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Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, Agent of the Pro-Russia Party of Regions, Charged With Conspiracy Against the United States

In digressing somewhat from the usual climate change related coverage I perform here to explore a matter of extraordinary importance to us all — I’m going to provide you with a closer look at the attempted corruption of U.S. Democracy by a foreign petro-state (Russia) and its agents. This expose is related, tangentially, to climate change in that it hints at the degree to which petro-state and related corporate actors are presently able to influence, circumvent, or corrupt the U.S. political, electoral and lawmaking system. The lengths to which such entities will go to peddle that influence. And, in the case of Manafort and Russia, an expansive effort both to hide such activities and to circumvent or undermine U.S. law and order.

Manafort, Lobbyist for Dictators, Insurgents, and Tyrants, Pushes Russian Interests in U.S. Congress

Paul Manafort has represented, consulted and lobbied for a long list of nefarious persons throughout his career. The names include Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, dictator of the former Democratic Republic of the Congo Mobutu Sese Seko, and Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi. His primary role was to peddle the influence of these various bad actors to U.S. based corporations and U.S. government. But as shady as his earlier career may appear, Manafort’s activities hit a new low during the 2000s and 2010s as Manafort worked with pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders and with agents in Moscow itself to advance Russian interests in the Ukraine and in Europe through secret attempts to shape U.S. policy.

The activities with which Manafort is now charged by the FBI in an investigation led by former FBI Director and highly decorated U.S. Veteran Robert Mueller, were specifically aimed at expanding the influence of Russia in the Ukraine and creating resistance within the top levels of American government to U.S. responses against pro-Russian activities and related aggression in that state. That Manafort is charged with secretly representing Russian interests in Ukraine through its proxy the Party of Regions, of receiving payment for those services by Ukrainian and Russian agents, by hiding those payments from the U.S. government through money laundering, and by lying and failing to report his activities as a foreign agent in the U.S.

Collusion and Conspiracy with Russia

These alleged activities, given assistance by co-conspirator Gates, occurred from 2006 to 2014 in direct support of pro-Russian political activities in Ukraine and lobbying in the U.S. to support or to block intervention against such action by Russia and its Russian sympathizers in Ukraine. False reporting to the FBI and contacts between Manafort and Russian agents extended into the period encompassing the Trump Campaign in 2016 and the Trump Presidency in 2017.

But what’s even more disturbing is there appears to have been an active attempt by Manafort to enable Russia to directly influence the Trump Campaign, to use the Trump Campaign as a funnel for Russia-sourced weaponized information against Hillary Clinton, and to otherwise enable an active campaign aimed at disrupting the U.S. election in a similar manner to Russia’s disruption of Ukrainian democracy during recent years.

From Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times:

So here’s where we are. Trump put Manafort, an accused money-launderer and unregistered foreign agent, in charge of his campaign. Under Manafort’s watch, the campaign made at least two attempts to get compromising information about Clinton from Russia. Russia, in turn, provided hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.

Newly released court filings also found that while acting as Trump’s Presidential Campaign manager, Manafort asked his employee Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian dual citizen, to offer a Russian Billionaire with close associations to Vladimir Putin — Oleg Deripaska — “private briefings” about the Trump campaign. Exactly the kind of Russian collusion by top Trump Campaign people that Trump himself has repeatedly denied.

Manafort and Gates, according to charges, also acted secretly within Washington as lobbyists for Yanokovich and the Party of Regions prior to Manafort chairing the Trump Campaign. During this time, they attempted to promote pro-Ukrainian policy in Congress, lobbied in opposition to sanctions against the Yanokovich and Party of Regions Government, lobbied that the elections in which Yanokovich achieved power, which were reportedly highly irregular and were disrupted by pro-Russian agents, were valid, and lobbied in support of the imprisonment of Yanokovich’s political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko.

The charges against Manafort are therefore related to the Trump Campaign in that Manafort continued to deceive U.S. investigators, hide foreign agent income, contacts, provide information about the Trump Campaign to Russian agents, seek out Russia-sourced information about Hillary Clinton, and otherwise enable a broader information warfare campaign by Russia against the U.S. while operating as a key member of that Campaign. Contacts communication, information sharing, and other forms of collusion that were still ongoing at the time and that appear to have generated a coordinated effort by Trump campaign staff and the larger Russian information warfare effort against the U.S. election.

In addition, it was widely known at the time that Manafort had represented Russia’s interests in Ukraine, though the extent was not as clear as it is today. All as Trump’s own election-based communications amplified and were amplified by the activity of Russian linked bots, accounts, and media within the U.S. A pro-Trump fomentation of internal U.S. divisions information warfare campaign by Russia that continues within the U.S. to this day.

