Trump plans on keeping his coal warrior in charge of the EPA

HuffPost reports:

President Donald Trump said Friday he plans to nominate Andrew Wheeler to be the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, installing the former coal lobbyist permanently in a position he’s filled in an acting role since July.

Speaking at a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House, Trump said: “Acting administrator, who I tell you is going to be made permanent, he’s done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him.”

Jeff Goodell writes:

If you could design the ideal character to assure the continuing domination of Big Coal and Big Oil in America and to reaffirm their faith in their God-given right to cook the climate in pursuit of profit, that character would look a lot like acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. And the odd thing is, if you met “Andy,” as his many friends call him, at one of his popular Halloween parties at his brick house in suburban Alexandria, Virginia, you would probably think he was a great guy. He’s 53, gray hair, glasses, a stout Midwesterner with a warm and friendly manner. He is unfailingly civil to everyone, no matter if you are right, left, enviro or Oklahoma wildcatter. He is likely to ply you with homemade Cincinnati chili or tell you about his hike up Mount Kilimanjaro or remind you that when he worked in the U.S. Senate some people called him “the Werewolf.” You might notice he’s wearing socks with little penguins on them, as he often does. And if you make a joke that connects the penguins on his socks with the disappearing ice in Antarctica due to the fossil fuels burned by his pals in the oil and coal industry, he will probably just laugh. “Andy’s a hard guy not to love,” says Chris Hessler, a lobbyist and former Senate staffer who has known Wheeler for more than a decade.

But make no mistake, Wheeler is one of the most skilled regulatory hitmen the fossil-fuel industry has ever deployed. Compared to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, his clownishly corrupt and incompetent predecessor, Wheeler is a no-nonsense professional, a man with vast experience in the dark corners of the Senate who can crawl through the most fetid lobbyist dungeons and emerge with the name of the right congressional staffer to call to tweak a bill that’s heading for the floor. Pruitt, on the other hand, who had come to Washington from the wilds of Oklahoma, was almost comically ineffective at rolling back the laws he made such a show of attacking as he embroiled himself in no fewer than 13 scandals during his 18-month tenure.

Wheeler won’t make the same mistakes. “Under Trump, the EPA’s mission is to deliver for the Republican Party’s fossil-fuel overlords,” Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse tells me in an e-mail. “Under Wheeler, I don’t think that will change.” What will change is his mission plan. “Wheeler is the embodiment of the anti-regulatory ‘deep state’ in Washington,” says Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit advocacy organization Environmental Working Group. “His goal is not just to roll back the environmental progress made under President Obama, but to weaken and deconstruct the entire regulatory system at the EPA. He’s playing the long game. And that’s exactly what makes him so dangerous.” [Continue reading…]

Julian Assange has been charged, prosecutors reveal inadvertently in court filing

The Washington Post reports:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal, prosecutors inadvertently revealed in a recently unsealed court filing — a development that could significantly advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and have major implications for those who publish government secrets.

The disclosure came in a filing in a case unrelated to Assange. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, urging a judge to keep the matter sealed, wrote that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”

Dwyer is also assigned to the WikiLeaks case. People familiar with the matter said what Dwyer was disclosing was true, but unintentional.

Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, said, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.” [Continue reading…]

Brexit can still be stopped

The European Union is “best prepared” for Britain to backtrack and abandon Brexit, EU President Donald Tusk says.

Matt Kelly writes:

As Theresa May announced her Cabinet’s collective approval of the withdrawal deal she negotiated with Brussels, she listed three options: her deal, no deal and no Brexit.

It was the first time she acknowledged that not doing Brexit at all is even a possibility. And she couldn’t avoid it, since no Brexit is today — on form at least — the favorite among the choices she offered.

Now I’m not one to promote gambling, but in the three-horse race that is Brexit, anyone fleet of foot enough to get down to the bookies today can still get double-your-money 2-to-1 odds on another referendum at any time in 2019.

Even more astonishing, you can get 5-to-1 odds on a referendum next year resulting in a Remain vote. This is ridiculously good value.

Granted, you’d need to act quickly as the potential payoff is shrinking by the day.

