‘Sometimes It May Not Look Like It, But Believe Me, We Are Draining the Swamp’

With his EPA chief facing a mountain of ethical controversies and his secretary of Veteran Affairs recently fired following a scandal over misusing taxpayer money during a European trip, President Donald Trump declared that he is holding up his promise to “drain the swamp.”

During a Rose Garden speech about tax reform, the president claimed that his administration doesn’t “care about the donors and special interests” and instead is only concerned with “making America great again.” This then led POTUS to

“From the day I took the oath of office, I’ve been fighting to drain the swamp and sometimes, it may not look like it, but believe me, we are draining the swamp and there are a lot of unhappy people,” Trump boldly stated.

He continued, “You can see that every day. All you have to do is turn on the news. Every time you see me hit, you know that I’m draining the swamp. And people don’t like it.”

So there you go. Regardless of the number of Trump administration officials dealing with scandals over their wasteful personal expenditures of taxpayer funds, the president is letting us all know that media criticism of him is proof that the swamp is being drained.

[Mediaite]

Scott Pruitt Bypassed the White House to Give Big Raises to Favorite Aides

In early March, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt approached the White House with a request: He wanted substantial pay raises for two of his closest aides.

The aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, were part of the small group of staffers who had traveled with Pruitt to Washington from Oklahoma, where he had served as attorney general. Greenwalt, a 30-year-old who had worked as Pruitt’s general counsel in Oklahoma, was now his senior counsel at the EPA. Hupp, 26, was working on his political team before she moved to D.C. to become the agency’s scheduling director.

Pruitt asked that Greenwalt’s salary be raised from $107,435 to $164,200; Hupp’s, from $86,460 to $114,590. Because both women were political appointees, he needed the White House to sign-off on their new pay.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the meeting, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, staffers from the Presidential Personnel Office dismissed Pruitt’s application. The White House, the source said, declined to approve the raises.

So Pruitt found another way.

A provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act allows the EPA administrator to hire up to 30 people into the agency, without White House or congressional approval. The provision, meant to help expedite the hiring of experts and allow for more flexible staffing, became law in 1996. In past administrations, it has been used to hire specialists into custom-made roles in especially stressed offices, according to Bob Perciasepe, a former acting EPA administrator.

After the White House rejected their request, Pruitt’s team studied the particulars of the Safe Drinking Water provision, according to the source with direct knowledge of these events. By reappointing Greenwalt and Hupp under this authority, they learned, Pruitt could exercise total control over their contracts and grant the raises on his own.

Pruitt ordered it done. Though Hupp and Greenwalt’s duties did not change, the agency began processing them for raises of $28,130 and $56,765, respectively, compared with their 2017 salaries. Less than two weeks after Pruitt had approached the White House, according to time-stamped Human Resources documents shared with The Atlantic, the paperwork was finished.

Word of the raises quickly began to circulate through the agency. The episode infuriated some staffers; to some political aides, it was evidence of Pruitt’s disregard for the White House’s warnings to cabinet officials that they avoid even the appearance of impropriety. It also underscored the administrator’s tendency to play favorites among his staff, according to two sources with direct knowledge of agency dynamics. Hupp, in particular, is making more than her Obama-era predecessor, a five-year veteran of the agency who did not break six figures until the final year of the administration, according to public records. (While Greenwalt has no obvious peer in the Obama administration, the EPA’s general counsel had an annual salary of $155,500 in 2016.)

Said one EPA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press: “This whole thing has completely gutted any morale I had left to put up with this place.”

“The Safe Drinking Water Act provides the EPA with broad authority to appoint scientific, engineering, professional, legal, and administrative positions within EPA without regard to the civil service laws. This is clear authority that has been relied on by previous administrations,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement. “The Administrator was not aware that these personnel actions had not been submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office. So, the Administrator has directed that they be submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office for review.”

The White House did not return requests for comment.

[The Atlantic]

Trump nominates Dow Chemicals lawyer to oversee EPA toxic waste program

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday nominated a Dow Chemicals lawyer to head-up an Environmental Protection Agency unit that oversees hazardous waste disposal and chemical spills from toxic “Superfund” sites.