Trump Campaign Aide George Papadopoulos Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI About Attempts to Gain Russian Dirt on Hillary Clinton

The charges against Manafort and his assistant Gates come in conjunction with a guilty plea to charges of lying to the FBI by Trump Foreign Policy aide George Papadopoulos. From NYMag:

According to a newly unsealed affidavit, in late April 2016 George Papadopoulos met an unnamed professor in London, who told the Trump campaign adviser that he had “just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials” — and learned that “the Russians had emails of Clinton … thousands of emails…”

Weeks after Papadopoulos’s rendez-vous in London, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner took a meeting with Russian lobbyists on the understanding that the Kremlin wished to provide the Trump campaign with “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” — as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor and oil consultant named by Trump as one of his key advisors during the campaign, has been accused of lying about his activities in seeking Russia-sourced information about Hillary Clinton’s emails from a Putin-linked professor during the Campaign. He has pleaded guilty to those charges and is reportedly working with the FBI on the case of Trump Campaign collusion with Russia. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty to the numerous charges filed against them.

Many experts expect today’s announced indictments to be the first of many against members of the Trump Campaign for collusion with Russia. And the heaviest charges have now risen to the level of conspiracy against the United States.

Never Before Has a Campaign Manager of a Sitting President Faced Such Charges

This event is unprecedented in that a former campaign chair of a sitting U.S. President has never been charged with conspiring with a hostile power against the government of the U.S. A historic event that will add to the already dark infamy of the Republican Party. To be very clear, adding Manafort as campaign chair, at the very least, represents a massive failure of judgement on the part of Trump himself. But, it is more than possible, given Trump’s efforts to actively distract from, sabotage, and obstruct the Mueller Investigation and related Congressional investigations, that the Manafort apple here doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

(UPDATED)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Hat tip to Wili

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An Agenda Harmful to the American People

Farmers in Iowa, Kansas, Texas and California’s Central Valley know that the weather is getting worse. They know that droughts are intensifying, floods are more severe, and wildfires are growing larger as the years steadily warm. Coastal dwellers in Nantucket, Virginia Beach, Cape Hatteras, Myrtle Beach, Miami and the lowlands of Louisiana know that the seas are rising. They know that tidal and storm flooding takes more land and property with each passing year. And those who live in the far north, in places like Barrow, Alaska, know that the glaciers and sea ice are melting.

(Harmful impacts to Americans from climate change are on the rise and the number of Americans concerned about climate change has never been higher. Image source: Gallup.)

Americans, in greater numbers than ever before, believe that climate change is real, that it is a threat to them, and that humans are the cause. The growing consensus on the matter from the U.S. populace does not match the 97 percent or more of climate scientists who are very concerned about the issue, but the 68 percent of Americans who believe that global warming is occurring and is caused by humans cuts a stark contrast with the person who is now the sitting President of the United States.

Obama’s Helpful Response

The world has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1880s. We see the effects of that warming all around us. All across this country, lives, property and livelihoods are under increasing threat from a climate fundamentally changed by fossil fuel burning. However, the warming we’ve already experienced is the early, easy warming. The warming that lies ahead is of a much more difficult caliber. In other words, a blow is coming at us all. We can’t completely stop it at this point — it’s too late for that, we’ve coddled the fossil-fuel special interests for far too long — but we can soften it.

President Barack Obama tried to help the American people do just that. He established fuel efficiency standards aimed at inspiring innovation among America’s corporations. Such innovation would put them at the forefront of new technology that could help wean our country off oil dependency. By 2025, most vehicles were to have average mileage standards of 54.5 mpg, the implication being that a large portion of U.S. vehicles would be electric by then. At the same time, Obama pushed to shift U.S. power generation away from coal, and more toward wind and solar. These combined efforts would have cut U.S. carbon emissions across the entire economy 26 percent by 2025. They would have generated a leaner, meaner U.S. economy better suited to compete in a world whose constituents increasingly demand clean energy, and better able to face the harms coming down the pipe from human-caused climate change.

Fossil Fuel, Petrostate Interference in Global Democracies

The fossil fuel interests of the world — including both corporations and states suffering from economic dependence on fossil fuel revenues — did not at all like the new policies coming out of the U.S. The United States, as a global leader promoting renewable energy and responses to climate change, was fully capable of spearheading a global energy transition. Under Obama, the beginning of such a transition happened. Solar cell production multiplied, wind farms proliferated, clean energy costs fell, electrical vehicles hit the markets in increasing numbers, and net energy use per person fell, all while economies grew. In part due to exceptional American leadership, the U.S. trend toward cleaner energy repeated itself around the world. Meanwhile, demand for dirty fossil fuels began to lag. People began to talk widely about leaving a large portion of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground, unused. Coal interests experienced mass bankruptcies. And oil and gas markets grew ever more uncertain.

(As government policies supporting renewable energy proliferated, prices dropped and production boomed. In other words, positive policy on the part of the world’s governments produced a renewable energy revolution — much to the ire of fossil-fuel special interests. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Powerful interests associated with fossil fuels, who already held amazing influence over the world’s political bodies, began to fight back. In Europe, this came in the form of right-wing politicians apparently backed by the espionage campaigns of an expansionist and resurgent Russia. Meanwhile, Russian aggression surged into Ukraine and even at times threatened wind production in the Baltic Sea. In the U.S., fossil-fuel-backing Republicans like James Inhofe and Scott Pruitt fought to remove key government policies promoting climate action. But consistent U.S. climate policy managed to hang on.