May’s deal is being slowly euthanized. If her own survival is unlikely, the death of her deal is guaranteed. There is nothing like a majority for it in parliament, as became clear Thursday when Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg — like many, many others on the Conservative benches — stuck his knife in and wandered out of a three-hour session in Parliament to submit his letter of no confidence in May’s leadership.

That leaves us two runners: no deal and no Brexit. [Continue reading…]

Russian disinformation: From Cold War to Kanye

With U.S. collusion, Saudis shield crown prince as death penalty sought over Khashoggi murder

The Guardian reports:

Saudi Arabia says it will pursue the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of the Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, in the latest effort to distance the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from the grisly murder.

The Saudi public prosecutor claimed Saudi agents, including the head of forensics at the national intelligence service and members of Prince Mohammed’s security detail, had orders to abduct Khashoggi but decided to kill him when he resisted. The claim had been contradicted by an earlier Saudi finding that the murder was premeditated.

Prince Mohammed was not implicated in the murder, a spokesman for the prosecutor said. Turkey has been formally asked to hand over audio tapes that allegedly capture the journalist’s death, he added.

Hours later, the US Treasury said it was imposing sanctions against 17 alleged conspirators, in an announcement that appeared timed to support the Saudi version of events. The Trump administration has attempted to shield Prince Mohammed from blame, and sponsored the theory that “rogue actors” had carried out the plot without his knowledge. [Continue reading…]

Delay, deny and deflect: How Facebook’s leaders dealt with issues such as foreign interference in elections

The New York Times reports:

Sheryl Sandberg was seething.

Inside Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, top executives gathered in the glass-walled conference room of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. It was September 2017, more than a year after Facebook engineers discovered suspicious Russia-linked activity on its site, an early warning of the Kremlin campaign to disrupt the 2016 American election. Congressional and federal investigators were closing in on evidence that would implicate the company.

But it wasn’t the looming disaster at Facebook that angered Ms. Sandberg. It was the social network’s security chief, Alex Stamos, who had informed company board members the day before that Facebook had yet to contain the Russian infestation. Mr. Stamos’s briefing had prompted a humiliating boardroom interrogation of Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, and her billionaire boss. She appeared to regard the admission as a betrayal.

“You threw us under the bus!” she yelled at Mr. Stamos, according to people who were present.

The clash that day would set off a reckoning — for Mr. Zuckerberg, for Ms. Sandberg and for the business they had built together. In just over a decade, Facebook has connected more than 2.2 billion people, a global nation unto itself that reshaped political campaigns, the advertising business and daily life around the world. Along the way, Facebook accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500.

But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem.

And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and it faced a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack. [Continue reading…]

Forget impeachment. Mueller’s real threat to Trump is in 2020

Jonathan Chait writes:

Well-functioning democracies don’t have criminal oligarchies running the country with legal impunity. The kind of deep systemic corruption Trump is implementing, in which establishing a political alliance with a ruling family is a key step in amassing and protecting wealth, depends on selective legal enforcement. More to the point, it requires business partners. Maybe Donald Trump can’t be hauled off to prison, but his partners can. And that prospect can scare off the collaborators Trump needs.

Second, and more to the point, even if Robert Mueller can’t kick Trump out of the White House directly and the Senate won’t, there’s a body of people who can: the 2020 electorate. And the Trump investigations are building a powerful case that will be brought to bear on that election.

Probably the most important indicator of public opinion with regard to the Mueller probe is a poll from last spring. It found that nearly three-fifths of the public is unaware that Mueller has uncovered any crimes at all. Mueller has already produced indictments or guilty pleas from eight Americans, with more obviously looming.

The breadth of Trump’s legal exposure exceeds that of any president in American history. It is so vast that it is hard to comprehend. Some, and possibly all, of the following appear to have colluded with Russia on behalf of the Trump campaign: Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Michael Cohen. Trump has been doing business with the criminal underworld in Russia and elsewhere for years, the secrets of which may be revealed by Mueller, or by House Democrats obtaining his tax returns. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether he violated campaign-finance laws by directing hush money to various mistresses. The state of New York is investigating the Trump Foundation for alleged misappropriation of funds and the Trump Organization for decades-long tax fraud. He is being sued for violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. He is also being sued for fraud. [Continue reading…]

Conservative lawyers say Trump has undermined the rule of law

The New York Times reports:

The annual convention of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group, has long been a glittering and bustling affair. In the Trump era, though, the group has become more powerful than ever, supplying intellectual energy and judicial candidates to an assertive administration eager to reshape the legal landscape.