Trump named Peter Wright as assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM). Wright served as Dow’s managing counsel for environmental health and safety and provided the company legal support for Superfund and other remediation sites, according to the EPA.

“He has the expertise and experience necessary to implement our ambitious goals for cleaning up the nation’s contaminated lands quickly and thoroughly,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a press release.

Pruitt has said that cleaning up Superfund sites would be a priority for the agency.

As head of OLEM, Wright would oversee the development of guidelines for the land disposal of hazardous waste and underground storage tanks and respond to abandoned and active hazardous waste sites, as well as accidental chemical releases through the Superfund program.

Dow Chemicals facilities are involved in dozens of Superfund projects.

Dow had accrued $219 million in accrued obligations for remediating Superfund sites, according to the company’s fourth quarter 2017 10-K filing.

Overall, Dow had accrued $1.3 billion in “probable environmental remediation and restoration costs,” according to the 10-K.

The EPA’s relationship with Dow had been under scrutiny after Pruitt last year announced the agency would decline to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a chemical that EPA scientists and the American Academy of Pediatrics wanted to ban because of the risk it said it posed to children and farm workers.

[Reuters]

Leaks Show Wilbur Ross Hid Ties to Putin Cronies

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary in the Trump administration, shares business interests with Vladimir Putin’s immediate family, and he failed to clearly disclose those interests when he was being confirmed for his cabinet position.

Ross — a billionaire industrialist — retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator’s most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin’s son-in-law and other members of the Russian president’s inner circle.

Some of the details of Ross’s continuing financial holdings — much of which were not disclosed during his confirmation process — are revealed in a trove of more than 7 million internal documents of Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm, that was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The documents consist of emails, presentations and other electronic data. These were then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers — and its international media partners. NBC News was given access to some of the leaked documents, which the ICIJ calls the “Paradise Papers.”

Overall, the document leak provides a rare insight into the workings of the global offshore financial world, which is used by many of the world’s most powerful companies and government officials to legally avoid paying taxes and to conduct business away from public scrutiny. More than 120 politicians and royal rulers around the world are identified in the leak as having ties to offshore finance.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the documents also contain references to offshore interests held by Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. There is no evidence of illegality in their dealings.

Ross’ widespread financial interests

In Ross’s case, the documents give a far fuller picture of his finances than the filings he submitted to the government on Jan. 15 as part of his confirmation process. On that date, Ross, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, submitted a letter to the designated ethics official at the department, explaining steps he was taking to avoid all conflicts of interest.

That explanation was vital to his confirmation, because Ross held financial interests in hundreds of companies across dozens of sectors, many of which could be affected by his decisions as commerce secretary. Any one of them could represent a potential conflict of interest, which is why the disclosures, by law, are supposed to be thorough.

“The information that he provided on that form is just a start. It is incomplete,” said Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “I have no reason to believe that he violated the law of disclosure, but in order … for the Commerce Department to understand, you’d have to have more information than what is listed on that form.”

Ross, through a Commerce Department spokesperson, issued a statement saying that he recuses himself as secretary from any matters regarding transoceanic shipping, and said he works closely with ethics officials in the department “to ensure the highest ethical standards.”

The statement said Ross “has been generally supportive of the Administration’s sanctions of Russian” business entities. But the statement did not address the question of whether he informed Congress or the Commerce Department that he was retaining an interest in companies that have close Russian ties.

In his submission letter to the government, Ross pledged to cut ties with more than 80 financial entities in which he has interests.

Ross’s apparent ethical probity won praise, even before he signed the divestment agreement, from both sides of the political aisle.

‘Our Committee Was Misled’

The documents seen by NBC News, however, along with a careful examination of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, tell a different story than the one Ross told at his confirmation. Ross divested most of his holdings, but did not reveal to the government the full details of the holdings he kept.

In his letter to the ethics official of the Commerce Department, Ross created two lists: those entities and interests he planned to get rid of and those he intended to keep. The second list consisted of nine entities, four of which were Cayman Islands companies represented and managed by the Appleby law firm, which specializes in creating complex offshore holdings for wealthy clients and businesses. The Wilbur Ross Group is one of the firm’s biggest clients, according to the leaked documents, connected to more than 60 offshore holdings.