Now, with the election of Donald Trump — achieved in part through the Russian petrostate’s cyber-warfare campaign against the U.S. electoral system — all the progress achieved by the Obama Administration is in doubt.

A Cadre of Fossil Fuel Backers, Climate Change Deniers, and Ties to Russia 

Trump has placed Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as head of the State Department, fired top career diplomats, and placed political cronies into key roles. Tillerson has failed to recuse himself in the case of interests related to Exxon — a key element of which were Obama-era sanctions that prevented Exxon partnering with Russia in developing oil fields in the Arctic. Trump’s chief national security adviser Michael Flynn — now identified as being employed as a foreign agent for Turkey at the time (it is illegal for a foreign agent to hold a position as part of the U.S. government) — was found to be secretly conferring with Russia (allegedly about the removal of said sanctions) before he himself was forced out of the post.

(Former Bush ethics lawyer weighs in on Michael Flynn failing to register himself as a foreign agent. Video source: CNN.)

Over at the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, a politician who has for many years denied that the world is warming and that humans are the cause, now heads an agency he often sued. Pruitt is well-known for his attacks on government action to reduce the impacts of climate change and for receiving considerable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Almost immediately after coming to head the EPA, Pruitt stocked top offices at the agency with well-known climate change deniers, many of whom were once staffers of Congress’s chief climate change denier — James Inhofe.

Attack on CAFE Standards

As Trump fills key policy-making positions with fossil-fuel industry chiefs, climate change deniers, and people with odd ties to the Russian petrostate, he is moving to kill off Obama’s signature climate actions. This week, Trump appears ready to announce a rollback of Obama’s fuel efficiency standards. Such a move would put a damper on U.S. electric car production just as competitive foreign automakers are jumping into the EV market with both feet. The threatened rollbacks could also cost consumers an extra $2,600 in fuel over a vehicle’s lifetime, harm U.S. energy security, and result in more carbon dumped into the atmosphere. According to the New York Times:

[Obama’s] rules have been widely praised by environmentalists and energy economists for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and its greenhouse pollution. If put fully into effect, the fuel efficiency standards would have cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and reduced carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of all the cars affected by the regulations (emphasis added).

Though it would take about a year to remove Obama’s policy, and though it is likely that states like California (along with nine other states pushing automakers to increase EV availability) will fight the measure, this change in direction comes at a critical time for the world’s climate, right when harmful impacts from climate change are hitting the American people harder and harder.

Removal of Clean Electricity Goals

Trump’s early moves against U.S. fuel efficiency standards (and by extension energy and climate security) are, unfortunately, just the first subset of a two-pronged effort. Trump is also expected to direct a denier-stacked EPA to dismantle Obama’s clean electrical power regulations — rules aimed at incentivizing wind, solar, and lower carbon forms of fossil fuels while shutting down highly polluting coal power plants. Obama’s actions would have sped renewable energy expansion while cutting U.S. carbon emissions by 26 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2025. But if Trump’s new proposals go through, an extra 2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent gasses could be coming from U.S. smokestacks and tailpipes by that time.

G20 Promotes ‘Market Magic’ as Solution to Climate Change

Trump’s policy moves also appear to be aimed at hollowing out international actions on climate change. A recent draft of the upcoming G-20 Summit, a meeting of finance ministers from the world’s top 20 industrialized nations, backed away from key commitments to combat climate change. The G-20’s preliminary policy statement removed language supporting the Paris Climate treaty (only 47 words address the treaty now as opposed to 163 words in 2016), appears to have reneged on $100 billion worth of commitments from wealthy nations to fund renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions cuts, and relies on “multilateral development banks to raise private funds to accomplish goals set under the 2015 Paris climate accord.”

John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto’s G-20 Research Group, in an interview with Bloomberg noted that the new policy statement “…basically says governments are irrelevant. It’s complete faith in the magic of the marketplace. That is very different from the existing commitments they have repeatedly made.”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s appointed treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin is the U.S. lead for G-20-related climate policy, so this new direction for the G-20 can’t entirely be separated from Trump or from his former Goldman Sachs employee Treasury Secretary.

Worsening Climate Situation

All these prospective national and global climate policy reversals come as the climate situation continues to worsen and damages from climate change related disasters escalate. We are currently in the process of warming from 1.2 C (present global temperature departure) above 1880s averages to 2 C above average. The amount of damage coming from this next degree of warming will be considerably more than the amount of damage that occurred as we warmed from 0.5 to 1.2 C above average from the 1980s to now.

(According to reinsurer Munich Re, the number of natural disasters has more than doubled since the early 1980s. Growth in the number of natural disasters all come from meteorological events, hydrological events, and climatological events — all which are influenced by warming global temperatures. Image source: Munich Re.)

The U.S. and every other nation in the world is now seeing a clear and present danger coming from climate change as natural disasters ramp up. In other words, the climate change related fire is already burning. And the Trump Administration appears set to throw more fuel on that fire. We can say with complete certainty that these policies represent a political agenda that is harmful to the American people. And we should resist this harmful agenda at every turn.

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