But as the group prepares to gather on Thursday for the start of this year’s convention, more than a dozen prominent conservative lawyers have joined together to sound a note of caution. They are urging their fellow conservatives to speak up about what they say are the Trump administration’s betrayals of bedrock legal norms.

“Conservative lawyers are not doing enough to protect constitutional principles that are being undermined by the statements and actions of this president,” said John B. Bellinger III, a top State Department and White House lawyer under President George W. Bush.

The group, called Checks and Balances, was organized by George T. Conway III, a conservative lawyer and the husband of President Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway. In recent opinion articles, Mr. Conway has criticized Mr. Trump’s statements on birthright citizenship and argued that his appointment of Matthew G. Whitaker to serve as acting attorney general violated the Constitution. [Continue reading…]

Inside Trump’s Paris temper, election woes and staff upheaval

The Washington Post reports:

As he jetted to Paris last Friday, President Trump received a congratulatory phone call aboard Air Force One. British Prime Minister Theresa May was calling to celebrate the Republican Party’s wins in the midterm elections — never mind that Democrats seized control of the House — but her appeal to the American president’s vanity was met with an ornery outburst.

Trump berated May for Britain not doing enough, in his assessment, to contain Iran. He questioned her over Brexit and complained about the trade deals he sees as unfair with European countries. May has endured Trump’s churlish temper before, but still her aides were shaken by his especially foul mood, according to U.S. and European officials briefed on the conversation.

For Trump, that testy call set the tone for five days of fury — evident in Trump’s splenetic tweets and described in interviews with 14 senior administration officials, outside Trump confidants and foreign diplomats, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“He was frustrated with the trip. And he’s itching to make some changes,” said one senior White House official. “This is a week where things could get really dicey.”

During his 43-hour stay in Paris, Trump brooded over the Florida recounts and sulked over key races being called for Democrats in the midterm elections that he had claimed as a “big victory.” He erupted at his staff over media coverage of his decision to skip a ceremony honoring the military sacrifice of World War I. [Continue reading…]

How Brexit broke up Britain

Fintan O’Toole writes:

So, at long last, it seems that the negotiations on Brexit between the United Kingdom and the European Union have produced a draft agreement. We do not yet know what it contains but it will be a compromise that falls far short of the high expectations of June 2016 when the British voted to leave. It will tie Britain to the EU’s customs union and single market for an indefinite but probably very long time. Instead of making a glorious leap to independence, Britain will become a satellite orbiting the European planet, obliged to follow rules it will have no say in devising.

This is an exercise in damage limitation, not a bold break from the recent past. But the question is whether the British political system is capable of resigning itself to this least bad outcome. Theresa May will put the draft deal to her cabinet Wednesday and thereafter try to cobble together a parliamentary majority for it at Westminster. Can a chaotic political establishment find a way to swallow a complex, ambiguous, and deeply disillusioning necessity? Nothing in this story so far suggests that this will be easy.

Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell did not quite say that when a government loses its mind it may be regarded as a misfortune but when the opposition does so as well, it begins to look like carelessness. But had she been around for Brexit, she might well have done. The British government’s journey toward Brexit is like a ride in Disneyland: every bout of soaring optimism is followed by a vertiginous plummet into despair. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports:

Theresa May will launch a high-stakes battle to sell her Brexit deal to parliament on Thursday, after clinching the support of her deeply-divided cabinet during a fraught five-hour meeting in Downing Street.

Emerging from No 10 on Wednesday night, May said she believed “with my head and my heart” that her deal was the best one for the UK – and the only alternatives were no deal, or no Brexit.

She said her ministers had taken a “collective” decision, to press ahead with finalising the deal in Brussels, which she will then have to bring back to parliament for approval; but it was clear there had been significant dissent. [Continue reading…]