The four holdings on the list of assets that Ross held onto were valued by him on the form as between $2.05 million and $10.1 million. These four, in turn, are linked through ownership chains to two other entities, WLR Recovery Fund IV DSS AIV L.P. and WLR Recovery Fund V DSS AIV L.P., which were listed in Ross’ financial disclosure prior to confirmation, but were not among the assets he declared he would retain. According to an SEC filing, those entities hold 17.5 million shares in Navigator, which constitutes control of nearly one-third of the shipping firm.

“You look at all of these names,” Clark said, referring to the financial entities, “and they actually look like a code. And what we actually have to do is find — in a sense — a code that decrypts what these names mean and what these companies actually do.”

She said the way the companies were listed was deliberately vague. “I would say this gives the appearance of transparency,” she said, referring to Ross’s disclosure documents. “It’s sort of fake transparency in a sense.”

The Office of Government Ethics, which is responsible for executive branch oversight, approved Ross’s arrangement, and it was left almost entirely unchallenged by the Senate.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said members of Congress who were part of Ross’ confirmation hearings were under the impression that Ross had divested all of his interests in Navigator. Furthermore, he said, they were unaware of Navigator’s close ties to Russia.

“I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” said Blumenthal. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.” Blumenthal said he will call for the inspector general of the Commerce Department to launch an investigation.

And a cursory look at Navigator’s annual reports reveal an apparent conflict of interest. Navigator’s second-largest client is SIBUR, the Russian petrochemical giant. According to Navigator’s 2017 SEC filing, SIBUR was listed among its top five clients, based on total revenue for the previous two years. In 2016, Navigator’s annual reports show SIBUR brought in $23.2 million in revenue and another $28.7 million the following year.

The business relationship has been so profitable that in January, around the time Ross was being vetted for his Cabinet position, Navigator held a naming ceremony for two state-of-the-art tankers on long-term leases to SIBUR.

The Kremlin’s inner circle

One of the owners of SIBUR is Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list. He has been barred from entering the U.S. since 2014 because authorities consider him a Specially Designated National, or SDN, who is considered by Treasury to be a member “of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.”

The Treasury Department statement said that Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector “have been directly linked to Putin” and that Putin had investments with a company previously owned by Timchenko, as well as access to the company’s funds.

Daniel Fried, who was the State Department sanctions coordinator under President Barack Obama, said the connection to Timchenko’s interests should have raised alarm bells.

“I would think that any reputable American businessman, much less a Cabinet-level official, would want to have absolutely no relationship — direct, indirect — … with anybody of the character and reputation of Gennady Timchenko,” Fried said. “I just don’t get it.”

Another major SIBUR shareholder is Leonid Mikhelson, who, like Timchenko, has close ties to the Kremlin. One of his companies, Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, was placed on the Treasury’s sanctions list in 2014.

Included in the Appleby documents are details of an internal discussion that resulted in the law firm dropping Mikhelson as a client in 2014, over concerns regarding his financial affiliations.

“I would say to anybody who asked,” said Fried, “treat SDNs as radioactive. Stay away from them.”

A third shareholder of SIBUR – and deputy chairman of the board – is Kirill Shamalov, husband of Vladimir Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova. After the wedding, Shamalov’s meteoric rise to wealth led him to own as much as 21.3 percent of SIBUR’s stock until April, when he sold off around 17 percent for a reported $2 billion.

“It’s a new generation which is currently being prepared and groomed… to inherit whatever power and wealth Putin’s team has accumulated over the past years,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister in Putin’s government who is now working with the opposition.

Milov also said companies like SIBUR are often the way sanctioned Kremlin insiders have to keep doing business despite restrictions.

The Commerce Department statement said Ross never met Timchenko, Mikhelson, or Shamalov. It said he was not on the board of Navigator in March 2011 when the ships in question were acquired, or the following February when the charter agreement with Sibur was signed. It said Sibur was not under U.S. sanctions now or in 2012. The statement said Ross was on the board of Navigator from March 30, 2012 to 2014, and that no funds managed by his company ever owned a majority of Navigator’s shares.

