TrumpWatch, Day 132: Trump to Withdraw from Paris Accord on Climate Change

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Trump tweets timing for announcement, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”


Developments on Day 132 of the Trump Administration:

Trump to Announce Withdrawal from Paris Accord

Donald Trump will announce the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord on climate change on Thursday.

“Two senior officials” said Trump had made his decision, after weeks of division among advisors. Trump later tweeted:

Almost 200 nations have joined the Accord, signed in April 2016 and effective from November, on issues like carbon dioxide emssions. Only Syria has rejected its provisions, although Nicaragua did not sign because it felt the agreement did not go far enough.

Read The New York Times primer on the Accord

The administration has not yet decided whether simply to start the process of withdrawal, which could take years, or to take the more drastic option of leaving the UN convention on climate change altogether. Language for the withdrawal was still being prepared Wednesday.

The Administration had split over the withdrawal. Chief strategist Steve Bannon and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, favored departure but were opposed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; senior economic advisor Gary Cohn; and Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.

The balance was reportedly tilted in favor of withdrawal by a letter from 22 GOP Senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump and his advisors may also want to take the focus off the expanding Trump-Russia investigation, which has entangled Kushner in the past week.
PARIS ACCORD


Trump-Russia Inquiry: House Intelligence Committee Issues Subpoenas for Flynn, Trump’s Attorney Cohen

The House Intelligence Committee issues subpoenas for testimony, documents, and business records from former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen.

The committee also subpoenaed the companies of the two men, Flynn Intel Group LLC and Michael D. Cohen & Associates PC.

Flynn has refused to accept the personal subpoena from Congressional committees, citing the 5th Amendment. The Senate Intelligence Committee then asked for the records from Flynn’s businesses, saying these were exempt from the provision against self-incrimination.

Cohen acknowledged Tuesday that he is resisting the request from congressional investigators seeking information. He has been named in an intelligence dossier, prepared by former British intelligence operative Christopher, about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians linked to the Kremlin.

He said by text message:

To date, there has not been a single witness, document or piece of evidence linking me to this fake Russian conspiracy. This is not surprising to me because there is none! I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad, and not capable of being answered.

Former FBI Director James Comey, fired by Trump earlier this month because of the expanding investigation, has been speaking with Robert Mueller — Comey’s predecessor who is now special counsel for the inquiry — about his intention to testify publicly, possibly as early as next week, before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

That testimony could include further information about a February 14 meeting in which Trump asked Comey to halt the investigation of Flynn — a possible obstruction of justice — according to the former FBI director.

In a separate action, GOP chairman Devin Nunes — who recused himself from the Trump-Russia hearings because of his collaboration with the White House — subpoenaed the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency for information about the “unmasking” of the names of Trump campaign officials in classified intelligence reports, asking about specific requests by former CIA Director John Brennan and former national security adviser Susan Rice.

A senior committee aide said Nunes issued the subpoenas without agreement from Democrats on the committee.

The Trump Administration has tried to use the “unmasking” issue as a diversion from the main lines of the Trump-Russia inquiry.

The “unmasking” issue has been raised by the White House and by Trump supporters as a suggestion that the investigation has been politically motivated. But Democrats have largely dismissed this issue as an attempt to divert attention from possible collusion by Trump campaign officials with the Russians.

British Politician Farage is “Person of Interest” in Trump-Russia Inquiry

Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, is a “person of interest” in the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“Sources with knowledge of the investigation” said Farage drew attention because of his relationships with individuals connected to both the Trump campaign and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder.

Farage visited Assange in March in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where the latter had taken shelter to avoid extradition for court proceedings in Sweden on sexual assault charges.

WikiLeaks published troves of e-mails last year that were obtained by Russian hacking of US computers, including those connected with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. US intelligence agencies suspect WikiLeaks of witting or unwitting cooperation with Russia through third parties.

A source told The Guardian:

One of the things the intelligence investigators have been looking at is points of contact and persons involved. If you triangulate Russia, WikiLeaks, Assange, and Trump associates, the person who comes up with the most hits is Nigel Farage.

He’s right in the middle of these relationships. He turns up over and over again. There’s a lot of attention being paid to him.

A spokesman insisted that Farage had never worked with Russian officials, and said questions about his activities were “verging on the hysterical”.

Trump Administration Close to Returning 2 Diplomatic Compounds to Russia

The Trump Administration is close to the return to Russia of two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

At the end of December, amid the growing attention to Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election, President Obama closed the compounds because they were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes”. Obama expelled 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” from the US.

In early May, the Trump Administration told the Russians that it would consider returning the properties if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for US sanctions related to Russian intervention in Crimea and Ukraine, on construction of a new US consulate in St. Petersburg.

But two days later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Washington that the US had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate.

Before making a final decision, the administration is examining possible restrictions on Russian activities, including removal of diplomatic immunity from the properties.

A senior advisor to Tillerson, R.C. Hammond, said that “the U.S. and Russia have reached no agreements”.


Ex-CIA Head Woolsey: Flynn Offered Me Return to the Post

In a sign of how former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn trie to take over the Trump Administration’s foreign policy machinery, he reportedly offered the CIA head’s position to James Woolsey, led the agency under Clinton.

Woolsey said he turned the job down on November 14 because he would report directly to Flynn, who was dismissed in 2014 as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency: “Flynn offered me the CIA job. I turned it down, partially because I didn’t want to work for him, partially because I didn’t think the structure was set up right.”

He also said that Flynn then a member of the Trump transition, had the authority to offer him the job.

Flynn’s lawyer Robert Kelner said in an e=mail: “This story is false.”


Essential Reading: How Kushner Built a Skyscraper with Loans for Projects in Poor Areas

Shawn Boburg writes for The Washington Post:

Jared Kushner and his real estate partners wanted to take advantage of a federal program in 2015 that would save them millions of dollars as they built an opulent, 50-story residential tower in this city’s booming waterfront district, just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan.

There was just one problem: The program was designed to benefit projects in poor, job-starved areas.

So the project’s consultants got creative, records show.

They worked with state officials in New Jersey to come up with a map that defined the area around 65 Bay Street as a swath of land that stretched nearly four miles and included some of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods. At the same time, they excluded some wealthy neighborhoods only blocks away.

The tactic — critics liken it to the gerrymandering of legislative districts — made it appear that the luxury tower was in an area with extraordinarily high unemployment, allowing Kushner Companies and its partners to get $50 million in low-cost financing through the EB-5 visa program.

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