But as The Guardian reported Sunday, other public documents suggest a different story. A Navigator news release on March 2, 2012, said that Ross was already on the board at that point, and Sibur’s annual report for 2012 said the deal with Navigator was signed in March. In addition, Ross’ company issued a news release on Aug. 10, 2012, saying that the company had agreed to acquire a majority stake in Navigator.

Fried said he has no doubt of the connections between SIBUR and the Kremlin.

“If any senior official of the U.S. government, much less a Cabinet secretary … had any business dealings with sanctioned individuals, direct or indirect,” he said, “I would be appalled.”

Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, said there needs to a close examination of whether Ross’ testimony to the Senate violated perjury laws. Painter also said Ross must recuse himself from all Russia-related matters because of the SIBUR connection.

“Secretary Ross cannot participate in any discussion or decision-making or recommendation about sanctions imposed on Russia or on Russian nationals when he owns a company that is doing business with Russian nationals who are either under sanctions or who could come under sanctions in any future sanctions regime,” Painter said. “That would be a criminal offense for him to participate in any such matter.”

[NBC News]

Small company from Trump Interior chief’s hometown wins massive contract to restore Puerto Rico’s power

A small Montana company located in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown has signed a $300 million contract to help get the power back on in Puerto Rico, The Washington Post reported.

Whitefish Energy had only two full-time employees on the day Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, according to the Post. The company signed the contract – the largest yet issued to help restore Puerto Rico – with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to fix the island’s electrical infrastructure.

The company now has 280 workers on the island, the Post reported, a majority of whom are subcontractors.

A former senior official at the Energy Department and state regulatory agencies said it was “odd” that Whitefish Energy would be chosen.

The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” Susan F. Tierney said.

“I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”

Whitefish Energy happened to be the first firm “available to arrive and they were the ones that first accepted terms and conditions for PREPA,” Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of PREPA, the island’s power authority, told reporters.

“The doubts that have been raised about Whitefish, from my point of view, are completely unfounded,” he added.

Whitefish Energy spokesman Chris Chiames told the newspaper that the company is taking “personal risks and business risks working in perilous physical and financial conditions.”

“So the carping by others is unfounded, and we stand by our work and our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.

Zinke’s office said in an email to the Post that Zinke and Whitefish Energy’s chief executive know each other.

“Everybody knows everybody” in the town, Zinke’s office said, adding that Zinke wasn’t involved in the contract.

[The Hill]

Pence’s chief of staff suggested wealthy donors ‘purge’ anti-Trump Republicans

Vice President Mike Pence‘s chief of staff Nick Ayers on Tuesday encouraged wealthy Republican donors to “purge” GOP lawmakers who haven’t supported President Trump’s agenda by finding and supporting their primary challengers.

According to a new report by Politico, Ayers made the comments to donors during a closed-door Republican National Committee (RNC) event in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Ayers told the donors to hold anti-Trump Republicans’ feet to the fire, saying they must get items of Trump’s agenda complete or face primary challengers in 2018.

“I’m not speaking on behalf of the president or vice president when I say this,” Ayers said, according to Politco. “But if I were you, I would not only stop donating, I would form a coalition of all the other major donors, and just say two things. We’re definitely not giving to you, number one. And number two, if you don’t have this done by Dec. 31, we’re going out, we’re recruiting opponents, we’re maxing out to their campaigns, and we’re funding super PACs to defeat all of you.”

“Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him? If — and this sounds crass,” Ayers continued, “we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him… Because, look, if we’re going to be in the minority again we might as well have a minority who are with us as opposed to the minority who helped us become a minority.”

Ayers, a longtime adviser to Pence, was appointed his chief of staff in June. The Georgia native was Pence’s chief political strategist during his time as governor of Indiana, and the two have a close friendship.

“During my years as governor, then as a candidate and serving as vice president, I have come to appreciate Nick’s friendship, keen intellect and integrity and I couldn’t be more excited to have him come to the White House as my chief of staff,” Pence said in July upon Ayers’ appointment to the White House.

[The Hill]

1 2 3